Southland was founded c.1948 by Joeseph P. Mares. (Mares sometimes billed himself as "Joe Mares Jr.", although his father was Joseph E. Mares.) Mares was the an amateur jazz clarinetist, and the younger brother of noted jazz cornetist Paul Mares. Mares loved traditional style New Orleans jazz and was impressed with the many fine musicians still playing in the city, only a few of whom had been recorded. (Bill Russell with his American Music Records was one of the few recording traditional musicians in the city at the time.) Mares first arranged recording sessions that he sold to other labels in the 1940s, then decided to start his own label.
Mares's regular job was running the family fur and hide business in the French Quarter. He invited musicians to regular jam sessions in a back room of the business. Unusually for the Southern United States in the era of Jim Crow laws when racial segregation was the law, many Mares's jam sessions were racially integrated, as were a good number of his recordings.
Musicians who recorded on Southland included Sharkey Bonano, Lizzie Miles, Johnny Wiggs, Paul Barbarin, and many others. George Lewis recorded the "Saint Louis Street Blues" in honor of Mares's location.
At the end of the 1960s Mares retired, and looked at offers to sell off his label. Although he was offered more money by some major labels, Mares sold to George H. Buck's GHB/Jazzology Records, as Mares knew that Buck would make a commitment to keep all his material in print, whereas the major labels were mostly interested in the recordings by currently popular artists like Pete Fountain and Al Hirt, and were likely to let the rest of the Southland catalogue go out of print.
Buck wound up reissuing most of the old Southland material on his other labels like Jazzology and American Music. For compact disc issues, the Jazzology group has used the Southland label for recordings of rural blues.
- Illustrated Southland Records discography (emphasis on Blues)