It is odd to have lived with an artist’s work for many years, admiring their talents, gleaning little bits of information about them here and there, but failing to get a full picture of their career. Then suddenly things drop into place and the mists clear.
That is how the process has been in seeing O.C. Tolbert’s solo compilation come to fruition over the last few months. Firstly, a 1-inch master tape was randomly copied and turned out to feature some great songs that we had not previously realised were Dave Hamilton’s work. Then the Damn Sam The Miracle Man Tayster LP and the Tolbert Rojac singles became better known and documented. Finally a trawl through some of Dave Hamilton’s half-inch tapes revealed more un-annotated recordings. But we were still missing the vital ingredient: a family member who could fill us in on O.C.’s career details from birth to his death in 1996.
I had regularly tried the soul scene’s various web sites and information groups for details of O.C.’s life, but consistently came up with blanks. Then Eric LeBlanc – a music historian, good friend of Ace and something of a sleuth – provided me with five addresses of close relations, to whom I sent detailed letters requesting any information they could muster. Months passed and there was no word, so I decided to carry on regardless and do the best job I could on Dave Hamilton’s top male singer. Out of the blue an e-mail arrived from a Danish journalist resident in New York named Andreas Vingaard, who was researching Jack Taylor, the second of O.C.’s producers, and wondered what information we could provide him with for a forthcoming article. We got together, pooled our resources to quite an extent, and chased the family even harder. This paid off with only a couple of weeks to go to the deadline, when Andreas made contact with O.C.’s widow, Velma, and a telephone interview was arranged.
Apart from filling out the early and later years of O.C.’s life, about which we knew very little, Velma was actually involved as a co-writer on several tracks that we were to feature. Though never a part of the recording sessions, she remembered the songwriting and sequence of musical events very well. She furnished us with photos that have further improved a very substantial booklet and put us right on several points; though it turned out that a lot of the speculation was near to the truth. Her granddaughter, Myesha, was involved in getting the music, photos and information between the two countries and the whole saga was an emotional journey for all concerned.
For Velma, hearing tracks such as the original take of ‘Let Me Be Your Only Man’ and the tender ballad ‘I’ll Take It All’ was very bittersweet and rekindled all sorts of memories. For us soul fans it is a pleasure to have all his first major works on one compilation. Although the recordings stretch from 1968 to 1988, the power of O.C.’s tremendous voice makes the date of the recording low in relevance compared to the majesty of his singing. Tracks that have been dotted about on producer Dave Hamilton’s various artist compilations have had their audio revisited and further enhanced and putting them into one collection highlights their brilliance. ‘You Got Me Turned Around’ is shown to be a true powerhouse of a song, while ‘I’m Shooting High’ is mid-tempo Detroit soul at its very best. Gospel numbers such as ‘Rough Side Of The Mountain’ and ‘Somebody Is Here With Me’ fit in with the secular songs and his religious opus, ‘Give It To Glory’, is nothing short of sensational and ripe for more serious DJ attention; it is a new mix from the multi-track master that we feature this time around.
Both sides of the excellent Rolyak 45 are heard in a new, brass-led, mix and we found a finished vocal version of ‘The Grown Folks Thing’, previously only known in an abbreviated form. ‘Fix It’ is a brand new slab of funk-edged soul and ‘Message To The Black Woman’ is as good a 70s dancer with a moral as you will hear. Though primarily a 70s artist in musical style, Dave Hamilton recorded him initially on some earlier backing tracks circa 1966 and his reading of ‘All I Want Is You’ is magnificent mid-tempo deep soul singing. The similarly constructed but contemporaneously recorded ‘That’s Enough’ and ‘That’s All She Wrote’ are equally worthy. Less than a third of the songs have actually been issued on Kent and most of those are in improved sound quality.
This release will inevitably tease out a few more O.C. and Dave Hamilton facts from family and friends. Luckily we have found plenty more Dave Hamilton recordings to be able to update soul fans and music historians on future CDs. Until then revel in a truly unique and inspiring soul singer.
By Ady Croasdell