A selection of rare funk and soul from America’s West Coast.
There is a Californian myth of sun, sand and tanned blondes of both sexes enjoying a life of carefree exuberance. For black America, the Golden State offered a different dream and throughout the 20th century the lure of a booming economy attracted millions to the most populous state in the Union. Where there is money, an entertainment industry invariably appears to relieve people of it, and all over California– especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Bay Area – clubs, bars and record labels sprang up. In the immediate post-WWII years these attracted black musicians from all over the country hoping to make their fortune.
The boom years of the 40s and 50s were followed by a decade when social problems from elsewhere in the country arrived to pierce the dream. Independent labels had a hard time competing with the resurgent majors and super-independents such as Imperial owned by white entrepreneurs. The black scene was pushed underground.
But with many years experience behind them, musicians, songwriters and record men continued doing what they were doing – forever hoping the next success, the big break, was on its way. Stevie Wonder was recording at the Record Plant; with a bit of luck, next it could be them. This is the spirit captured on “California Soul” – club singers, former doo woppers, bands of kids off the streets all hoping to break out of their day-to-day life. If it didn’t work out, at least make a living doing something they enjoyed.
We have an amazing selection of funk and soul contained within the 20 tracks. From the Soul Sensations’ ballad ‘When I Had You, Baby’ – one of the finest examples of harmony singing you will ever hear – to the raw street funk of Little Johnny Hamilton’s two-part ‘The Git Down’ and everything in between, this represents the best music coming out of California at the time. Who could ignore the exceptional ‘Butterfly’ by the Ballads or the Brenton Wood-composed ‘Strike’ by Union featuring the vocals of Gail Anderson.
Also present are some previously unreleased masterpieces, great Temptations-style vocal funk and club classics such as Brenda George’s ‘What You See Is What You’re Gonna Get’. Some of these artists went on to bigger things; others drifted away from the business when success didn’t come their way. I’d argue that what we have here is their finest work.