We're going to keep comments short and sweet on this one to save some space. But, I do want to hear and talk about everything included.
First off though, here are the album notes that were nominated:
Ray Dobard’s Music City Records of Berkeley, California, across the Bay from San Francisco, is a catalogue of mythic proportions that has been cherished for decades by a small hardcore of R&B, vocal group and, latterly, soul fanatics. Based on the available evidence – 50-odd 45 and 78rpm releases – and a lot of hearsay and rumour, many have spent hours fantasising about the purported riches in the possession of its famously protective, zealous owner.
Ace Records is thus proud to unlock the Music City vault for the edification and entertainment of the world at large with the 3CD set “The Music City Story”, an unprecedented survey of the label’s 25-year operation, and an excellent primer for Ace’s forthcoming genre- and artist-based compilations of Music City material, telling the story with many rare gems from the catalogue and a surfeit of previously unissued goodies.
Although Ray Dobard experimented with recording a variety of genres, the legend of Music City is predicated on its role as a premier exponent of black rhythm and blues styles, with a strong regional flavour. Most significantly, the sound of Music City was street. Much of what appeared on the label and lies in its voluminous cache of unreleased recordings can be said to reflect the evolution of black popular music between the early 50s and the mid-1970s. It reflects reality: this is what was heard in clubs and juke joints, at high school auditoria and rec centres, rent parties or literally out on the sidewalk, with all the dissonance and unoriginality that might imply, but matched equally by huge, invigorating dollops of innocence and exuberance, and a surprising amount of inspiration.
Amongst the set’s 78 tracks are names familiar to doo wop and blues collectors – the Crescendos, Gaylarks, Rovers, 5 Lyrics, Alvin Smith etc – while behind several others lurk famous names (James Brown, Lou Rawls) or others soon to be famous (Sugar Pie DeSanto, members of Sly & the Family Stone). From the raucous jump blues of Del Graham’s ‘Your Money Ain’t Long Enough’ to the hip street soul of Darondo, the breadth of genres represented is extensive, but the overall emphasis in “The Music City Story” is upon the black vocal group, be it 50s, 60s or 70s vintage. It is the rich seam of Bay Area groups mined by Music City that collectors most closely associate with the label. Dobard had only a couple of minor hits – the 4 Deuces’ popular ‘W-P-L-J’, Johnny Heartsman’s raucous ‘Johnny’s House Party’ – but kept the tape machine running pretty much constantly for much of his quarter-century in the business.
It has been many years since as significant a stash as Music City’s has come to light, and accompanying the tantalising musical treats is an extensive, heavily-illustrated sleeve note detailing the label’s history. Given that the late Dobard was notorious evasive, an air of mystery has always surrounded his activities in music, but this is the first time a recounting of the Music City saga has been based upon hard data, rather than supposition. Documents, letters, tape box annotations, discographical notes, session chatter, even recorded phone conversations form a considerable body of evidence, that helps bring into focus what this fiercely independent and pioneering black entrepreneur achieved. Ray was no Dootsie Williams or Jake Porter, but nevertheless, a picture emerges of a fascinatingly complex figure, whose role in the black music scene in the mid-20th century cannot be discounted. As venerable East Bay bandleader Johnny Talbot puts it, “to me, Ray Dobard was the foundation of Bay Area music. There was hardly anyone who did anything later who didn’t bump into Ray, so he had to be a foundation.”
By Alec Palao
Whew. Okay. Wow. First off, love that this is about a record collection. Very cool to see someone's love of music taken so seriously and passionately. And apparently, there's more to come.
These notes really are incredibly well written. There's an absolute love of what this music is and what it means to people. There's history there, but more so inspiration on what's to come. There's a small summary of what's happening, and brief comparison so you know there's variety here. Finally, there's a lauding of everything that was put together for such a collection, finally emphasizing that this is one the beginning; the foundation of the music as a whole.
Alright, Alec did a great job prepping us - now let's jump on in.
Warning: not many, if any, videos today. These are just some good ol' oldies.
The 4 Deuces start us off with some doo-wop in "W-P-L-J" which... um... stands for White Poured Lemon Juice, if I'm hearing them right. It's true what they say - you can write a song about anything. Apparently this juice has some mystical effect on people. Uh huh. Welp, then Del Graham comes on in with Que Martyn's Orchestra for "Your Money Ain't Long Enough." This time, there's a definite horn section, almost big band sounding if there were a few more instruments added in. The recording is very raw though, with mixes that you can tell are not what we're used to today. The band's in a different portion of the room, and the singer is way close to that mic.
