Enigmatic journeyman of hustle, Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon, was proprietor to one of Chicago’s first black owned and operated independent record labels, Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records. The label and its subsidiaries —Key, Keyhole, Miss, and Ronald – released a plethora of golden audio nuggets in the form of blues and soul, gospel and doo wop, Christmas tunes, and a late 80s sidestep into early hip hop. Chicago was ablaze with assorted musical talent during the label’s 30 year tenure from 1959-1989.
From a blues standpoint alone, the four disc anthology reads, better yet, plays like an encyclopedic “Who’s Who” list – Hound Dog Taylor, Sunnyland Slim, Earl Hooker, Sleepy John Estes, and newly deceased Detroit legend Andre Williams. It’s always a treat to be sonically blessed by the aforementioned, but it’s the unsung artists that really shine through on this Definitive Collection. So unsung in fact, on more than a couple tracks the band’s identity isn’t even known! The collection is both an auditory smorgasbord as well as a Chicago music history lesson commandeered by the ever-interesting Cadillac driving Eatmon who shows up at several points along the way to tell a joke or two or wax poetic on the Cadillac Baby legend, or lack thereof.
Earwig Music’s Michael Robert Frank first met Eatmon in the 1970s and then again in the late 80s when Cadillac Baby’s health was in decline. After a nearly 20 year hiatus Eatmon’s itch to get back into the record game had to be scratched, according to Frank, “he was buying and selling used hubcaps, a few used tires, candy and sundries, and an occasional 45 record”. The
two paired up to co-produce a rising 17-year-old rapper by the name, 3D. Both Cadillac Baby and 3D died before the project was released making this box set is the first time 3D’s two sides will be available to the public, rightfully so in my modest opinion.
Frank was ultimately able to purchase Bea & Baby and all of its subsidiaries to ensure its proper place in the annals of Chicago’s musical history, something Cadillac Baby was eternally fearful of. After laboriously scouring and cleaning up the masters this epic 4 cd collection also boasts a 128 page book of pictures and archives as well as liner notes by Living Blues’ Jim O’Neal and The Journal of Gospel Music’s Robert Marovich.
The music is the ultimate prize here. Spanning jazzy jump blues and oddities, quintessential gospel numbers, Chicago-style blues, and sultry early r&b. The comedic skits and tireless braggadocio by Cadillac Baby are refreshing but at times drag on. Highlights other than those
previously mentioned include sides by Eddie Boyd and The Daylighters, Homesick James, Detroit Junior, Little Mac (St. Louis Mack, etc.), and the last ten gospel numbers on disc 4 may just get your blackheart into heaven.
This Definitive Collection of Bea & Baby’s delicacies is a must own for anyone with an insatiable appetite for Chicago’s illustrious independent music scene in its infancy. Respect due and justly granted to Michael Robert Frank and Earwig Music’s labor of love here – a tangible necessity for any real blues and soul connoisseur.