Friday, June 23, 2017

Hallmarked


I've said it before and I'm saying it again, the allure of a piece of plastic seven inches in diameter otherwise known as a single, a 45, or simply “ a little one” goes far beyond just what's in the grooves. The sleeve, be it picture or sporting a record company design, the label, and the dead wax, all have their attractions and the little details they hold can cause me to happily lose endless hours diving down some research rabbit hole.

Focussing on the label for now, just some of the information it will offer in addition to the artist and title, usually, are composer, arranger, and producer credits. I am a digger so I happily trawl, physically and virtually, through lots and lots of records that are unknown to me and I have learnt to pay close attention to the credits beyond the artist because they can hold clues. The artist maybe unknown, so now is it Soul, or Country, or Psych? The label name itself can help but not always, but a look at the detail credits can often pinpoint a genre. I've been a Soul nut for a fair few years now so I'm pretty good at spotting a Soul record, but will it be any good? I've learnt that certain names are almost a guarantee of quality.

There are many such names that will spark my interest, here are just five by way of example: Dees, Terry, Wansel, Armstead, Warren.
Familiar to Soul buffs I'm sure, here is just a line or two on each of them anyway.

Sam Dees writes, sings and produces. He has written so many great soul songs and released one of the greatest Soul albums – The Show Must Go On.

Mike Terry was initially a session bari' sax player at Motown, he has featured on so many of Soul's well known records; he then went on to become a prolific arranger in Detroit, Chicago, Philly, New York and elsewhere.

Dexter Wansel is a keyboardist and producer/arranger responsible for so many sublime Philly records throughout the 70s.

Joshie” Jo Armstead is a singer but is more well known as a songwriter. She also worked with Ashford & Simpson (ah, two more names on the “hallmark” list).

Dale Warren was an accomplished conservatory-trained violinist who became an arranger initially at Motown and later with Stax.

So to today's 45. I am familiar with Back Beat and Little Carl Carlton so there is no doubting there will be Soul in the grooves. But let's take a closer inspection on those credits – not one, but two names make an appearance from my list – producer Mike Terry, songwriter J. Armstead. This record is most definitely hallmarked!


There, see?!

PS: The latest hiatus here was partially caused by the collapse in faith in my stylus. It wasn't that old but everything I was playing no longer sounded right. So I just stopped playing things, and so the mojo disappeared again, and writer's block followed (something other bloggers around this neck of the 'net also seemed to be suffering from lately). New stylus arrived in the post a few days ago and is now duly installed. So, let's see.

PPS: Rustiness caused me to put the wrong link up (thanks for pointing it out John). Link corrected above and as a bonus here is the B side correctly named: 


Little Carl Carlton - Drop By My Place  1970

Friday, May 19, 2017

The boxes keep delivering

Yes, I went to the “little” fair again last weekend and, yes, I found some more records worth bringing home.


Most of the records I picked up this time I have probably flicked through many times before, there is no new stock in evidence, but each time I go I collect a stack that catch my attention and listen to them on the portable and I'm gradually working through them all that way. The prices get cheaper every time too as the one particular dealer whose boxes I frequent must be winding down his stock with a view to retirement in the not too distant future.

There was another dealer with a Soul box there as well this time. So, after this latest visit, my mind's made up to a next time for this little fair. But that next time will probably be next year as I will be on holiday the next time it's in town and they don't think there will be a pre Christmas one this year.


The pick of the bunch this time round is by The Vareeations, released on the Dionn label in 1968. I can find no info on The Vareeations beyond the fact they had two singles released on Dionn. Was their group name a mis-spelling? Or maybe the lead singer's name is Varee? I believe that is a name, the Ohio Players certainly wrote a song that referenced  a Varee - Varee Is Love that can be found on their album Pain

Dionn was part of the Jamie/Guyden group of labels and hailed from Philly. “Tom” Bell, in what must be an early example, is credited as arranger on Foolish One which was the plug side on this DJ copy. I love the “This Side Hot” (“Thanks – A. Lott”) sticker on the label, and the fact it has survived for almost 50 years now. What is interesting is that on 45cat and Discogs the scans of DJ copies show the other side - It's The Loving Season - with the PLUG designation. So was my copy a mistake? It's possible the record company plugged both sides at the same time, maybe to different radio stations, or different cities. So which could be considered to be the A side on the issue copy? I guess we will never know, although the matrix identifier might suggest Foolish One which is certainly a play on repeat side for me at the moment.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Maybe tomorrow

I sometimes feature records hear that I have picked up at a little local record fair that hits town about four times a year. That fair is in town again tomorrow. Each time I have been in the last year or so I have wondered whether it would be my last visit. It's mainly R&R and the few dealers with Soul boxes have dwindled to basically just one on my last visit. And that dealer is not getting any new stock in; he's not getting any younger and has stopped his visits to the States as much as anything because of the dive in the exchange rate. At the last visit he was telling me how he used to hit the big fairs and warehouses and ship hundreds, thousands of 45s back at "book rate" which was dirt cheap then. Granted this is going back a good few years now. Alas, now I finally have the inclination to do the same, those days are long gone I feel.

