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Phil Spector : The Early Productions

In the early 60s, pop was a hidden industry whose interface with the public existed only at performance level. The big money wasn’t around then and the record game wasn’t seen as a legitimate vocation for sons and daughters. In this subterranean milieu, income depended on factors that were both difficult to predict and control and it seemed a safer bet becoming a lawyer, a doctor or a dentist.

This was the awesome challenge facing 21 year-old Phil Spector as he barnstormed his way through recording circles, making an immediate impact with major hits such as ‘Spanish Harlem’ (Ben E King), ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’ (Curtis Lee) and ‘Corinna Corinna’ (Ray Peterson).

It all began for Spector with the Teddy Bears, an ad hoc vocal group he organised as a vehicle for his songs back in 1958. Events had moved fairly quickly in his life since he’d moved with his mother and sister from the Bronx to Los Angeles in 1953. By the time he’d graduated from Fairfax high School in 1957, Spector had become proficient on the guitar and turned his hand to song writing. Some crudely recorded demos including ‘Don’t You Worry My Little Pet’ (heard here) caught the attention of Doré Records who sanctioned further recordings resulting in the worldwide hit ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’.

Riven by personality conflicts, the Teddy Bears soon disbanded and Spector teamed up with Lester Sill and Lee Hazlewood, the force behind twangy guitarist Duane Eddy’s hits. Placed in charge of Sill’s new signing Kell Osborne, Spector wrote and produced the gritty ‘That’s Alright Baby’. Spector then expressed a desire to move back East. As a favour to their old mentor, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller agreed to look after him. Alternating between coasts, Spector recorded the Paris Sisters, a vocal trio signed by Sill. His faith in Spector was more than justified when the trio’s ‘I Love How You Love Me’ climbed to #5.

Following a short stop at Liberty records – the only official staff post he ever held – Spector walked away to concentrate on his own Philles label. Four years had lapsed since he’d stepped untrained into a recording studio with three friends to record a hit almost by chance. Since then, he’d learned his craft, paid his dues and finally become his own boss. Now, at 23, he had the industry in the palm of his hand and only himself to account to.

“Phil Spector: The Early Productions” covers this formative phase of Spector’s career without duplicating too many hits available on other Ace comps. 12 of the generous 28 tunes are new to CD and both the sequencing and mastering make them a delight to the ear while the booklet is a presentational tour de force. Let’s remember him this way rather than the other. (By Rob Finnis)

Sly Stone : Listen To The Voice

Of every instrument that Sly Stone has mastered during his long and colourful career in music, perhaps the most significant is the recording studio. 20 years before the advent of computer-based recording, this maverick was pushing available recording technology to its limit. When he finally tired of the restrictions imposed by official facilities, Sly built his own, to satisfy his creative urge when, where and how he saw fit. It was the ultimate manifestation of the impulse that had transformed Sylvester Stewart of Vallejo, California into Sly Stone, titan of popular music.

Sly drew from gospel, R&B, rock, jazz, pop, folk rock, psychedelia and everything in-between, married them to a positive outlook tinged with humour, and stayed focused on achieving his goals, using the tools he had. In doing this, Sly Stone liberated black music - rhythmically, lyrically, sonically - but he did it all within the context of the song. That is the reason Sly’s music has been covered by the Beach Boys, why Sinatra accorded him respect, why Miles Davis would wait hours in the studio for a chance to watch him at work.

