This series of CDs is always a pleasure to compile as it covers an era I was not around for, in a record collecting, or even listening, capacity. Much of it is therefore new to me at the 'getting the titles together' stage. There are always plenty of pleasant surprises and the occasional revelation.
This was an age where the level of song craftsmanship was truly exceptional. Take Garnet Mimms' A Quiet Place-.-it starts with an unaccompanied (in more senses than one) woman hollering out of the window for one 'Johnny Dollar', which elicits a most tuneful response from Garnet, bemoaning the row while backed by the solitary bass singer from the Enchanters. That's the first ten seconds of the song and already we have a picture of a Harlem tenement, a lovelorn occupant with a straying, good-for-nothing boyfriend, neon lighting and clotheslines strewn across the alleyway. And don't get me started on what happens when the strings, drums and the rest of those enchanting Enchanters come in.
New York was definitely the pioneering city for soul music. Undoubtedly Detroit had the biggest individual label but that had already been influenced by Jackie Wilson and other earlier productions. Over half the tracks on this bountiful CD came from NYC and if you want a testament to its quality, look no further than Brooks O'Dell's Watch Your Step. The writers who created this masterpiece were Luther Dixon, Tommy Bell and Kenny Gamble - the aural equivalent of getting Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Canaletto to knock up a picture together. Then you've got Reggie Obrecht putting the ace Big Apple musicians through their paces, to create an eerie, swirling sea of emotion complementing the highs, lows, building tensions and breaks that the song provides. Brooks himself was a fabulous singer and he responds with a vocal that conveys every last emotion of a troubled lover. This recording reminds me of the early 6Ts days, when Randy Cozens was compulsively making tapes to counteract some of Wigan's later playlists and to teach anyone who would listen what real 60s soul could aspire to. He also made the point that music needn't be 100 mph to dance to-.-deeper sounds could be moved to out on the floor, particularly if a partner could be found.
We've already mentioned the highly influential city Detroit and this CD is notable for the first Motown licenses on Kent. The reason why it's taken us so long are down to major record company policies, politics and the cost. With Kent's 20th anniversary coming up next year, it's about time we said Sod, the expense!"
The three tracks we've chosen include a rare Jimmy Ruffin offering on one of the smaller subsidiary labels, an in-demand, but neglected, early Miracles' number and a beautiful Carolyn Crawford collector's item, for those who knew what the real 'Sound Of Motown' was.
Even further back in the 60s came Richard Berry's Have Love Will Travel, an R&B classic that's been massively popular on the post 1990, UK mod scene. It has even crossed over to Northern Soul fans in the last couple of years. Manic and magical, it sounds better than ever since Ace acquired the master tape.
When I booked Ray Pollard to sing at the 100 Club I was surprised to get a call from Bill Fredericks, one of the later Drifters, who was worried it was some sort of a hoax designed to break his heart. "It can't be THE Ray Pollard from New York, the guy who used to sing lead with the Wanderers. He's my greatest singing hero of all time!" When I told him it was indeed the same person, he immediately booked a table for eight and insisted on paying for everyone. He wouldn't dream of having any sort of guest list, that would have cheapened the magic of the event. Ray did indeed sing like a bird, as he does on You Can't Run Away From Me, his last group release before a musically stunning solo career.
Another early soul group sound comes from Chicago outfit the Blenders. Their biggest record Daughter was cut in 1963 on Witch and at the session they also recorded the excellent Big Lover that inexplicably remained in the can until now. It really is top notch and a big bonus for any lover of the black vocal group sound.
As far as revelations go, just listen to the original take of I Need Your Loving by Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford. You may think you've got the wrong track, but hang on in there and be amazed.
For the esoterically inclined we have the male soul duo sound of the Taylor Brothers' People In Love-.-one of those legendary early soul records that we knew so little of at the time and not much more now.
The CD has its fair share of R&B hits and obscurities, plus excellent, copious notes from Dave Godin in a lavish booklet. Just seeing the names that produced, arranged and conducted these tracks: Van McCoy, Bobby Robinson, Bert Keyes, Jeff Barry, Garry Sherman, Jerry Ragovoy, Don Costa, Bert Berns, Richard Barrett, Teacho Wiltshire, Ed Townsend, Robert Banks and Berry Gordy remind us why we collected obscure pieces of vinyl in the first place.
By Ady Croasdell