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Kent Harris' R&B Family, CD (£11.50)
Kent Harris’ strong point was undoubtedly his witty and topical lyrics, allied to having his ear to the ground for the latest trends in black music. His most famous work – ‘Clothes Line’, recorded under his alias Boogaloo & His Gallant Crew – was plundered by Leiber and Stoller for the Coasters’ ‘Shoppin’ For Clothes’ and is already out on an Ace compilation. All four of his Crest sides are humorous, streetwise and down with the groove of the day. ‘Big Fat Lie’ concerns a visit to the pawnbrokers, which a lot of black audiences could relate to in the 50s. Other novelty songs include ‘Big Chief Hug-Um An’ Kiss-Um’ by James Shaw, later to be known more grandly as the Mighty Hannibal, and the newly-discovered Boogaloo recording ‘I’m In The Dog House Again’. He’s so late back his woman won’t let him into the house and he has to kip down with the dog. ‘Double Locks’, which Kent wrote for Johnny Gosey, deals with an angry landlady putting locks on the tenant’s crib until the back rent is paid.
Kent’s arrangements were innovative too. On the Francettes’ ‘He’s So Sweet’, he and group manager Frances Gray combined to get the backing girls calling and responding and throwing in their own seemingly ad-libbed comments rather than just filling in the harmony.
New Breed R&B lovers will appreciate Dimples’ ‘Love Came Tumbling Down’, while the new version of Donoman’s ‘I’m The Only One’ by the Phillips Sisters is a big bonus. The whole mysterious Donoman / Cry Baby Curtis story is related in the booklet. His ‘Monday Is Too Late’ has a New Orleans meets ‘Turn On You Lovelight’ vibe that will thrill traditional R&B lovers.
Though Kent Harris had many high quality soul productions (they’ll feature on a future Kent CD) he always had a bias towards the blues and you feel that the ‘You Ain’t Right’ wailer from Faye Ross was the side the musicians had their hearts in, rather than the Motown-esque ‘Faith, Hope And Trust’. Kent’s partner, and love of his life, Ty Karim, was primarily a soul singer but when they worked on a blues like ‘Take It Easy Baby’, it was as intense as anything they cut together.
Vocal group collectors will be pleased with the new version of ‘Diddy Bop’ that predates the Valaquons’ Rayco release and the splendid Lon-Genes provide an incredibly rare harmony ballad as well as a new twist on an old dance craze.
We have chased tapes, 45s and label scans all across the world to get the productions and recording facts of a seriously overlooked R&B producer into an accurate history. Though a large amount of information has been discovered, we are positive there are more obscure 45s out there featuring Kent’s work. If you know of any, please do let us know.
Footnote: I’ve been chasing the missing Romark 103 release by the Phillips Sisters ‘After Tonight’ / ‘The Wiggle’ for months but only tracked down a copy after this CD’s deadline had gone. I clicked on the soundfile with great hope of finding a previously unissued R&B gem, but sadly it was a disappointment. The vocals on ‘After Tonight’ leave a lot to be desired on an, at best, average song while the flip is an instrumental; at least it’s not a crucial omission on here.
By Ady Croasdell