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.