Anyway, at my last visit to the fair (late last year, that long ago already!) I still managed to pick up a handful of 45s I was pleased with. I thought I would dig them out and give them another spin to encourage me to go to the fair again tomorrow for yet another "one last time".

I will share of couple of them with you now.

This Sheila Ellis 45 on SAN is pretty obscure. I really love the B side If This Is Love. Described as Swamp Pop on Discogs it is certainly swampy, and I think it has a fair dash of soul too.



Sheila Ellis - If This Is Love  1963 

The Radiants were another great male vocal harmony group form the Sixties that were equally at home with dancers and the slower numbers. This one is another B side.         


The Radiants - Tomorrow   1965   

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fridays on my mind

I am surrounded by people I know who are either recently retired, talking about retiring, or reducing their working hours. It's my age – and theirs - of course. So, for a few months now, this topic has been in the forefront of my mind, and it had made me a bit restless. Retire as soon as you can and enjoy life while you are still able is something I often hear – but what would I do to fill the time? I feel like I need at least some sort of plan - don't worry about that, just do it and you will soon find things to fill your days. Hmmm. I don't feel ready to retire just yet, but at the same time working five days a week holds no attraction anymore (and we are in the fortunate position that I don't really need to work full time from a monetary perspective). So I made the decision recently to reduce my working hours, something my employers were amenable to. Today, therefore, was my last working Friday. Four days (also slightly shorter) working and three days play seems a good work-life balance for the time being. That gives me a bit more space to think about what shape retirement should actually take. I guess I'm on retirement's nursery slopes.


The car boots have shown some promise this year in the early weeks of the season proper. Let's hope this continues after a fairly dismal 2015 and 2016. I was chuffed to pick up a copy of Kool & The Gang's Wild And Peaceful album for 50p last weekend. Kool & The Gang, at least in their early Seventies incarnation, have always been a favourite band of mine but I had never owned this particular album before. Singles such as Funky Stuff – which is on this album – and Jungle Boogie* were some of my earliest clubbing memories, and on the back of such singles they became known a s a funk band. But they were always so much more than that, and there was always a large dash of jazz to be found in the grooves of their albums of the time, as you will here on the title track.


[* EDIT: I must be going blind in my old age; Funky Stuff and Jungle Boogie are both on this album, as is Hollywood Swinging. I was probably as guilty as the rest of us at the time for thinking these would be the highlights of the album and the other tracks would probably be just funk heavy soundalike tracks.] 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

And then there were none


We had to have our one remaining cat – Jazz – put to sleep last weekend.

Our house has been home for 30 years now. This is the first time in all those years we have not shared it with at least one cat.

Not too long ago we had four cats roaming around the place. Two that were ours and two more that had moved in and become ours. Jazz was one of them. As far as I remember the children called her Jazz. She had been known in the area for some time although nobody seemed to know to whom she belonged, and all the children in the area called her Jazz. Of course it could have been Jas, short for Jasmine. But for us, once she became a fixture, it was always Jazz.

Jazz was a lady, a little aloof, never hurried. She never really made a sound. That was until she became the only cat in our house, and in the last couple of years she had become increasingly vocal. An easy purrer, she had also perfected a howl that sounded like a baby crying. She had become almost deaf in her final years we think and would howl if she thought she was on her own and wanted some attention.

During the last few months she had developed a tumour in her left ear which wasn’t very pleasant for her and we decided over the weekend that it was just no fun for her anymore.

When she moved in on us all those years ago we took her to the vet to see if she was chipped (she wasn’t). At the time the vet estimated her to be between 5 and 6 years old; based on that she had reached the ripe old age of 21, so she had a good life.

As we were driving to the vet last weekend Lonnie Liston Smith’s Expansions was playing on the radio. Not something you usually here on the radio and I can’t remember the last time I had heard it across the airwaves. So it seems appropriate to play it here. We like to think Jazz will be expanding her mind in cat heaven now.




RIP Jazz.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mary, Mary, quite contrary?


As promised, some reggae from my good start to the car boot season. As I picked out these 45s, and a couple of UK releases, from the little stack in a box on the ground the lady they belonged to noticed they were all reggae. “I love reggae”, she said. “So do I”, I replied. The lady was probably in her sixties, well spoken and as English as me. In fact on first impression I might have thought she would be more likely a fan of opera. But then why should I be surprised of her love of reggae? As someone of a certain age she would have probably been in her teens or early twenties when these records were released – the early 70s – and it was a genre of music that was beginning to enjoy its golden age.