“Listen To The Voices” is the sequel to Ace’s earlier survey of Sly’s musical progression, “Precious Stone: Sly Stone In The Studio 1963-65”. It’s a project that has been in my back pocket for some time, for, as a terminal Sly freak, I’ve ransacked not just studios, but tape vaults, collector’s stashes and beyond, hunting for any and all evidence of this singular artists creativity, because every last scrap provides another clue, another revelation or, in most cases, just reconfirms Sly’s genius. His funky 1966 demo of ‘You Really Got Me’ came from a bank vault near the Mexican border; an unlikely H.B. Barnum was the source of the folk-punk ‘Underdog’ that Sly recorded with the Beau Brummels in October 1965. And my good pals Edwin and Arno Konings, the Dutch detectives whose forthcoming book “Thank You” will finally give Sly the definitive biography he deserves, came up with an acetate of the brilliant ‘Man Does Not Live’ – written for Walter Jackson in 1968 but performed here by the Family Stone with a touching, heartbreaking dollop of pure soul.

Starting where “Precious Stone” stopped, on “Listen To The Voices” we continue Sly’s journey to the end of the decade, joining some dots, revealing some hidden gems, reiterating the team effort that lay behind the creation and evolution of a truly once-in-a-lifetime outfit, Sly & The Family Stone. The Stone Souls’ recordings reveal why Sly easily pegged his brother Freddie and Greg Errico to be in his new band, and the Family Stone’s earliest demo session reveals the sheer joy they found playing together. But even with their level of success, Sly’s creative desire was unsated, resulting in side projects that complement, and on occasion even match, the Family Stone’s catalogue. His 1969/70 Stoneflower productions on 6IX, Joe Hicks and Little Sister are crucial pieces of the Sly Stone jigsaw, while the outrageous French Fries single is finally identified as a Family Stone recording.

In May 2009 I spent several days in Sly’s company talking about music and its creation, creativity, for the sleeve notes. The man is as funny, smart and brilliant as he ever was, and he seemed to enjoy talking purely about his music for once, rather than being asked prurient questions about his personal life. It was an unforgettable experience. Freddie and Greg also contribute to the notes, which shed fresh light upon the years in question: quite possibly Sly’s purple period. “Listen To The Voices” is a celebration of both Sly & the Family Stone the group, and of Sly Stone the auteur. It’s my way of saying “Thank You” to the incredible, unpredictable, one and only – Sly. (By Alec Palao)

Lord Luther : I am The lord

The town of Salinas is located two hours south of San Francisco in Monterey Country, an area colloquially known as America’s Salad Bowl, thanks to its rich soil. In the 1950s, the region was also the fertile fiefdom of “Lord Luther” McDaniels, a unique personage who rose from leader of respected vocal group the 4 Deuces to assume the mantle of Bay Area rock royalty. Luther started at the top with ‘W-P-L-J’, but true to his self-effacing demeanour, the man was never hung up on the what-ifs of becoming a record star, and for most of his fifteen years as an entertainer, remained resolutely focused on just that: entertainment.

If Lord Luther was one of the scenes most colourful characters in the 50s and early 60s, he was also amongst its most colourblind, boasting integrated bands and audiences that blended white, black and Hispanic into a happy, thrilled throng. As the writer and lead singer on the Deuces’ bluesy vocal group classic ‘W-P-L-J’, Luther was already known on the local chitlin’ circuit, but it was as a solo artist with a rabble rousing, tremendously exciting stage show that the Lord came into his “comfort zone”. Promoting his own revues on the Monterey Peninsula, Luther was an unpretentious rock’n’roll pioneer, one that many local musicians still reminisce about fondly.

Lord Luther’s vintage catalogue covers a decade’s worth of singles, that stretch from the doo wop of the Deuces to his own unique blend of R&B and rock’n’roll, on highly regarded records like ‘Teenage Creature’, ‘A Thinkin’ Man’s Girl’, ‘Just One More Chance’ and ‘Tremble’. All of these and a host of unissued vintage sides are featured on “I Am The Lord!”, covering the artists collectable recordings for the Music City, Frantic and Gedinsons labels between 1955 and 1964. It’s a crude and crazy rockin’ pot-pourri that is a must for fans of black rock’n’roll. Most importantly, this is the first time his legendary ‘W-P-L-J’ has been officially reissued, with the master tape sound quality that vocal group aficionados have hitherto only been able to dream about.

