Beat : Files #50
Olan, All City, talks Numero, Bandit and home schooled child stars.
A reverence for the past and a respect for the lonely journey of the African American artists and record label entrepreneurs, has guided the excellent Numero records since their foundation in 2003. Based in Chicago they've been putting together heavyweight compilations shining light on the optimism, hope and the (mostly, scantly rewarded) work of soul labels via their flagship Eccentric Soul Series, not to mention their Good God series which catalogues the praising of the Lord via the gospel-funk-soul fusion of loud drums and wah wah pedals that took place for a minute in the early 70s.
Back in the distant pre internet days it was the British who ran the compilation/excavation game while the yanks powered on with making the next shit. So you get a whole host of comps while with the best of intentions in most cases they're usually budget presses, single vinyl low quality, (often) unlicensed releases and lack of liner notes and information. Obviously inaccessibility and expense leads to cutting corners - Jazzman being the exception of course - but Americans respond to financial incentives and the aging demographic of music buyers- vinyl or otherwise – means that the average shop browser is around the age where they might just be curious about Korean Jimi Hendrix types.
Stones Throw and its subsidiary Now Again have been in it for a while but as it’s a reflection of its owners taste, label manager Egon, it has gradually moved away from the deep funk sound of the Midwest it did so much to champion to the psych / fuzz / world music. Just fresh off the presses is a beautifully packaged 10 inch set of Fela inspired music - tracks from Ghana to Columbia which were derived from the Afro beat sound
A nice flip of the usual Afro comps and extensively researched - Egons ears are pretty flawless - this will sit very nicely on your coffee table. Expect a whole host of Afro based psych and funk coming down the line. Next up is Zambia's 70s psych/rock scene.. you can grab a little taster of it here
While Egon has diverted his gaze somewhat from the vast expenses of the American mid West not to mention Florida and the West Coast - Jazzman have been working on an LA funk comp for a number of years that should see the light of day this year which is going to be a belter! The Numero camp have continued their quest to document the unheard American artists and labels based right under their noses.
It’s easy to become immune to the power of raw American funk and how revolutionary it was especially as the general nature of one upmanship in the collecting world and the curious minds of these compilers that drive them to seek out pastures new and unexpected. Numero, however, has covered almost every aspect of the African American musical experience of the 60s and 70s with the obligatory nod to disco & early rap. Focusing on everything from the broken dreams of honest endeavour, the hustlers, the groomed child stars - and their parents - and the religious experience they set the marker for from day one back in 2003 with the first of their eccentric Soul records focusing on the Capsoul label.
Based in Colombus Ohio, Capsoul was an indie label run by local businessman, entrepreneur and community activist Bill Moss (who also had a few funk hits Fairly unknown even to most collectors the chaps at Numero set about the comp after chancing upon a 45 by Johnson,Hawkins,Tatum,and Durr - You Cant Blame Me - one of the most delicious slices of soul music you'll ever digest. The name might sound like a Simpson-esque legal team - apparently Moss thought it would roll off the tongue like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - but the intensity of the intro and vulnerability of the vocal..offfft! Fantastic soul music with echoes of Motown, Sam & Dave style harmonies and a Philly lushness! The story remains the same of course- label with no experience in the harsh reality of radio promotion and distribution sources talent and releases records until the funds dry up.
For every good man beaten down by the harsh economic truths of trying to do business in America the record game has always had its share of hustlers and another fantastic trip through the vaults can be found via their Chicago compilation on the Bandit label. An interesting contrast to Capsoul, as these are two different ends of the African American experience. Bill Moss of Capsoul an all-round good guy, upstanding citizen and member of the States School Board but Chicago eccentric Arron Brown founder of Bandit wasn’t about uplifting the youth dem.
Funding the label through his wife’s wages -he was a man of leisure himself - and through the welfare cheques of about 30 young girls he took into his "care"! By all accounts the ladies lived an austere existence, in sharp contrast to Brown's indulgence! According to his daughter "he had a joyous life, he had women that rubbed his feet, rubbed his back, gave him a massage, combed his hair, fed him whenever he liked. And it was like if he's eating beef, you're going to be eating pork". Controlling his house like a primitive Big Brother - "He had intercoms set up in all the rooms. You'd have to really be careful what you said because he might be listening." He had the house tastefully decorated with “glamour shots” - naked pix of his ladies pinned up around the house to remind them of their place!
Connecting the dots in the African American musical experience they took us through a journey of home schooled child bands which followed in the wake of the Jacksons success. The afore mentioned Arron Brown groomed his son as a mini Jackson - ending up with a 45 "Sweet Pea" that garnered enough local praise though needless to say - in true child star fashion - the young Brown never saw a penny! Flipping all over the country from Miami to LA they undercover a set of passionate and disarmingly honest records - and one which predates rap by about 5 years - check Patrizia and Jimmy’s Trust your Child out of LA on the fantastic ALA label
Focusing on that other great breeding ground of African American musical talent another essential pick up is their Gospel Funk Hymnal comp Good God! Focusing at a particularly inventive and creative time of Gospel in the early 70s it’s a great selection of praises which would sit quite easily in most standard funk comps. A number of great tracks here but it ends on a high note with Detroit’s LaVice and Company's proto rap lament of hells former glory days - there’s a sample of it here
Almost 40 years on and another prototype rapper is currently summonsing up ungodly spirits, this time a little more darkly via a cover of Robert Johnson’s Me and the Devil.
Gil Scott Heron who, if things had have turned out a little differently, could quite easily have ended up a paragraph on a beautifully printed Numero liner note returns with his first LP in 15 years. Produced by XL Records Richard Russell there are obvious comparisons to Rick Rubins work with Johnny Cash. Maybe you could also say Kode 9 and Spaceape as there is a little less obvious a nod to aging and mortality than with Cash's and with the sonics a little more contemporary –its on XL - but like the people Numero document GSH has always existed on the margins of society.
In the 15 years since his last LP, rap has lost most of its potency and American music in general doesn’t engage with the political and social structures of the US on any real level. The personal struggles of the mothers, grandmothers and extended families that made these men set against the urban decay that he talked about 40 years ago and was witnessed by any of the eccentric soul participants is still here and hearing these universal stories so personally conveyed marks it as a great companion to the Numero history pieces and makes it most likely the best new old record you'll hear this year.