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Berlin Township Elementary School Stage Band: Salsoul Hustle (private, 1977, A Rhythm Fiesta)

Private press elementary school stage band album out of Camden, New Jersey.

I don’t know about the bands at your elementary school, but these NJ kids were kind of killing it. At this point in the ’70s, stage bands everywhere were playing with funky/fusion tunes but I’m most impressed at the mature sense of polyrhythm this group already had at an early age.




BJ Coulson: Squib Cakes + When I’m Kissin’ My Love
From Live at the Elkhorn (Edgar, 197?)

So I was hanging out with my friend Andy last night and he and his partner Lisa spend a lot up of time up in Idaho (long story). Anyways, Andy is a consummate digger, especially with thrift stores and he was saying, “hey, I have this LP for you that I always see in the thrift stores up there. It’s this really bad, private press lounge album.”

(Note: in most cases, all you need is two out of the three terms – “really bad” + “private press” + “lounge album” – and the third is implied)

Andy continues: “The singer is terrible but her backing band does this version of the Tower of Power song “Squib Cakes” and…

At this point, I interrupt him: “wait…are we talking about the BJ Coulson record?”

Clearly, you can see why Andy and I are friends.

Here’s the deal: I first saw this LP…maybe 10 years ago?…on the wall at the Groove Merchant and given my well-known weakness for cover songs, I instantly filed it away in memory. However, as private press ski lodge lounge LPs are wont to be, this is an obscure release (perhaps not by Idaho thrift store standards but still) and I’ve seen it pop up on the radar no more than 2-3 times since then. Andy’s correct: by any conventional standard, this is a pretty “meh” album – it’s mixed poorly (like most private press lounge LPs) and Coulson is…well, you can hear for yourself. But her backing band – which unfortunately isn’t credited at all – does do a pretty decent 7 minute workout on “Squib Cakes,” including that opening breakbeat which is surely about 99% of the reason why anyone would spend more than $5 on this. They also do a cover of Bill Withers’ “Kissin’ My Love” which is easily one of the more anemic versions I’ve ever heard (sadly).

Speaking of private press LPs…by coincidence, earlier that day, I got in a copy of Primo Kim‘s To Be Near, a 1972 jazz album out of Seattle.


Primo (Kim): Right Turn + You’ve Gotta Lotta Love To Give
From To Be Near (Primo, 1972)

Another case where the vocals don’t win me over but the band (lead here by Kim, along with Mike Sullivan on bass and sax, Zane Rudolph on guitar and Bart Tunick on drums) is working for me. “Right Turn” is a solid post-bop cooker and “You’ve Gotta Lotta Love to Give” reminds me of “Listen Here” (until the vocals kick in).


IMG 1861

Bob Zellin: Sunny + The Shadow Of Your Smile
From In a Whirl (Di No, 196?)

Sometimes, all it takes is a good cover. Add to that a 20-something organ prodigy, stroking the B-3, H-100 and a harpsichord, recording for a custom label, and covering a slew of jazz standards. This may border on lounge kitschy (not an unfair characterization) but a B-3 has such a distinctive, playful character that I’m willing to forgive a lot to hear someone who knows what they’re doing. Both of these covers are loyal to the original but all that means is that you can appreciate how good the original songs were, especially “The Shadow Of Your Smile”: such a lovely yet haunting tune.



There’s albums recorded in prisons – think Johnny Cash’s famous At Folsom Prison or Eddie Palmieri’s Live at Sing Sing albums – but then there are prison albums recorded by prisoners. These seem to coincide with the heyday of custom album-making (since most of them were recorded remotely, at prison) as well as, perhaps, pre-“War on Crime” era prison policies were music was seen as one pathway to rehabilitation.

