I just launched a new column for Fania’s revamped website called “Latin Con Alma.” It’s part of their regular blog (and thus doesn’t have a dedicated page) but I’ll update folks here when a new one goes up.
My first three posts are all about the history of Speed Records. I’ve been researching them for Wax Poetics and wrote these posts as a beginner’s guide of sorts to this small but popular Latin soul label. The formatting at Fania is still being worked out so I decided, for this post at least, to reprint what’s there:
- The Speed Records Story, Part 1 of 3
Speed Records was founded by Stanley Lewis around 1967/8 following an exit from Cotique Records, the Latin label that Lewis had run with partner George Goldner. Lewis started Speed along with with producer Morty Craft (who had never worked extensively in Latin prior) and Bobby Marin, the prolific Latin music songwriter/producer. Marin served as label’s informal A&R man and he helped bring aboard the accomplished player, composer, and arranger Louie Ramirez and together, along with bandleader Luis Aviles, they formed the nucleus of the Latin Blues Band. Their Take a Trip Pussycat became Speed’s first LP release and its innuendo-laden jokes about sex and drugs were a sly indication of the group’s salacious sense of humor. Even in the cover art, which looked a visualization of an acid trip (but actually hid a naked woman), the album suggested a new team was in town.
The best-known song off The Latin Blues Band album was “(I’ll Be a) Happy Man,” a fast, late-era boogaloo featuring the funky drum breaks of studio session player Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, a colleague of Ramirez’s. (“Happy Man,” had a curious life span, as it was remade into "Happy Soul," an instrumental for The Moon People’s Land of Love album on Speed, then was remade again as “Happy Soul With a Hook,” this time featuring organist Dave Cortez and then that version was stripped down slightly and released as “Hippy Skippy Moon Strut” by the Moon People, but for Roulette. Decades later, DJ Premier would sample it for Christina Aguilera’s hit, “Ain’t No Other Man.”)
The second Speed LP is the most enigmatic: Dianne and Carole with the Latin Whatchamacallits’ Feeling The Pain. One of the very few female-lead New York Latin albums of that era, the LP itself offered no details of who Dianne and Carole were (not even their last names) nor who played on it. Marin is credited for some of the songwriting but even he doesn’t remember working on it or who else may have. Subsequent interviews with other Speed artists yielded no other details either. Given that the LP cover was a close-up of an eyeball (the first three Speed LPs were all fairly abstract in their cover art), we don’t know what they looked like. Regardless, “The Fuzz” off that LP has become its best known single; a slinky Latin soul number with vibrant organ and horns.
Like Dianne and Carole, the Moon People were no less mysterious – or, at least, strange. Though not completely identical, their Land of Love album was essentially an instrumental variation on the Latin Blues Band’s album – Morty Craft produced them as well and Louie Ramirez wrote the arrangements. The “Moon People/Los Astronautas” moniker was a Marin invention, reflecting the underlying sense of humor amongst Speed’s principals. The album sounded like a subtly, Latin-flavored version of any number of pop instrumental/exploitation albums, especially with covers of such hits as the Turtles’ “Happy Together,” Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Going Out of My Head” and The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.” The album’s most distinctive songs would be the originals, including “Monty’s Harem,” built around a catchy mod-groove.
In Part 2, we’ll look at the next four releases on Speed, all from young, up-and-coming bandleaders. In Part 3, we’ll talk about the label’s singles, latter day projects, and the missing-in-action recordings.
“I’ll Be a Happy Man”