Nine years after the release of The Salsoul Orchestra’s debut single Salsoul Hustle in 1975, what had been disco’s premier label, closed its doors for the final time. Having released 100 albums and 200 twelve inch singles, Salsoul Records had enjoyed a longevity few other disco labels enjoyed. Salsoul had watched labels come and go. Many were perceived as potential pretenders to Salsoul’s crown. None of them came close to performing a musical coup d’etat. No wonder. 

Salsoul Records released some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful music of the disco era. This included music from artists like First Choice, Double Exposure, Loleatta Holloway, The Salsoul Orchestra, Instant Funk and Carol Williams. Crucial to the success these artists enjoyed, were some of the best songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians. 

Among them, were Vince Montana Jr. the founder, conductor and producer of The Salsoul Orchestra’s first few albums. Then there was Norman Harris, of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. He ran Gold Mind Records, a subsidiary of Salsoul which signed some of Salsoul’s most successful artists. Along with musicians like percussionist Larry Washington, guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, backing vocalists The Sweethearts of Sigma plus songwriters and producers Alan Felder and Ron Tyson Salsoul was awash with creative and talented personnel. That’s why in the twenty-nine years since Salsoul closed its doors, people have never lost interest in disco’s premier label. Indeed, recently, there’s been a real resurgence in interest in Salsoul records. Labels worldwide have been rereleasing Salsoul’s illustrious back-catalogue. That’s not forgetting compilations and mixes, including Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix, which was released on 26th June 2013 by Octave Japan. 

Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix is the second mix album Octave Japan have released recently. The first was Muro’s Diggin’ Salsoul Breaks. It was an eclectic mix, which saw DJ Muro pursue the perfect break. Norri’s mix is similarly eclectic. Just like Muro, Norri eschews many of the familiar and predictable tracks that you’ll find on other Salsoul mix CDs. Granted there’s still contributions from Salsoul favorites The Salsoul Orchestra and Loleatta Holloway, but apart from that, there’s some surprises in store. Among them, are tracks by The Strangers, Logg, Skyy, Aurra, Rafael Cameron, Bunny Sigler and Claudia Barry. As you’ll realize, when I tell you about Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix, this is no ordinary Salsoul mix.

Opening Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix is Seconds, the first of three tracks by The Salsoul Orchestra. Featuring Loleatta Holloway’s vocal, Seconds was a track from Heat It Up, The Salsoul Orchestra’s final album. Released in 1982, Heat It Up featured a very different lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra. Written by Sam Dees and Roy “Have Mercy” Kersey, Seconds was arranged and produced by Patrick Adams. The version chosen by DJ Norri is the Shep Pettibone 12” Special Club Version. Although very different from the music on The Salsoul Orchestra’s early album, Seconds is the best of what was a very average album.

The first curveball DJ Norri throws is his choice of The Strangers’ Step Out Of My Dream. This was a track from their eponymous album The Strangers. Released in 1983, funk and boogie are combined by Edward Moore, Howard King and Hubert Eaves III. Here, Shep Pettibone’s 12” Dream Version is a reminder that Salsoul still released some quality music after disco’s demise.

Logg are another of Salsoul’s post-disco signings. This was a short-lived Leroy Burgess project. They only released one album Logg in 1981. One of the highlights was (You’ve Got) That Something. Rather that choose the original, the Greg Carmichael and John Morales’ 12” version was chosen by DJ Norri. It’s best described as soulful, funky and hook-laden dance-track. The same can be said of Skyy’s Here’s To You. Skyy released seven albums between 1979 and 1984. Here’s To You was a track from Skkyport, their third album. Produced by Randy Muller and Solomon Roberts Jr, this further reinforces that at Salsoul, there was life after disco.

Rafael Cameron released three albums for Salsoul between 1980 and 1982. Without doubt, Boogie’s Gonna Get You is his best known track. This is a track from his 1981 sophomore album Cameron’s In Love which is produced by Skyy’s Randy Muller. Elements of soul, funk and boogie combine on Francois Kevorkian’s 12” instrumental mix this minor post-disco classic.

There’s an increase in the tempo on the original 12” mix of Aurra’s In The Mood (To Groove). Sassy, feisty and hypnotic, this was a track from their 1980 eponymous debut album which was released on Dream Records. This brought them to the attention of Salsoul Records. Soon, they were signed to Salsoul and released three further albums. However, they never quite matched In The Mood (To Groove), which remains the highlight of their career.

By the time The Salsoul Orchestra released How High in 1978, they’d lost their founder, conductor and producer Vince Montana Jr. He’d left Salsoul after a dispute over royalties. There was life after Vince Montana Jr. Proof of this is the title-track. It features Cognac’s vocal. Literally bursting into life, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section provide the arrangement’s heartbeat. Meanwhile, keyboards, percussion and Don Renaldo’s lush strings and growling horns signal the arrival of the vocal. Her vocal is a mixture of power and passion, with tight, soaring, soulful harmonies accompanying it. Vibes, pounding, funky rhythm section and percussion combine, while the horns blaze, almost ever-present and crucial to the track’s sound and success. 

