We stop by Hymie’s Vintage Records in Minneapolis each and every time we visit the Twin Cities, and were thrilled to learn that owner and proprietor Dave Hoenack had been solicited by the City Pages to write about our recently unleashed Lewis Connection LP. Basically, Dave gets it. He’s seen a few precious copies of this privately pressed oddity rise resurface over the years, and understands better than most the real reason why this 1979 release is significant (hint: it’s not because Prince Rogers Nelson plays on it).
If you can’t make it to Hymie’s, where The Lewis Connection is prominently displayed on the wall above their Local section, sled or snowshoe on over to our web store for sound clips and/or to purchase.
“First Step Beyond’s decontextualised Neanderthal heaviness confuses itself and everyone who comes into contact with it, like a caveman in a Disney film who gets transported to 60s suburbia, takes a dump in Mom’s Tupperware and wears her diaphragm as a hat.”
With lines like that, he could easily land a job as Numero Group’s in-house publicist. Unfortunately, he’s already employed as Britain’s leading expert on Derek Bailey (not to mention being officially the 41st Best Stand Up Ever).
It should go without saying that we at the Numero Group are unapologetic Alfonso Lovo fans. Still, it’s nice to find folks with who your tastes jibe. The Wire--published in the UK but read/respected globally--thought enough of our latest LP to spill ink on Lovo’s lysergic opus. Drawing spiritual comparisons to fellow cosmonauts Shuggie Otis and Sixto Rodriguez, writer Richard Henderson hits the nail on the head with his succinct review of Lovo’s eight-song neutron bomb. Regarding Roman Cerpas’ adventurous mixing, Henderson says what we’re all thinking: “The engineer controlling that recirculating tape echo in Lovo’s studio obviously was having a great time.”
Good to the last tab, Alfonso Lovo’s La Gigantona is available at our online store and throughout the mainland. Our UK fans have no doubt found that Honest John’s (among others) is holding, and will be until all adventurous listeners are satisfied. We think you’ll agree: the harsh tokes are actually the best tokes.
“Oh yeah. Yeah. This is what I want to hear right now.”
Alfonso Lovo’s BBC Radio debut on Saturday, October 13th was a memorable one, and Gilles Peterson had no shortage of kind words regarding our latest LP. After playing the bulk of Lovo’s “Sinfonia del Espacio en Do Menor,” an enthused Peterson returned to mic to deliver this heartfelt testimonial.
“I think it’s the 50th release from Numero Group [actually 46th -ed.], which is the leading global reissue label. Based out of Chicago, they just spend all their time searching for music--unreleased music--and they keep coming up with gems. Alfonso Lovo, originally from Nicaragua, made this record in 1976. There’s 8 tracks on this record--this is so good! I got it last week, this album. And you know sometimes you get these reissues and they’re alright, they’re good, they’ve got good moments; this whole album is ridiculous, from beginning to end. It’s got everything--¦ I wish I could play you the whole thing.”
Alfonso Lovo, never one to ignore a Google alert, wrote Gilles thanking him for his support. The legendary radio host was so touched that during his November 3rd show, he then read Lovo’s email on-air, referring to him at one point as “the man from Nicaragua who made one of the best Latin psychedelic records of all time.”
We don’t take this critique lightly, and are very grateful to Gilles for continuing to dig our releases, and in particular, for his generous praise of La Gigantona. We feel Alfonso’s unreleased masterpiece deserves every bit of it.
La Gigantona vinyl has arrived, as is available on our online store. Gilles: Can we send you one?
For more musical cues and remarkable tunes, tune into Gilles Peterson’s weekly broadcast/podcast, Saturdays on the BBC.
A few months ago we took a routine trip to Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Following us on that journey was Spin contributing editor David Peisner, simply a fly on the wall of a tumultuous series of meetings and expeditions into the unknown. Although we still question his credibility for not sharing in our zeal for hotel pools, he did a pretty great job of painting a realistic portrait of what a standard road trip consists of: little food, little sleep, significant aggravation.
A neighbor rides up on a bicycle and Shipley asks him if Walter B lives here. It bears mentioning that in this neighborhood -- as in so many the Numero guys visit -- thirtysomething white guys knocking on doors, sniffing around, and asking questions, look more like undercover cops, debt collectors, process servers, or bail bondsmen than record-label owners.