With continued interest in the Deuces, the Lord has recently returned to the stage, wowing audiences at East Coast doo wop/oldies shows, most of whom know little of the legend of Luther the entertainer, beyond ‘W-P-L-J’. Produced with the singer’s full co-operation with an extensively annotated and illustrated booklet, “I Am The Lord!” thus pays tribute to this fascinating artist, whose vintage recordings capture some of the pioneering excitement of rock’n’roll’s greatest era.

Note: Luther’s $500 Northern rarity ‘My Mistake’ will be featured on an upcoming Kent Records collection, and further sides by the 4 Deuces are slated for Ace’s Music City vocal group series. (By Alec Palao)

The Best Of Golden Crest

Ace Records’ link with Golden Crest dates back to 1993. That was when I travelled to picturesque Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, to discuss a licensing deal specifically for the Wailers’ enduring hit instrumental, ‘Tall Cool One’, which duly appeared on “The Golden Age of American Rock’n’Roll, Vol 6” (CDCHD 650). Label-founder Clark Galehouse had died 10 years earlier, so his daughter Shelley came along with her trusted adviser – none other than the great but notorious Hy Weiss of Old Town Records. I couldn’t believe my “luck” in coming up against one of the sharpest and most conniving minds in the business. Eventually I ended up with two contracts: one for Ace; the other in marriage to Shelley.

Through the years Ace has released the “The Fabulous Wailers” (CDCHD 675, a classic and still a solid seller); “On The Road With Rock’n’Roll” by Mando and the Chili Peppers and “Golden Crest Instrumentals” (now deleted); plus quite a few individual tracks. Other reissue labels have licensed Golden Crest masters, from rock’n’roll, rocking instrumentals, doo wop and teen to classical.

Now, at last, we have this first-ever “The Best Of Golden Crest” collection, which draws on singles aimed primarily at the Top 100 charts in the peak rock’n’roll years from the parent label and its subsidiaries Shelley, DeWitt and Yorkshire. Out of the 48 tracks here, no less than 35 are new to Ace CD with almost half new to CD anywhere.

By virtue of its location in Huntington Station, NY, Golden Crest was well placed to trawl talent from Long Island (including Queens and Brooklyn), also New York and New Jersey. But the label made its mark when ‘Tall Cool One’ by the Wailers, from the Northwest area, hit the Top 50 charts on Billboard and Cash Box in 1959 and then again in 1964. As a result of the Wailers’ success, Galehouse tapped into other Northwest acts Clayton Watson (Lord Dent), the Mad Plaids, the Chessmen and Lola Sugia. A further wellspring of satisfying recordings in an R&B vein (but with no hits) emanated from record lady Lillian Claiborne of Washington, D.C.

So, what new-to-CD tracks are there to savour? From the Claiborne stable, try the three New Orleans R&B-influenced Calvin Ruffins and the spot-on Little Willie John soundalike Johnny Stewart with ‘Come On And Love Me’; the attitudinal ‘Bug Out’ by the Seven Teens and more teen pop from the Three Graces and the Montells; ‘Why Did You Tell Me?’ by anguished R&B’er Cartrell Dickson; the superior soul of ‘Girl’ by the Bluestyle with Carl Vanterpool; singles by jazz masters Coleman Hawkins and Carmen Leggio; the splendid bonus track, ‘New York City Blues’, by Larry Dale & his Houserockers (with Bob Gaddy and Jimmy Spruill), written by UK author/Juke Blues writer Dave Williams; and, of course, the three “new” Wailers cuts from their very first 1958 session.

To round off this double CD, there is a highly attractive booklet detailing the label’s history and featuring its innovative picture 45s and picture sleeves. For all the diversity of music genres released, Golden Crest Records was still part of the marvellous cartel of independent labels that contributed so much to the rock’n’roll era. And it shows in these 48 tall cool ones. By John Broven