When we began to search for the owners of the Sounds Of Memphis and XL record labels, we were aware of a small number of their releases, perhaps a CD or two’s worth of material – an interesting project to do some work on if we could secure a deal. It took us a few years to track down Gene and Linda Lucchesi and then a little bit longer to do the deal and get into the climate-controlled tape vault. Sitting at Ardent Studios in Memphis lining up the tapes and transferring the music contained on the reels we realised that we had something more exciting. This was an untapped mine of great recordings – Southern soul at its very finest. Our first objective was to get a Barbara Brown album completed and then a great compilation. Once we had completed those we realised that we hadn’t even touched the surface of what was available. Gene Lucchesi, who had started the label in the mid-60s, had been fairly free with his studio time while employing the best producers and the best musicians in town. We are now into our third various artists compilation of the material and if anything this contains some of the strongest cuts we have ever had.
My favourites come from the lesser-known artists. The two tracks by Willie Walker (the Goldwax singer) were produced as demos by George Jackson. The wonderful ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ and the equally classy ‘Run Around’, could quite easily have been released, such is their quality. I suspect Otis Wheat’s ‘I’m Your Slave’ comes from the same time and makes you wish that he had recorded more. William Bollinger recorded for Gene Lucchesi in the 60s and we have unearthed two more cuts that could easily become dancefloor winners in ‘People Are Talking’ and ‘I Won’t Have To Cry’. The Jacksonians – from Jackson, Mississippi – recorded six sides for SOM, of which only two were issued. We rectify that by digging out two previously unheard titles.
We have also found recordings from some of the favourites who have graced our earlier anthologies, such as another unreleased George Jackson master and a wonderful alternate take of ‘How Can I Get Next To You’. The Minits have three cuts here, two of which are unreleased. We have found an unissued Ovations gem called ‘The Plumber’ and the title track, an unreleased stepper from Louis Williams. Two other highlights for me are the Dan Greer cuts from the period when he was in-house producer for the label. They shine a light on not only his songwriting talents, but also his exceptional voice. We also venture into the 80s when Gene’s daughter Linda had taken over the business determined to prove that Memphis was still a hotbed of talent. She recorded the exceptionally talented Erma Shaw and Tekelia Kelly, both showcased here.
Will this goldmine ever be exhausted? I can only answer that vaguely: we’re on the case and more music will see the light of day.
By Dean Rudland