Golden Boy, with Chick Morris & His Band, bring on "Keep Me Satisfied, Baby" with more piano playing us in. There's a deeper voice at work here, and it's actually a pretty plainly honest song. Make it work, or I'm leaving. Done. Heh. Then we get our last "& his band" artist description for a while with "A Prayer" from Al Joseph Harris with Chick Morris & His Band again. Al has an even lower voice than Golden Boy, and he slows this way down. The band's in the same positioning in the studio, and the piano's still prominent.
We take a turn now, into the blues, with "Guitar Blues" by Sidney Grande. I'm not sure if it's how it was recorded, but the guitar sounds so distant from the singer, I don't buy that he's the one playing it. There's a disconnect there, which I think may just be the track layering. In the same manner, Alvin Smith performs "On My Way." We're still in the same genre, with the same disconnect, but it's a good moving bluesy song from a bar, if nothing else.
"Here Lies My Love" by Mr Undertaker is probably the darkest blues song I've heard in quite some time. It's got to be a sad story about death from jealousy, however the life was ended. "It was a bad situation from the beginning to the end." Luckily, it's followed up by The Midnights and "Annie Pulled A Hum-Bug," a much more upbeat group number with some great harmonies and even cooler saxophone line in the instrumental bridge.
The Twilighters have a little story about their evening with a girl in "Late Last Night." It's a little hard to listen to because of the way the main hook line is hit - the notes are just harsh on the brain. Then The Rovers have this little um... asian inspired? number, "Ichi-Bon Tami Dachi." I'm not sure how timeless this one would ever prove to be, given the topic and how PC our world is trying to pretend it can be, but it's a cute little beat.
Things take a rockin' turn with Johnny Heartsman and "Johnny's Stomp (early version)" featuring more guitar and much more piano rock. The track's entirely instrumental, and just a fun time to groove to. The Gaylarks come in with voices in the next track though for "Tell Me, Darling." I'm usually a huge fan of older recordings, but this has got me so thankful for digital tracking. Sounding like a cohesive unit does have its perks.
A little more balanced sound comes from The 5 Lyrics on "I'm A Workin' Man." I can't totally understand everything going on, but the instrumentation sounds really great and steady, with the solos really popping where needed. Another 5, The 5 Campbells, follows this up with "Morrine." This is a great example of old doo-wop and a guy group harmonizing. It's kept relatively simple and classic.
We finally get a female voice with Gloria Jean on "I Don't Stand No Quittin'" and while that chorus and her squeaks are giving me an instant headache, the song is a really good start to this kind of beat in music, where we get the poignant lines with the stopped music. The Dreamers seem to be in the same boat with her for "Crossing the River." Less is more sometimes people...
Of course, when more works, it can be fantasitc, as The Golden West Singers show with their harmonies on "This Wicked Race." It's just enough to handle and their singing together comes out beautifully. The 3 Dons & Donna don't quite have the same appeal with "Jerry" as they slow things down, but maybe with a little too much umph behind what could be a nicer, gentler song.
"Lil Tipa-Tina" by The 5 Swans comes across as an excuse to use some cool and different sounds in a song. They did a good job at it - it's a fun little diddy. Jimmy Nelson kind of attempts the same thing with "The Wheel" - have fun, I mean, not use silly sounds. The melody is very classic and familiar.
Jasper Evans also gives us a very familiar sound with "Wrong Doing Woman" and maybe even takes us a little into southern rock/blues. The compilation of these albums is really done well, as The Gayteens' "Ding Dong" is fitting as the next number, maintaining a similar sound for a different song.
We hear more soul and truth in Leon Pryor's sad song "From the Bottom of My Heart." He's got a really great, gentle voice that's smooth and well-recorded here. Then we definitely go back south with Al Bennett with The Country Travellers and "Bury Me In The South." I am really impressed with the wide spread of types of music throughout this collection so far. There really is a lot going on here.
If you couldn't tell this is long lost tracks, the artist of Unknown Duo with "The Wallflower" kind of makes it more obvious. There's a good vibe in the studio, evident throughout the track. Then we end out the first CD with "Big Six radio ad" which is just a spoken word, really, commercial, from back in the day. Pretty cool to hear things like this when you never assumed you would.
I'm going to take a quick break, grab some hot tea because it's freezing in here, and move on. Still with me? Cool.
"Johnny's House Party Parts 1 & 2" welcomes us back in with Johnny Heartsman with The Rhythm Rockers & The Gaylarks. These are studio moments caught on tape which are just fantastic. Jamming in the studio is such a cool moment for a band in general (I've been fortunate enough to sit in on a few), and to hear it recorded is just worthy of a smile. The 3 Honeydrops keep the rock jam going on with "Rockin' Satellite," which is kind of reminiscent of old Elvis recordings. It's a great time, until the beeping at the end.
