David Sea: Down With B’Ham

David Sea: Let’s Just Get Together
From The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill Vol. 1 (Rabbit Factory, 2007)

B’Ham Rhythm Section: I’ve Been Lonely For So Long
From 7″ (Black Kat, 1977)

For the life of me, I don’t know why I wasn’t writing about this weeks ago but hey, better late than never (and in any case, the album just dropped a week back).

A few months ago, I received an email from a Chicago DJ named John Ciba, basically telling me that he was starting up his own label to anthologize/reissue a selection of rare soul singles produced by Birmingham local Neal Hemphill back in the ’70s. I, of course, replied: “hell yeah.”

Hemphill is one of those amazing stories from soul’s past yet languished in obscurity for years. The Chicago Reader had a nice profile of Hemphill (and Ciba) last summer if you want more background but the gist of it was that Hemphill ran a plumbing company as his day gig but owned and operated the Sound of Birmingham studio in his spare time, helping to develop and support local talent. To be sure, Hemphill Studios never became a powerhouse in the way that, say, Fame, across the way in Muscle Shoals, did but his prolificness was remarkable (the fact that this is Vol. 1 and has 23 songs should tell you something).

To make a long story short: if you’re a fan of Southern soul, you need to check out this anthology. I think it’s great that folks like Ciba and the Numero Group guys are putting in so much work to unearth these lost sides.

The David Sea song was the stand-out on the CD for me, not the least of which is Sea’s strong vocals. He’s an interesting artist himself – never really hit in the ’70s but he’s since had a stronger career since the ’80s. (Read more on him here). However, what works best on this song is what, in a sense, doesn’t really work: the competition between Sea’s vocals and the guitar which is either mixed too high, slightly out of key with Sea or something else – bottomline, the two clash just enough that your ear hones in on the song, trying to figure out what’s going on there. Yet, instead of it diminishing the tune, I actually think it enhances it.

When Ciba sent me the CD, he also very generously included half a dozen Hemphill-produced 7″s, all on different labels (Hemphill had at least three imprints of his own, plus worked with Los Angeles’ Goodie Train and others). Out of that batch came the B’Ham Rhythm Section’s “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long,” a remake of Frederick Knight’s 1972 chart-topper (the biggest hit ever to come out of Sound of Birmingham) that came out on one of Hemphill’s aforementioned imprints, Black Kat.