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Hardly Strictly Jazz

Your Past Will Come Back To Haunt You: Omnivore and Dust To Digital - Two Record Labels That Matter

By Published: October 9, 2012
"I told Joe he should restart Fonotone," Ledbetter continues, "that he doesn't need to cut 78's on a lathe like he did back then. He could just do CD-R's and people would be interested. And he seriously considered it, but I think he's likely just as happy doing his radio show. Who or what would he record now? I mean, there isn't really the kind of music around Frederick that he used to record. Over the ten years or so I've been going up there to see him, I've seen how the town has really changed around him. It's become a suburb of D.C."

Pawelski has been in this game for a long enough time to have seen her town change around her as well. Labels that were once industry foundations are now often tiny cogs in huge corporate conglomerates. Some majors have merged together into mega-majors. At some point we're discussing Concord's purchase of the Fantasy/Riverside/Milestone catalog, and she concedes that bigger isn't always better.

"The catalog was just so huge that the people who acquired it didn't necessarily know the in's and out's of what they had. I got to work on some really wonderful projects there, with great people, but each time I went up there, there were fewer people I knew," she observed.

"I think I had to do this because I knew what I'd want as a record fan, and nobody else was going to do it. I really love our releases—not just the music, but the way our releases look, and how each thing we put out... We're too small to turn into an assembly line, and if we're smart, we'll keep things special, and other people who see it will also know it's special."

Ledbetter agrees.

"These kinds of releases aren't mass market. You're dealing with things that are old, or arcane, or from other cultures. It's from what Greil Marcus called 'the old, weird America.' They're a lot of things, but they're not really likely to be enormous hits. I mean, if you sell fifty thousand of something that comes out of nowhere—Esquivel was certainly an example a few years back—that's quadruple platinum in our world. And it's a fluke. You don't do releases like these in the hopes of a next big thing. You do 'em because you love music and the worlds it brings you into."

Selected exceptional releases from each label:

Omnivore:

This Is My Song: The Music City Sessions Darondo; Together Forever: The Music City Sessions The Two Things In One; The Music City Sessions Volume 1: Richmond Experience Various Artists

Music City was a soul label based in Oakland, and their early seventies output was indeed prodigious. While the East Bay funk sound of national fame was more polished (most famously Tower of Power), Music City specialized in something with a much harder edge. Darondo typifies what I mean—a commanding vocalist/guitarist who seems equal parts Al Green, Isley's, and Dyke and the Blazers. The Richmond Experience volume—I have the vinyl, and the pressing is just wonderful—is more diverse, and gives as a broader view of what the East Bay scene of the time really was and Alex Pilao's deep liner notes don't hurt. The music ranges from primitive Pickettesque soul to jazzier, more sophisticated jams. Both were interesting enough that I bought another of their Music City releases, Together Forever, by the Two Things In One, which is so far my favorite in the series. For fans of early seventies soul groups like the Dramatics, The Moments, and early seventies temptations, this is the place to start. The Music City vaults are one of the important soul music finds of the last few years. Note to producer Philadelphia/Detroit Experiment Aaron Luis Levinson —start poking around Richmond, CA.

Havin' A Rave-up! Live In Los Angeles, 1978 The Knack

No band this good should ever have been vilified for as catchy a hit as "My Sharona," yet the Knack suffered from as intense and unjust a critical backlash as I can recall. Not only was the late Doug Fieger one of the most skilled, solid vocalists of his generation (I worked with him a bit and saw up close how great he could be), but Berton Averre might go down as the unsung guitar hero of the period. These live tapes capture them on their way up, and it's easy to see how they got real big real fast. This is a mandatory purchase for power pop fans. The Knack circa 1978 were on par with The Pretenders and Rockpile. Yeah—that good.

Dust To Digital:

The Hurricane That Hit Atlanta Rev Johnny L. Jones

Jones is a preacher, gospel singer, organist, and radio personality long active in Atlanta. Who just happened to record (on 7 1/2 open reel tape) every church service he's led since the fifties. Ledbetter candidly admits this blistering compilation is just the tip of the iceberg, combining songs, sermons, prayers, and even radio commercials (I gotta get to Troy's Supermarket). He is at turns intense, convivial, and otherworldly. And a great Hammond B-3 stylist to boot. I hope there's a documentary in the works.

Victrola Favorites: Artifacts From Bygone Days Various Artists


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