Second only to Motown in terms of releases and hits in 60s and 70s Detroit, Westbound and its sister label Eastbound hit on a successful formula of cutting rhythm tracks at Willie Mitchell’s studios in Memphis, while adding strings and backing vocals in Detroit. This was mainly employed on the Detroit Emeralds and Denise LaSalle; other hit acts like Funkadelic and the Fantastic Four were recorded in Detroit as were the many smaller acts. With Motown’s acquisition and decommissioning of the Golden World stable of labels in 1967 and the demise of indies like Thelma and MAH’s, there was a lot of talent in the city with few recording outlets. It was in fact one of the old school Detroit soul producers, Mike Hanks, who persuaded record distributor Armen Boladian to try his hand with a new label.
For some years I had been toying with the idea of using some of the odd Westbound tracks like the ones by Emanuel Laskey and Jimmy Scott on a Detroit Legends CD. Digging deeper though, it transpired that there were a lot of very good dance tracks, known and unknown, that would warrant a CD to themselves. Having periodically given the Joe Matthews and Eddie Hill tracks featured here a spin on the ole DAT machine and having seen them listed in the Westbound discography, I’m afraid I took them rather for granted as staple Detroit soul releases. In researching this CD further it transpired that the tracks had probably never made it to vinyl, though there is a possibility Joe Matthews’ may have been on a test pressing or demo that has never turned up. That gives this release more importance because these are very good tracks from important local artists, that virtually nobody will have previously heard; as are others featured here.
Though Funkadelic were one of the company’s biggest acts, their and their followers’ brand of off-the-wall soul/funk aren’t really cut out for this compilation, with the notable exception of their fine version of the old Golden World classic ‘Can’t Shake It Loose’. Denise LaSalle was a big success but pretty much did her own thing, with her Crajon Productions which came out on other labels - only her own recordings came out Westbound. The Eastbound subsidiary was originally jazz-based and surprisingly two of the best 70s soul tracks I’ve heard recently are provided by ex-Lou Donaldson sidemen Melvin Sparks and Caesar Frazier.
The most influential act, vis-a-vis this compilation, was the Detroit Emeralds who had a string of hits and also brought talent to the label and produced and wrote for others. We only have one of their tracks on here as they are covered well on our Westbound CDs and their lilting mid-tempo sound did not particularly fit into that Northern soul ethos. Their protégé Damon Shawn came up with the first version of ‘Feel The Need In Me’ and the one that got the UK DJ plays. His other track on here, also written by the Emeralds’ lead singer Abe Tilmon Jr, ‘Love Love Love’ (not the Bobby Hebb track) is a splendid number with a big orchestral production that should have done much better. There is a different take on the Detroit Emeralds’ ‘I Can’t See Myself Doing Without You’ by the very unknown Bob & Harold, another case of a discography entry without a disc! Similarly the Magictones reading of ‘Till You Decide To Come Home’ is tougher than the Emeralds’ hit version. Best of all however is a master tape of Abe and Denise LaSalle on an unknown groovy duet called ‘Ain’t That Lovin’’. It would surely have launched a new career for the two 70s soul superstars given the chance.
We purposely tried to avoid tracks from the still-in-catalogue Westbound CD “The Westbound Sound Of Detroit” CDSEWD 065, which was all vocal groups, but we have picked the best five tracks on there and still managed to find nine new group performances, including a good unissued Magictones and two fabulous slow burners from the New Holidays and the Houston Outlaws. The former’s ‘Maybe So, Maybe No’ has been revived recently by Nu Soul act Mayer Hawthorne; but as Dobie would say ……… the original’s still the greatest.
By Ady Croasdell