“What our brand stands for is virtually impossible-to-do projects. Laborious projects with very little return. To do this well, you really have to do this--¦.” Sevier motions to the car, his notebook, and the traffic-clogged streets around us.
Although we feel Love Apple’s Boddie-minted rehearsal tape is worth of all manners of praise, it’s always nice to hear sentiments like that echoed by National Public Radio. With the trio’s entire recorded catalog gathering dust in a converted dairy barn for the better part of three decades, NPR recently saw fit to honor Cleveland, Ohio’s Love Apple, along with a handful of other soulful women whose careers have been recently revisited.
Follow this link for perhaps the most inexplicable use of a song that Numero has released (sorry we couldn’t embed the video for ease, it wouldn’t allow us to):
Good Morning America “Song of the Week”
With no explanation, “I’m So Happy Now” by Willie Wright is set to footage of whatever random clips some producer found on youtube. It’s a bit disorienting, but strangely compelling. For Willie Wright, it is exactly the type of mainstream nod that his easygoing sound deserves. As out of place as it seems for this forgotten folk-soul to be included on hokey mainstream fare like Good Morning America, an alternate history can easily be imagined in which Willie’s music sits next to other “grown-up” [his words] singer-songwriter music, buried deep in the national consciousness like Paul Simon or Bob Dylan. If you haven’t heard Willie Wright, start with some soundclips here.
In anticipation of Syl Johnson’s performance at the Southpaw in Brooklyn tonight, Ben Sisario from the New York Times delivers what is, to this point, our most significant piece of press (Suck it Doug Wolk!). Before we link to it, we want to share this hilarious transcript that Ben sent over to us:
From the LA Times gift guide feature:
A four-CD, six-LP set, this collection spans more than a decade of Johnson’s career, showcasing the work of the Mississippi-born artist throughout and just beyond the --˜60s. A criminally unheralded stylist of urban funk and Southern soul, this detailed and annotated set provides a snapshot of Johnson’s expansiveness, and a voice -- one that can wail with heartache just as easily as it can rip up the floorboards -- that is long overdue for rediscovery. --Todd Martens
I don't care how glamorous the big labels make their boxes this year, nothing -- and I mean nothing -- is more stunning than Numero's release of Syl Johnson's Complete Mythology. Last year, Numero Group flexed their holiday muscle with Light On the South--ˆSide, a compilation of mid-'70s Chicago soul artists. This year, they continue to show that boutique labels are perfect for producing lovingly packaged sets like this four CD/six LP work of art. Johnson has more Top 40 R& B hits than most artists have releases, and he's one of the most heavily sampled musicians in the history of recorded music, but this set alone gives Johnson the due he deserves, and I think it's the best box release of the season. -- Brian F. Johnson
A peerless soul auteur with a remarkable, underappreciated body of work, Syl Johnson is in the midst of a well-deserved resurgence. The Mississippi-born, Chicago-based singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer was already a seasoned veteran when he burst onto the R&B charts in 1967 with the gritty dancefloor hits "Come On Sock It to Me" and "Different Strokes," then subsequently moved toward darker, more topical material such as "Is It Because I'm Black" and "Concrete Reservation." Although he never achieved the pop-crossover hit that would have made him a household name with white listeners, Johnson's best work is the equal of any of his better-known contemporaries.
Johnson's return to New York coincides with the release of the lavishly illustrated, copiously annotated four-CD, six-LP box set Complete Mythology by visionary archivist label the Numero Group. The epic package emphasizes his largely brilliant '60s output for Federal, Twilight, Twinight and various obscure regional labels, while bypassing his better-known '70s work for Hi Records. It's an overdue tribute for a unique artist whose greatest accomplishments have been ill-served previously by reissue compilers.
