ERA RECORDS AND WEST COAST NORTHERN SOUL.
ERA RECORDS AND WEST COAST NORTHERN SOUL.
The Era Records story began back in 1955. That’s when two cousins, Lew Bedell and Herb Newman decided to decided to form a record label in their hometown, Los Angeles. They called their new label Era Records. For Lew and Herb, this was indeed the start of a new era. Especially, in the case of Lew Bedell
Previously, Lew Bedell had been a comedian. However, his career seemed to have stalled. With his career at a crossroads, Lew was on the look out for a new career. Luckily, his cousin Herb Newman a music industry veteran, was looking for a new start.
Herb had started out as a West Coast sales rep for Mercury and later Decca. Having learnt the ropes, he wanted to form his own company. With his cousin looking for a new career, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. After all, Herb and Lew had been brought up together, after Lew’s parents split up and were like brothers. With the financial support of Herb’s father Max Newman, they founded Era Records in 1955. Seven years later, in 1962, Era Records became a soul label.
Having started their own label, Herb and Lew concentrated on releasing music that was popular locally. Los Angeles’ music scene was much more conservative than New York, Washington or Philly. So, originally, they planned to released just pop, country, rockabilly and jazz. With black music not as popular in Los Angeles, they only occasionally released soul or R&B. Their first soul single Era Records released was in 1957. It was as if they were just testing the water. Seven years later, in 1962, Era Records took the plunge and became a soul label.
By then, Era Records had already released over 150 records. Following the decision to change direction musically, Era Records released a whole host of singles that have become popular on the Northern Soul scene. A selection of Era Records’ Northern Soul singles can be found on Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul which was recently released by Outta Sight Records. However, somewhat confusingly, given the title, there’s more this compilation than Northern Soul.
Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul features “Northern Soul dancers, neo-doo-wop rarities and R&B rockers.” Well known faces sit side-by-side with rarities, hidden gems and unreleased tracks. In some ways, the twenty-eight tracks demonstrate just how eclectic the music Era Records released. There’s contributions from some of Era Records’ biggest names, including Jewel Akens, Ketty Lester and Bob and Earl. Then there rarities and hidden gems from Dee Dee Dorety, The Wonders, Tommy Mosely and Albert Stone. Before that, Era Records was about to enjoy its first hit single.
From the get-go, the Lew and Herb had the Midas touch. Era Records’ first hit single was Cogi Grant’s Suddenly There’s A Valley, released in 1955. Cogi proved to be their lucky charm. In 1956, Era Records released Cogi Grant’s classic The Wayward Wind. Written by Herb Newman, it reached number one. For the next couple of years, Era Records continued to enjoy a modicum of commercial success. One of these was Art and Dotty’s Chanson D’Amour, which reached number eight in early 1958. Later that year, Lew and Herb founded another label, Dore.
Dore was founded as an outlet for more adult oriented music. Ironically, what should’ve been Dore’s first released wasn’t exactly adult oriented. What could’ve been their new label’s release resulted in a parting of the ways for the two cousins. A young producer called Phil Spector arrived with a demo of To Know Him Is To Love Him. Herb, musically trained, felt the song lacked something. He suggested adding swathes of lush strings. Phil Spector and Herb had different ideas when it can to production. This disagreement proved costly, when Phil took the song to another label. This resulted in an argument between the cousins. They agreed to part ways in May 1959. Lew took Dore and Herb Era. What could’ve been a successful partnership was no more. Herb Newman had a point to prove.
Now in full control of the label, Herb Newman set about turning Era Records into one of the most successful independent labels in Los Angeles. Herb Newman, now a music industry veteran, lived and breathed music. He was determined Era Records would become a successful label. Sticking to his policy of only releasing music that he thought would prove popular, now that soul music was growing in popularity, Herb embraced it.
Era Records enjoyed success with The Rockets, who also doubled as the label’s backing vocalists. Along with The Castells, Ronnie Height and Ketty Lester soul music proved lucrative for Era Records. So much so, that from 1962 onwards, Era Records became a soul label. This is documented on Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul, which I’ll pick the highlights of.
Jewel Akens’ I’ve Arrived opens Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul. This is one of four tracks he contributes. I’ve Arrived was released as a single in 1965. It was written by Steven Howard and arranged by Don Ralke. The same year, Jewel released A Slice Of The Pie as a single. Written by Barry Stuart, it was arranged by James Carmichael, who would go on to work with Billy Preston and Syreeta and of course, Lionel Ritchie. A year later, in 1966, Jewel released My First Lonely Night, which features a vocal full of heartbreak. Arranged by Miles Grayson, it’s perceived by some as Jewel’s finest moment. Later, this would become a favourite among the Northern Soul scene. These three tracks, plus Love Potion No.9 and Jewel’s million-selling single The Birds And The Bees, which was the title of Jewel’s only album, which was released in 1965.