Lord Luther takes us back to soul and steady with "Just One More Chance." His voice is also great, and brings this emotion to the song in an awesome way that makes you just want to close your eyes and kick back to enjoy. Then we get this sped up version of "Love Me Tender" from The Fidels. It's an interesting take on a true classic song. Maybe I'm jaded, but it doesn't compare to The King.
"Gonna Blow Out The Lamp" by Gene Lee & The Blues Rockers slows and mellows things way down. We're back to some broken sounding recording techniques, so it's a little hard on the ears. "Are You My Boyfriend" from Wally & Theresa is a little easier to listen to. It's almost got an island-ish sound to it. Very cute song.
And in possibly another racist song, The Marcels give us "Indian Jane." It's cute, but no way they would get away with it today. Go figure, a show of the times. The island sound keeps going with Robbie Meldano and "I Need You Baby." I think it's just the way he's hitting those words that makes it sound that way. And the rhythm of the guitar (maybe ukelele) in the background.
Pee Wee & Sugar Pie have got me giggling over "Flippin' & A-Floppin'." It's just a fun dance number that reminds me of the days I used to swing dance. It's up beat and makes yah wanna bop. Then The Holidays come in and slow us down with "Station L-O-V-E." This would be the moments in the night that, if you didn't come with someone to slow dance with, you high-tailed it to the wall.
"Blues All Around My Bed" by Jimmy Raney does not start off like a blues song, but man does his voice lend itself well to the genre. Something else I've noticed is that the recordings have gotten clearer and more balanced at this point. Sign of the times. "Elaine" by The Klixs keeps things pretty slowed down, this time with a harmonic group of gentlemen at work.
We get another instrumental track, this time a little more arranged, with Johnny George and "Music City Hop." Seriously, since when has anything other than Nashville, TN been deemed Music City? Sorry, personal gripe there. "Heaven's Own Choir" by The Five Crystels proves to bring out more beautiful harmonies from this city though, and gently lets you sway along.
Kara Lynn, however, is... um. Okay, the song is "Dynamite," and it's a pretty nice song, but there are some notes she hits, right off the bat, that some like an Elvis imitation, and not a great one. The Pagans use of falsetto in the next one, "Lover's Plea" is also a little much, but a little more bearable. It's a good use of everything they wanted to get into the track.
Willie Moore, really, "The Slopp"...? I guess everything was being attempted at the time. Like, literally, everything. Joe Blackwell & The Individuals come up next with "Beverly My Darling." The high hat in this sounds really great - a cool wat to keep the beat and tempo up. And *sigh* someday, someone will write a song with my name in it. No, The Beatles' "Michelle" is not acceptable (though, close enough for now).
"Party At Vern's" by The Satellite Band sounds like another one of those awesome jam sessions we were talking about earlier. It encompasses everything the title says, as well as the time it was recorded in. The solos are really kickin'. The Crescendos end the party in a sad but sweet ballad of "My Heart's Desire." The lead voice taking on the "oohs" is very fitting of the time and just pretty, even if falsetto doesn't always sit well with me.
"You Gave Me Love" by Lee Durrell & The Tamaras kicks it back up a little bit, but keeps the subject a little low. I really can't say enough about the compilation of these songs, how each compliments each other in some kind of way, be it musically or through lyrics. Little Lynn continues this with "I Walk In Circles," a song that slows things and is just this sad lost girl. Who has far too little-girl of a voice to be this sad.
Bob & Jessie present this a cappella song next, "Church on the Hill." The harmonies aren't completely spot on (not the singers' faults - the chords are off), but it's a really nicely done song nonetheless. Little Willie Littlefield (that's a mouthful) picks it back up with "Love You All Night Long" with his horns and piano and drumset. Band behind this one, clearly. It's a great rhythm and movement, complete with intriguing lyrics you weren't apt to hear so plainly spoken at the time.
I almost got up to do something when "Mirage" by The Night Caps came on. We've hit the west coast! Woo! Seriously though, if this doesn't make you think Beach Boys immediately, you've clearly never heard of them. It's really cool and even has this slight psychedelic sound in the backing. We finish out after this with the "Magnificent Montague radio spot," again, a cool throwback to another time.
Dinner time! I'll be back in a jiff with #3!!
Everyone out there still with me? God I hope someone is.
The Crescendos are back, this time with Wanda Burt, to start things off with "Scheming." It's quite a lovely song combining a group of great voices and a great female voice to boot. They compliment each other quite nicely in an interesting approach to the subject of the song. Then we get a bit of a familiar name, well, sort of, with Vermettya Royster with James Browns's Band in "All Around The World." This keeps up the female vocals, but with this crazy James Brown attitude to it. Seriously, she's trying some really cool things with her voice you wouldn't normally hear.
