ROB BOWMAN – THE LAST SOUL COMPANY: THE MALACO RECORDS STORY
BOOK REVIEW BY GERROD HARRIS
Following his 2019 joint project with Daniel Tate, The Flyer Vault, Toronto author and musicologist Rob Bowman has partnered with Malaco Records for his latest book, The Last Soul Company: The Malaco Records Story. Titled after a compilation box set which Bowman produced in 1999, The Last Soul Company is an impressive coffee table book that documents the long, winding, and unexpected history of popular music’s longest standing independent record label.
The story of Malaco Records is very much that of an underdog. This is a label that, over its near six-decade run, is not a household name and has only graced Billboard’s Hot 100 a handful of occasions. Despite this and their small-town roots and the incredible obstacles faced within their first two decades, Malaco has since acquired a number of smaller gospel and soul labels, most notably including Savoy, Apollo and Atlanta International Records. Bowman catalogues this history in a thorough manner that proves to be incredibly captivating and focuses on the countless artists, singles, and albums to come out of Malaco, alongside the owners, publicist, producers, and engineers who brought the music to life and to radio. This is very much the story of a label; however it can be easy to forget this as Bowman, rightfully so, puts the artists at centre stage to create an all-encompassing history that showcases all that Malaco has delivered and developed through the decades.
The coffee table format of The Last Soul Company allows for Bowman’s narrative to only be enhanced by a plethora of photographs ranging from concert photography, album art, press photos, and behind the scenes shots from the makings of such iconic Malaco releases, such as Haran Griffin’s “Looking For My Pig”, The Jackson Southernaries’ “Travel On”, and Fred McDowell’s “Red Cross Store”. Whether you’re casually flipping through the assortment of images, reading particular subchapters – often organized by genre as the book moves forward through time – or reading the entire story, The Last Soul Company is an exciting book that tells an otherwise largely unknown story.
Front to back, The Last Soul Company: The Malaco Records Story is a fantastic read that truly brings the Malaco story to life. Bowman has, once again, done an incredible job sparing no detail and digging deep into the archives and his own interviews to do justice by the Malaco story. As a result, The Last Soul Company: The Malaco Records Story is a thoroughly engaging read that ultimately solidifies the Malaco legacy as a label of significant importance for soul, R&B, the blues, and gospel music as well as a blueprint for how a label can survive and grow through changing times and styles all the while remaining independent.