That was certainly the idea behind this prison LP issued in 1965 by the Texas Department of Corrections, with help from Austin Custom Records. 10 bands, made up of inmates, ended up recording a variety of country, rock, jazz and soul songs. I originally picked this up for this cover, by black singer/white band combo called The Frames (pictured above):

The Frames: Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
From The Sound of Prison (Austin Custom, 1965)

For a remotely recorded tune, this sounds really solid. The JB cover is loyal but it’s done well and swings nicely. I would have loved to hear a whole suite of JB covers by The Frames.

On the jazz tip, you got The Gamblers on the hard bop tip:

The Gamblers: Eleven By Seven1

And they even have some Latin sabor:

The Latin Band: Perfida

This isn’t the best prison music LP out there but it’s an interesting artifact of a particular moment in American correctional history that feels very long past.2

  1. I presume “Eleven by Seven” are the dimensions of a prison cell.
  2. I can’t imagine that you’d hear something like this coming out of Pelican Bay these days.


Numero’s latest in the Good God! series of gospel soul/funk albums might be my favorite yet. I’m, of course, slightly biased by the fact that they ended up using a song from an album that, years ago, I had suggested they reissue and I ended up helping them with the album scan that’s in the comp (Religious Souls). But really, this is absolutely up my alley in terms of gospel’s dip into deep soul. The fact that I even owned one (let alone three) of the albums/singles featured on here is partial evidence of that (on the last two Good God! comps, I’m not sure I had any prior to hearing them). Here’s some of the highlights on their latest.

Songs from Good God! Apocryphal Hymns (Numero Group, 2013).

The Religious Souls: Sinner Man
From Sinner Man (Artist’s Recording, 197?)

I’m still convinced there’s gotta be a way for someone to devote an entire comp to the Kingcannon family. There’s no shortage of material out there, for certain. “Sinner Man” was never my go-to track for them but listening to this again? Perhaps it should have been. So damn good, especially the harmonies.

Shelton Kirby: Poor Wayfaring Stranger
From Yield Not (Bee Gee, 1973)

So, uh, I’ve owned this LP for years and I’m not sure how I never connected the fact that it’s a gospel album. Gorgeous electric piano work; makes you want to melt into the song.

The Gospel Clouds: Let Us Pray
From 7″ (Spectrum, 197?)

This is one of my #1 wants in any genre. It’s just an amazing cut on so many levels, but especially all that analog synth work. Pity this thing is insanely rare though. The fact that it’s a Bay Area record only makes me love it more.

I should also note that Numero also took this comp as an opportunity to pay tribute to the private press labels out there. The CD label, for example, is a flip on the old Century custom label logo and apparently, the album has different covers, all taken from stock images that you’ll see on dozens, if not hundreds, of gospel LPs from this era.

As it is, I recently wrote about custom labels for KCET’s ArtBound, on the occasion of the release of this new book, Enjoy the Experience, put out by Sinecure Books. For the piece, I ended up interviewing Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, Sinecure co-founder and creator of Now-Again as well as Thes One since both of them are heavy private press collectors. Fun story to work on but also poignant in challenging how we think about the “official” musical record. Read my story, cop the book.


(Editor’s Note: James Cavicchia last contributed to us in ’09, writing about MJ, and I’m delighted to have him as a regular contributor now, beginning with this review of the new “Personal Space” compilation, curated by Dante Carfagna and released jointly by Chocolate Industries and the Numero Group. I have a review of this same album coming out on NPR in a week or so. –O.W.)

All selections below from Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984.

“Shouldn’t real freedom include freedom from memory?” – Geoffrey O’Brien

Shouldn’t the personal be able to exist outside of the historical? Shouldn’t the individual expression be allowed to be truly the work of the individual? Why should the actualization of a singular vision require so many others? Why should sonic mass and its legitimizing effect upon the occupation of the popular ear be denied the single musician? Why must “full-sounding” music come with the expense of strings, horns, choruses? Why must the black musician in particular be required to ensure that his work leaves at least a breadcrumb trail between it and The Blues, or The Church, or Jazz, or The Cause? Must there always be all these walls to get around, all these people to pay, all these ghosts to answer to?

