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San Franciscan soul has traditionally had more of a bluesy flavour than that of its sophisticated cousins from Detroit, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. The vast immigration of southern African-Americans to the dockyards of the Bay Area during World War II created an audience with an appetite for earthier, rawer sounds, from the R&B and funk of earlier decades to the rap and hip hop of today. That said, during the 1960s and early 1970s there were many classy uptown soul productions from the area, by versatile artists such as Sugar Pie DeSanto, Eddie Foster, Little Stanley, the Ballads, the Whispers, the Natural Four and others. And it would be safe to say that some of the best recordings in that genre, as featured on this disc, were made at Leo Kulka's Golden State Recorders.
A native of Czechoslovakia, Kulka opened up shop in San Francisco in 1965. For a lengthy period he had the only truly Hollywood-style studio in the area, a fact which appealed to local artists as well as arrangers and producers like Rene Hall and Wally Cox, who put the facilities and Kulka's engineering expertise to good use. Kulka also signed many acts himself, either leasing the sides to outside labels like MTA and Acta, or issuing them himself on Golden State and its associated imprint Golden Soul.
In recent years Ace has released several critically-acclaimed volumes of the fine punk and garage groups that Kulka recorded in the mid-1960s-.-with Golden State Soul we examine his many black productions of the same era. Much of this material was not issued originally, but its quality is nevertheless outstanding, and will surely appeal to any soul lover. Personal highlights include the San Francisco TKOs' smooth harmonies on Make Up Your Mind (which our pal Horace has made a hit at his all-niters)-.-the simple but effective I Had A Girl by the pride of Berkeley High School, the Savonics-.-the driving blue-eyed sounds of the Spyders and the Generation, the latter featuring Lydia Pense of Cold Blood-.-and the undeservedly obscure voice of belter Jeanette Jones.
I first met Leo Kulka almost a decade ago and we soon became firm friends: he was an exceptionally warm and generous man. Over the ensuing years, until his recent and untimely passing, Leo spent many hours reminiscing about his time at Golden State Recorders, whilst we pored over his vast tape catalogue (along the way unearthing gems such as the a cappella Variations' demos featured here). The countless vintage musicians I have spoken to who worked with Leo, or recorded at Golden State, all recall him in the fondest light-.-but the greatest testament to Kulka's work and vision is his recorded legacy, which, as evidenced on Golden State Soul, speaks for itself.
By Alec Palao