Following last year’s releases from The Salsoul Orchestra, First Choice, Instant Funk and Double Exposure, Big Break Records continues its exploration of the Salsoul Records catalogue with two new reissues from Skyy and Candido. These discs can be said to offer another side of the Salsoul legacy as neither are locked into the Philly grooves of Vince Montana or Baker-Harris-Young. Instead, they show just how far the New York label could push the dance/R&B envelope in the waning days of disco.
1981’s Skyy Line gave the eight-person ensemble Skyy its first (and only) Top 40 hit with the intoxicating cry to “Call Me.” The track also went to No. 1 R&B and No. 3 Disco, solidifying Skyy’s place on the scene. Born from the ashes of the band Brass Construction, Skyy released its first album – and first for Salsoul – in 1979. The members of Skyy were said to be emissaries of the planet Yen Zalia. Though their home planet had been destroyed by war, they came to Earth to spread their message of love. By the time of Skyy Line, the band’s fourth album, most of the sci-fi trappings had been replaced by a cosmopolitan, urban feel, but the open-hearted messages of joy and love remained.
Solomon Roberts, Jr. (vocals/guitars/producer), Anibal Sierra (guitars/keyboards), Gerald Lebon (bass), Larry Greenberg (keyboards), Tommy McConnell (drums) and sisters Denise, Bonnie and Delores Dunning (vocals) joined with co-producer/arranger/instrumentalist Randy Muller for Skyy Line. “Call Me,” written by Muller and sung with insouciance by Denise, was the breakout hit. It has its protagonist rather blatantly stealing another gal’s guy, but Denise’s performance and the band’s tight backing – propelled by a riff that recalls early Stevie Wonder (think “For Once in My Life”) – proved delectable. It’s far from the only such offering on Skyy Line, though. The McConnell-penned opening salvo of “Let’s Celebrate” had just the right blend of a slick bass line, grounded drum beat, burbling electronics and swaggering vocals for the early 1980s.
Elsewhere, Skyy shows off its stylistic versatility. There’s a bit of a Rick James feel on Muller’s “Girl in Blue,” while Roberts’ “Jam the Box” takes the funk one uninhibited step further. (Talk about democracy among the songwriting credits! Delores has the lead vocal on the album’s most unexpected highlight, Roberts’ sensual, elegantly arranged ballad “When You Touch Me.” There’s even a reggae detour for Roberts and Lebon’s “Gonna Get It On” before the band wraps up the brisk, 7-song, 34-minute album with a bow for Muller’s dancefloor invitation “Get Into the Beat.” The closing track feels like a bit of a disco throwback (“Get up off your seat! Get up on your feet! Get into the beat!”) with some CHIC influence in Roberts’ rock guitar flourishes.
BBR’s reissue adds a brace of bonus tracks – the single and 12-inch mixes of “Call Me” and follow-up “Let’s Celebrate” – as well as a strong and incisive new essay from Christian John Wikane. (For those keeping score, “When You Touch Me,” the original B-side of “Call Me,” was also issued as a single A-side with the B-side of “Girl in Blue.” “Gonna Get It On” accompanied the A-side “Let’s Celebrate.”) These bonus tracks are different than those appended to the 2003 Unidisc CD. That disc included the Tom McConnell and Francois Kevorkian remixes of “Celebrate” along with an instrumental dub mix. Nick Robbins has remastered for BBR, and everything adds up to the definitive reissue of this early-eighties R&B classic.
After the jump: Cuban percussionist Candido Camero is Dancin’ and Prancin’! Plus order links and track listings for both titles!
Candido Camero and producer Joe Cain were unlikely disco heroes. Candido (born Candido Camero Guerra) was 58 years old in 1979, and Cain was 50. In his long career, conga king Candido had played with everybody from Tito Puente to Tony Bennett; the Philadelphia-born Cain had gravitated to Latin rhythms at an early age and produced albums for Puente, Celia Cruz, and even Broadway star Chita Rivera. Yet neither man was accustomed to disco when they made their mark in the final year of the seventies with Dancin’ and Prancin’, newly remastered and reissued by Big Break. Cain must have absorbed some of the sounds of the era, though, as General Manager of Salsoul’s Salsa and Mericana line. He enlisted a line-up of pros to surround Candido, for whom he had produced the early seventies albums Thousand Finger Man and Beautiful. These musicians included pianist-arranger Louis Small (The Latinaires, Inner Life), plus drummer Woody Cunningham and bassist Norman Durham of Kleeer.