At 74, Johnson remains a fiery, feisty performer with a propensity for flamboyant, self-mythologizing onstage rants. For this rare New York gig--presented by the R&B obsessives at Dig Deeper, who've brought a dazzling array of forgotten legends to Brooklyn--he'll be accompanied by the Divine Soul Rhythm Band, which has done a yeoman's work backing up a litany of vintage acts.--Scott Schinder
Saturday evening, Chicago soul legend Syl Johnson celebrated Complete Mythology, his recent Numero Group box set, with a storming live show at an at-capacity Old Town School of Folk Music, where every free space was filled in with extra tables and chairs. Clad in a flashy red suit and hat and backed by a full 17-piece band (horn section, back up singers) of Chicago music veterans including ace session players Bernard Reed, Morris Jennings and Willie Henderson, Johnson was a true showman and breathed life into songs, some of which he had not performed in forty years. Despite a few tentative endings, Johnson and band played loose and lively renditions of many of his early tunes (as featured in the Numero set) and then brought the tempo down for his immortal slow burner "Is It Because I'm Black?" Midway through the night Syl brought out Chicago soulster Otis Clay (known for his singles for One-Derful!, Cottillion and Hi) who did a lengthy take on Al Green's "Love and Happiness." Soon, Clay was joined by Syl and Chicago R&B legend "The Duke of Earl" Gene Chandler (who happened to be in attendance) for an impromptu collaboration. Jackie Ross came out to sing lead on her "Selfish One" which Johnson produced for Chess Records. Johnson with expert harp work performed his biggest hit--his up tempo take on Al Green's "Take Me To The River"--which he cut for Hi Records in the early --˜70s. Throughout the night, Syl kept the audience entertained with his rambling, stream of conscious banter. When he came back for his encore--a funky "Ms. Fine Brown Frame" featuring a proto-rap from Johnson, he even delivered his own liner note material as he spoke at length of his legal ups-and-downs (the case came down to "Is you is or is you ain't my baby, judge?" in Johnson's words) with ownership of his Twinight/Twilight label material, his healthy relationship with the Numero Group and the numerous artists who have sampled him--"Wu Tang was cooler than a mother*cker." Even with his horn section packed up and departed for another gig, Johnson had energy to spare, launching into his dance staple "Come On, Sock It to Me" as the finale. It felt like the soulman could go all night and then some. Throughout, Johnson's band was great and lent a natural feel to the material with one of the toughest horn sections we've seen in recent memory.--Nicholas Myers and John Dugan
Not to be outdone, the Chicago Tribune weighs in on the same performance:
Better late than never. More than 50 years after his recording debut, Chicago soul artist Syl Johnson turned a 105-minute show into a vivacious coming-out party Saturday at a sold-out Old Town School of Folk. The man knows how to throw a bash. He brought a dapper band--a 14-piece ensemble complete with separate brass and vocal sections. He invited local guests--gospel legend Otis Clay, vocalist Gene “The Duke” Chandler and former Chess Records singer Jackie Ross joined the celebration. And he had character to spare.
Dressed in a fire-engine-red suit and matching fedora, Johnson operated as jack-of-all-trades, working the stage as if he were in the prime of his life. In many ways, at 74, the singer/guitarist/producer is peaking, thanks to an assist from Chicago-based Numero Group, which recently released a lavish collection highlighting Johnson’s output. Underappreciated for decades, the Mississippi native spoke about how he now receives calls from international journalists and riffed on topics ranging from business improprieties to Twitter. Unscripted, humorous, eccentric, unvarnished: All parts of a colorful personality that extended to the music.
A natural showman, Johnson physically reacted to the beats, his rubbery expressions, animated gestures and loose-limbed dance steps reinforcing a succession of deep grooves. Similarly, the singer interjected rhythmic moans, falsetto cries and emphatic shouts into songs when emotions ran high. And he verbally challenged the band to follow his lead--not always an easy task. Rising and falling horn lines served as entryways into refrains. Chicken-scratched chords laid funk foundations. Johnson’s clarion voice jelled with call-and-response passages, lending to participatory sing-a-longs that often stretched to epic lengths.
Johnson also testified on behalf of his stylistic evolution. The gritty, Southern-flavored “Same Kind of Thing” paid homage to the singer’s Memphis phase. Knee-buckling and massively arranged, “Thank You Baby” touched on his Chicago stint. “Ms. Fine Brown Frame” found Johnson rapping several verses that connected him to hip-hop acts sampling his tunes. “Is It Because I’m Black” spun off psychedelic and blues currents. The latter also fueled “Groove With Me Tonight,” a rolling and tumbling strut that, like Johnson, would equally be at home in either a risquÃ© juke joint or classy nightclub.
Next week we’ll go through the mountain of press pouring in from New York.
