It’s a very special time here at Ace Towers as we are celebrating the 40th birthday of one of our very favourite record labels, Westbound. Ace has represented Westbound in Europe for the best part of 20 years, lovingly reissuing their greatest and also their most obscure records. It’s been great to have been on hand when ‘Maggot Brain’ was declared “the most influential thing ever, ever” and as obscure singles on the Eastbound label became sample classics or northern soul monsters. So this month, last month and in fact well into the New Year we will be focusing on some special Westbound releases as a tribute to 40 incredible years and raising a toast to owner and founder Armen Boladian.
Westbound was founded in 1968 just as things in Detroit were on the wane for independent record labels. The phalanx of labels that had started up in the wake of Berry Gordy’s Motown were being slowly forced out of the local market by its success. Motown bought some of their rivals, and others faded away. Ironically Gordy already had his eyes elsewhere and moved his enterprise to the sunshine of LA. Armen Boladian had been a key figure in Detroit distribution, and for the first year of his new label he tried out various local talents to find out what would work. Funkadelic were the first group to take off, scoring hits with ‘I’ll Bet You’ and their debut album “Music For Your Mother”, followed by others, meaning that George Clinton’s mob were critical to the label in the first half of the 70s. Today their albums are seen as cornerstones in the development of music.
Bigger hits came with the Detroit Emeralds, the Ohio Players and Denise LaSalle. A little remembered point is that the recordings of the Detroit Emeralds and LaSalle were pioneers of the Hi Sound, produced by Willie Mitchell in Memphis. LaSalle’s ‘Trapped By A Thing Called Love’ was actually the first Hi Sound #1, weeks before Al Green. Off these success stories followed a large range of music: soul, funk, or group sounds. In addition was the Eastbound label that specialised in jazz albums – highly sought-after today – and singles, often of astounding quality, such as Unique Blend’s ‘I’m In Love’.
Success continued through the disco era with C J & Co, Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, along with plenty of quality soul. Albums such as that by Eramus Hall are considered to be indie soul masterpieces today. However the late 70s was not a time to be an independent label trying to have pop hits, so Armen moved into the gospel world and we have featured a couple of these gospel cuts in our selection. Bill Moss’ cut is an amazing heartfelt sound, whilst the Clark Sisters’ ‘You Brought The Sunshine’ became an anthem at the legendary Paradise Garage nightclub in New York, and was a final shot at mainstream success.
Raise your glass to Westbound Records, a really great record label.
By Dean Rudland