Fat Possum Records

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 Mississippiblues 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 Sundance Channelproduction, features on NPR, and a 2004 documentary, You See Me Laughin. Fat Possum also distributes the Hi Records catalog.

Fat Possum was founded in 1991 by  Living Blues editor Peter Redvers-Lee, who went to the University of Mississippi for his MA studies in Journalism. He planned on starting a record label and picked the name with another student, Billy ”Pup” Cochrane. Co-founder Matthew Johnson, who grew up in the state, was also a student at the University of Mississippi. By 1994 or so Lee left, and freelance recording engineer Bruce Watson assumed his managerial role. An early investor was John Hermann of Widespread Panic, who also pitched Robert Palmer’s name as producer.

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 Palmer (previously a teacher of Johnson at the University of Mississippi), 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. In 1995, they added Arkansas bluesman John ”So Blue” Weston to their roster, with So Doggone Blue (FP 1003) produced by Grammy nominee and Living Blues writer Larry Hoffman. Disputes between the artist and label resulted in Hoffman buying back the master and selling it to Evidence Records (UPC: 730182609226). 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.

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 in 2005. T-Model Ford and Robert Belfour joined in the 2010s.