MAINSTREAM MODERN SOUL 1969-1976.

MAINSTREAM MODERN SOUL 1969-1976.

By 1970, Bob Shad was a veteran of the New York music scene. His career began in the forties, when he was a session musician. Bob made it his business to know everyone within the New York music scene. He knew everyone that mattered. Whether it was Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker or Coleman Hawkins, Bob knew them. There was a reason for this. Bob Shad was looking to the future.

Bob Shad didn’t want to remain a session player. The role of musical hired gun wasn’t for Bob. He had ambition and saw the bigger picture. Soon, Bob Shad was working as a producer in post-war New York. Mostly, Bob was producing R&B. This was just the next step in Bob’s game-plan.

In 1948, Bob founded his first label  Sittin’ In With. He was inspired to do this because of his love of jazz. This resulted in Bob discovering the blues. With his portable tape recorder, Bob Shad headed South and taped some of the greatest names in blues music. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and Smokey Hogg. Having recorded one blues player, they would tell Bob about another. So he crisscrossed the South taping blues players. Mostly, these singles appeared on his own labels. 

Somehow, Bob still found time to freelance. Some of the artists he discovered were released on other labels. This includes Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Savannah Churchill. While these records sold in vast volumes, Bob didn’t make much money. It taught him an important lesson. That was only to release music on his own labels.

Despite founding  a series of labels during the early fifties, Bob agreed to work full-time for Mercury Records. Still, Bob founded a series of labels. This included the Castle, Harlem, Jackson,  Jade, Jax and Spirituals’ labels. He realised the importance of having separate labels for separate genres of music. Bob realised that when record buyers saw a label, they had to know what type of music it would release. This was the case throughout his career.

By 1958 had tired of being a company man, and decided to focus entirely on his own labels.  Bob Shad founded further labels, including Shad, Time and Warner. Then in 1959, Bob founded Brent Records which for eight years, was Bob Shad’s soul label. Between April 1959 and October 1967, Brent released seventy-five singles. However, midway through this, in 1964, Bob Shad released a new label Mainstream Records.

When Bob founded Mainstream Records in 1964, it was originally a jazz label, which mainly released albums and a few singles. However, by 1965, rock was king and Bob Shad decided that Mainstream Records should release a wider range of music. This included rock. For the next five years, Mainstream Records’ new roster proved popular and profitable. That was until 1970, that was no longer the case. So Bob decided to relaunch Mainstream Records.

The newly relaunched Mainstream Records would feature a newly designed label and would release just jazz. Mostly, Bob intended to return to releasing mostly albums, with the occasional single. However, Bob had a criteria for the albums he was willing to release. He was going to only release what he saw as traditional jazz albums. Bob didn’t want to release albums where synths and electronics featured. This was unrealistic given that fusion’s popularity was on the rise. So it wasn’t surprising that this new policy didn’t last long, and Mainstream Records began to release soul and jazz.

This was no surprise. By then, the there had been a blurring of the lines between what was soul and jazz. Even critics and record buyers were confused. However, this blurring of the lines resulted in Mainstream Records’ musical policy changing, and the label releasing a much wider selection of music. Suddenly, Mainstream Records were releasing singles and albums by Linda Perry, Randolph Brown, The Dramatics, Words Of Wisdom, Calvin Arnold, J.G. Lewis, McArthur, Alice Clark, The Steptones, Randolph Brown and Sarah Vaughan. They all feature on Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976, which was recently released by Kent Dance, an imprint of Ace Records. Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976 features a mixture of old friends, new faces and hidden gems. These hidden gems include the trio of newly unreleased tracks. Indeed, it’s an unreleased track that opens Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976.

Originally, Linda Perry started off singing Southern Soul. By 1973, Linda had signed to Mainstream Records. She features three times on Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976. Her first contribution is I Cant Give You Up, the first of two previously unreleased tracks. It was penned by Rose Marie McCoy and Linda Miller, and features a defiant vocal powerhouse from Linda. Soulful and funky, it seems a missed opportunity that Why I Cant Give You Up wasn’t released as a single. The same can be said of Aint Nobody Gonna Make Me (Turn My Back On My Baby). It’s another unreleased track, that was penned by Rose Marie McCoy and Linda Miller with Bobby Williams. Again, Linda’s vocal is mixture of defiance, power, emotion and soulfulness. 

