Exploring CTI Records, Part 2: The Subsidiaries

Exploring CTI Records, Part 2: The Subsidiaries

Written by Rudy Radelic

CTI Records had been an independent label for only a year when Creed Taylor began creating subsidiary labels. While a couple of these subsidiaries were very limited, the Kudu label established in 1971 would release a total of 38 albums up through 1978. Kudu was a label Taylor created in order to focus on soul, funk, and jazz. The albums were targeted for play on Black radio, focusing on rhythm, repeated riffs, and a solid groove, while downplaying the improvisation. A kudu is a species of antelope. Taylor had come across the word and chose the name as it sounded like “voodoo,” and colored the logo in the colors of the Jamaican flag, using both the name and the logo to convey excitement.

Please note that while the albums below were originally released on the Kudu label, some reissues have removed the Kudu logo in favor of the CTI Records logo.

Had Taylor signed one more artist, he could have had a hat trick of Hammond organ-playing Smiths on the Kudu label. While Jimmy Smith had worked with Taylor during their time at Verve Records, Johnny Hammond (Smith) would launch the Kudu label with his album Breakout (Kudu KU-01). Here is Hammond, “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing.”

The other Smith was, of course, the legendary Lonnie Smith, in the days prior to his “Doctor” prefix and Sikh turban. His album Mama Wailer (Kudu KU-02) was the label’s second. The album featured only four tracks, the final one spanning the entire second side of the album. “Stand” (the Sly and The Family Stone song) stretches beyond 17 minutes, and only gives a passing nod to that composition before Smith and the band take off into the stratosphere with a funky soul groove. Among the backing musicians on the track are Ron Carter on electric bass, Billy Cobham on drums, and Grover Washington, Jr. checking in with a solo on tenor sax. The second half of the track, starting around 8:20 into the video below, is based around a riff that Smith has visited on other recordings, and the horn interjections bring to mind something out of the James Brown playbook.

Grover Washington, Jr. was Kudu’s star artist. A sheriff in Memphis unknowingly changed the trajectory of Washington’s career – he was pulled from the sax section on what was supposed to be a Hank Crawford session to fill in as the album’s leader on alto. (Crawford had been jailed for possession of marijuana in Memphis.) Creed Taylor rented Washington an alto sax, and the rest was history – the album, Inner City Blues (Kudu KU-03), became a strong seller. Washington followed up with a handful of other albums and in 1975, recorded his classic Mister Magic (Kudu KU-20), which was a hit. Here is the title track from the album.

Many of us often think of Ron Carter as a legend on the acoustic double bass, but he was also a proponent of the electric and piccolo bass (the latter tuned an octave higher than a standard electric bass). Carter recorded a handful of albums for CTI proper, but had one soul/funk release on Kudu that could almost have been played on the dance floor. This is “Big Fro” from Carter’s album Anything Goes (Kudu KU-25).

One song that did make it to the dance floors, and the Billboard charts in 1975 was this Esther Phillips cut, “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes,” the title track of the album it was pulled from (Kudu KU-23). The album featured guitarist Joe Beck, and the backing horns included the Brecker Brothers and David Sanborn.

Idris Muhammad (born Leo Morris in New Orleans) had a long résumé as a session drummer, reaching all the way back to the mid-1950s where he backed Fats Domino on his hit “Blueberry Hill.” In addition to recordings on jazz dates for Prestige and Blue Note artists (Gene Ammons, Horace Silver, Rusty Bryant), he would also back Roberta Flack on her hit “Feel Like Making Love” and was the drummer for Bob James on his album Touchdown, which featured the familiar track “Angela (Theme from Taxi).” Muhammad also recorded as a leader, and was signed to Kudu in 1973. His first album for the label, Power of Soul (Kudu KU-17), became a jazz-funk classic, with a cast of CTI regulars (Joe Beck; Grover Washington, Jr.; Bob James, who also arranged). It remains one of the label’s most influential albums, often sampled by DJs and recording artists.

In the 3000-Series albums recorded while CTI was under the A&M umbrella, Taylor recorded Wes Montgomery’s final album, Road Song. On Kudu, Taylor recorded Grant Green’s final album as a leader: The Main Attraction (1976, Kudu KU-29). It may not be the finest in Green’s catalog but the band, including Andy Newmark, Steve Khan, John Faddis, Don Grolnick, and CTI regulars Hubert Laws and Joe Farrell, lay down a perfect groove.

There were two other CTI Records subsidiaries that barely appeared on the radar. The first was Salvation Records, a label Creed Taylor had created in 1972 as an outlet for releasing gospel recordings. Oddly, there was only one gospel release on the label: The B. C. & M. Choir, with the album Hello Sunshine (Salvation SAL-700). The title track is featured in the video below. The label sat idle for two years until it was revived for four more albums in the jazz and R&B genres; unlike the gospel release which was produced by Taylor, the remaining albums were produced by others.

The final subsidiary, Three Brothers Records, had an even smaller catalog than Salvation – a single album, and a handful of 45 RPM singles. The label, activated in 1974, was named after Creed Taylor’s three sons (Creed Jr., Blake, and John), and had originated several years earlier as one of Taylor’s publishing companies. Lightning didn’t exactly strike for the lone album on the label, a self-titled record by Lou Christie, produced by Tony Romeo. The only other act on the roster was a group called The Clams, with a single produced by Tony Levin, presumably the renowned bass player. Here is “Close To You” from their 45 RPM single (Three Brothers, TBH-404). Yes, it’s the Bacharach/David song. And – you’ve been warned – the “clams” here are not seafood!

Three Brothers would rise from the ashes for a 3-cassette box set released in 1983 (a compilation called Classical Jazz, TBH1-2-3), and a 1994 CD by Duke Jones entitled Thunder Island (5001020), which was produced by Creed Taylor and featured the Earth, Wind & Fire horns. Our next article in the CTI series will cover a niche that Creed Taylor explored often on his label’s albums.

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