Friday, December 21, 2018

Mystery lady?




I featured June Conquest's first single – Almost Persuaded, released in 1965 – earlier this year, so she was on my radar. As a result when I was flicking through that surprise box of 45s in Sandwich, MA on the last day of our holiday and I saw the flash of the striking Windy C label and her name on it my heartbeat sped up a bit.

June's known recording career spanned seven years, but in all that time she only had five singles released. I believe she hailed from the Chicago area, so her initial release on Fame is a bit of a puzzle. So too her second on Jet Set , which had a Washington DC address on the label, although I have read that at least one of the tracks was recorded in Houston. All over the map!

The record featured here was her third single and finds her in Chicago on Curtis Mayfield's Windy C label. Windy C was basically set up to feature The Five Stairsteps (a group I am a great fan of and I have just about all of their Windy C releases), June's 45 was the only one not by that group on the label. I wonder why it was decided to release on Windy C rather than another of Curtis' label – Mayfield – which was also active at the time? Maybe it was thought that the style of June's songs fitted more closely to those of the The Five Stairsteps. Whatever the reasons a few months after this 45 was released Cameo-Parkway, which distributed Windy C went out of business and that was the end of Windy C. This untimely event may well have hindered the development of June's recording career. A solo release on Curtom in early '68 – Curtom's first release by the way and one of only three as a locally distributed label – and a duet with Donny Hathaway four wholw years later were her only other releases.

Very little is known of June. The assumption is that Conquest, at least, is not her real name. Who knows? maybe she is hiding in plain sight – rather like another soul singer from the Sixties, Debbie Taylor, who had “disappeared” in the Seventies leaving a few top notch recordings behind. Many people who loved Debbie's records had wondered what had happened to her. In fact she had continued to be sporadically active in the recording arena and had also been performing live on local circuits as a soul and jazz singer under her real name Maddie “Maydie” Myles, only announcing her previous incarnation as Debbie Taylor in 2011. So, in a similar vein, could June Conquest be out there somewhere performing today?

This is another 45 with two strong sides so I'm sharing both of them.



Saturday, December 08, 2018

Holiday notes, the final instalment: "pleased as punch"


One final instalment on the vinyl hunting I managed to fit in to our New England family holiday.

So far I've told you about Mystery Train, and the chance find of a Jackie Wilson album in a thrift shop in deepest New Hampshire. Between those two we also stumbled across a newish (open about 18 months) record shop – Revolution - in North Conway, NH of all places. Another example of the “vinyl is back” phenomenon. Spent all of ten minutes in there as we wanted to make sure we completed a scenic drive into the White Mountains in full daylight. Still managed to pick up an Eddie Harris album though. Then there was Olympic in Providence. Mrs Darce and my daughter sought out a very nice pub on Wickenden St and left me to some riffling. Unfortunately I hit the shop only 30 minutes before closing time, but I managed to buy four 45s, including two by Lee Rogers which I was very happy with.

I thought that was it on our trip as far as vinyl was concerned. We were finishing off the trip on Cape Cod where I thought finding vinyl might be a challenge, and our baggage allowance was probably close to topping out anyway, so vinyl went to the back of my mind. 

On our last day we had decided to make our way back up to Boston along the coast and off interstate again. One of the first stops was Sandwich (incidentally, twinned with Sandwich in Kent). It was a sunny day, good for a stroll. It struck us as being a very genteel place. We idly browsed a few “nick nack” shops, with Mrs Darce, as ever, on the look out for some earrings or maybe a little memento for the house. 



Macdonald's Emporium (of Sandwich as opposed to Macdonald's Sandwich Emporium) didn't look promising on that front as we approached it and we nearly didn't go in but am I glad we did! The Emporium was a slightly curious place. It seemed to be part sweet shop, part cheap clothes shop, and part consignment / second hand shop.... and surprise surprise, there were a few records. First I found a box of albums, but there was nothing of interest in it. Then I came across one of box of 45s, almost all of which no longer had their paper sleeves but each were instead housed in a flimsy plastic bag. 





