Tommy Couch Jr., son of one of the label’s founders, says the threads that run through all the Malaco hits — up to last year’s Grammy-nominated “Not My Daddy” by Kelly Price — are strong lyrics and vocals, plus production that’s only a little slick. The package is irresistible, especially to the heart of its audience, grown-up African-American women. Couch says, “We’ve gotten more phone calls like, ‘Honey, I just heard that song and I just had to pull over.'”
And Couch himself is driving through the Mississippi Delta as he talks, working on getting Malaco music into racks in convenience stores, one more way of moving music to customers as small stores go the way of 8-track tapes. “We were one of the last companies to cater to the independent mom-and-pop record shops,” Couch says. “Down in Houston, the liquor store where you would also buy CDs? Gone.”
Couch’s father founded the label after years of booking bands at the University of Mississippi. The younger Couch would eventually do the same thing at the same school, in some cases repping the sons of musicians his father worked with — such as future Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood, whose father is legendary Muscle Shoals, Alabama, bass player David Hood.
“All of my friends were driving around listening to Led Zeppelin and Skynyrd and the Who — which I did too — I followed up with Z.Z. Hill and Little Milton,” Couch says. He says his father, who still keeps office hours, discouraged him from entering the business, and he jokes that there are times he wishes he’d paid attention.
But Couch says Malaco is strong, thanks, in large part, to an extensive catalogue that stretches back to early Mahalia Jackson. There are also promising new signings like “America’s Got Talent” standout Queen Emily, whose old-school debut release was stalled by the tornado.
“We’ve had to dig in and work harder to accomplish a lot of the same things,” Couch says. “Because we’ve had to buckle down and try a little harder to do things that came extra easy to us, it should pay back exponentially.”
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