Saturday, November 22, 2008
When it comes to the Tidewater music scene of the 60's & 70's, there were few figures more important or better regarded than Shiptown Records founder Noah Biggs. Ever the dapper gentleman, Mr. Biggs, always attired in a fine suit and matching brimmed hat, was nearly as famous around Norfolk for his sharp fashion sense as his business savvy. In the early 60's he managed the local group Norman Johnson and Showmen and succeeded in getting them signed to New Orleans label Minit. With their name simplified to The Showmen, the group immediately achieved huge national success with "It Will Stand". Building on this triumph, Mr. Biggs soon opened the record store Nimrod (named for the Biblical great-grandson of Noah) on Church Street in Norfolk. Nimrod soon became an epicenter for youngsters with an interest in music. There was a booking agency based out of the store, and even a make shift recording studio in back with The Positive Sounds serving as the house band.
By the second half of the 60's, Noah Biggs had christened new record labels including How Big, Gregory and Shiptown to serve as outlets for the talent he had been discovering and developing. With a roster boasting the likes of Ida Sands, Barbara Stant,and The Soul Duo, Biggs's family of labels had achieved quite a reputation regionally.
Constantly aspiring to utilize his extensive connections to get his artists to the next level, Mr. Biggs viewed many of the releases on his local labels as demos to showcase songs and performers and create a buzz in order to get them placed with larger national companies. As a result, some Shiptown releases can be hard to track down because they had very limited pressing runs (sometimes 200 or less).
One of the last releases on Shiptown, the lone 45 by The Grooms, came in the mid 70's, only a few years before the passing of Noah Biggs in late 1978. The single's A-side, "Slow Down", is phenomenal mid tempo funk with amazing vocals and a killer horn arrangement. Please check out Brent Hosier's Ol' Virginia Soul: Encore! CD for "Slow Down" as well as more information about The Grooms and selections from some of the group's Shiptown labelmates.
The devastating B-side "I Deserve A Little Bit More" is a nearly five and a half minute beat ballad that slowly builds to a spine tingling crescendo. This is raw group soul at its best, with a wonderfully gritty mix of tight harmonies and nearly unhinged emotion. You can feel the longing, as the lead's voice cracks a little bit at the very end. If this one doesn't move you, check your pulse.
Please visit Shiptown Records, recently relaunched by the new Mr. Biggs, Noah's son Howard, for an amazing collection of sounds, video and photos of artists past and present. The tradition continues!
Special thanks to group harmony advocate and unwavering champion of the ballad, Kym Fuller.
The Grooms "I Deserve A Little Bit More"
Friday, November 14, 2008
On November 23rd, 1949 the city of Roanoke, Va switched on an illuminated star high atop Mill Mountain, which still shines there to this day. Perhaps the mountains of Virginia would not be the first place to come to mind as a hotbed for soul & funk, but "The Star City" boasted such heavyweights as Earl Carter & the Fantastic 6 and fellow funkateers The Randolph Brothers. In the early 70's, The Randolphs decided to put The Star Of The South on the R&B map with two strong singles, "What It Is" was the first. (Don't worry kids, we'll get the other one up soon.)
Randolph Bros. "What it is Pt.1"
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Indeed it is. In an area best known for bluegrass and southern rock comes this slab of synth laden funk. The Tazewell/Bluefield VA area is rich in musical history and culture, but I dare to say there's not much "funk" to be found. Could it be a song written to cash in on a trend? Probably, but they did one hell of a job (The B side ballad shows that they probably should have stuck with R&B). The Average White Band did one thing, their three degree of separation copycats at least were a bit more interesting. Check out the organ as well, it's very tasty.
Blackdog "Something Funky"