I started looking through them not expecting much. There were a mixture of genres – including, slightly bizarrely, another Tom Jones single on Parrot, a feature of at least one of the other shops earlier in the trip – but nothing exciting. Then, all of a sudden, a rich seam of Soul gold – a Betty Lavette on Calla , June Conquest on Windy C, Major Lance on Okeh, and some Brunswicks. BOOM! In the end I bagged (literally) six 45s. 



OK, The Last Word 45 was a mistake, I wasn't sure it was Soul and it tuns out it is tepid Garage Rock, but I am “pleased as punch”* with the others, all in great condition considering they had lost their original sleeves at some point during their lifetime. The Betty Lavette and June Conquest 45s in particular rate as my finds of the whole trip (along with that Jackie Wilson album I regaled you with earlier).

This Betty Lavette single is a storming double header, and quite a desirable one too looking at its price history on the 'ogs. I will share the June Conquest single next time.






* Earlier in the trip a lovely lady working in a small Post Office had told us “we are pleased as punch to see you” as we bought a stamp for a postcard. She gave us a special stamp, and even signed the the back of the receipt with a little message. Thinking about it that happened to be in Center Sandwich in New Hampshire. “Pleased as punch” has now become a family saying (as it may well have been about 50 years ago!). 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

More holiday notes; and RIP Sonny

As I said in my previous post, during our recent holiday opportunities for digging were limited but I did manage to hit a few stores and thrifts.

I had a couple of record shops in Boston on the radar but couldn't work them into the itinerary. As we worked our way up coast on a gloomy and rainy day, foregoing a stroll around Rockport, the first record store I visited was Mystery Train in Gloucester, MA. Mrs Darce and my daughter generously left me to my own devices for over an hour.


Mystery Train is a great shop which I only really scratched the surface of. Tim was a very pleasant host. When I said I was from the UK he asked whereabouts. When I told him it was Bristol he said he was currently reading Original Rockers and had I read it? I have – written by Richard King it is about his time working in Revolver Records in Bristol, and the shop's history. Revolver just happened to be my go to record shop in the the late 70s! Mystery Train has an extensive range of albums and a fair amount of little ones too. Apart from a few racks of “recent arrivals” all are arranged by genre which, with my limited time, suited me very well. I furiously sifted through the Soul and R&B 45s and gave the Jazz albums section a scattergun attack. But, as I said, to do the shop justice a few hours would be needed.

In attacking the Jazz section, knowing that time was limited, I decided I would target certain artists only. One of those is Sonny Fortune. Until earlier this year I had been unaware of him, but then I picked up a copy of his 1976 album Waves Of Dreams. It was so much more than I expected. Being released in 1976 I think I expected it to be a fusion album and maybe a tepid one. But it contains much in the straight jazz vein, Sonny's playing is terrific and it is very enjoyable. 

So Sonny has been on my radar ever since and I was happy to find two more of his albums at Mystery Train. 



What I have only just discovered is that Sonny Fortune died from complications of a stroke on 25/10/18. That just happened to be the day we were flying back home from our holiday, with two Sonny Fortune albums – Serengeti Minstrel and Infinity Is - in our luggage. Here are two tracks from Sonny, one from each of these two albums for you to enjoy. From 1977 and 1978 these albums do see Sonny moving into an increasingly funkier fusion setting, consistent with the times and his, then new, label, Atlantic. Where have I heard that before? I was left thinking on a few occasions on first listening to Infinity Is. None more so than on the track A Ballad For Our Times. On this album was Sonny simply being derivative? Or was he in fact laying down melodies and motifs that others would follow? Given that Sonny was a well accomplished, and respected, player I suspect it would have been the latter. As for A Ballad For Our Times, he must have simply been paying homage to an iconic track and album, I will leave you to identify which piece of music that is.



I was going to expand a little on Sonny's career here but in fact his recent obituary in the New York Times does that much more ably and concisely than I could manage.

RIP Cornelius “Sonny” Fortune 19/5/1939 - 25/10/2018.


