Manifesto February, 2012
Another year is upon us - who knows just what it will bring to rare soul? Some aspects I would put hard cash on though..... the upfront crowd will continue to gripe about the popularity of oldies events, some totally unexpected track will grab the dance floors at those same oldies nights, the same ol’, same ol’, will rule the roost, modern soul will remain a nebulous concept and legal reissues will continue to proliferate. That’s sorted that out then! Onwards with 2012, but not before a brief glimpse back at December’s Manifesto.....
Soul Sam’s selection of 45’s to review sent me scuttling for the shelves once more in order to listen with ‘fresh’ ears to some records I’ve had knocking around for a long time. Such discs as the Banks Bro’s on Consolidated and One Hundred Years on VIP are certainly many, many, miles away from ‘Stick By Me Baby’ and will largely serve to alienate followers of the Salvadors and other tried and tested oldies whilst causing adrenaline to course through the veins of a chosen few. There is of course almost a complete absence of genuinely new sixties discoveries. Certainly on vinyl! Andy Dyson brought me one recently, covered up of course with one of the back issues from his ‘Woman’s Own’ collection. My reaction was to pull out a copy of ‘Blowing My Mind To Pieces’ to remind him how far the search for new discoveries had meandered away from the golden path it was supposed to be. It was bound to happen of course -1966 can only be plundered so much and as long ago as 1976 the Mecca famously pronounced, rather prematurely I might add, that the best sixties records had all been found. Fortunately for the ‘traditional’ sound of Northern Soul tracks do keep on coming from those old, dusty, master tapes. Ace/Kent are foremost in this field and, after my pronouncement that ‘Rare, Collectable and Soulful Volume 3’ wouldn’t ever happen via Sony, Kent found a way around it all by doing a deal directly with Pied Piper Productions. I’ve heard brief snippets of some of the latest batch of tunes from this source and they are pretty impressive without offering the sense that ‘Since I Found My Baby’ (for instance) was any kind of mistake as a single at the time. One track had the same backing track as Mikki Farrow’s ‘Set My Heart At Ease’ (Karate) I do seem to remember. As I’m not on Adey’s Christmas card list I can’t add any more details I’m afraid, but doubtless the Kent man will get these known to over fifty people in the course of his machinations, so perhaps all will be revealed in time.
I must pay tribute to John Smith’s article on James Thompson of the Voicemasters/Hypnotics in December’s Manifesto. This was the kind of detailed insight into an obscure situation that soul music doesn’t have enough of. By comparison with the blues for instance, soul music is somewhat under-valued and unresearched. One school of thought could, with reasonable argument, state that the scene revolves around records people can dance to all night and that it is basically as simple as that, but there is certainly room for those who want to know about our music as a subject. And as with most subjects there is a real satisfaction in validating this field of endeavour with knowledge. It isn’t an either/or situation, the exploration of soul runs parallel to a good night out, nonetheless many might be surprised at how little some of the ‘top’ deejays know about the records they spin. Okay, let’s move out of the pulpit onto some records.
The name of BARRY WHITE is not one normally associated with the more obscure corners of soul music. I suppose that he was one of the seventies’ biggest stars, although his rumbling vocals were rarely taken too seriously by connoisseurs. Like many superstars he had a career before he was famous and it is fairly well known that he styled himself as Lee Barry, also Gene West, on a couple of sixties 45’s. He can be found producing quite a few releases from the decade as well, for instance ‘This Thing Called Love’ by Johnny Wyatt (he co-wrote it as well). As Barry White he recorded for Bob Keene’s Bronco label too with ‘All In The Run Of A Day’ being just four releases after Wyatt’s classic. This song has minor Northern interest but another, much earlier, Barry White release has recently found itself placed under the demand microscope in the shape and form of ‘Tracy (All I Have Is You)’ on Faro 613. It is almost a cliché now amongst lesser-known sixties sounds to say they were played at Stafford (albeit briefly in many instances) but yes, it happened with ‘Tracy’ too. To be honest I didn’t think that we would hear much from this particular release again but the still-very-active R&B faction has embraced the Ray Charles-styled groove of this track. White finds himself backed by the Atlantics who were a Chicano band out of El Monte, California; indeed they recorded for Rampart, a sister label to Faro located in Los Angeles. As stated above we can make references to ‘What’d I Say’ and ‘Hit The Road Jack’ on this one but just as Charles himself was moving towards ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ so was ‘Tracy’. Fortunately White hardly utilises the rather uncool (with apologies to the many Tracys out there) song title at all and I think the record dates from ’63 or ’64. The song was written by the Chick Carlton who has one or two in-demanders of his own.
Another major artist with only tenuous connections to the rare soul scene, or indeed any soul scene, is the famed bluesman B.B.KING and what would arrear to be a UK-only 45 release ‘Found What I Need’. From his album ‘Guess Who’ this single finds King keeping his guitar work to a minimum which might please some (count me in) over a 1972 pounder which sounds rather earlier with an intro not unlike Jesse Johnson’s ‘Left Out’. That isn’t to say that ‘Lucille’ (King’s famed guitar) doesn’t make her presence known throughout the track but mostly in a supplemental form rather than as a musical diatribe - no, it’s the powerhouse rhythm that is most apparent here and which leans the release towards Northern Soul. Every now and then a left-field track hits the scene with great success (labelmate ‘If I Could Only Be Sure’ was one such) and this could happen with ‘Found What I Need’ due to the essential marriage of blues tension and soul vibrancy within its grooves.
