The first in a series of Digs compilations raiding the record racks of some of the most outrageous music collections. Over the years Gilles Peterson has delighted dance floors and listeners to his radio show by joining the dots between musical styles and eras. His record collection is so serious he keeps it in a separate house known as Brownswood. Regular listeners to Peterson’s radio show (Worldwide airs on BBC Radio 1 weekly in the UK and is syndicated around the world) are occasionally treated to a Brownswood Basement selection where all the records are oldies, all on vinyl, and none have been re-issued. By popular demand, Gilles Peterson Digs America features some of the Brownswood Basement rarities from the USA.
About Gilles Peterson Digs America: Brownswood USA
Peterson is a DJ’s DJ known for selecting and blending together choice tracks from around the world whether they were previously obscure or well known. He also is the listener’s listener filtering and seeking-out music that might otherwise have remained unheard. And despite his preference for quality over rarity Peterson is also the collector’s collector, able to pull out an eye-brow raising record amidst the company of any vinyl connoisseur we know of. “I just love the sharing of music thing and have always had that collector’s gene from my marble days!” jokes Peterson.
A typical Brownswood Basement mix effortlessly ebbs and flows between moods and grooves. Opening with a string laden low-rider-style soul cut from Dorando the tempo may be low but the quality level and rarity factors are immediately set to high. The identity of Dorando (real name Darondo, but a spelling mistake on this 45 switched the “o” with the “a”) was a long time mystery. In the early 1970s three 45s were released on San Francisco Bay Area labels but little else was known about the man until local musicologist Justin Torres recently tracked him down (watch out for a full Darondo album release on Luv N’Haight). Despite Darondos underground status this soulful tearjerker would not sound out of place next to peers like Al Green or Shuggie Otis.
“Tribute to Wes” is a lean piano, bass, guitar and beat-driven nugget from Moses Dillard, a regular guitar session man on the Muscle Shoals scene. Before the age of 20 he had formed the Dynamic Showmen and then teamed-up with James Moore in a duo called Moses & Joshua, recording hits like My Elusive Dreams", Get Out of My Heart", and Soul Symphony" in the late 1960s. Dillard’s career took-off with his own group called the Tex-Town Display. “Tribute to Wes” is from their independently released first album Now, a certified holy-grail rarity that dropped prior to the bands subsequent success. Signing to Curtom in 1970 with a line-up that included future soul star Peabo Bryson the bands first single on the label sold over 250, 000. In later outings Dillard appears as part of the Lovejoy Orchestra, Dillard & Johnson, the Constellation Orchestra, and Dillard & Boyce.
One of the most seductive sounding insults ever recorded is “He Does It Better Than You Do”, a twisted torch track from the Thimble Records release This Is Marva Josie. “Most people would ask, who is that song for?” says singer Josie. Horn player and producer Fred Miller wrote the song, and as far as Josie knows it wasn’t intended for anyone in particular. “It’s a good song for any women to tell a man who thinks he’s found someone else,” says Josie. “You could even write it down and it would work as a good letter,” she adds about the song which has a dose of “Fever” in it. The album featured her late husband Earl “Fatha” Hines and Weldon Irvine and included a wide variety of tunes that Josie thought might open up new doors for her career.
Peterson’s selection returns geographically to the Bay Area with a 7” rarity on the Wee label, and once again to a release with a spelling mistake which no doubt has confused collectors over the years. The 7” is labeled Lonnie Hewlett when the correct spelling is actually Hewitt. Piano player and band leader Lonnie Hewitt wrote, played, recorded, and occasionally released his own music in a quest to be musically self-sufficient. He also wrote music for an award winning off-Broadway play called Dunbar with his friend Paul Smith (himself a Bay Area funkster who wrote tunes for the likes of Cold Blood, Norman Connors and Pharoah Sanders.) Hewitt’s biggest hit was the soul classic “Send My Baby Back” which he wrote for Freddie Hughes and the Wand label. He was also known as the piano player in Cal Tjader's band and was a member of the mysterious Bay Area funk group P-I-R Squared. His own album Keepin’ it Together was released just after he died in 1979. Peterson confessed that his 7” copy of “Ya Ya Cha Cha” has a small chunk broken out of the intro. Did he pick this track to simply fill a hole (literally) in the Brownswood collection? More likely the piano-driven dance floor friendly Latin soul perfectly bridges the sultry Marva Josie and the lively Jon Lucien.
