Personnel: Mickey Hunter (vocals); Connie Conway (trumpet); Jimmy Wilcox (piano).
Liner Note Authors: John P. Dixon; Dan Nowicki.
Illustrators: Jack Miller ; John P. Dixon.
Photographers: Jack Miller ; John P. Dixon.
Among American independent labels of the '50s and '60s, MCI Records isn't as legendary as, say, Sun or Chess, even if it is as firmly tied to its geography as those two imprints. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, MCI -- its name derived from Music Counselors, Inc -- was the brainchild of songwriter Paul Humlie and musicians Connie Conway and Jimmy Wilcox, the trio paying their bills through ad jingles but dipping their toe in middle of the road pop. Unlike the MOR pop coming out of the coasts, MCI's was a little leaner, emphasizing sweet and nimble rhythm sections and even sweeter singers, all creating appealingly featherweight material that could appeal to both teenyboppers and housewives. Things changed for MCI when Lee Hazlewood left his self-financed Viv to record the swinging rockabilly of "The Fool" at the home of Humlie, Conway, and Wilcox. Sung by Sanford Clark, "The Fool" is snappy and cinematic, and its regional success opened the door for other quirky rockers at MCI, along with some odd country tunes as well. Bear Family's 2015 compilation Martians, Demons and Fools Like Me: The MCI Records Story is sequenced so it's not quite chronological and it's littered with excavated recordings -- nine of its 39 tracks bear a 2015 copyright, but it's not like the other 30 sides are overly familiar -- so it proceeds at an odd gait, bopping between the sugar-spun pop and the twangier tracks before ending up in a pile of commercials, but maybe that's suitable for a label that never quite had a singular identity. Rather, the guys at MCI went after every trend -- trashy sax-propelled rockers, teenage tunes, half-formed novelties, quickie cash-ins, and dusty cinematic 45s that felt West coast while also acting as a precursor to Hazlewood's '60s work -- and that eagerness to throw everything against the wall to see what sells is not only endearing, but a good snapshot of the record industry in the post-rock & roll gold rush. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine