Henry Franklin-The Skipper.

Label: Real Gone Music.

Format: CD.

Release Date: ‘5th’ March 2021.

When pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California, in 1969, the nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of their vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story and the label between 1971 and 1975 it released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz.

Black Jazz Records’ first release was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. This was just the start of a prolific year for the label.

Black Jazz Records second release of 1971 was Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys with Doug Carn’s Infant Eye, Rudolph Johnson’s Spring Rain and Calvin Keys’ Shawn-Neeq following later that year. The final release of 1971 was Chester Thompson’s Powerhouse. 

By then, other labels looked on enviously at the new label and artists were keen to sign to Black Jazz Records.

Cofounder Dick Schory had founded Chicago-based Ovation Records which was a successful country and western label. It was providing funding for Black Jazz Records and distributing its releases. This gave the label a much needed helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors.

The cofounders were determined that as wide an audience as possible hear the albums that the label was releasing so Gene Russell organised a promotional tour. In September 1971, Gene Russell and his Ray Lawrence who was his marketing consultant toured America giving interviews to newspaper journalists and featured on radio and newspaper where they showcased Black Jazz Records and its artists. This resulted in valuable publicity for the label.

As 1972 dawned, Black Jazz Records prepared to release Henry Franklin’s The Skipper. It was the label’s first release of the year and the seventh in a year. Black Jazz Records had a come a long way in a short space of time. And so had Henry Franklin.

Jazz double bassist Henry Franklin was born in Los Angeles, on the ‘1st’ of October 1940. His father was jazz trumpeter and bandleader Sammy Franklin, and It was no surprise when he decided to make a career out of music.

Just like his father, Henry Franklin was a prodigiously talented musician and when he was still attending Manual Arts High School he was already a member of Roy Ayers Latin Jazz Quintet. Around this time, he also worked Harold Lamb and Hampton Hawkes. During his teenage years, Henry Franklin also played alongside free jazz pioneers Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. This was good experience for the young, aspiring bassist.

In 1963, Henry Franklin made his recording when he accompanied Lou Rawls in a group put together by Curtis Amy. This was the first of many recording sessions that featured the LA-born bassist.

Next stop for Henry Franklin was New York, where he spent a year working with Willie Bobo. That was how he met Archie Shepp’s pianist Lamont Johnson who he went on to work with.

By 1967, Henry Franklin was part of Hugh Masekela’s band when he recorded his number one single Grazing In The Grass. This resulted in Hugh Masekela appearing at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967.  Henry Franklin was part of his band and featured on three albums released between 1967 and 1969. 

The  first was Hugh Masekela Is Alive and Well At The Whisky in 1967;  1968s The Promise Of A Future and Masekela in 1969. By then, Henry Franklin had moved on and was part of The Three Sounds.

The group was founded in 1956 and by 1969 the lineup had evolved and included Henry Franklin who played on the soul-jazz album Soul Symphony. When the album was released by Blue Note Records later in 1969 it was well received by critics. However, Soul Symphony turned out to be the group’s swansong and Henry Franklin moved on.

In 1970, he played on John Carter and Bobby Bradford’s cult classic elf Determination Music which was released by the  Flying Dutchman label. It was two more years before Henry Franklin returned to the recording studio to record his debut album The Skipper.

Having signed to Black Jazz Records, Henry Franklin began work on his long-awaited debut album The Skipper. He wrote  Outbreak, Plastic Creek Stomp, Beauty and The Electric Tub and Little Miss Laurie. They were joined by Al Hall Jr’s Theme For JoJo and Bill Henderson’s The Skipper which lent its name to Henry Franklin’s debut album.

When The Skipper was recorded, the rhythm section featured drummer Mike Carvin, Henry Franklin on electric and double bass and guitarist Kenny Climax. They were joined by Bill Henderson on Fender Rhodes, percussionists Fred Lido and Tip Jones plus a front line of tenor saxophonist Charles Owens and Oscar Brashear on trumpet and flugelhorn. Just like previous Black Jazz Records recording sessions Gene Russell was recordist and producer of The Skipper.

When The Skipper was released in early 1972 it was Black Jazz Records seventh release and first of the year. Critics were won over by Henry Franklin’s much anticipated  debut album which was a mixture of funk, fusion, jazz and jazz-funk.  Seamlessly the talented and versatile band switched between and combined disparate genres on The Skipper.

Opening The Skipper is Outbreak which has a classic bop sound and is propelled along at breakneck speed by Henry Franklin’s bass which locks into a groove with drummer Mike Carvin. His hissing hi-hats also a play an important part before Charles Owens unleashes a sweeping, swirling, soaring saxophone solo that plays a starring role.  

Then it’s all change and Plastic Creek Stomp heads in the direction marked funk. Just like the previous track, Mike Carvin’s drums and the Henry Franklin’s bass lock down the groove and soon the track is swinging. The band move through the gears and soon this tight, talented and versatile band are in full flight. It’s an impressive sound  and shows another side to the band.

Percussion opens Theme For JoJo before Henry Franklin plucks his bass and is joined by a shimmering Fender Rhodes and wistful horns. Still, the arrangement is understated and drifts along as Mike Carvin the ride cymbal soars high above an arrangement. Later, it’s joined by  the ruminative horns combine with the glistening Fender Rhodes and bass as this beautiful track reaches a crescendo.  

Initially the tempo is slow as Beauty and The Electric Tub unfolds but gradually it rises as Henry Franklin and his band combine fusion and bop. They play with freedom and an inventiveness during a twelve minute epic that has a filmic and theatrical sound.

Very different is Little Miss Laurie has a much smoother, laidback sound. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat as the arrangement glides along with the horns and Fender Rhodes playing starring roles on this beautiful ballad.

The title-track closes The Skipper and is another track with a cinematic sound. It sounds like the theme to a seventies television show as the horns play a leading role. Especially the saxophone which is played with power and passion before the trumpet replies. Meanwhile, the unmistakable sound of shimmering Fender Rhodes meanders along augmenting the horns on a truly memorable track that’s one of the highlights of Henry Franklin’s much-anticipated debut album.

By the time Henry Franklin released The Skipper he was thirty-one and had been a professional musician since he was a teenager. He had worked with some of the biggest names in music, but never recorded an album. The Skipper was his debut and was well worth the wait.

Henry Franklin put together and led a tight, talented and versatile band who seamlessly switched between and combined funk, fusion, hard bop, jazz and jazz-funk. Playing an important part in the album was Gene Russell who produced The Skipper. When it came to mixing the album he wanted a wide sounding mix. He succeeded and the result was one of the best sounding albums that Black Jazz Records had released.

Despite the superior sound quality, The Skipper wasn’t a hugely successful album. It sold steadily but wasn’t one of Black Jazz Records’ success stories. 

It was only much later that the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records released between 1971 and 1975 started to find a wider audience amongst DJs and discerning record collectors. By then, many of the album had been sampled by hip hop artists which was how many record collectors discovered Black Jazz Records. However, by then, many of the albums released by the label were rarities that were beyond the budget of many record collectors.

Last year, Real Gone Music started reissuing the twenty albums that Black Jazz Records’ released. This includes The Skipper which will be reissued on the ‘5th’ of March 2021 and was the much-anticipated debut album from LA born bandleader and bassist Henry Franklin which is a timeless and cult classic that is one of the most accessible albums that Black Jazz Records’ released.

Henry Franklin-The Skipper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: