The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 is a compilation of lost Memphis gospel music from the 1970s and is out 18 September via Bible & Tire. The set features liner notes from Michael Hutt and is available on both CD and vinyl.
Bruce Watson (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum), who worked extensively with Pastor Juan D. Shipp, JCR impresario and producer, on the project, says that he views the music contained on the compilation as “sacred soul”. “I’ve been saying that it’s like soul music without the sex,” he says, pointing out that the music intersects nicely with the soul sounds emanating from Memphis during the same era. One can easily imagine some of the tracks appearing on the Hi or Stax imprint if only for different lyrical content.
Despite the age of the tapes, Watson says the majority of the music was well-preserved. “It’s pretty remarkable because a lot of this stuff had been stored in a shed that had a like for, like, 30 years.”
Pastor Shipp, now 82-years-old, remains a confident and keen music aficionado, according to Watson. “He’s amazing, sweetest guy you could possibly want to meet. He was a radio DJ, ran the label, had a full church, and worked for the post office fulltime [while this music was being made]. He did all that and produced these records.”
Neither Shipp nor Watson have many details on the acts who appear on the compilation, including the Masonic Travelers, whose stirring rendition of “Rock My Soul” appears on the record.
“I really don’t know anything about them,” Watson says, adding that some of the mystery may deepen the appeal of the record. “Even Pastor Shipp wasn’t too sure about where they came from when I talked to him last. There are a couple of groups by that name, there’s one in West Memphis, one or two others. I don’t know. But the bass on that song really makes the whole thing, you know?”