PIED PIPER -THE PINNACLE OF NORTHERN SOUL-VINYL EDITION.

PIED PIPER -THE PINNACLE OF NORTHERN SOUL-VINYL EDITION.

There’s always been a degree of oneupmanship within record collecting circles. That’s still the case today, with some record collectors willing to spend thousands of pounds on a rare record. Especially within the Northern Soul scene. That’s not surprising, and has been for the best part of fifty years.

Within the Northern Soul scene, not all singles are created equal. Some are more collectable than others. Indeed, some singles regularly change hands for several thousand pounds. Similarly, there’s a certain kudos to certain labels. Especially those who are renowned for the quality of music they produced.

Over the years, this has included labels like Chess, Dore, Era Record, Mirwood, Okeh, Revilot, Ric Tic and Shrine Records. Another favourite within the Northern Soul scene are singles produced by Pied Piper Productions. Their productions were released on various labels, and nowadays, have become collector’s items.

That’s why Ace Records have recently released a new vinyl compilation Pied Piper-The Pinnacle Of Northern Soul. It features twelve tracks from Nancy Wilcox, The Cavaliers, The Hesitations, Lorraine Chandler, Freddy Butler, September Jones, Mikki Farrow and Tony Hester. These tracks are a reminder of the music that Pied Piper produced, in Detroit between 1965 and 

Pied Piper was founded in 1965 by Sheldon “Shelley” Haines, a music industry veteran. His first job in the music industry, was as a distributor for King Records. This was the late-forties. By, 1952, Sheldon and Jack Gale, a local DJ, formed the short-lived Triple A record label. It lasted a mere five released. After that, Sheldon became interested in Detroit’s emerging R&B scene.

Soon Sheldon was a familiar face on the Detroit R&B scene. By 1954, Sheldon and songwriter Perry Stevens found themselves working with doo wop group The Spartans, for the Capri label. A year later, Sheldon and Irving Lief formed a production partnership and several record labels. This included labels like Pix, Plaid, Sterling and Studio. Groups and artists like The Coronets, Cool Papa Jarvis and The Jet Tones. The pair also recorded The Womack Brothers, who later, became The Valentinos. Sheldon and Irving’s partnership lasted until 1960, where they recorded artists at their own studio. It wasn’t just artists signed to their own labels, but artists signed to RCA’s Groove imprint. This was a sign of how well thought of the production partnership were. Despite this, Sheldon returned to becoming a distributor in 1961.

For the next four years Sheldon was happy worked as a distributor. Occasionally, he produced artists, and in 1965, made his comeback. Ed Wingate hired Sheldon as Vice President and General Manager of Ric-Tic, Golden World and Wingate record labels. His remit was  overseeing marketing, promotion and product control. For his new business venture, Sheldon called the company Pied Piper Productions. The first two single produced by Pied Piper Productions were releases by Bob Santa Marie and Frank Meadow and The Meadowlarks. While they were neither successful nor groundbreaking releases, once Sheldon put together his production team, success wouldn’t be far away.

The two men who masterminded Pied Piper Productions were Jack Ashford and Mike Terry. Jack Ashford had studied music at college. He was a vibes player and a familiar face in Philly’s jazz scene. When he was asked to become a member of Marvin Gaye’s touring band, Jack went from jazz musician to Funk Brother. 

Through meeting the Motown musicians, Jack decided to base himself in Detroit. Soon, he became part of Motown’s legendary studio band, The Funk Brothers. Jack’s trademark tambourine sound became a staple of Motown recordings. However, Jack was more than a tambourine player. He studied arrangers, engineers and producer and soon, was able to learn from them. Jack was also a talented songwriter. Essentially, Jack Ashford was a musical all-rounder, which made him perfect for Pied Piper Productions. His partner would be Mike Terry.

Mike Terry played baritone saxophone first in Popcorn Wylie’s Mohawks, then with Joe Hunter’s band. Like many musicians, he gravitated to Motown, which is the sixties, was one of the most successful labels. He was part of the touring and studio bands, and his trademark sound features on numerous Motown recordings. Despite being on Motown’s payroll, Mike, like other musicians, including Jack Ashford, felt the fees they were paid weren’t enough. So the pair left Motown.