A harp and the sad voices of The Franciscans come on next with "Ocean of Love." It's classically beautiful of the time and style. It's a sound you rarely hear today, just hure harmonies. In a different mode entirely, D'Vonya White takes over with "The Kasavubu Waltz." I can't describe where I've heard this before, but it's definitely familiar. There's something about it...
Anywhos, The 4 Rivers are next with "Nature Boy." I just want to know how this is connected to Ric Flair. Sorry, my wrestling focus is taking over - I missed Raw tonight and am trying to get through this so I can watch it. This is actually a fantastically classic song that you've heard a million times. Watch the opening of Moulin Rouge. "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return."
The Derbys bring in a wonderful old doo-wop backing to "Lonely One" and remind us of how things used to sound when guys who could harmonize could really bring it all together. Entirely impressive. Jackie Day continues is, although not until her voice actually come in, for "Don't Fence Me In." Honey, you don't need those back up singers, but you make the song lovely enough on its own. It's great lyrically, and the voice puts all the soul we need behind it.
The Italics come up next with "I Feel So Blue," and I am again noticing the stepping up in recording techniques and (I'm guessing) equipment. Everything's sounding better and better, more clear and beautiful. I think some mixing techniques needed to be played with, since everything sounds exactly on the same level (our ears naturally want some variability). The same can be said as we head into the girl group The Fantastics' "I'm Waiting." Another song in the same bluesy vein, this time with female voices.
The Swingin' Brothers' "What To Do" is next. There's a cool steady build up at the beginning, then we get into the swingin' part of the song. It's a lot of voice overlapping each other, with music moving them along in a hurry. Almost sounds like a sound that should be sung at a slower tempo. "You Are My Lover Girl" picks it up though, as The Powell Brothers come in with a song that I can't totally get into. It's one of those cutesy ones that just doesn't do much.
Johnnie Marie Thorne and "I Can't Take Any More" makes much more sense to me. The tone is perfect for the subject of just trying to get through the heartbreak that you're feeling when tied down to someone you can't deal with anymore. It's not overdone, and just right. Same can be said of The Music City Soul Brothers' "Something In My Eye." The voices aren't as smooth, but given the 'soul' aspect of their abilities, it all fits right with the song. And hey, never let'em see you sweat, right?
"Passing Thru Music City" by Music City Swingers has this entirely trippy, late-60's sound to it, and makes for awesome travel music if I had to pick something to set it to. Loving this guitar, and then the cool little synth/keyboard sounds coming in. The Music City All Stars come up next with "Do The Philly," which is intriguing - but that's because I'm from outside of Philly. It's got a nice little beat to it, though I'm not totally sure what the dance itself is supposed to entail. Regardless, it's fun!
Lou Rawls joins us for "Too Late To Cry" and with a different voice then we've been hearing. It's more mid-range than anything else we've heard. He's followed by Wanda Burt with "Feeling Fine, Feeling Good" in a way that I think is definitely signifying the movement of the times as this collection rolls on. This is right out of the 60s and if you're not doing the Pony to it, you're missing out.
"She's Coming Back" by The Soul Brothers is lacking the soul I think I'm looking for in such a named act. It's just too pitchy, and when I think soul, I think something with a little more flow and style. The Heavenly Tones bring it in the right way because their ladies, yet it's still a little off from soul (not that that's what I'm pinning what they're trying to do there), with "He's All Right." The ladies keep a nice little rhythm going though.
The Two Things In One bring us full into Jackson 5 mode with "Stop Telling Me." The organ in this is awesome and gives it a different sound than I think Music City had heard before. The Soul Sensations slow it back down and take the harmonies back a few years (not necessarily a bad thing when done right) for "A Man That Is Not Free." It's an oldie to my ears for sure, but timeless in a way exactly because of that sound.
The guitar comes back on for center stage in "Didn't I" by Darondo. Vocally, not my style at all. I don't really like that weird hallow voiced sound that comes about sometimes (even in Cee Lo sometimes - but his musicality makes up for it). It gets a little better with The Ballads in "Loving You Isn't Enough." It's brighter as a song compared to the rest, and it brings the 70s to the studio.
Tear Drop Tears' "When We Get Marries Part 2" (part 2?) is the second part of marriage, and it's all about being in love, after having looked for love. It's very much a spoken song with a background vocal support. Interesting take on it, maybe even early forms of rap in a slight way. Our final actual song does keep the music up with The Performers' "Farewell Goodbye My Love," and it's an appropriate closer overall. If closes out the era, clearly at the end of the time period being portrayed here. It's a little sad, definitely signifying the ending. And of course, there's the title.
Finally, we close out with one more spot, "KYA Newsbeat spot" about James Brown supposed to have been making an appearance at the studio, but the manager had to call the cops on his crazy fans. Mhmm. The end.
Added to My Playlist:
If you want to hear it all, here's the full album Spotify listen link.