Billy Vera – Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story


Title: Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story
Author: Billy Vera
Publisher: BMG Books (RPM Series)
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Release date: November 5, 2019


From musician Billy Vera comes Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story, an account of the years and the music of independent music label Specialty Records under the ownership of Art Rupe. Founded in the mid-1940s, Specialty Records produced music – some hits, some not – by Sam Cooke, Percy Mayfield, Lloyd Price, Little Richard, and many, many others. From gospel and R&B to doo wop and rock and roll, Specialty rolled out albums for over forty years until its sale to Fantasy Records in 1990.

Vera delivers a history of Specialty Records drawn primarily from interviews as well as the Specialty Records files. From its earliest years, after Rupe closed down Juke Box Records and started Specialty, to the label’s involvement in the promotion of early rock and roll, gospel music, Little Richard, and a brief period of jazz, Rip It Up covers several decades of change in American music. A lot of names, both famous and relatively unknown, show up in the Specialty catalog, and Vera includes them all. Occasionally reading like a long series of short biographies, Vera surveys the lives of these musicians, their producers, and the music released on the label, with a few asides of his own.

Although Vera sometimes loses the thread of his narrative, Rip It Up offers an insiders’ knowledge of Specialty Records. In some ways a send-up to its founder, Art Rupe, who wrote the foreword, this book does its best work in showcasing the breadth and depth of the Specialty catalog. Rip It Up is the story of a label that played a significant role in the production and promotion of African American music in the twentieth century, with some big moments along the way.

Reviewed by Anna Hinkley