In 1971 the only two known soul fanatics in the University of London were myself and Rawtenstall (deepest Lancashire)-born Steve Cowell. We met after I heard The Fascinations' Girls Are Out To Get You playing in his room, an occurrence exceptional enough to make me knock on the door and introduce myself.
Though possessing a great soul collection, he was relatively untravelled outside the Rossendale Valley and had not come across many exotic names (give or take one or two Sidebottom's or the odd Oswaldtwistle). There was one record in his collection that cracked him up at the mere thought of it, and that was down to the singer's name being Spencer Wiggins who, though well-respected as an artist appealed to Steve's chuckle muscles as the oddest name he'd ever come across.
Being similarly young and stupid and not wishing to be outdone, the same helpless mirth affected me at the sight of Charles Leonard's Jay Boy single A Funky Driver On A Funky Bus Part 1. This time it was the title that did the trick. I had a distinct suspicion that Charles had over-egged the 'Funky' pudding. Luckily this foible only affected me and the single had healthy sales in the South's funk clubs.
I later learnt that Charles Leonard's original US label was called Loadstone and over the ensuing collecting years I always took time out to listen to the label's releases and picked them up if they suited my taste and pocket.
I picked up a couple of nice girl group soul singles from the Chandeliers that, although dated, captivated me with their charm. I got a nice disco soul item from a grandly named character called Herman H Harper II and then heard tell of a super rare LP by the California Playboys that had a couple of killer dance tracks that were getting spun on the 70s Northern Soul scene. Next came a couple of beautiful ballads from Jacqueline Jones, an early groove from Sly & The Family Stone, and an old fashioned 60s stomper from Eugene Jefferson, imaginatively titled A Pretty Girl Dressed In Brown. There were a couple of rejections: an early 60s white wimp ballad from Guy Apollo and a manic piece of 70s black consciousness preaching from the Rev L Overstreet.
As my job with Kent progressed to hunting down label owners to acquire US rights, I always kept an eye out for the ubiquitous WC Stone, whom I correctly assumed to be the label owner. When I finally tracked him to his San Franciscan home it was pure serendipity that had me in the same room as the Funky Driver On A Funky Bus (Part 1).
His own story of his involvement in the record business was fascinating-.-starting out with a slight curiosity in music he had ended up an experienced, talented producer with 20 years worth of black music catalogue. He also had most of the original tapes of his recordings and a great selection of colour and black and white photos of the artists.
He told me of the deal with the great soul duo Eddie and Ernie, problems with Detroit soul star Lee Rogers and his pride in his first artists, the jazz-based group the Cals. The whole project proved to be very worthwhile and enlightening-.-all because of a fit of student giggles!
By Ady Croasdell