Sometimes you get enthused by the most unlikely of projects. Until Mick Patrick advised me that there were a couple of good usable R&B movers among the J & S tapes that we’d been sent, I didn’t know much about the label except for a Johnnie & Joe stomper and a couple of good Clarence Ashe deepies. Once I was told that Sprout was a subsid, I could add the rare Johnnie Richardson 45 to my starters and I knew that the Freeman Brothers 45 would grace any good soul CD.
There are some nice R&B movers, but there are also a hell of a lot of good soul sounds in there too. Some have been used on our Ace CDs of Johnnie & Joe, The Hearts and “Zell’s Girls” but they were tucked away down the track listings. Great numbers like Neice Dezel’s ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ and the Hearts’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ just had to be recycled for Kent connoisseurs.
The big finds though were the terminally obscure 45s on the label and on the Zell’s and Sprout subsidiaries. I don’t think many people knew there had been a second Gillettes 45 and, though the only known copy was somewhat battered, it was a great Impressions-inspired tune that was kindly lent to us to include here. I managed to intercept a couple of rare 45s on their flight from dealer to purchaser (with consent of course!) and copied all the data and music that we needed. Other obscurities were begged for and in the case of the great Little Willie (his words not mine) dance single, ‘I’ll Do It For You’, it was “discovered” and dropped into the compilation with merely hours to deadline.
The general J & S sound was tough and sparse, though brass was often used and, if the budget was there, some songs benefited from lush strings for dramatic effect. The music was often southern soul-influenced, as with Clarence Ashe (originally a resident of Muscle Shoals), Dicky & Billy and Jimmy Armstrong, and doesn’t go down the prevalent NYC route of big beat ballads at all. Some of the sparsely-recorded numbers like Henry Hodge and the Relations have their own appeal and charm, while others like Catha Morrison and the Freeman Brothers are complex, thoughtful and very effective productions. The Freemans’ ‘Life Of Love’, Jimmy & Arthur’s ‘Dancing In A Dream World’ and Johnnie & Joe’s ‘I Pray To Keep Our Love Strong’ are fabulous. Hugely catchy tracks that play in your head so much, that they soon feel like soul standards.
Other notable tracks are the Jaynetts 1967 uptempo update of ‘Be My Boyfriend’, Freda Allyne’s proto-funk ‘Money And All Your Love’ and Sity & James recent Northern “hit” ‘You Needn’t Tell Me’. Taffie Lee and Lee Pratt’s one-off shots at fame were good enough to have got them a recall to the studios but at least they are getting on to the decks again now.
I hope this CD gives as much fun and fulfilment to listen to as it was to compile and that reading the facts and conjecture that vie with each other in the booklet, is equally rewarding. Please feel free to send in any more top tips; we’re never too clever to learn or even be corrected. I have a feeling that this one ain’t over yet.
By Ady Croasdell