You know about the Numero Group, right? If you’re a fan of soul music, and you are reading this after all, you should be very aware of the Chicago-based reissue label. To call them a reissue label is just a little bit tricky. What they do is to unearth and reissue music that was barely released in the first place.
The Numero Group was founded in 2003 by Tom Lunt, Rob Sevier, and Ken Shipley. “We’re on a dirty, labor-intensive mission… and it’s urgent as all hell,” the partners proclaim on their website. “Time kills off precious bits of passed-over sound, story, and ephemera every day, just as fast as we can haul this sprawling archive of under-heard recordings—along with the musicians, writers, and entrepreneurs who created them—out of exile.” It is the combination of great music and brilliant scholarship that has made Numero, in a few short years, one of the most respected archival labels in the world.
Numero has issued a series of recordings under the rubric “Eccentric Soul.” It’s a well-chosen name for a series which has seen over a dozen releases so far. In each case the guys at Numero have traveled to a city that is not necessarily known as a soul capitol, researched the scene there, unearthed an obscure soul label, producer, group, or venue, and arranged to introduce the music to a new audience.
The music comes from places like Phoenix, Wichita, East St. Louis, Atlanta, South Florida, and Columbus. There is soul from Detroit, Chicago, and Washington, DC too, but trust me, you’ve never heard it before unless you are, like me, a Numero Group devotee.
I could tell you more about all of this, but the Numero website is a veritable carnival of music and information. There you will find CDs, LPs, 45s, cassettes, 12-inches, and DVDs. You can read about the music, sample it, download it, or order hard copies.
The two most recent releases in the “Eccentric Soul” series are deeply rooted in the tradition that Numero has established with their earlier releases. From Washington, DC comes the music of a ’70s group called Father’s Children. In 1979 Mercury Records released the group’s one and only album, a self-titled affair, produced by the Crusaders Wayne Henderson. As stated in the accompanying booklet, the album “hit radio and retail with a dull thud.” When the first single failed, Mercury pulled the plug on album promotion, and the band.
As so often happens in the stories that Numero tells, there is more to the story of Father’s Children than meets the eye. Much more. As it turns out, when Father’s Children released their debut album, they weren’t at the start of their career, but very near the end.
The fact is that Father’s Children had started recording what should have been their debut seven years earlier at a studio in Washington. It took them two years to record the album which they called Who’s Gonna To Save the World. When the band couldn’t pay the studio bills, the studio owner kept the album masters, and there they sat, in a garage, until now. It’s a long sad story, and it’s all detailed in the booklet that accompanies the album release.
Who’s Gonna Save the World is very much of its time. The L.A. studio gloss of the Mercury release is gone. This is just pure, raw,’70s soul. There are plenty of fuzzy guitars, chorused keyboards, and percussive accents. A deep spirituality blended with commentary on the issues of the day pervades the album. There is even a shout out to the then popular comet Kohoutek.
The bottom line though is that the songs are so completely addictive, and performances are so earnest that the music seems somehow out of time. Whose Gonna Save the World is a formidable entry in Numero’s distinguished catalog of obscure soul music.
The other recent release brings us another unremembered group from another city that had a little known but very proud tradition of bringing the funk.. To start with, Dayton, Ohio was the home of the Ohio Players. They made it big while other locals like the Moroccos, Big Jay Bush and the Houserockers, and the Dayton Sidewinders were not quite as fortunate.
There was one Dayton group however that seemed content to work the seedy clubs of the Gem City. The widespread notion was that Stone Coal White was too raw, too immediate, to bust out of Dayton. Instead they became the kings of a burgeoning local underground scene in the early ’70s.
The music of Stone Coal White was informed by Vietnam, dope, sex, poverty, and violence and they somehow channeled that into a unique spiritual sound. Their entire released recorded output consisted of two singles, which are collected in the Numero release, along with three covers and a warm-up jam that were recorded at the sessions for the second single, but never released.
Have you ever hung out in a turntable.fm room where know-it-alls spun obscure soul records that you’ve never heard, but loved anyway? Have you ever spoken to some arrogant soul music aficionado who swans about secure in his comprehensive knowledge of some little-known soul record? Have you ever wished that you could hang in the room, or the conversation, with these people? Me neither. But what you can do is to get yourself over to the Numero Group website and start adding some amazing music to your collection.