The San Francisco Bay Area was not known as a centre for urbane soul productions in the 1960s, yet judged on the contents of “Hitsville West”, the R&B-mad region was just as capable of generating fine sophisticated soul sounds. An adjunct to our recent Kent collection “Moaning Groaning Crying”, this compilation focuses on the more polished of local soul recordings, and in doing so necessarily includes virtually the entire catalogue of the renowned Villa label.
It seems aeons ago ago that Ady Croasdell and I first saw a shelf-worth of multi-track reels in the Fantasy vault, all with the legend “Villa Productions” inscribed across their log sheets. Ady has waxed lyrically in his voluminous Kent scribblings of the occasion when, after copying the tapes, I surprised his unsuspecting ears at the Ace office with not one, but two vocal variants of the legendary Villa instrumental Double Cookin’. In fact, after Ady’s repeated spins of the Magicians’ (Just A Little) Faith & Understanding at full blast, there were numerous entreaties from the Ace staff for just that: ie shut the listening room door and turn the volume down, or at least put some bloody headphones on!
In truth, Villa was a tiny little entity with nary a handful of releases to its name from 1964 to 1966, but they were all of top quality. The Magicians’ three singles, including the classic Love, Let’s Try It Again and their local hit Why Must You Cry are reasonably well known, Ozz & The Sperlings’ dancefloor faves slightly less so, and the final release on the label, by future Mirwood stars the Performers, is pretty much off the radar. Double Cookin’ needs no introduction, having worn out an inordinate amount of parquet in the halls of northern England over the years, but among the Villa tapes were several strong performances that had been left in the can, due principally to the penury of owners Herb Campbell and Frank Jones. The Tandels were the first with the marvellous piece of moody girl group soul in Why Did Our Love Go, plus the original template for Double Cookin’, Is It Love Baby. We proudly present two unissued Magicians gems, one of which is the intensely soulful ballad Trust In Me. And there’s the R&B workout Earthquake, by Troy Try My Love Dodds, which came out on releated Beechwood imprint.
The Villa recordings on HITSVILLE WEST are joined by other fine soulful sounds from the Bay Area of the mid-60s. There’s two tracks from the inestimable Claude Huey, including an alternate mix of his highly regarded Why Would You Blow It. The Fantasy subsidiary Early Bird provides rarities by Harold Andrews and Sisters Three, as well as the northern anthem We Got To Keep On by the incomparable Casanova II. Throw in some fleet-footed faves from the Ballads and Fuller Brothers, and you’ve got yourself a grab-ag of smartly-dressed yet cruelly undervalued soul. Putting this package together, I had a ball hanging out with sundry Magicians, Tandels and the two main men behind Villa, KSOL dee jay Campbell and arranger/writer Jones, the latter a true genius in the studio. “Hitsville West” finally gives Frank, and his cohorts, a soulful showcase.
By Alec Palao