Cherry Red’s Soul Time imprint is on fire! The crate-digging team there unearthed two box sets’ worth of R&B rarities in the final months of 2017 that we’re happy to spotlight now!
Mr. M’s Northern Soul 1974-1981 is a 3-CD set celebrating the “oldies room” at the Wigan Casino, the late, fondly-remembered club in Wigan, England famous for its northern soul all-nighters held each Saturday from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday morning. Mr. M’s was born out of necessity in 1974, a “club within a club” created to alleviate crowds and named for owner Gerry Marshall. Its entrance was adjacent to the balcony of the main casino, and it soon established its own identity as far more than just a “spillover” room. Soul Time’s set features many of the uptempo oldies from Mr. M’s, presented by Wigan Casino and Mr. M’s DJ Dave Evison.
While northern soul is characterized by its fast tempo and danceable beats, the variety of music in the genre and on Mr. M’s is staggering. The first disc, D.J.’s Choice, features 25 selections as spun by Evison and DJs including Alan Cain, Brian Rae, Kenny Spence, Ian Wills, Brian Rigby, Steve Whittle, and others. The set is bookended by the first and last songs played at Mr. M’s: the brassy “Hey Sah-Lo-Ney” from the raspy teenaged rocker Mickey Lee Lane, and Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ “The Night” – the latter of which earned its classic status thanks to its Northern Soul fans. The moody track produced and co-written by Bob Gaudio failed to chart in the U.S. upon its 1972 release, but three years later it was in the U.K. Top 10.
D.J.’s Choice also features swamp pop (Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie”), early Philly soul (Philadelphian Bobby Hebb’s “Love, Love, Love”), Chicago soul (The Artistics’ “Hope We Have”), mod (Wynder K. Frog’s “Green Door”), southern soul (“Prince” Phillip Mitchell’s “Free for All (Winner Take All),” Don Covay’s “It’s Better to Have (And Don’t Need)”) and girl group sounds (The Apollas’ “Mr. Creator”). Bobby Hebb isn’t the only one from the City of Brotherly Love represented here. Bunny Sigler’s urgent “Follow Your Heart” (co-written and co-produced by Leon Huff) and Johnny Caswell’s “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” from the team of John Madara and David White, are prime proto-Philly soul. Some tracks defy easy categorization, like Shane Martin’s soulful, rocking version of the early Jimmy Webb tune “I Need You.”
The second disc, People’s Choice, has another 25 rare tracks in the Mr. M’s vein including tracks from heavy hitters like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (“Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly”), Bobby Freeman (“C’mon and Swim”), The Platters (“Sweet, Sweet Lovin'”), the young Ronnie Milsap (“Ain’t No Soul Left in These Shoes”) and soul favorites like James and Bobby Purify (“Let Love Come Between Us”), James Carr (“That’s What I Want to Know”), Little Richard (“Poor Dog (Who Can’t Wag His Own Tail)),” and jazz flautist Herbie Mann (the hit “Philly Dog”). The oddest track might be Nashville sax man Boots Randolph’s honking take on the R.B. Greaves favorite “Take a Letter Maria.” The third and final disc puts the first two in context, presenting a nearly 70-minute interview with Dave Evison with musical excerpts throughout in the manner of a radio program.
Paul Johnston has mastered this collection from analog master tapes and original vinyl, where necessary. Its enclosed 32-page booklet features Evison’s introduction as well as track-by-track notes and credits.
Mr. M’s was preceded in the Soul Time catalogue by another 3-CD clamshell box of interest to fans and collectors alike. Soul on Fire: The Detroit Soul Story 1957-1977 looks at the soulful legacy of that remarkable city as filtered through the productions of entrepreneur Robert West and his labels including Silhouette, Flick, Kudo, and LuPine. Though The Detroit Soul Story can’t help but be incomplete without many tracks from the Motown vaults, many important figures from that company’s history are featured on this fascinating collection.
Alabama-born Robert West moved to Detroit in 1935 but didn’t launch a music venture until around 1957, when he launched his first label, Silhouette. At Silhouette, he introduced The Falcons, featuring his nephew and future Stax legend Eddie Floyd; the group would later count Wilson Pickett among its ranks. The Falcons became the first major R&B vocal group to emerge from Detroit. The Falcons followed West to his subsequent labels like Kudo, Flick, and Bumble Bee; over ten of their songs are featured on this set. His Contour label was the inspiration for a certain Motown group. The Contours are heard on 1961’s “Whole Lotta Woman.”
West propelled the careers of future Motown legends like Marv Johnson (“Once Upon a Time”) and Brian Holland (credited as “Briant Holland” on his 1958 single “Where’s the Joy (In Nature Boy)”). In 1962, he founded his most enduring label in LuPine Records. The label was inaugurated by The Falcons with “I Found a Love,” led by Wilson Pickett. The song’s phenomenal success led directly to Pickett’s signing by Atlantic Records. West championed fellow Falcons Joe Stubbs (brother of The Four Tops’ Levi), Eddie Floyd, and “Sir” Mack Rice on solo releases, many of which are included here. West also signed Diane (later Diana) Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Betty McGlown – a.k.a. the first iteration of the soon-to-be-Supreme group The Primettes – and they’re represented here with their only LuPine A-side, “Tears of Sorrow.”
By 1964, Robert West’s involvement as a producer of new music had come to an end, and he struck into an agreement with Britain’s Ember Records for his masters and publishing. His influence was felt throughout Detroit via such small independent labels as Ric-Tic, Golden World, and Westbound, and the third disc of this collection chronicles the other Detroit indies associated with Ember during the period of 1965-1977.
The thick 36-page booklet accompanying Soul on Fire features Bob Fisher’s introductory essay chronicling West’s history, as well as biographies for the featured artists. Paul Johnston has remastered from both tape and vinyl (where necessary). Both of these titles from Cherry Red’s Soul Time imprint are available now at the links below!