Having left Motown, Jack and Mike briefly worked for Ed Wingate’s Golden World label. Mike with George Clinton and Sidney Barnes, formed the Geo-Si-Mik songwriting and production partnership. At the same time, Jack and Mike formed a songwriting and production partnership. One of their songs, Lonely One, for The San Reno Strings album on Ric-Tic came to the attention of Sheldon “Shelley” Haines. He realised this was a partnership to watch. 

Sheldon “Shelley” Haines was right. Jack and Mike head to Jack’s hometown Philly, to produce I Can’t Change for The Sensations with Yvonne Baker. This was their first production, which was released on the Junior label. Later in 1965, the pair produced Joe Douglas for the Playhouse label. With Bobby Martin penning the B-Side, this was a single that was made has Philly. Ironically, it wasn’t in Philly Jack made his name as a producer. No. It was in Detroit, where Jack Ashford and Mike Terry masterminded Pied Piper Productions, including the music on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul.

Side One.

Side one of Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul opens with Nancy Wilcox’s cover of the Jack Ashford and Randy Scott composition More Than A Memory. It was recorded on the 21st July 1966 with producer Joe Hunter. Sadly, the song wasn’t released as a single, and only made its debut on the 2015 Ace Records’ compilation Pied Piper Follow Your Soul. More Than A Memory makes a welcome return on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul, and proves to be the perfect showcase for Nancy Wilcox. She delivers a vocal powerhouse, where she sounds as if she’s lived and survived the lyrics. Alas, even the combined talented of Pied Piper Productions couldn’t transform Nancy Wilcox’s fortunes, and she remains one of soul’s nearly women.

23rd February 1967 was a date The Cavaliers hoped would change their fortunes. They were about to work with Pied Piper Productions, who by then, had established a reputation as a talented production team. The Cavaliers were due to record several tracks, including Larry Banks and Norman Kelley’s Ooh It Hurts Me. Once the session was complete, Ooh It Hurts Me was shopped to record companies. Incredibly, there were no takers, and the various versions of the song lay unreleased in the Pied Piper vaults. This includes the alternate take on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul. It made its debut on Ace  Records’ 2015 compilation Pied Piper Follow Your Soul, and returns for an encore on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul. It’s Northern Soul at its most melodic and memorable.

Over the last fifty years, Cleveland, Ohio has produced many talented and successful groups. One of the earliest of the Cleveland bands were The Hesitations. They began work on their debut album Soul Superman in 1967. One of the songs they recorded, was I’m Not Built That Way, a Jack Ashford,Ed Hillert and Joseph Hunter composition. Later in 1967, Soul Superman was released by Kapp Records. One of the highlights  of Soul Superman was I’m Not Built That Way, an irresistible Northern Soul stomper. 

Rose Batiste recording career began in 1964, and over the next few years, she moved between record labels. Still, commercial success eluded her. She thought this might change when she signed to Pied Piper Productions. One of the songs she recorded was This Heart Is Lonely, which was penned by Jack Ashford, Randy Scott and Andrew Terry. Sadly, the song was never released and lay in the Pied Pier vaults until 2013, when it featured on Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul. So good is Rose Batiste’s This Heart Is Lonely, that it makes a welcome return on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul. Melodic and not short of hooks, this uber soulful dancer epitomises everything that’s good about Northern Soul. 

Lorraine Chandler wasn’t just a singer, she was also a talented songwriter. Alas, she didn’t write You Only Live Twice. Instead, it’s Jack Ashford, Randy Scott and Andrew Perry composition. When it was recorded in 1967, the arrangement was big, bold and included more than an element of drama. This would make it a future favourite of the UK’s Northern Soul scene. That’s still the case even today, nearly fifty years after the recording of You Only Live Twice.

It wasn’t often that Jack Ashford got the opportunity to dust off his vibes. He did on Freddy Butler’s That’s When I Need You. I’s taken from his 1967 album on Kapp, With A Dab Of Soul. Jazz-tinged, soulful and understated, with a late-night sound, it’s  one of the highlights of Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul.

Side Two.

