Stan Lewis
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248 Stan Lewis —Randy McNutt This piece is a portion of a chapter from Randy McNutt’s Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock and Roll, titled “Shreveport: Susie-Q,” the section focused primarily on Stan Lewis. Lewis’s professional career began in 1948 when he opened Stan’s Record Shop on Texas Street in Shreveport. He became a “one-stop” operator (other nearby record stores would buy from him to resell on the retail level), distributing independent labels like Atlantic, Chess, Modern, Specialty, and Imperial. In the early 1950s Lewis added a highly successful mail-order operation that lasted for over a decade. This business picked up significantly when Lewis began advertising on R&B disc jockey shows, including KWKH broadcasts by the alter ego of one of the Hayride announcers, Frank “Gatemouth” Page. Lewis also advertised on the nightly broadcast of WLAC-AM out of Nashville, famous for its team of disc jockeys, including John R and Hoss Allen. Both KWKH and WLAC operated 50,000-watt clear channels, covering much of the country. From his beginnings in record sales and distribution, Lewis’s business interests expanded in 1963 when he founded the Jewel label, soon followed with the imprints Paula and Ronn. His rosters included a wide range of mostly black artists, among them the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker, Reverend Oris Mays, Lowell Fulson, Toussaint McCall, the Violinaires, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Reverend Clay Evans, and Bobby Rush. Lewis extended his small empire in 1968 when he purchased the masters of Chicago blues label Cobra Records. Cobra had been particularly active during the middle 1950s and its roster included important Chicagostyle blues artists like Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and Magic Slim. Lewis still lives in Shreveport and remains active in the music business, though from a semi-retired status. Following a 1993 release on Capricorn of a Jewel Records box set, Lewis offered the label for sale, though he wanted to retain control of his STAN LEWIS 249 publishing companies as well as two small labels, Susie Q and Gospel Jubilee. After protracted negotiations, EMusic.com purchased the master recording rights of the Jewel family of labels during the summer of 1999. Thus, Stan Lewis’s work in documenting music during an important era of this (in his words) “regional sound city” continues to circulate musical sounds of Shreveport. When [James] Burton was appearing on the Hayride in the late 1950s, Stan Lewis was selling records across town and starting to build an empire of discs. He turned his record store into one of the South’s more prosperous music operations , then turned to releasing R&B, rock, and country hits on his own Jewel, Paula, and Ronn labels. Lewis also built one of the South’s larger independent distributors, which helped promote independent labels and regional sounds. The producer, publisher, label owner, and distributor was born near Shreveport on July 5, 1927, to hard-working Italian parents, Frank and Lucille Lewis. His father worked in a meat-packing house during the Depression, and in 1941 opened a family grocery. Young Stan helped. Even then, he preferred music—big-band jazz by Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, and others, and the blues and gospel songs that people sang in his racially mixed neighborhood. He also played clarinet in the high school band. In the late 1940s he started buying jukeboxes, pinball machines, and records. The discs came from a little R&B store at 728 Texas Street. In 1948, Lewis bought the store and renamed it Stan’s Record Shop. At eight-by-twelve feet, the one-story shop was smaller inside than some people’s living rooms, but Lewis crammed it with R&B and a few country records. He continued to work in his father’s grocery while his wife, Paula, worked in the shop. They came up with a catchy slogan (“728— Don’t Be Late!”) and advertised on KWKH, trying to reach a simmering youth market. They even held autograph parties for recording artists, including Elvis Presley. Lewis worked twelve hours a day and became the first local businessman to hire blacks in retail sales. “I grew up selling newspapers and milk bottles and shining shoes,” he said. “I made nickels and dimes. Today, people step over coins and don’t bother to pick them up. But they were big money when I grew up. During World War II, I played drums a little to make extra money. The real drummers were off to war. I was...


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