At the spine of this astounding collection is the ostensibly unburdening effect of affordable studio technology—synthesizers, drum machines, high-quality recording—as manifested in private soul music from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties. The irony is that while the empowerment provided by these machines of ahistorical and unindebted process does indeed allow for the expression of a more truly individual sensibility and the creation of a more intimate atmosphere, from this reduced reliance on humans comes also a reduced invocation of them. There is the inescapable sense that without the technology we would never have been able to hear such personal work, but that this same hand of technology has created within the work an alienating distance.



Shirley Nanette: Give and Take
Heaven on Earth
From Never Coming Back (Satara, 1973)

Nanette is a jazz vocalist, originally from Portland, OR, and though her own bio says she got her start in 1981, this album would seem to suggest otherwise. It is a most extraordinary LP, one that’s recently been getting heavier mention in select circles after a cache of sealed copies turned up and were quickly sold off (I received mine probably 3rd hand, via my last trip to the Groove Merchant). I’ll just say: I was prepared to feel like the album was overhyped but seriously, it’s really really really good.

Part of it is the diversity of styles on here…Nanette goes from bossa-tinged ballads to a more midtempo, soul/jazz tunes to Northern soul-style tracks to straight up funk songs. It’s like three or four different albums all thrown into one; quite unusual. But more than that, there’s something raw and affecting about Nanette’s performance. These are not hyper-polished songs and for those who can’t take too much “saxy sax,” this may test you at times, but as befits a private issue record, it’s coarse-ness is also part of its charm. “Give and Take,” especially, floors me everytime; I love the vocal arrangement on here. It swings in all kinds of unexpected directions and drops in background harmonies at perfect moments.

I really could have plucked any random assortment of songs off this LP and it would have worked. In this case, I went with my absolute favorite “Give and Take” then threw in the other two to showcase the different styles on here. I have no idea if a reissue is in the works but someone really ought to take it there.


Ernie Story: Chain Gang/Disco City
From Meditation Blue (Legend, 1977)

This strange, private press album out of Minnesota came via the Groove Merchant earlier in the year. It was one of those cases where I had credit to burn so I took a chance on an eclectic LP and once I really sat with it, I’m glad I did.

From the title and look of the album, you’d think Ernie Story was some kind of Christian/New Age folk singer but on the LP, it boasts that Story was a songwriter for mostly R&B groups such as The Impressions and Chi-Lites and this seems true – he wrote “Simple Message” for the Impressions’ Preacher Man album though I can’t seem to find which Chi-Lites song he did.

For his own album however, Story’s styles are varied, to say the least, a contrast best captured on these two songs which close out Side A. “Chain Gang” reminds me of Rodriguez’s soulful, folksy rock in one moment, but then it drops into a funkier, fuzzed out sound just a few beats later and then there’s that unexpected transition into “Disco City” as Story puts together what you might call a “garage disco” joint.

It must be said – Story might have skills as a songwriter but he’s not really a very good singer but given that this is a private press album, I suppose that fact is more endearing than annoying (that said, if you don’t like his singing on “Disco City,” you’ll much prefer the B-side’s “The E Groove” which is a fantastic little disco instrumental.

I’m curious what Story is doing these days – he doesn’t seem to have had an extensive musical career after ’77…

Learning To Boogie: Dance Instruction Records Pt. 1

Johnny Frigo: Do Whatever Sets You Free
From Collected Works (Ubiquity, 2002)

Luigi: Kick & Luigi Strut
From Jazz Class With Luigi (Hoctor, 196/7?)

Artist Unknown: Scorpio
From 7″ (Hoctor, 197?)

Artist Unknown: Swahili Boogie
From Dance Bandstand (Statler, 197?)

Dance instruction records are like the poor man’s library records (except that some of them are not that cheap) but they share some important similarities. For one, they were targeted at a specialized audience and though some dance records might have been sold to the general public, most of them were marketed directly to dance schools and teachers.