By The Way I Dance (I Knew It Was You) was a track from Bunny Sigler’s second album for Gold Mind Records, I’ve Always Wanted To Sing…Not Just Write Songs. Released in 1979, the title was a description of the situation Bunny found himself in at Philadelphia International Records. Although he released a trio of albums for Philadelphia International, Bunny felt himself writing songs when he wanted to record them. Signing for Gold Mind allowed Bunny to get his recording career back on track. Sadly, despite releasing three albums for his new label, he never enjoyed the success his talent deserved. One listen to By The Way I Dance (I Knew It Was You) demonstrates this.

Candido was signed to Salsoul Records in 1979 and released two albums for disco’s premier label. The first was 1979s Dancin’ and Prancin’ which featured  Thousand Finger Man. Produced by Joe Cain, the arrangement is laden in drama and is reminiscent of a seventies sci-fi movie. Soon, drama becomes understated and almost elegant. Then the two unite. Synths and piano are at the heart of the action. When thunderous drums, percussion and ethereal vocals enter, it’s a very different track. There’s still drama and elegance, but the vocal brings a haunting beauty. Keyboards join the funkiest of rhythm sections and heartfelt harmonies as the track reveals its secrets. The result in a track that’s veers between dramatic and elegant but is funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. 

Street Sense was released by The Salsoul Orchestra in 1979. It was one of their least successful albums, failing to chart. Despite this, Street Sense featured some quality music. This includes 212 North 12th written by Tom Moulton and Thor Baldursson penned tracks. Keyboards give way the familiar combination of a pulsating disco beat created by the rhythm sectio. Stabs of keyboards join the mix, before Don Renaldo’s of strings and horns play important roles in the arrangement. Strings sweep and swirl, while horns blaze. Bursts of punchy horns and percussion add drama as the funky rhythm section provide a relentless, pulsating disco beat as this multilayered fusion of disco, jazz and funk reaches a dramatic crescendo.  

Claudja Barry released her debut album Sweet Dynamite on Jurgen Korduletsch’s Lollipop Records in 1976. Lollipop Records wanted their music distributed in America. To do this, Lollipop hooked up with Salsoul. This was to be the start of a fruitful relationship. Over the next few years, Gaz and Claudja Barry brought a Euro Disco influence to Salsoul. Given Salsoul epitomized everything that disco stood for, this seems quite incredible. Given the way disco started to change, this proved to prophetic. 

Love Is Blue is a track from Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra’s 1976 album. Originally released in 1968, the 12” version is transforms the track into something of a hidden disco gem. It has a hard funky sound. That’s thanks to banks keyboards, percussion and a rhythm section who create a pulsating funky beat. Adding a soulful twist are sweeping harmonies in a track where soul, funk and disco unite seamlessly.

Closing Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix is Walter Gibbons 12” mix of Loleatta Holloway’s We’re Getting Stronger. This was a track from Loleatta’s 1976 album for Norman Harris’ Gold Mind Records, Loleatta.  As the track opens, Loleatta scats while braying horns, cascading strings and a pounding rhythm section accompany her. Stabs of keyboards and a searing guitar accompany Loleatta’s powerful, passionate vocal.  Her vocal soars, while backing vocalists accompany her. Swathes of strings dance above her vocal, as she vamps her way through the track. It’s an inspirational, uplifting performance from Loleatta, on a track that for far too long, has been a hidden gem of Loleatta’s back-catalogue.

If anything, Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix is even more eclectic than DJ Muro’s Diggin’ Salsoul Breaks. Despite disregarding the familiar, the quality doesn’t suffer. Norri eschews the familiar tracks that feature on other compilations and mixes. Don’t expect contributions from First Choice, Double Exposure and Instant Funk. There are contributions from The Salsoul Orchestra, Loleatta Holloway and Bunny Sigler. That’s not forgetting Love Is Blue, a hidden gem from Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra. However, much of the music is from the post-disco era. This is somewhat ironic, given Salsoul Records are perceived as the archetypical disco label.

Among Salsoul Records’ post disco artists are Logg, Aurra, Skyy, The Strangers and Rafael Cameron. This part of Salsoul’s back-catalogue is often overlooked. Maybe that’s because it divides opinion. Often, people who loved Salsoul’s classic disco sound were turned off by the post-disco sound. For many, a line is drawn in the sand and anything that’s post-disco is off-limits. That’s a great shame, as Salsoul were still releasing some quality music in the post-disco era, albeit not in the same vast quantities. 

Apart from the disco and post-disco tracks that feature on Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix there’s Euro Disco courtesy of Claudja Barry. Then there’s the fusion of Latin, funk, soul and disco that’s Candido’s Thousand Finger Man. When all this is combined with the disco and post-disco tracks, the result is a compelling, intriguing and eclectic mix.

Indeed, the selection of music on Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix is guaranteed to provoke debate and dissent among discerning Salsoul fans. Whether you enjoy, approve or agree with the music on Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix will depend on your taste. Although I prefer the Salsoul’s trademark disco sound and don’t regard myself as a huge fan of the post-disco sound, I enjoyed Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix. That’s because of DJ Norri’s brave and bold track selection. Eschewing the familiar and predictable tracks that feature on so many other Salsoul compilations and mixes, Back To My Roots: DJ Norri’s Salsoul Mix is an adventurous musical journey, with many a surprise in store for the unsuspecting listener. Standout Tracks: The Salsoul Orchestra How High, The Salsoul Orchestra Street Sense, Candido Thousand Finger Man and Loleatta Holloway We’re Getting Stronger


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