Saturday, March 27, 2010
The first half of the 1970's saw Norfolk record mogul Leroy Little on a bit of a roll. Having just inked a national deal with King Records for his Tri-Us label and it's most successful artist Little Royal, Mr. Little continued to deliver a steady stream of singles on a local level with his Tri-It and Tri-Som imprints. These sister labels lacked the wide spread distribution of Tri-Us, which is a shame because there were a number of outstanding releases between the two that deserved more attention than they received initially.
One interesting example of a Tri-It single that refused to go away quietly is Sebastian's "Living In Depression". It's essentially Little Royal & The Swingmasters' finely honed (and previously released) funk instrumental "Razor Blade" plus overdubbed vocals courtesy of the legendary Sebastian Williams (and Leroy's son Keith at the controls in the studio). "Depression" was released on three different labels in 1975, Tri-It and Pesante out of Norfolk, as well as New York's Brown Dog. Despite these efforts it never achieved the success of the original instrumental version, which held the coveted flipside of Little Royal's biggest commercial success "Jealous".
This brings us to another Swingmasters 45, "Boogie on Down", released a year earlier in 1974 on Guess Records. In this case it would appear that it was the Swingmasters record that added overdubs to a pre-existing track. "I Think I'll Fall In Love" by Willie Brown on Tri-Som, is a killer funky soul tune utilizing the exact same backing track as "Boogie On Down". For all intents and purposes the instrumental B-Side of "I Think I'll Fall In Love" is "Boogie On Down" minus the boisterous band banter and some tastefully placed piano.
In contrast to "Living In Depression", Willie Brown's "I Think I'll Fall in Love" has a more natural flow, no doubt helped by the song's more manageable pace. Despite Sebastain's valiant effort, his vocals on "Depression" almost have the quality of being in competition with the backing track, seeming somewhat rushed in spots, and every now and then even drowned out by the music. "I Think I'll Fall In Love" feels more like a song intended to have lyrics. Interestingly, the Willie Brown record makes no mention of The Swingmasters, not even on the instrumental flip. While "Boogie On Down" credits Leroy Little as the sole songwriter with no mention of Garfield Williams and Leroy Tuna, the team credited with writing "I Think I'll Fall In Love". Was Leroy Tuna a pseudonym for Leroy Little? Yet another interesting mystery to be solved.
Willie Brown cut one more single for Leroy Little, this time on Tri-It. Recorded at Brockington & Guess Studio in Norfolk with backing from the mighty Raw Soul, the top side, "Get Out And Get It", is no doubt as solidly funky as you'd expect, but it's the atmospheric B-Side that's most striking.
"Love That Stranger" does indeed sound like it's from some far off place, perhaps not even of this world. At the center of this unusual arrangement is a cavernous organ sound embellished with shimmering vibraphone effects. Intricate yet soulful jazz guitar drifts in and out as subtly funky drums serve as the anchor. Brown echoes himself on double tracked vocals, including a fragile falsetto that levitates above it all, as he pleads for forgiveness after being away from home too long.
Despite there being no backing band credited on "Love That Stranger", it's a pretty safe bet that Reno Renaldie's cleverly named outfit The Reno Expedition holds that honor. In fact, the Expedition's only single, the instrumental "Ain't Nothing But A Party" (also on Tri-it) almost sounds like a pitched-up run through of "Stranger". Well, at least the organ and drums do, conjuring images of some frenzied shindig at the local roller rink.
Willie Brown "I Think I'll Fall In Love"
Willie Brown "Love That Stranger"
The Reno Expedition "Ain't Nothing But A Party"
***Please check out the Ol' Virginia Soul: Encore! CD for "Living In Depression" as well as Brent Hosier's touching tribute to the late, great Sebastian "Plut" Williams, a true gentleman and a giant of Virginia Soul, loved and missed by many.