Sometime in 2005, a lone box of master tapes escaped an estate sale and made its way through a network of collectors, record dealers, and “junkers” into the hands of leading Ohio soul expert Dante Carfagna, who linked them to Columbus, Ohio’s mysterious Prix label (See: Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label). A bit of research turned up Prix proprietor George Beter, who identified most of the unlabeled material. All it took was an endless series of phone calls and letters and two fields trips in Columbus. But one complete mystery wended its way onto our final Prix compilation. “You and Me,” a simple but irrepressible demo credited only to Penny & the Quarters, was found tacked onto a mixed studio reel. Our survey of every willing lifer left on the Columbus soul scene, including retired DJs, producers, and important local artists, produced not so much as a glimmer of recognition at the name Penny & the Quarters. Though we loved the song from the first play, it may’ve ended up a bit buried on our original compilation, as #18 of 19 tracks.
Four years later, Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label hadn’t exactly become a huge seller, although listeners had repeatedly told us that the unfiltered studio demos that fill out the record’s back half were true diamonds in the rough. But neither Penny nor her Quarters had appeared to claim credit for their efforts. Then, completely out of left field, we heard from respected screen actor and avowed Numero fan Ryan Gosling that Penny’s piercing bit of stripped down doo-wop was being considered for inclusion in Derek Cianfrance’s indie-weeper film Blue Valentine. What we didn’t know was that “You and Me” had won a major role in what became an indie circuit hit, and that Penny & the Quarters would instantly assume the role of world’s most famous unknown doo-wop group.
Every week is a slow news week in Columbus, Ohio, and early January 2011 found the city recovering from the thrill of elevating Ted Williams—the formerly homeless guy with the awesome voice for radio—into a national news sensation. But both major daily newspapers in town, as well as the city’s alternative weekly, also ran stories about how a lost and unknown Columbus soul group had become the musical centerpiece of a film already garnering Oscar buzz. That mainstream spotlight aimed at Blue Valentine and Penny & the Quarters did the trick: we finally made contact with the widow of Jay Robinson, lead Quarters’ singer and songwriter. Robinson, it turned out, had also been the leader of Columbus doo-wop pioneers The Supremes (later known as “The Columbus Supremes,” for reasons which should be obvious). Jay Robinson never did give up on the dream of writing a hit record; even so, the posthumous realization of his dream is cold comfort for his widow and daughter. With their blessings, we returned to those estate sale masters and pulled down another neglected track (“You Are Giving Me Some Other Love”) from the still-unknown Penny and her now-partly-known Quarters. “You and Me” is a song that could not be suppressed: not when Prix failed to release it; not when Penny & the Quarters were forgotten; not when Numero stuck it at the bitter end of a much overlooked compilation. Its evolution from estate sale trash to silver-screen gold has finally returned it to big-hole 45, where it probably should have lived all along.