Linda’s third and final contribution is It’s All In The Back Of Me Now.  Rose Marie McCoy and Linda Miller cowrote the song with Linda, and in 1974, was the flip-side to the single It’s All In The Back Of Me Now. This was the followup to I Need Somebody, which gave Linda a minor R&B hit, when it reached fifty-four in the US R&B charts. Stylistically, Everyone Has Someone is very different. Uptempo, joyous and dance-floor friendly it’s a three minutes of musical magic.

When Randolph Brown was signed to Stax imprint Volt Records, he was known as Randy Brown. He was a member of The Newcomers, but left in 1971. Three years later, in 1974,  Randolph recorded for Truth, another imprint of Stax. However, by the time Randolph met the songwriting and production partnership of Carl Smith and David Weatherspoon in 1975, Stax was no more. It had filed for bankruptcy. This was how Randy Brown found himself signed to Mainstream Records.

His first single was It Ain’t Like It Used To Be, which was was written, arranged and produced by Carl Smith and David Weatherspoon. It was then released in 1975 on the IX Chains label. Randy’s wistful vocal that harks back to the America of his youth, and plays its part in a dance-floor friendly anthem. So do lush strings, stabs of horns and harmonies. Randy’s other contribution, is I’m On Sick Leave, the B-Side Take A Few More Steps, which was released on IX Chains in 1976. I’m On Sick Leave features a return to Randy’s Southern roots, as he delivers a vocal that’s full of hurt and heartbreak.

Another group who had made the switch from Stax to Mainstream Records were The Dramatics. They had enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success at Stax. This includes a number one single, In The Rain in 1972. Three years later, in 1975, the lineup of The Dramatics that signed to Mainstream Records was much changed. Only two of the original members remained. Despite this, No Rebate On Love gave The Dramatics’ a hit single on Mainstream Records. It was penned by Jimmie Abston and Stella Petty, while Leonard Jones took charge of production. He’s responsible for a Philly inspired dance track which gave The Dramatics a single that reached twenty-six in the US R&B charts.

Forty years ago, in 1976, Words Of Wisdom released their one and only single You’re A Friend Of Mine on IX Chains. It was written by Charles Amos and Richie Clark, who are responsible for lyrics that are full of social comment. Richie Clark takes charge of production, and is responsible for a delicious and timeless slice of the sweetest soul

Pittsburgh born Johnny Louis Gilliam had been around since he released his first single for Bo-Mar in 1965, and since then, had never stayed anywhere long. He moved between labels in the search of that elusive hit. After ten years of trying, Johnny decided to take drastic action, and changed his name to J.G. Lewis. Incredibly, this worked, when J.G. Lewis released Let The Music Play on IX Chains in 1975. It gave J.G. Lewis a minor hit. Now he began to work on the followup.

For the followup, What Am I Gonna Do was chosen. It was penned by J.G. Lewis under his ‘real’ name and released in 1976.  The production style is similar Barry White’s, as J.G. Lewis delivers a vocal that’s full of hurt and despair.  Despite the quality of the single, it wasn’t a commercial success, and J.G. Lewis was dropped by IX Chains. Although What Am I Gonna Do was J.G. Lewis’ last single for IX Chains, an unreleased track, I’m The One Who Loves You was found in the vaults. It has a much more Southern Soul influence. Especially when gospel tinged harmonies accompany J.G. Lewis. He delivers a heartfelt vocal that’s reminiscent of James Carr, and reminds you just how talented J.G. Lewis was.