Monday, November 19, 2018

New memories


Last month we had a lovely family holiday in New England. Our daughter is 30 and son 27 now and it is a few years since we have been on a holiday together, so this was really special. It was essentially a road trip – I shared the driving with my daughter, and Mrs Darce was in the back, like the Queen! - starting at Boston, where our son joined us for a couple of days, and going anti clockwise up coast to South Portland , across into the White Mountains, down to Providence (where we hooked up again with our son who is doing a research placement at Brown), across to Cape Cod and finally back up the coast to Boston. A truly memorable trip all round.

I managed to fit in a little bit of digging along the way, as you do if you're a vinyl addict like me. What follows is just a taster.

Planning our trip along the scenic byways between Franconia, in the White Mountains, and Providence we noticed there was a township (if that is the right term?) in New Hampshire that shares our family name so it was of course a necessity to pay it a visit along the way and get a family picture next to the town's sign. Just as we drove into the town's outer limits I spotted a thrift store so I just had to haul the rental car in the car park outside stop and have a look inside. Yes, they had some records, and yes they looked like they had mostly been there a long time, and would be spending a lot longer there too! But I was chuffed to find this one particular album and I duly paid my $1.

Jackie Wilson's Higher And Higher. What can I say? What an album this is! This copy - a mono press on nice thick vinyl - has spent 51 years on this planet, has lost its inner sleeve along the way, and bears the marks of much love and attention by the looks of things. The scuffs and small scratches on the vinyl result in some crackle from the speakers, but that is part of its charm really and cannot dim the magnificence of the music contained in the grooves. I am a fan of Jackie's but only possess a handful of his singles (and coincidentally earlier this year I finally got 'round to buying Higher And Higher on 45). It's a while since an album has stopped me in my tracks and demanded my full attention, and it sort of made me feel like a kid again. It's only taken me 51 years to find it! There are so many so many great tracks on this album it blows me away, and I have to say playing it for the first time a week or so ago I got quite emotional, it's that good to my mind.

I will, of course, because of the circumstances, always remember where I found this album. And now every time I play it (and that will be more than a few times, I'm sure) those memories will be triggered, and when Jackie sings over the sublime song arrangements I think it's a safe bet I will shed a few tears of joy each and every time.





Saturday, November 10, 2018

Reboot


Er... Hello there.

Now, let's see if I can remember how to do this blogging thing!

Yes (Ravel, at least!) it's been a long time since my last post. I didn't say farewell then so any of you still checking into this blog might have thought a) what's happened?, or, reasonably, b) well he could have at least said goodbye!

But the thing is I wasn't intending to stop posting, it just sort of happened. I blame the weather and the World Cup. The summer may seem a distant memory now but here in the UK it was a scorcher. As I get older my desire to be outdoors seems to increase year on year, so the lure of the sunshine was irresistible. Then the World Cup came along and the whole family got hooked (and not just because England flattered to deceive either). We watched a lot of matches (with half times spent out in that sunshine) and stuck a lot of Panini stickers in (the shinies were devilishly difficult to find this time). As a result this blog got shunted into the sidings and when the World Cup was over and the summer waned the blogging habit had gone.

I started to feel the urge to get this show on the road again about a month ago but a family holiday was then just around the corner so decided it was best to leave it a bit longer so I could have a clear run at things. So, finally, here we are, ready to share some more vinyl with you. The vinyl collecting bug has not waned these last few months so I'm sure there is no shortage of gems amongst the random stacks of little ones and big ones that are constantly being shuffled around the house! And many of these have also not received proper playing time for the reasons stated above. So a journey of discovery for you and me awaits!

I thought I had better kick things off again with an extra special record. Well, I think it's extra special, to the point that it now is the most expensive record I have ever bought. I'm not someone who spends hundreds of pounds on a record, not yet anyway, but this 45 set me back more than £1 for each RPM (but less than £2/RPM so I'm not completely mad!).



I think this 45 featured as a “Derek's Daily 45” some years ago. Anyway, wherever it came from, it found its way onto my ipod a few years ago and has stayed on there ever since. Other tracks on the ipod have been refreshed and rotated every few months but it seems I can never remove this one. I can hear it again and again and never get tired of it. It is simply sublime in every way – except I wish it could last a bit longer, maybe only 30 seconds longer, but it could do with one more verse or an instrumental break I think. But then that is the mark of a great record, it leaves you wanting more.