Tommy Mosley’s Exit Loneliness Enter Love is an example of the Northern Soul tracks that Era Recods became known for. It’s a stomper, where Tommy’s accompanied by The Rockets on backing vocals. Wishing Well is Tommy’s other contribution. It’s an unreleased track. However, it doesn’t come up to the standard of Exit Loneliness Enter Love, which is one of Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul highlights.
Billy Watkins’ The Ice-Man is a sassy, stomper, whch was released in 1967. Penned by Billy and Herb, it was produced by H.B. Barnum. With backing vocals, dancing strings, rasping horns and a showboating vocal from Billy it’s a joyous, hook-laden track.
Othello Robertson’s So In Luv has Northern Soul written all over. If anyone asks you what Northern Soul sounds like, play them this track. Released in 1967, it was written by Dell Randle who produced the track and arranged it with Eddie Foster. As for Othello Robertson’s vocal, it’s an outpouring of power, passion and emotion. She pushes her vocal to its limits, as if determined to breath life and meaning into the lyrics. Accompanied by an arrangement that epitomises Northern Soul, describing this as an impassioned ballad is an understatement.
Jesse Davis released Gonna Hang On In There Girl as a single in 1967. Tucked away on the B-Side, was Albuquerque. It was written by Howard “Chico” Barber and has an air of mystery and drama. Albuquerque has a cinematic sound and is as far removed from Northern Soul as you can get.
Back in 1963, Bruce Cloud released two singles for Era Records. They were Lucky Is My Name and Little Spark Of Fire. Lucky Is My Name was written by Murray Schwimmer and Ray Stanley. Irony oozes out of Bruce as he delivers the lyrics. However, later, there’s a twist in the tale, as Bruce’s luck changes. For Bruce, lucky is his name. Bruce’s other contribution is Little Spark Of Fire was penned by the songwriting team of Lou Duhig and Ruby Berry.
Without doubt, Bob and Earl’s Harlem Shuffle is one of the best known tracks on Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul. Released in 1963, Harlem Shuffle was penned by Bob Relf and Earl Nelson. Not only did they write and perform this minor classic, but the co-produced it. Since 1963, Harlem Shuffle has become a soul standard and a minor classic.
Melvin Boyd’s Things Are Getting Better was released in 1965. Written by Barry Stuart and arranged by Miles Grayson, the only way to describe this track is a joyous slice of Northern Soul. With Melvin delivering a vocal powerhouse, The Rockets add cooing harmonies. The result is one of the the highlights of Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul.
Jimmy Lewis is one of the biggest names on Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul. One Love was released in 1966. It was written by Cliff Chambers and arranged by James Carmichael. One Love showed what James Lewis was capable of. He’d go on to release a single for Volt and release some of the best music of his career on the Hotatlanta label.
Ketty Lester’s River Of Salt closes Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul. River Of Salt was the B-Side to Ketty’s 1962 single You Can’t Lie To A Liar. Written by Bernard and Zackery with Irving Brown, River Of Sale falls into the category of hidden gem, which shows why it’s always worth checking the B-Side of a single. Another person who liked River Of Salt, was Bryan Ferry who covered River Of Salt on his 1973 solo album These Foolish Things.
Nowadays, compilations are two a penny. Especially, Northern Soul compilations. Hardly a week goes by without a new Northern Soul compilations. This presents several problem. Some compilations feature the same predictable tracks. The other problem is quality. Often, the quality varies greatly. I’ve described Northern Soul compilations, as the good, bad and ugly. That, however, is the case with all compilations. However, what category does Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul fall into?
The first thing to say, is that categorising Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul isn’t easy. After all, Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul isn’t just a Northern Soul compilation. Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul is said to feature “Northern Soul dancers, neo-doo-wop rarities and R&B rockers.” Well known faces sit side-by-side with rarities, hidden gems and unreleased tracks. In some ways, the twenty-eight tracks demonstrate just how eclectic the music Era Records released.
Outta Sight Records, who recently released Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul, take the listener on a tour through Era Records’ back-catalogue. We hear some familiar tracks from Jewel Akens, Billy Watkins, Othello Robertson, Jimmy Lewis, Melvin Boyd, Ketty Lester and Bob and Earl, there’s much to commend Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul. That’s not forgetting a whole host of hidden gems, rarities and unreleased tracks. When all this is combined, Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul is an eclectic retrospective of the music released by Lew Bedell and Herb Newman’s Era Records. For the newcomer to Era Records, it’s the perfect introduction the Lew Bedell and Herb Newman’s label. Especially when combined with Kent Soul’s compilation Era Records Northern Soul.
Era Records Northern Soul is the ultimate Era Records’ compilation. The recently released Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul, will compliment Era Records Northern Soul perfectly, and together, they’re the perfect introduction to Era Records. Indeed, I’d go further, and describe Era Records Northern Soul and Era Records and West Coast Northern Soul as everything you wanted to know about Era Records, but were afraid to ask.
ERA RECORDS AND WEST COAST NORTHERN SOUL.