Lucien is possibly the most recognizable artist on the compilation but “Search for the Inner Self” is so rare that not even our esteemed compiler has a copy. He remembered Brit-pop king Paul Weller playing it to him almost 15 years ago so we called Lucien and fortunately he remembered the track, too. Producer Beau Ray Fleming (of Zulema, Mandrill, and GQ fame) says he was going for a “Majestic soul” sound and brought in Bernard Purdie to power the song along. The strings, percussion and big-production give the track a dramatic Charles Stepney-like vibe on this first Lucien 7” release which originally came out before he recorded any of his legendary RCA albums.
“A Perfect Day” was originally released on the Concentric label outing A Point of View. Sounding fresh and vital as ever it is actually the oldest track on the compilation having been recorded in 1964. “My Italian friend/dealer (Paulo Scotti) sent me a copy off a vocal mix tape he did for me,” remembers Peterson. “When you've been collecting for so long it’s a real joy when you hear a track of that quality for the first time,” he adds. Musical director for Judy Garland and house band for Frank Sinatra’s legendary Watering Hole, Cole died a tragic early death falling and cracking his head on the curb outside a New York club. Peterson insisted we pick up this “wondrous piece of vocal jazz” as a last minute addition.
That Baaska and Scavelli is a jazz-dance classic is down to an almost unbelievable chain of events. The original version of Get Off The Ground" was recorded in Los Angeles around 1976. Using direct to disc technology M&K Sound wanted to use the track to demonstrate their state of the art sound recording equipment. “We jammed for 8 minutes to get familiar with the changes and then Valli sang the melody. “That's a take” yelled the engineer to our amazement,” recalls Baaska. Somehow a test pressing of the recording found its way to London, where it was purchased in a second hand store for 10 pence. Marked only as “"The Bottom End" a product of M and K Sound” Peterson ended up with that copy (after it passed through the hands of London DJs Chris Bangs and Paul Murphy) and it became the mysterious anthem of the old school jazz scene at the famous Electric Ballroom Jazz Room in Camden Town. The tune and lyrics were perfect for the jazz-dance scene where the best dancers would square-up and literally dance each other off the floor in a display of athletic prowess and rhythmic agility. DJ's, record dealers, and Jazz enthusiasts searched for the identity of the musicians on the track until finally, 23 years later, collector Seymour Nurse solved the mystery when he found Baaska and Scavelli on the internet. “When I found Don (Baaska) and Valli (Scavelli), I discovered the other shorter version (included on this compilation) which was quite phenomenal!” says Nurse. “To find another version of The Bottom End", or Get Off The Ground" its official name, after there had been so much mystery just blew people away.”
The shortened version was recorded in 1978. Nurse plans to release both versions along with remixes on the Freestyle label. Living and performing in Puerto Rico, Baaska was amazed that Nurse had been looking for him for more than 20 years and that he found him at all since no names appear on the test pressing!
Experimental folksy crooners Ellen McIlwaine and Caroline Peyton mix folk with soul and jazz, the former covering Stevie Wonder, the latter mixing moog, acoustic guitar, and an airy Joni Mitchell vocal style for her Intuition album released on the legendary Bloomington, Indiana-based Bar-B-Q record label. McIlwaine has released albums that included folk-funk classics like “Toe Hold”, “Wings of a Horse”, and “Jimmy Jean”. Peyton is delighted by the attention Peterson has brought to her work, joking that she was convinced she’d only ever be discovered posthumously.
A short but sweet bass-line driven jazz-joint from Bob Cunningham provides an instrumental bridge between tracks as Peterson switches mood from folk jazz to soul jazz. Starting out like an instrumental from A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders, “Lover’s Theme” is taken from Cunningham’s debut on Nilva Records. The Walking Bass album features an all-star line-up of Melvin Sparks, Alvin Queen and Bernard Purdie. Cunningham also appears on records by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, Freddie Hubbard, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor.
Despite being recorded between 1982 and 1983 you could easily mistake the Ira Sullivan track “The Kingdom Within You” for a new production. In fact it’s from the album Strings Attached, which was composed by David Einhorn and features Nicole Yarling on soulful vocals and in the string section. “Funnily enough Paulo Scotti sent me a copy of the original album on Pausa a couple of years ago with a note saying that he'd found 4hero's formula!” says Peterson.
