The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1. is an upcoming compilation of raw 1970s Memphis gospel-soul coming out September 18 via Bible & Tire, the sacred soul music label started by Fat Possum's Bruce Watson. We're premiering a stream of "Keep On Pushing" by The Calvary Nightingales, whose producer Pastor Juan D. Shipp said "were a fantastic group. They wanted to record that because a couple of the guys in the group was having a hard time getting things done and somebody told them they need to keep on pushing to reach a goal. So that’s how the song came about."

The album comes with liner notes by Michael Hurtt, and here's an excerpt from those with more background:

Memphis, Tennessee, 1972: Seated behind a primitive mixing board in a tiny Quonset hut at 64 Flicker Street, just a stones’ throw from the Illinois Central railroad tracks, Pastor Juan D. Shipp crackles over the AM airwaves with an electrifying array of the latest and greatest in gospel quartet sounds. With an audience that spans the width and breadth of the Bluff City, from truck cabs to taxi stands, from Mid-Town to Orange Mound, from the Peabody Hotel to Payne’s Barbecue, if you’re a fan of Memphis’s thriving gospel scene, you’re locked into “Juan D” at K-WAM, “the Mighty 990,” the very station that — twenty years earlier, during its first incarnation as KWEM across the river in West Memphis, Arkansas — had first brought blues wizard Howlin’ Wolf to the ears of recording engineer Sam Phillips. Now, two decades later, having revolutionized the music world with Sun Records and its holy trinity of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, the Wolf still remained Phillips’ favorite. “This is where the soul of man never dies,” he’d memorably declared of the six-foot-six gravel-voiced force of nature, a description that could just as easily be applied to so many of the artists whose records Shipp is now spinning over the air.

The deeply satisfying music is rivaled only by a warm, on-air personality as powerful as the ten thousand watts that beam him all the way to Little Rock, Arkansas and deep into the Mississippi Delta. And his isn’t the usual pay-to-play program that so many folks — in fact, the Wolf himself and Johnny Cash not long afterward — have historically had to depend upon to stay on the air. Shipp is a payrolled employee of K-WAM; a salaried record spinner who doesn’t need to rely on recruited sponsorship for survival.

[...] Aside from their stellar audio and pressing qualities, Shipp’s productions — whether they were released on D-Vine or JCR — possessed something that’s even harder to achieve: their very own sound and style; a combination of distinctively deep and beautiful vocal harmonies, up-front guitar, grooving bass, explosive drums, and that ever-present overtone of rhythm and blues and country and western that swirled together under the roof of Stax Records just a few years earlier. From the very first singles by the Traveling Stars, the Exciting Legion Aires, Elizabeth King and the Gospel Souls and Elder Ward and the Gospel Four, it was crystal clear to anyone listening: a D-Vine disc wasn’t just ordinary gospel — it was the very essence of gospel soul at its finest. The JCR sides may have been a little more rough and ready, but records like the Silver Wings’ wah-wah-flavored “Call On Him” and the Calvary Nightingales’ insistent “Pushing For Jesus” were drawn from the same well and featured many of the same secret ingredients, beginning with teenage guitarist Wendell “Music Man” Moore. “The organ was manned by Thomas Knight and the piano was graced by Jessie Mae Shirley of the Shirley singers. Jack Stepter of the Stepter Four Singers would help with voice for groups that needed it.”

[...] Once in a great while, all the stars align and talent, timing and technology come together in a musical miracle the likes of which haven’t been heard before and won’t be heard again. Such was the case with JCR Records, whose democratized vision couldn’t help but unwittingly document the sound of an entire region during a particularly musically fertile time and place. The benefit of hindsight has made this even more apparent, and a forthcoming D-Vine Spirituals triple album set will tell the whole remarkable story in full detail. But there are stories within the story, and after sorting through the Tempo tape archive, things presented themselves just as they did in Jesus’s teachings in the books of Mark, Luke and Matthew. JCR may have begun as D-Vine’s secondary label back in the seventies, but after all, most of these artists wanted a record out right away, so now, all these years later, the same principle has been applied. As the Savior once predicted: “The last shall be first!”

Listen: