Various Artists – The Last Shall Be First: The JCR Records Story


Title: The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1
Artist: Various
Label: Bible & Tire
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 18, 2020


Rev. Juan D. Shipp was the force behind many Black gospel recordings emanating from Memphis, Tennessee in the 1970s. A pastor at the Greater Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church, Shipp also had a gospel radio show on K-WAM, where he spun gospel quartet records as “Juan D.” Believing that “local artists deserve a better sound,” he formed a relationship with Clyde Leoppard, a former Sun Studio drummer who owned Tempo Recording Studio in downtown Memphis. Shipp began recording and releasing professional quality singles for many local and regional gospel groups on his own small boutique label, D-Vine Spirituals. Soon business was booming, and he spun off a secondary label, JCR, for up-and-coming artists who wanted to press a record but didn’t make the D-Vine cut. Seventeen of these tracks are featured in The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1, which was produced by Rev. Shipp.

Each track on this compilation features a different gospel group. Some, like the Masonic Travelers who give a spine tingling performance of their popular “Rock My Soul,” and the venerable Stars of Faith who perform the uptemp “Sitting Down,” went on to have successful careers. Though other featured artists may have never made another recording, they certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. From the opening track featuring The Calvary Nightingales’ “Keep On Pushing” with its bluesy guitar accompaniment to the closing “Sinner Man (What You Gonna Do)” by the female quartet, the Bible Tones, there are plenty of gems that make this set worthwhile.  

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story offers a unique overview of regional gospel music from the 1970s that reflects the contemporary Memphis music scene of the era, from the soul of Stax Records to the blues, R&B and rock recorded at Sun Studio. This compilation is an important addition to the documentation of Memphis music, and the liner notes by Michael Hurtt provide further historical context.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss