Anthony [Tony] Renfro is the sort of bloke you just can't help liking. This 66 year old label owner still comes across as a naive innocent who has just left home and wants to know more about the world. I'm sure that his - always polite but curious - attitude was how he got to learn so much about the record industry that so enthrals him. Once he realised his natural charm opened doors for him, I've a feeling he played upon it mercilessly.
Tony tells with relish stories that sum him up. He remembers collaring Nat King Cole in the barber's. Once he was seated and unable to escape, Tony's bombarded him with ceaseless questions. At Paramount film studios he was rebuffed by Marlon Brando who was filming One Eyed Jacks, but got into conversation with Elvis Presley who was there for one of his many musical features on the same day.
Meeting Little Richard's mother at the grocery market where he worked was a great career move. An invitation back to her's for dinner gained a vital introduction to her illustrious son and Richard's advice and contacts started him on his way in the business. A similar meeting with Sam Cooke also helped by making him concentrate on the production side of the business rather than as a performer. In fact both Sam and James Brown told him bluntly that he couldn't sing. Far from being hurt, he took their advice and formed Renfro Records which (apart from one last stab at trying to be a vocalist) issued soul records that utilised the wealth of talent that was in LA in the 60s and mid 70s.
The label had next to no hits but issued some wonderful music from great singers including Carl Henderson, the Sequins and the Attractions. The company came very close to a hit with Carl Henderson's Sharing You. However the success probably came too soon, as Tony was still learning the tricky ropes of the record business and didn't maximise the song's potential. The money and lessons learnt from that minor triumph were re-invested in the label and helped the issue of such great records as the Sequins' A Case Of Love and He's A Flirt, the Stunners' Nobody But Me, the Attractions' Why Shouldn't A Man Cry and Morris Chestnut's Northern Soul anthem Too Darn Soulful.
Tony's whole way of life was devoted to the label. He lived at home with his ever-supportive family and had no rent to pay, so he could plough 90% of his wages from his job as a grocery clerk into the company. Thrifty by nature, he also knew that the less he paid for studios, singers and musicians, the more records he could put out. His likeable nature got him breaks all along the way and his friendship with Googie Rene added a vital musical ingredient to his records when he suggested hiring Arthur Wright as musical arranger. It's the classy musical silk purses that Arthur helped Tony make from his financial pig's ears that makes the records so good and has compelled rare soul fans to chase, collect and lust after them for more than thirty years. As well as Arthur's talents and know-how, Tony had the songs of Ronald Saunders and himself plus the under-rated arranging skills of Ray Jackson. These were what made Renfro so good.
This CD concentrates on the uptown uptempo recordings that have been the cause of the label's revered status in the UK. We plan to issue a CD of mainly ballads next year.
Notable tracks include the impossibly rare Bobby Wisdom's Handwriting On The Wall which is as great as its price would be if anyone ever found another one (thousands of pounds). Both sides of the Stunners' stunning one-off single are top-notch. Anything by the Sequins-.-they all start the heart racing and the toes tapping. Young Brothers' haunting What's Your Game on the very rare Soul Power subsidiary. Helen Moore's moody Get Away Blues and Viola Edwards' Love Me Baby tough femme vocal. These along with the aforementioned Carl Henderson and Attractions numbers are soul necessities and NEVER forget the mighty, mighty Morris Chestnut who sums the CD up as Too Darn Soulful!
By Ady Croasdell