There are a number of presses of this 45, all issued around the same time I believe. The misspelling of the title on my copy might hint it was a first press, subsequently corrected, but I don't think that is necessarily the case. I love seeing a misspelling on a label. I'm sure it wouldn't happen nowadays with a more professional approach in the recording industry. I think a misspelling is indicative of a simpler time when many record labels and recording enterprises were run on a shoestring and the time from song conception through recording to issue was often very short. No time for proof reading a label for instance, just get it pressed and get it out to the rack jobber. But because of that I think the essence of the record – its soul – is preserved and shines through so much more.

The Brothers Of Soul were Fred Bridges, Richard Knight, and Bobby Eaton. They released a number of singles in their own right and also produced and wrote many more for Ruby Andrews among others, including another sublime – and expensive – record James Shorter's Modern Day Woman. A potted history can be found at Discogs.

Just listen to the strings and the horns on this track – a B side! - a killer arrangement.

Brothers Of  Soul – I'd Be Greatful* 1969                  
*sic


Friday, May 25, 2018

Let me ride



Most of May has been a festival of sunshine and I for one have been making the most of it, hence it's been quiet again 'round here.

But the rain has returned today (the garden needs it so that's OK for now but, encouraged by a sparkling – if late - Spring, we don't want it hanging around for long ) and has driven me indoors and into the record room which has been rather neglected of late. The records haven't stopped piling up, I just haven't been playing them.

I've had a fair amount of luck in the charity shops so far this year, although not much in the soul and funk bag. The tracks here today come from an album I picked up during an impromptu visit to a real world record shop recently. I had been doing my usual charity shop trawl but felt the need to at least browse some tasty soul and funk so dropped into a proper shop, “just for a few minutes” I told myself. Some considerable time later Mrs Darce phoned me with the “where are you” question. Another afternoon had disappeared!

In this record shop I was immediately drawn towards a large box of albums next to the desk. I enquired whether it was a new walk in and could I browse? I could. The box wasn't exactly a walk in, it was a consignment of 2nd hand albums fresh in from the States – from Philadelphiamusic to be precise. That was interesting in itself. I have sometimes browsed this dealer's extensive stock on Discogs and marvelled and wondered in equal measure. Marvelled at the sheer volume of stock and low prices, but also wondered whether those prices could be too good to be true. After browsing the box it seems the records were generally in great condition, so that's good to know for the future. I mused with the guy in the shop about the shipping and customs cost for the consignment, but he wasn't letting on. Ways and means I guess.

There was nothing earth shattering in the box, just a generally really good selection of solid classics, many of which brought back some good memories. I enjoyed the rummage and the talk around some of the albums.

There was a Rufus album in the box which sparked some mutual love for the group, and next thing I know mein host conjured up an album by a group called High Voltage (not sure whether it came from the box now, or was from his shop stock). It was a new one on me. A 1972 release, the group included Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson who went on to be the guitarists (and sometimes composers) in Rufus, and also Lalomie Washburn on lead vocals who also went on to write some great songs for Rufus (including Your Smile, At Midnight, I'm A Woman I'm A Backbone). There are really tasty organ fills on some tracks too. These were the work of Andre Lewis, who also toured or played with Rufus among other big names, and went on to release albums under the name Mandre. 



A quick needle drop through the tracks convinced me it was a buy. A thick car sleeve and paste on back cover artwork too – such details are very special to an old vinyl junkie!

 It wasn't the only album I bought either (that's why I try to limit my record shop visits!). The Ohio Players Climax and a reissue (because I figure I am never likely to find an original at an affordable price) of Gloria Scott's What Am I Going To Do also found their way into my bag.


Here are two tracks from the High Voltage album. I think Rufus were always out on their own musically, certainly not rock, but not straight soul or funk either. This High Voltage album is in a similar vein, and I think is also reminiscent of early 70s' Tower Of Power as well (those big horns and organ fills).