Only four songs were included on Dancin’ and Prancin’, all extended compositions featuring Candido on congas, bongos, cowbells, tambourines, tom-toms and various other percussion instruments. Cunningham and Small supplied two compositions (the title track and “Thousand Finger Man”), while lead-off single “Jingo” was adapted from Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji’s 1959 composition “Jingo-Lo-Ba.” “Rock and Shuffle (A-Ha)” came from Argentinean Carlos Franzetti.
The jazzy and oft-remixed “Jingo” remains the album’s centerpiece. In 1969, Santana recorded Olatunji’s song, and Candido built on the foundation of the fiery Santana version. A primarily instrumental piece which influenced dance and house music creators to come with its throbbing, hypnotic, polyrhythmic grooves, “Jingo” is a mesmerizing full-throttle Latin disco explosion, far removed from the smooth Philly-meets-salsa sound of Vince Montana’s Salsoul Orchestra. (Montana, of course, had already departed Salsoul by the time Candido recorded Dancin’, but his style remains indelibly associated with the label to this day.)
A sense of a jazzman’s improvisation infuses the album. “Dancin’ and Prancin'” (“Get down, get down!”) is all about the rhythm, with strong contributions from Louis Small’s piano and keyboards, and Prince Joseph’s slinky tenor sax. Space-age synthesizers open “Thousand Finger Man,” not a cover of the 1970 Candido/Cain song but an original with the same title. The band again locks in a tight groove with ethereal, seductive vocal contributions used sparingly, and an emphasis placed on the unstoppable beat and rhythm over melody. Kenny Warden adds a flavorful, atmospheric flugelhorn which weaves in and out of the track. The lively “Rock and Shuffle (Ah-Ha)” has a slicker feel than the other three tracks, having been played by a wholly different band including the song’s author, Carlos Franzetti, on slithery keyboards. It also may be the most exuberant production of the four, with a smoking, strutting horn section supporting Candido’s congas and call-to-arms disco-style cowbell.
Big Break adds six bonus tracks to the original LP’s four songs. There’s more than enough “Jingo” to go around, with the addition of the original 12-inch version, Shep Pettibone’s 1983 reinvention-remix, the single edit and its instrumental version. And “Thousand Finger Man” gets two more versions, the 12-inch, 12+-minute extended version and the single. Thomas del Pozo nicely recounts the album’s history and that of its key creators in his detailed essay, and Nick Robbins has remastered all tracks. (Unfortunately, discographical information is absent in the otherwise-exemplary booklet for a number of the bonus tracks.) As with Skyy Line, Big Break’s design for the reissue is impeccable right down to the CD face with the Salsoul rainbow label.
The various strains of the Salsoul sound have never been presented in classier or more respectful fashion in the CD era. Both titles from Big Break Records can be ordered at the links below!
- Let’s Celebrate
- Call Me
- Girl in Blue
- Jam the Box
- When You Touch Me
- Gonna Get It On
- Get Into the Beat
- Call Me (12-Inch Disconet Remix) (Rams Horn RMSH 12-3067, 1982)
- Let’s Celebrate (12-Inch Remix) (likely from 12″ Gold Master Series Volume One, Salsoul CD 20-10502, 1994)
- Call Me (Single Version) (Salsoul single S7-2152, 1981)
- Let’s Celebrate (Single Version) (Salsoul single S7-7020, 1982)
- Dancin’ and Prancin’
- Thousand Finger Man
- Rock and Shuffle (Ah-Ha)
- Jingo (Original 12-Inch Version) (Salsoul SG 219, 1979)
- Thousand Finger Man (12-Inch Extended Version) (source TBD)
- Jingo (Shep Pettibone Remix) (Salsoul SG 406, 1983)
- Thousand Finger Man (Single Version) (Salsoul single S7 2100, 1979)
- Jingo (Single Version) (Salsoul single S7 2094, 1979)
- Jingo (Instrumental Version) (likely from Candido – The Anthology, Suss’d SALSA CD 021, 2005)