Mary (she has her name written on most of the records I bought from her) told me she bought these particular 45s when she was in Jamaica. Apparently her brother was living there at the time and she used to visit for holidays. So, provenance! It is always great to have a back story to the records I pick up, and when I have one I always cherish the records a little bit more. With her name written on the labels I will now always think of Mary and also know these records are not more recent UK pressings but did start life in Jamaica, where Mary probably danced to them all those years ago.



(“Buttercup” like you have probably never heard it pronounced before! Winston was reputedly U Roy's brother-in-law and was toasting before it really came fully into vogue).   

Friday, April 07, 2017

Winter blues dissipate with tales of The Big Bamboo and green spot

Blimey, the writing mojo is back with a vengeance – that must be the longest blog title ever here!


There is one car boot in our area that carries on throughout the winter. I do pay it the occasional visit but for the last two winters it has by and large been a fruitless exercise.

Last Sunday morning though I jumped in the car with slightly heightened enthusiasm as the car boot season proper started last weekend in our neck of the woods with at least one of the summer ones starting up again. I qualified my enthusiasm because generally over the last couple of years trawling the car boots (and charity shops, come to that) has been an increasingly miserable experience, with vinyl of any interest extremely difficult to come across. So the question is will this year continue the trend? And with all this talk of vinyl being back will that spur on people selling their, or their relations’, collections to hike the asking price?

Start times meant I could visit the “winter” one first and then go on to the “summer” one after. The first port of call was predictably disappointing yet again, but not a complete waste of time for a change. For the princely sum of 10p each I picked up five albums in sparkling condition all dating back to the 60s. I guess you could bracket them all as easy listening but I cast my net wide nowadays. I was very pleased with one of them in particular. Called “The Big
Bamboo” it contains 12 charming calypso tinged tracks performed by Roy Shurland and his Orchestra (with Little Sparrow on the Steel Pan) recorded live at the Big Bamboo club in Nassau, Bahamas in 1961. I love coincidences, and finding this record is one of them as our son is off to Nassau next week to start a five week jaunt around the Caribbean, mostly in a boat (it is part and parcel of his PhD course). The record has been duly copied and is now in Dropbox ready for him to pick up and listen to to get him in the mood.

I got a bit carried away chatting to some of the regular vinyl hunters so by the time I got to the next venue I had missed the initial stampede by about 10 minutes. That 10 minutes is often crucial, early birds will hoover up any vinyl worth having in the first few minutes. But as it turned out other serious vinyl hunters seemed not to be around (this possibly was because this particular booter had only just started up again after a year off), and this appeared to be borne out by the fact I managed to amass a small haul of records I am very pleased with all in all. A right old mixed bag too: a handful of jazz albums, three 78s, some reggae 45s (yes, reggae! Very rarely come across any nowadays), and several 45s from a little box that contained quite a strange mix of genres (these were in front of two boxes of dance/techno/house 12 inchers – surely the new landfill. Mantovani and Val Doonican has competition!).

I’ll share a bit of the reggae, and jazz too possibly, in subsequent posts, but today will focus on the small batch of singles I bought that were perfectly representative of the strange mixed box. There was just some really random stuff in this box. By way of example I found some household names (think Lennon, Springsteen, Dylan), a few pic sleeved 45s from the outskirts of punk (TRB, Roogalator), some that just had interesting titles (Housewife's Choice, and Christine/S-E-X, this one sung by Miss X who turns out to be Lionel Blair's sister).... and some kiddie soul. “How much?”, I asked. “50p or £1”, was the reply. There was nothing obvious to determine which of these 45s commanded the dizzy heights of a £1 asking price. I made my selection and handed them over requesting a price.

It turned out two of the singles in my hand commanded the £1 price. And how was this determined? They had a small green spot sticker on the sleeves. Now I'm left puzzled as to why someone would go to such lengths to try and squeeze out an extra 50p on just a few of these records? Of course I'm equally puzzled as to why I decided to put the Dylan one back when I was told that one was a green spotter! I know, I don't like Dylan, but I'm sure I could have still made a small profit on flipping it. I don't like Springsteen either, but I bought that one for the same reason.

Anyway, kiddie soul? Yes, that's what I said. As far as I remember now there were just two big holers (i.e. US singles) in this little box. I always get excited when I find US 45s, and I recognised the labels. Soul! So I bagged them. I knew The Eight Minutes were a kiddie group – following the Jackson Five template, except there were eight of them – but I didn't know until I got home and playd this record and did a bit of research that Leonard 'Lil Man' Kaigler was also a child singer – and he sounds almost uncannily like a young MJ. The 'Lil Man' commanded a green spot. I have no idea why. Neither record is highly prized but The Eight Minutes seems to have a slightly higher price on Discogs.

Here are both. Do you think the green spot was justified? On first hearing I said no, but now I'm not so sure. Perhaps the title, which is rather unfortunate, tips the balance. Hang on, now I'm obsessing over green spots, this is stupid!




PS. I only noticed when I copied these that they both have the same release number – 533. What were the chances?