Also, many were recorded by anonymous (or minimally credited) studio players and though it probably wasn’t a huge prestige gig, as with library records, there was a good deal of latitude given to the bands to whip out whatever they wanted. Since these weren’t for pop music play (and few featured lyrics), you’d imagine the recording dates had a jam session vibe to them and especially since they were made for dance, it was all about the rhythm section letting loose. That’s not to say all dance instruction records were informal or thrown together. Indeed, many had very specific themes, though less driven by musical conceits and more by the kind of dance exercises or activities they were meant to score.

The result is that dance instruction records, especially from the 1970s, are a good source for funky instrumental tracks from off-the-beaten-path. I’m, by no means, an ardent collector of them though I’m always happy to add another title to the library given their quirky nature.

The best known artist has been Chicago’s Johnny Frigo who worked on a modest handful of albums with dance teacher Gus Giordano for the Orion label. The Frigo/Giordano albums are notoriously expensive (especially compared to other dance labels) but you’re paying for the quality and not just scarce quantity. Luckily, Ubiquity compiled most of the best Frigo/Giordano songs on a single anthology a few years back (our friends Egon and Cool Chris worked on that project). Frigo’s work is also, in my opinion, the least obviously “instructional,” and stand, quite well, on their own as soul-jazz compositions regardless of what their ostensible purpose was.

The best known label – amongst record nerds – is Hoctor which has, and continues to, released hundreds of dance instruction albums over the decades. Hoctor LPs are, in my experience, the most likely to turn up of all the major dance labels but that doesn’t mean all their titles are equally easy to find. There’s a few titles that can easily run $100+ on the private market and in my opinion, the cost is justified. However, that doesn’t mean all Hoctor titles are worth the trouble; though for many of their 1970s titles, you could often tell from the album cover or tracklisting if you held genuine gold or vinyl coal.

Jazz Class With Luigi is the most common funky Hoctor title I’ve seen in the field and I’m assuming it’s because it was pressed up in higher numbers than other titles. Luigi is a dance instructor of considerable note (Janet Pidoux whose song appears later in the playlist trained with him, for example) and for this album at least, his conception of jazz dance centered on any number of surprisingly funk backbeats to drive the rhythm section. That band, by the way, is the Stan Rubin Orchestra and bow down to a female drummer – Julie Epstein – who anchors those beats.

As suggested, the Hoctor catalog runs deep; the songs I chose barely skim the surface and I’m holding back on some of the heaviest titles but definitely look for Byron Peterson’s Jazz Rock USA and any of the Robin Hoctor LPs from the era (I know of at least two). You could do very well by just their 7″ releases alone. They have one of my favorite covers of “Cissy Strut” ever and this included version of Dennis Coffey’s “Scorpio” does a solid job on covering the b-boy classic (Frigo does a killer version of the song as well). I’m not sure if this appears on a Hoctor LP or is a 7″ only single. If anyone knows what LP this or “Cissy Strut” appears on, let me know? Not sure which band is playing on here either – it’s not credited.

Statler, like Hoctor, produced dozens (if not hundreds) of dance instruction albums as well though, in my experience, their distribution was notably smaller and it’s much harder to find their titles in an ordinary record store. I’ve also found that Statler is much less reliable for funky tunes but it could just be that the albums I’ve heard have been the weaker out of the catalog. Frank Hatchett has a series of Afro-Cuban-driven Statler titles which I think could be promising but his Soul Jazz album – despite appearing like it’d be killer – is marred by bad rock guitar that ruins the otherwise excellent percussion work. “Swahili Boogie” comes off a more recent addition, out of stack of Statler titles my friend came upon. My copy of the LP didn’t have the actual cover so I don’t know who the players on this album are which is a shame because the percussionist is killing it on here.

Part 2 in this series nods to some kids’ dance music plus a few examples of dance instruction tunes from outside the U.S.