Yup. That’s City Councilman Gary Schiff reading a proclamation from the Mayor and the Council declaring this Twin Cities Funk & Soul Week. They’re helping us celebrate the release of a brand new double-LP compilation by Secret Stash Records that collects twenty-one long-lost Minneapolis jams by artists like the Valdons, the Prophets of Peace and the Lewis Connection. The record’s release will be celebrated with a show at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday that will feature members of the Bees, the Prophets of Peace and other classic local R&B bands backing the original singers – the Valdons are reunited for the show and Wanda Davis – who recorded one of the most sought-after Minnesota records of all (here’s a link if you’d like to hear it) – plus Willie Walker, plus…
It’s a pretty amazing show – a classic R&B revue and not “a barbeque joint blues jam,” as Secret Stash’s co-founder (and drummer) Eric Foss told me. If that weren’t enough to get you dancin’ on the West Bank, the Hot Pants fellas will be celebrating five years of spinnin’ good soul music with a hopin’ party at the Nomad Pub across the street just after the show. It’s quite a week for fans of classic soul and funk music!
You may recall the Mayor did something similar for us a while back (on Record Store Day 2011, when we were celebrating our first year in the new building, our second anniversary since taking over the shop, and the twenty-fifth year of Hymie’s on East Lake Street) – here’s the proclamation we posted way back then. You can still see it in the shop if you’re a birther-type and need proof. You can see the Mayor’s latest proclamation here on the Secret Stash website.
We’ve been listening to a lot of this sweet music here in the shop already (including a disc of the Secret Stash collection!) – If you’re a record collector you know that the best soul and funk records pass through shops pretty quickly!
There’s never going to be a consensus on the subject of the first soul record, although it’s a good topic for record store discussion. Ray Charles recorded a series of hits for ABC-Paramont in the mid-50s, notably “I Got a Woman”, that are undeniably soul music. Charles attributed his vocal style to Jesse Whitaker, a singer with the Pilgrim Travelers, a gospel group. You’ll find the same inspiration in the story of other soul pioneers, like Sam Cooke, who began his career with a stint as lead singer with the longstanding, legendary gospel group the Soul Stirrers.
(“Jesus Gave me Water” by the Soul Stirrers)
(Eight bars of soul by Sam Cooke)
Two artists essential in any collection of soul records are Solomon Burke and Aretha Franklin, and both were deeply rooted in gospel music. During his years with Atlantic Records in the sixties Burke didn’t wish to be considered a rhythm and blues singer because he was concerned about the stigma it held in the church. Calling himself a soul singer was a compromise approved by his spiritual advisers. Gospel is only one of the distinctive influences heard in his Atlantic singles, however, as they also incorporated pop and country music into the newly established genre.
Aretha Franklin’s greatest singles for Atlantic – too many to even begin naming them all – are in many ways the very definition of soul music. Her father, C.L. Franklin, was an important Baptist minister and civil rights leader, and she began singing in his church at ten years old. She toured the gospel circuit and recorded as a gospel artist before she was eighteen. Her first secular records were for Columbia, who tried to establish her as a jazz or pop singer. It was not until recording for Atlantic at the FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (with the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) that Aretha Franklin became “The Queen of Soul”.
Franklin recorded a gospel album in 1972 called Amazing Grace (it was actually her second gospel album). Not only was it her best selling album yet, it was and remains the best selling gospel album of all time. She is backed by a band led by Rev. James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir, and the double album is pretty awesome all the way through – entirely deserving of it’s reputation. A lot of other great soul singers recorded gospel albums, though no one was as successful as Aretha Franklin.
(“Mary Don’t You Weep” by Aretha Franklin)
You have probably figured out the point of today’s post is to present the gospel roots of soul music. I really love the gospel records I own, which trend towards folk-ier blues artists like Rev. Gary Davis and church-ier ones like Alex Bradford. I think only one gospel record in my collection is from the Twin Cities (the Sabathani Baptist Choir album, which is really good! – we’ll post some tracks from it soon). I wish I had more to provide an interesting comparison to the classic local jams being reissued by Secret Stash this weekend.
Here’s a couple gospel 45s from my own collection (sorry, they’re pretty scratched up records):
(“Jesus is Sweeter than Honey” by Rev. Oris Mays)
(“God’s Goodness” by Willie Banks)
Of course, the late sixties and the early seventies were a golden age for soul music, which you can tell from the local tracks collected on the new Secret Stash compilation. Here in the Cities we had the Valdons and the Band of Thieves (“We didn’t have that name because we were thieves, we had that name because we would steal your heart,” recalls Wilbur Cole in the compilation’s liner notes). There were great bands in every city with venues to book them and dancers to dance to them. It became an intrinsically live music, so many of the bands recorded very little or not at all – this is why so many of these records are extraordinarily rare today.
Later this week we’ll listen to some funk records, although I don’t have anything as rare as the DJs from Hipshaker and Hot Pants spin every month. It doesn’t have to be ultra-rare to be fun to listen to anyway, it just has to be funky.
And a quick word about a term you’ll often hear when talking about these records: Northern soul does not refer to American geography, even though what people call northern soul is distinctly a genuinely American creation. The term originates with a movement in England where clubs played American soul records and people danced to them (yup, just like Hipshaker and Hot Pants do here in Minneapolis today). It’s a term that refers to English geography and it started in a record shop in London. It does not mean that all the best soul records were from the north – they came from all over the country. And that’s the thing: they came from all over this country. I think we ought to tell all the crumb bum limeys that it’s soul music, just plain soul music. They can start naming things when they finally create some memorable music that’s not based on ours.