Opening side two of Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul, is The Cavaliers’ We Go Together. It was written by Shelley Haims and Perry Stevens, and was recorded by The Cavaliers in 1966. This isn’t the original version. Instead, it’s an unreleased alternate take featuring a rap into. The addition of a rapped intro was relatively new in 1966. Its inclusion on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul allows listeners to compare and contrast the original and the this alternate take. It’s a welcome release of a song that’s reminiscent of the type of music Chess were releasing during the first half of the sixties. As for the lyrics, they’re best described as innocent, as The Cavaliers combine soul and doo wop during what’s a reminder of another and more innocent musical era.

In 1966, September Jones enjoyed a hit with I’m Coming Home. This wasn’t the only recording she made for Pied Piper Production. One was Voo Doo Madamoiselle, which is very different September Jones’ other recordings. Instead, it’s moody and atmospheric, and is a real find. It wasn’t released until 2014, when it was released as a single on Ace Records’ Pied Piper imprint. However, it makes a very welcome return on  Pied Piper-The Pinnacle of Northern Soul, where hopefully, it will reach a much wider audience.

In March 1966, Mikki Farrow released Could It Be as a single on Karate Records. Alas, commercial success eluded what was Mikki Farrow’s only single for Karate Records. However, tucked away on the B-Side of Could It Be, was the Gwen Smith penned Set My Heart At Ease. It’s another track that epitomises everything that’s good about Northern Soul. Braying horns, soulful harmonies and a driving beat accompany Mikki Farrow’s coquettish and sometimes sassy, powerful vocal. It’s a far better song than Could It Be, and begs the question, why wasn’t it chosen as a single? 

Singer-songwriter Lorraine Chandler, played an important part in the Pied Piper Productions’ story. Away from her solo career, she wrote and produced other artists signed to Pied Piper Productions. Despite being a talented songwriter,  Lorraine Chandler wasn’t averse to covering other people’s songs. Especially when they were as good as I Can’t Hold On. It was penned by Jack Ashford, Ermastine Lewis and Ray Monette. However, this isn’t the original version. Instead, it’s the alternate version that features on the 2013 Ace Records’ compilation Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul.  The only difference from the original, is the tempo to this truly irresistible track is quicker.

Back in 1967, September Jones has a released I’m Coming Home was released as a single, on Kapp. Moody, broody and dramatic describes a track written by Jack and Penny Ashford with Joseph Hunter. Waves of harmonies unfold, while September’s vocal is an outpouring of emotion. Nearly fifty years later, and this Northern Soul favourite has stood the test of time.

Closing side two, and indeed Pied Piper-The Pinnacle Of Northern Soul, is Tony Hester’s Just Can’t Leave You. It was penned by Tony Hester and was originally released on Giant Records. Later, Just Can’t Leave You Karate Records label in March 1966.  It’s a melodic, mid-tempo track with a feel-good sound. Fifty years later, and Just Can’t Leave You is a truly timeless track that should find an audience outside of the Northern Soul scene.

That’s the case with Ace Records’ new vinyl compilation  Pied Piper-The Pinnacle Of Northern Soul. It’s not just those that used to frequent the Blackpool Mecca, Twisted Wheel and Wigan Wheel that Pied Piper-The Pinnacle Of Northern Soul will appeal to. This is a compilation that will appeal to anyone who likes their music soulful. Especially those that enjoyed the two previous Pied Piper compilations, 2013s Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul and 2015s Pied Piper Follow Your Soul.  Just like these two compilations, there’s ballads and uptempo tracks on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle Of Northern Soul. They’re a reminder of the combined talents of the various members of Pied Piper Productions.

This included former Funk Brothers Jack Ashford and Mike Terry. They discovered that there was life after Motown. Their time at Pied Piper Productions was the first step in what would be long and successful careers. 

At Pied Piper Productions, Jack Ashford and Mike Terry worked with Nancy Wilcox, The Cavaliers, The Hesitations, Lorraine Chandler, Freddy Butler, September Jones, Mikki Farrow and Tony Hester, who all feature on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle Of Northern Soul. They were among the artists that were discovered, careers that were rejuvenated and stars were born. Sheldon “Shelley” Haines’ decision to bring Jack Ashford and Mike Terry to Pied Piper Productions was vindicated. For a few short years, they were a potent and successful partnership. Proof of this is the music on Pied Piper-The Pinnacle Of Northern Soul. It’s a compilation that will appeal to anyone who likes their music soulful.

PIED PIPER -THE PINNACLE OF NORTHERN SOUL-VINYL EDITION.

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