Fat Possum Records

Label history

Fat Possum Records is an American independent record label based in Water Valley and Oxford, Mississippi. At first Fat Possum focused almost entirely on recording previously unknown Mississippi blues artists (typically from Oxford or Holly Springs, Mississippi). Recently, Fat Possum has signed younger rock acts to its roster. The label has been featured in The New York Times, New Yorker, The Observer, a piece on NPR, and a 2004 documentary, You See Me Laughin.

Fat Possum was founded in 1991 by two Living Blues magazine staff, Peter Redvers-Lee and Matthew Johnson. Lee was born July 2, 1960, in Estcourt, South Africa. He came to University of Mississippi for his MA studies in Journalism, and became editor of Living Blues in 1987. He planned on starting a record label and picked the name with another student, Billy 'pup' Cochrane. Johnson, who grew in the state, was too a writer in Living Blues and a student at the University of Mississippi. By 1994 or so Lee left, to be replaced by Bruce Watson, manager and recording engineer. An early investor was John Hermann of Widespread Panic.

The label initially specialised in discovering blues players from the North Mississippi region, many of whom had never recorded before. At Fat Possum's behest some artists, particularly R. L. Burnside, released both standard blues albums and more techno albums, done in the style that would later be made famous by Moby's album Play. This led to a fair amount of controversy among blues purists, a group in which Johnson was largely uninterested. Many of the early artists for Fat Possum were picked with the aid of New York Times music critic Robert Palmer, who also produced a number of records for the label.

Although their releases were critically acclaimed, particularly Junior Kimbrough's album All Night Long, which received 4 stars from Rolling Stone and the loud approval of Iggy Pop, Fat Possum was perennially strapped for cash. Word of mouth and artist compilations, such as Not the Same Old Blues Crap 3 (with a cover illustration by Joe Sacco) and All Men Are Liars, gradually pulled Fat Possum out of the red, even if only for brief periods of time. A legal fight with Capricorn Records, who were to be their distributor, drained Fat Possum's funds and left a number of projects on the shelf.

Burnside proved early on to be the label's biggest money maker. Having released two albums, he teamed with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for a tour, and then recorded with the band A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, which helped Burnside and Fat Possum gain wider recognition. A remix of the R. L. Burnside song, "It's Bad You Know", was also featured prominently on The Sopranos.

With time, many of the label's artists have died. Asie Payton, King Ernest, and Charles Caldwell died before their records could be released. Kimbrough died in 1998 and Burnside 2005. T-Model Ford and Robert Belfour joined some years later.

As the label has developed, it has begun to broaden its base of artists and sign a range of younger bands such as the Heartless Bastards, Deadboy & the Elephantmen, AA Bondy, The Black Keys, Andrew Bird, Milk Music, and the hip hop group, MellowHype. It has also begun to release more archival records, such as George Mitchell's 1967 recordings of Furry Lewis, Mississippi Joe Callicott, R.L. Burnside, Townes Van Zandt, and others, with covers designed by Chip Kidd. In 2013, Fat Possum released "Ready To Die" by Iggy and the Stooges.

The label also took a step in recent years to start releasing indie rock music, and released albums from artists like Wavves, Youth Lagoon, The Walkmen, Temples (band), Yuck (band), Fat White Family, The Districts, Crocodiles, and Bass Drum of Death. They also have tapped into the indie-folk scene releasing Verbena's frontman A.A. Bondy's solo records, The Felice Brothers, and female songwriter Lissie.

Fat Possum's history is known primarily for its early blues artists. The successful band The Black Keys released their second album Thickfreakness (2003) on Fat Possum, and left the label after their third album Rubber Factory (2004). Solomon Burke's "comeback" album, Don't Give Up On Me, won the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Fat Possum also distributes the Al Green catalog, including "Greatest Hits" (1975).

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