Lewis Chudd – Fats and Ricky
In 1945, Lewis Chudd entered into the record label business by starting up Crown Records (not the same “Crown” budget label formed by the Bihari brothers) in Los Angeles. This was a very short endeavor for Chudd who formed the label with the Jazz market in mind. The following year, in 1946, he sold Crown and with the proceeds started up Imperial Records in 1947 taking aim initially at the Jazz, Country and Mexican markets in the southern California area. But soon Chudd would become connected to the New Orleans’ music scene through his association with New Orleans’ music insider Dave Bartholomew, a former trumpet player with Duke Ellington.
Things ran smoothly for Chudd and Imperial bringing two key musicians on board – Fats Domino and young television star Ricky Nelson – and now enjoying the A&R and scouting services of Bartholomew others would be added to the roster including Smiley Lewis, Kris Kenner, The Spiders and many more.
Also, singer songwriter Bobby Charles – at the age of 20 – was lured away from Chess Records into the Imperial family where he would be entrusted by Bartholomew with composing for the great Fats Domino. Early on with Domino, Bobby composed “Tell Me That You Love Me” back with “Before I Grow Too Old” with both sides charting.
Charles was just getting warmed up an next penned the monster track “Walking to New Orleans” followed by “It Keeps Rainin'”. When composer’s credits for these (and others) are checked out on the labels – Charles generally does not receive acknowledgement. Charles recalled that it was Bartholomew’s general practice to change a word or two – alter a note here and there and take full credits or share them with Domino. Who knows for sure?
Now with a full head of steam going for Imperial – with the success of Domino and Nelson, in the late 1950’s Chudd picked up distribution rights to Minit Records which brought Aaron Neville, Ernie K-Doe, Jessie Hill and Irma Thomas (and others) into the fold.
Then, in 1963, things came to a sudden halt for Imperial. Both money makers, Fats and Ricky departed for other labels. With his diminished star power, soon Chudd would sell the company to Liberty Records. With Liberty taking the reigns – the days of rhythm and blues success for the Imperial releases was basically over – lacking the know-how of the New Orleans teams for the most part.
Liberty kept the Imperial label name alive into 1970 at which time it vanished when Liberty merged with United Artists. Under Liberty, the R&B hits mostly dried up. However, the label became very active on the pop scene landing Johnny Rivers, Cher, Mel Carter, Sandy Nelson along with British Invasion acts The Hollies, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Georgie Fame and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.
Then in 1979, EMI acquired United Artists and assumed control of the entire Imperial catalog. EMI issued CD’s and vinyl after the 1990’s using the old Imperial logo. Merger after merger – acquisition after acquisition – continued right up into 2012 – and the vast amount of songs produced by Imperial will always find a way back onto the airwaves I suppose.
Lew Chudd was born in July of 1911 Lewis Robert Chudd. After departing the record business Chudd turned his attention to acquiring radio stations in California where he resided up until his death on June 15th, 1998 at the age of 86. Dave Bartholomew was born in December of 1918 David Louis Bartholomew and is still living as is Fats Domino.
Domino was born in February of 1928 Antoine Domino Jr. and is living today though fully retired. Fats had a close call with Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005. News reports from that time exclaimed that Domino had perished in the storm. Eventually he and his family were located at a rescue shelter.
Domino would return to the recording studio one last time in 2006 recording a LP “Alive and Kickin'” proceeds of which went to assist indigent New Orleans area musicians and appeared at various benefits to assist Katrina victims. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986