Charles Beverly’s recording career began in 1975, when he released Stop And Think A Minute for IX Chains.  It was penned by Charles Johnson, Carlos Munro and Willie Schofield; while T. Johnson produced Stop And Think A Minute. It’s a Philly style ballad, complete with flourishes of strings. They’re reminiscent of those found on Bettye Swann’s When The Game Is Played On You. Sadly, Stop And Think A Minute never enjoyed the same success as When The Game Is Played On You, and nowadays, is something of a hidden gem.

In 1972, Brooklyn born Alice Clark released her eponymous debut album on Mainstream Records. It featured the Bobby Hebb penned Don’t You Care, which was produced by Bob Shad. Ernie Wilkins arranged and conducts the orchestra on Don’t You Care, which features a powerhouse of a vocal that’s a mixture frustration and despair. It’s a tantalising taste of Alice Clark eponymous debut album, which sadly, was the only album she released.

Jimmie Abston and Stella Petty wrote Let The People Talk for The Steptones. It was released on IX Chains Records in 1976. Let The People Talk was arranged by Jimmy Roach and produced by Leonard Jones. They add swathes of lush strings and flourishes of harp to the Philly inspired arrangement.  Meanwhile, The Steptones sound as if they should’ve been signed to Philadelphia International Records, as they showcase their considerable skills. Sadly, it was all for nothing, as the single flopped and The Steptones’ search for a hit single continued.

In 1976, Willie Lester and Rodney Brown wrote and produced You Are The Spice Of My Life for Nia Johnson. It was released on Mainstream Records in 1976, but failed commercially. Tucked away on the B-Side was Plain Out of Luck. It’s funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly.

Sarah Vaughan’s I Need You More (Than Ever Now) closes Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976. It was penned by Gregory Holley, Rose Marie McCoy and Linda Miller and arranged by Gene Page. When I Need You More (Than Ever Now) was released on Mainstream Records in 1974, it reached forty-five on the US R&B charts. This was totally unexpected. Given the quality of a vocal that’s heartfelt, needy and soulful; plus Gene Page’s arrangement where strings and harmonies play leading roles, it’s a surprising that I Need You More (Than Ever Now) wasn’t more successful. It’s one of the highlights of Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976, and is welcome reminder of Bob Shad’s Mainstream Records released.

Indeed, Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976, which was recently released by Kent Dance, an imprint of Ace Records,  is a tantalising taste of the music that Mainstream Records released during a seven year period. Much of that music is timeless, and has stood the test of time. It’s soulful, funky and would still fill a dance-floor. Beautiful ballads full of hurt and heartache sit side-by-side with joyous, irresistible dance tracks. That is not surprising.

Bob Shad didn’t hesitate to employ top quality songwriters, musicians, arrangers and producers. Especially when he believed in an artist. In such cases, he brought onboard arrangers like Wade Marcus and Gene Page. Sadly, often the singles and albums Mainstream Records released, didn’t enjoy the commercial success they deserved. Part of the problem was, that Mainstream Records was a small fish in a big pond.

Major labels, and independent labels funded by majors had much bigger budgets, to promote and distribute their releases. Bob Shad was fighting a losing battle. Still, he continued his search for talented artists that might bring Mainstream Records that elusive hit single, during a period that soul music was enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

Since the early seventies, Hi and Stax in Memphis, and Philadelphia International Records were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. Sadly, Mainstream Records didn’t make the leap and join them at soul’s top table. That’s despite releasing music that’s timeless, and has stood the test of time. Sadly, that music never found the winder audience it deserved.  Unlike Hi, Stax and Philadelphia International Records there were neither number ones nor million sellers. Instead, the Mainstream Records’ story is a case of what might have been. The label that had been relaunched in 1970 closed its doors in 1978.

By the time Tamara Shad relaunched Mainstream Records in the early nineties, Bob Shad had passed away on March 13th 1985. Bob Shad was just sixty-five, but had enjoyed a long and successful career. He had founded numerous labels, including Mainstream Records in 1964.

The second chapter in the Mainstream Records’ story is told on Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976. There’s twenty-four timeless tracks on Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976, which documents the most soulful period in Mainstream Records’ history.

MAINSTREAM MODERN SOUL 1969-1976.

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