If you’re looking for a compilation of classic soul hits you have a great many options. The Motown and Stax hits in particular have been reissued, remastered, boxed, vinyled, and collected in deluxe sets. And the hits are great, but what about all of those wonderful soul records that weren’t hits, but are deserving of a wider audience than they got on their initial release? Thankfully, there are choices there too, with many forgotten records having been gathered over the years in compilations that vary in quality from sublime to subpar.
Last week Rockbeat Records released a four-disc set the includes a great many soul sides that are prized by, but usually unavailable to collectors and aficionados. Not every artist that’s included on Rare Soul Groove & Grind 1963-1973 is obscure, but for every well known name like Betty Layette, King Floyd, or Ike & Tina Turner, there are other, less-remembered names like Don Gardner, Joan Baker, Little Charles & the Sidewinders, Hoagy Lands, Lezli Valentine, Theola Kilgore, and the Soul Shakers.
This music comes from the ’60s and early ’70s and was released on labels that were even more obscure than the artists that recorded for them. If you could find the actual vinyl 45s, and you probably can’t, you would have to mortgage your house to even begin to purchase theme. Each of the four discs has its own them. Disc one features urban soul that emanated from the big cities. Disc two is reserved for the sweet harmonies of vocal groups. Southern soul is the focus of the third disc, and it gets funky on disc four.
Finding the master tapes for these gems must have been an arduous task to say the least, and in some cases the search was not successful. That’s why on a few songs you may hear the instantly identifiable pop-and-hiss of the vinyl sources that were transferred to the CDs. I don’t know about you, but I love that sound.
Any boxed-set worth its salt includes a great booklet to accompany the music, and Rare Soul Groove & Grind 1963-1973 is no exception. There are capsule description of each track from a wide variety of sources that includes respected music writers like Rob Bowman and Joel Whitburn, magazines like Living Blues, and authoritative music blogs like Funky 16 Corners and The ‘A’ Side.
I mentioned Betty Lavette earlier, and she is one of the best known artists here, but the song that’s included is one that was recorded early in her career (so early that she hadn’t yet tacked on that extra ‘e’ to the end of her first name), and on a label, Karen Records, that’s been lost to the sands of time. The Michigan-born Lavette had a #7 R&B hit with “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man” in 1962. She was 16 years-old at the time, and her early success led to a tour with Ben E. King and Clyde McPhatter.
Three years later, after moving to New York, Lavette had another hit with “Let Me Down Easy.” She returned to Michigan where she began to work with Ollie McLaughlin who had produced Barbara Lewis, and the Capitols. McLaughlin produced the heartbreaking “Almost” for Layette, and released it on his own Karen label. Good luck finding that one, and it’s one of the more well known records in this compilation.
Memphis was the location of Lavette’s next recordings, and she had hits with “He Made a Woman Out of Me” and “Do Your Duty” for the Silver Fox label in 1970. That success set the stage for Lavette’s move to a major label. She signed with Atco Records and recorded an album in Muscle Shoals. When Atco, for reasons unknown, decided to shelve the album, it was the start of a long downhill slide for Lavette. Thankfully she was able to right her ship and today she remains a popular recording and touring artist.
Space doesn’t allow me to write about all of the artists who appear on Rare Soul Groove & Grind 1963-1973, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not worthy of your attention. They may not have set the charts on fire, but every artist included here is worth listening to, and this fine compilation is definitely worth owning.