The JR Bailey soul epic “Just Me N’You” (from the album of the same name) is a Brownswood Basement classic but perhaps a strange record to have originally been released on MAM. The label was known for early releases by Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. But Gordon Mills, who is credited with turning Jones and Humperdinck into superstars and also ran the label, had a rep for being able to spot a good song. He’s not the only one as JR Bailey and co-writer Ken Williams also wrote the track which in later life became Alecia Keys Grammy-winning smash “You Don’t Know My Name”. “It was originally called “I Betcha Don’t Know” but the Main Ingredient cut it as “Let Me Prove My Love To You”,” explains Williams. “Alecia Keys wrote new music and words and music to it, retitled it, and we have a hit!” he adds. Williams notes that a lot of the work on the JR Bailey album was done at home, on a basic tape machine. Originally they had a deal with Toy Records, but when the album rights were sold onto MAM Williams and Bailey were allowed to spend a little more on production, including adding all the rhythmic overdubs, the strings and dramatic guitar-driven intro, “We took things as far as we could, and then went to Associated Recording Studios on 7th Ave in Manhattan to finish up,” says Bailey. “We wanted to do something a little different than what was already out there musically,“ he adds.
The World Experience Orchestra album The Beginning of a New Birth was plucked out of a 30,000 piece collection by Peterson. Ubiquity had recently acquired the records and invited Peterson to have a swift dig while on a trip to Los Angeles (records from this collection are helping us put together re-issues and will also be available for sale from our website). Was it luck, coincidence or digging skill that enabled Peterson to hone in on this ultra-rare private label model masterpiece out of several rooms of vinyl? A lengthy process of phone calls to the wrong people, dead ends, and begging for info from labels eventually led us to band leader Jameel Jones, now based in Owasso, Oklahoma in order to obtain rights to re-release. Apparently one spin from Peterson led to a copy selling on E-Bay for over $1000. But don’t call Jones, he doesn’t have any more! “More than anything the internet has given old music a new lease of life in a way,” remarks Peterson. “It helps people get closer to obscure music queries which otherwise have remained unanswered.”
The pace picks up with Detroit jazz legend Harold McKinney. Throughout his life he taught and performed music in the Motor City and was an integral part of the Tribe music collective. “Ode To Africa” from the 1974 release Voices and the Rhythms of the Creative Profile is part funk mixed with spiritual jazz and tempered with operatic vocals. This eccentric ensemble piece features fellow Detroit-legends Marcus Belgrave and Wendell Harrison.
Another rarity and Brownswood Basement favorite, “March of the Goober Woobers” is a mad clav and break-beat heavy track by 47 X Its Own Weight. Fable Records owner Mike Mordecai explains the curious band name was inspired by a Rolaids commercial which claimed that the anti stomach-acid medicine consumed 47 times it’s own weight in acid. “The guys in the band were pot smokers and thought this concept hilarious,” says Mordecai. “The composer Robert Skiles was often referred to as a goober by his girlfriend, in fact she may have even referred to the whole band by this name, so “March of the Goober Woobers” became their tune,” he adds. The Austin-based Fable label is perhaps best known by funk and rare groove collectors for releases by Steam Heat and Starcrost. Mordecai was originally inspired to start Fable after reading the Clive Davis book “Inside the Record Business” in which he predicts a fusion of jazz and vocals will be very successful. Mordecai had produced a demo for his band Starcrost and drove from Austin to the Arista offices in Los Angeles, convinced that his fusion would be exactly what Davis was looking for. Unfortunately, upon arrival Mordecai was told that Davis’ office was based in New York. With no deal in hand he returned home and decided to start his own label. He’d never produced anything more than a demo so he signed 47 X its Own Weight and Steamheat to learn everything he needed to about recording before producing his own Starcrost album. Amazingly all three albums were produced within one month. Modercai and his wife runs a booking agency but plan to re-issue the Fable catalog in its entirety before the end of 2005.
The Ensemble Al Salaam round out proceedings with “Circles” from the Strata East-released album The Sojourner. The jazz-fueled fusion of soul and spiritual-tinged funk first got a spin on Petersons Worldwide show when London-based producer extraordinaire IG Culture popped in for a mix. “The great thing about the radio show is that people share their music with me when they guest etc,” says Peterson. “It keeps me in touch with them.”
Listening to each of the tunes on this compilation it’s hard to imagine why these artists are not all household names. Such is the ability of Mr Peterson to spot a tune. Asked if he ever walks into Brownswood and thinks he has nothing to play, the simple answer is “No”.
For more information contact All About Jazz.