Two big names kick us off then, but what about PANDELLA KELLY? Currently a very hot crossover tune is her version of ‘Stand In For Love’ on Horoscope. The song of course was originally performed on Imperial by the O’Jays back in 1965 and whereas their version is a killer ballad, Pandella ups the tempo just a little to take the song into mid tempo territory. The connection with the O’Jays is rather obvious due to the fact that group members Bobby Massey and Walter Williams produce the Kelly 45. This would be around 1970 when Massey was about to leave the group to produce records (a bit of a mistake methinks) but they did a fine job with Kelly adding a rather strained extra dimension to the song. At the time the Horoscope label would have been connected to Saru Records out of Cleveland and ‘Stand In For Love’ was the first release gathering little or no commercial success. Things were about to change on the next Horoscope release (102) when the Ponderosa Twins Plus One hit with a version of ‘You Send Me’, which was picked up for national distribution by New Jersey’s All Platinum Records. The label was deftly converted to Astroscope Records and carried on from there. In a completion of the circle (of sorts) the O’Jays had a release on Astroscope at a later point. Pandella Kelly was left behind however, and to my knowledge wasn’t to reappear on vinyl. Whilst hit status eluded many a black artist the output of one solitary single seems like a meagre return on the evidence of ‘Stand In For Love’.
My all-time drama series on television, by some distance, is ‘The Sopranos’ soul music occasionally rears its head in the series and the character Hesh is obviously modelled on Morris Levy who came to buy out George Goldner’s 50% share of Roulette Records in 1957. One episode throws out the nugget that the Chi-lites were originally on the same label as Tommy James (i.e. Roulette) however Tony Soprano (the lead character) corrects the purveyor of this ‘knowledge’ by saying that it isn’t true, the Chi-lites were on Brunswick. Perfectly accurate of course! What Tony wouldn’t know is that in the sixties, prior to ‘Oh Girl’, ‘Have You Seen Her’ etc, the Chi-lites were just another quality soul outfit trying hard to make it with a handful of releases on a small number of labels (Blue Rock, O’Retta, Revue). Most valued of these is ‘She’s Mine’ on Blue Rock with its crunching, tambourine-strewn, rhythm but I always go for an even earlier incarnation in the shape of MARSHALL AND THE CHI-LITE’S ‘Love Bandit’ on Daran. Not to be confused with the Keanya Collins/Patti Hamilton song this is a let-it-all-hang-out 1964 stormer that in actual fact sounds a year or two later than it is. Perhaps it was that fact that prompted UK Beacon to pick the track up in 1969, the group had just started to hit with Brunswick so perhaps Beacon were just cashing in.... or was it the embryonic Northern Soul scene that persuaded Beacon that an archetypal sixties dancer would be good catalogue? Whatever the truth, a Beacon copy would probably retail at a ton today. The true original is on Daran out of Chicago and the label was owned by Marshall Thompson’s cousin, James Shelton. Marshall Thompson was the group’s baritone and de facto leader who survives to this day (the only Chi-lite to do so) and who eventually went into business with Michael Jackson’s father and Mar-rance Records. The Daran 45 is still a comparatively cheap purchase and you will do well for your money because not only do you get the swinging, stomping ‘Love Bandit’ but also ‘Pretty Girl’ on the flip which takes a more mellow harmony approach to great effect. Back in ’77 when Ginger revived the Burnley Cat’s Whiskers all-dayers he thought it a good idea to book the Chi-lites for the first one. By this time the group were well-known seventies hitsters but not thought of as in any way Northern Soul and the crowds stayed away in their droves. If only we had known ‘She’s Mine’,’I’m So Jealous’, ‘Love Bandit’ etc back then!
I’ve gone on record before as highly rating the output of Clarence Murray. His two cheapies on SSS International ‘Don’t Talk Like That’ and ‘Baby You Got It’ are amongst my favourite Northern Soul records whilst his Deep Soul output is equally as strong. So it is with a happy heart that I can report that his third solo 45 for SSS International is also now finding a little favour. The song is ‘Let’s Get On With It’ and it hits much more of a typical Stax/Atlantic groove than his two recognised Northern oldies. I won’t make excuses for turning slightly away from a Motownesque rhythm because ‘Let’s Get On With It’ has got soul to spare. I’ve long hoped that the southern approach to uptempo soul could find a bit more room on the scene; often they are tunes that once were considered “messy” but almost always they have soul in profound abundance. Perhaps a little change is actually in the air with people pointing to the flipside of Don Varner’s ‘Tearstained Face’ in the form of ‘Mojo Mama’ and James Carr’s ‘Losing Game’ now a recognised floor filler. Murray’s “latest” offering deserves to be right up there – the way he pushes the record on with a plethora of screams and encouragement stand just outside the church, not knocking on the door of the penthouse or staring up at a disco glitterball. Very highly recommended.
Go to www.raresoulvinyl.co.uk for the world’s finest selection of online Northern Soul, Motown, Modern, Deep and Blues on original 45 plus reissues and CD.
‘Til next time
Go to www.raresoulvinyl.co.uk for the world’s finest selection of online Northern Soul, Motown, Modern, Deep and Blues on original 45 plus reissues and CDs.