After selling his stake in Atlas for $600, Mr. Rupe created his own company, Juke Box Records, in 1944. “I called it Juke Box because the musician was the medium at the time for the delivery of recordings,” he told Arnold Shaw. “If you get a record in the chests, it’s like getting it on the top stops today.”
Mr. Robb was methodical. He bought $200 worth of race records and, with hand, began analyzing musical structure, rhythm, and even titles to determine the common characteristics of the best-selling versions. With the word “boogie” appearing in a disproportionate number of hit songs, the first recording of the Juke Box, an instrumental instrument played by Sepia Tones, was given the title “Boogie No. 1.” It sold over 70,000 respectable copies, and Mr. Rupe was on his way.
Jump-blues singer Roy Melton and his band, Solid Senders, gave Juke Boxes their first big hit: “RM Blues” It was released in 1945, which is said to have sold one million copies. Mr. Melton went on to record nearly 20 Top 10 hits for R&B after following Mr. Rupe to Specialty, who he founded the following year after splitting from his Juke Box partners.
In 1950, pianist and conductor Joe Leggins gave the major her first hit single, “Champagne Floral” which became the best-selling R&B record of the year. Percy Mayfield, a singer-songwriter with a laid-back style, who would later contribute Hit the Road, Jack and other songs to Ray Charles’ repertoire, topped the charts a year later with “Please Send Me Someone to Love”. Guitar Slim gave the poster another hit #1 in 1954 with “The things I’ve been doing,” One of the earliest records that put the electric guitar front and center.
“The specialty was a bit like the Blue Note label in jazz,” said singer and music historian Billy Vera, who produced “The Specialty Story,” writing “Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story,” published in 2019. Art was dollar conscious, but he didn’t let that stop him from going to the best studios and taking the time to rehearse. He was proud and interested in making high quality recordings with good musicians.”