“Even with one of R&B's greatest voices, and solid skills as a songwriter and a bandleader, Syl Johnson has never had a pop breakthrough to match his peers'. The meticulously annotated, suavely packaged "Complete Mythology" collects his music from 1959 to 1971, before he signed with Hi Records. Born in Mississippi in 1936, Mr. Johnson recorded for small labels in Detroit, Chicago and Memphis. Crooning, rasping, moaning, shouting or rocketing into falsetto, he mingled James Brown's gusto and Al Green's finesse. Mr. Johnson sang happy and sad love songs, would-be dance crazes -- like "Different Strokes," a top 20 R&B hit from 1967 that has been sampled by Michael Jackson, the Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang Clan -- and stark political manifestos like the bluesy "Is It Because I'm Black" from 1969. While some songs imitate more successful hitmakers, Mr. Johnson's voice is passionately his own, with a streak of wildness and a deep underlying ache.” -- Jon Pareles
Not too shabby for an also-ran.
After two years of threats, our pal Peter Margasak at the Chicago Reader delivers a beaut of a story on Syl. So good in fact, his editors decided to throw it on the cover. Numero neighbor Saverio Truglia shot the photos (Syl shows no shame, sports the Is It Because I’m Black t-shirt), and even our man on the phones Erik Selz gets a shout out. Family affair indeed. Gotta love this quote:
“I ain’t no jack of all trades, but I’m a multitalented genius.” Fair enough, I think. But then he’s off and running: “I’m not a great singer, but you know who can make a great hit? The one that can hear hits. You know Jesse Jackson? Or Louis Farrakhan? Them motherfuckers know how to . . . excuse the expression, I don’t mean to call them motherfuckers . . . they know the shit to say what the people like. I’ve been discriminated against, and I know about racism, and I know that my great-great-grandfather was a slave. I know they killed six million. You ever heard of Adolf Eichmann? He killed four million. I said, ‘Mama, how come they’re killing those babies, mama?’ She said, ‘Boy, they’re just some rotten people.’ My point is, everybody’s been discriminated against. I’m not worried about racism, I just want you to be straight up.”
"I was saying a woman doesn't make as much as a man if they're on the same job. The man don't mean no harm. In fact, the holy Quran says man is a step above the woman. That's true -- in some spots. To make a long story short, I had squirrels in my eaves. I had to go out to Addison to get a squirrel trap. I glued the nuts in there. They're very smart animals. But I got 'em. And every last one was a male. Isn't that incredible?"
Numero Group isn't trading in their usual impossibly obscure recoveries here, but as the box's liner notes acknowledge, they are still compiling the work of an artist who was "toeing the edge of a wide chasm that separates soul's upper and middle classes'' throughout his career. Why do it, then? Because, they argue, even though he never broke through with that huge smash hit, Syl Johnson was not just a good, but a great soul singer who maintained a long and viable career. Judging from the collective effect of the 81 tracks gathered here, they're right. And although what isn't here -- Johnson's later work for Hi -- is often claimed to be his finest, the man himself disagrees; he maintains that nothing he did for Hi could top his Twinight years. "The Complete Mythology'' suggests that he may be right, too.
Full review here.
For those not living in the UK, Craig Charles put Syl on his show Saturday to talk about… well, we’re not quite sure. A lot was covered, but barely any of it was relevant to Complete Mythology. Syl’s organic garden? Check. A white judge in Chicago? Sure, why not. Plus this irrelvant gem:
“The most healthiest fish in the world is SALMON.”
If we could read these with any proficiency, we could tell you how huge. Alas, we’re dumb-fuck Americans. Sorry.
This is just the cover of an elaborate 14 page spread on Numero and our Syl box set. There’s some kind of oral history in here as well as a complete overview of the mainline discography.
We hate that. But we don’t mind good press, especially when it’s got great nuggets from people like Robert Pruter on the record:
“They do an extraordinary job of documenting. Twenty years from now, the sort of people (Numero) is talking to will be dead, and history will die with them.”
Read the rest here, and if you can figure out what Rob Sevier’s new office nickname is we’ll send you something equally as absurd.
Time Out Chicago gives our Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology boxset some love in it’s Fall Preview issue and yes it’s true, Syl will be performing with a 14 piece band at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago on Saturday November 27th! Ticket info for the show will be here tomorrow.