Ace Records, founded in 1955 by Johnny Vincent (1925-2000), was the most successful Mississippi-based label of the 1950s and 1960s. Ace’s extensive catalog of blues, R&B, pop, rock, and soul included records by Mississippi blues artists Arthur Crudup, Sam Myers, King Edward, Pat Brown, and Willie Clayton, as well as hit singles by Louisiana singers Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Ford, Huey “Piano” Smith, and Earl King. Ace was based for many years on this block of West Capitol Street.
Johnny Vincent, born John Vincent Imbraguglio (later modified to Imbragulio) on October 3, 1925, became fascinated with the blues via the jukebox at his parents’ restaurant in Laurel. After serving in the Merchant Marine he started his own jukebox business in Laurel, and in 1947 became a sales representative for a New Orleans record distributor. In the late ’40s Vincent purchased Griffin Distributing Company in Jackson and operated both Griffin and a retail business, the Record Shop, at 241 North Farish Street. He started the Champion label in the early ’50s, issuing blues singles by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup of Forest and Jackson musicians Joe Dyson and Bernard “Bunny” Williams. In 1953 Vincent signed on as a talent scout for Los Angeles-based Specialty Records. His most notable production for Specialty was “The Things I Used to Do,” recorded in New Orleans by Guitar Slim, aka Eddie Jones, a native of Greenwood. Featuring Ray Charles on piano, the song was one of the biggest R&B hits of the 1950s. During his tenure with Specialty Vincent also supervised sessions by John Lee Hooker, Kenzie Moore, and others.
In 1955 Vincent started Ace, named after the Ace Combs brand. The label’s first hit, “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights” by New Orleans bluesman Earl King, was recorded at Trumpet Records’ Diamond Recording Studio at 309 North Farish Street. Ace became the first important regional label for New Orleans music, scoring national hits by Louisiana artists Huey Smith and the Clowns (“Don't You Just Know It”), Frankie Ford (“Sea Cruise”), and Jimmy Clanton, a “teen idol” whose “Just A Dream” topped the R&B charts in 1960. Among the Ace artists who recorded either at the New Orleans studio of Cosimo Matassa or here in Jackson in the 1950s and ‘60s were Sam Myers, Joe Tex, Bobby Marchan, James Booker, Charles Brown, Joe Dyson, Lee Dorsey, Rufus McKay, Scotty McKay, Big Boy Myles, Tim Whitsett, and Mac Rebennack, later known as “Dr. John.”
In 1962 Vincent signed a potentially lucrative distribution deal with Vee-Jay Records of Chicago, but that label’s bankruptcy in 1966 was catastrophic for Ace. In the ’70s Vincent revamped Ace, making new recordings as well as repackaging old hits, but had only limited success. He turned to various other enterprises, including a restaurant, but returned to the record business with full force in the early ’90s, as he reoriented Ace to the contemporary soul-blues market with a roster that included Mississippi-born singers Cicero Blake, Robert “The Duke” Tillman, J. T. Watkins, Pat Brown, and Willie Clayton. The latter pair had success with the duet “Equal Opportunity.” In 1997 Vincent sold Ace to the British firm Music Collection International but started a new label, Avanti, and continued to record soul-blues artists. Vincent died on February 4, 2000.
Johnny Vincent dropped his surname, Imbragulio, at the suggestion of Specialty Records owner Art Rupe, who told him “Vincent” was easier to pronounce. Vincent was known as one of the most colorful figures in the record industry. With the proceeds from his early hits on Ace Vincent was able to buy a nine-story building on Capitol Street in 1959. Another Vincent property on Northside Drive became the first offices of Jackson-based blues and soul label Malaco, whose founders Wolf Stephenson and Tommy Couch were mentored by Vincent. In the 1970s Vincent operated from other addresses on Capitol Street.
Ace and its subsidiary labels Vin and Teem released many recordings by R&B, rockabilly, and country performers, as well as down-home blues by Arthur Crudup, Frankie Lee Sims, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Lightnin’ Slim. Ace also licensed Trumpet recordings by Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller) and Elmore James.
The 1981 album Genuine Mississippi Blues featured Jackson-based artists King Edward, Sam Myers, and Big Bad Smitty, former Jackson bluesmen Elmore James, Jr., and Johnny Littlejohn, and Como, Mississippi, guitarist Fred McDowell.
Sam Myers and John “Big Bad Smitty” Smith worked together in Jackson in the 1970s, when they both recorded tracks for the Genuine Mississippi Blues LP at the Ace studio. Myers also recorded the Ace single “Sleeping in the Ground” in 1957.
Joe Dyson, the drummer on “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights,” led the house band at Stevens Rose Room, Jackson’s finest blues nightclub in the 1950s.
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