Chicago Labels and the Dawn of Soul Music
Soul City Chicago provides examples of the emergent “uptown” style that became indicative of so many soul recordings from what has become known as the “classic era”. “Uptown” was descriptive of the sophistication of both arrangements and performances, with coarser, hard-edged recordings adapting into a more melodic and orchestrated sound without detracting from the intrinsic “soul” of the artists’ delivery. Soul City Chicago is the third instalment in Fantastic Voyage’s Soul City series, compiled and annotated by soul music authority Clive Richardson.
Chicago benefitted from the creative talents of arrangers including Riley Hampton, Carl Davis and Curtis Mayfield, the latter dividing his time between recording duties and production work. Among the labels, OKeh and the multi-imprint Chess empire were particularly receptive to recording artists with the new and progressively more sophisticated “uptown” style. The double vinyl format features 28 of the most sought after tracks from the 2CD, 60-track set.
The main focal point of this anthology is Michigan Avenue, in the early 1960s a veritable hotbed of musical activity. There were George and Ernie Leaner with their cleverly-titled One-Derful label, Leonard and Phil Chess five blocks north with their eponymous company and, just across the street, Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken with Vee Jay Records. OKeh Records launched their Chicago soul venture in 1962 in hiring Carl Davis as producer, and examples from their catalogue also feature, along with tracks produced by city veteran Bill “Bunky” Sheppard.
The Chess, OKeh and Vee-Jay labels were all veterans of the rhythm & blues era, adjusting their roster and repertoire to accommodate changing musical styles in the new decade, Chess nudging their bluesmen towards the contemporary market. Soulful ladies Etta James, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Betty Everett combine gritty R&B with mellow ballads on sides one and two, along with Billy Stewart and Jerry Butler, while sides three and four shine the spotlight on vocal groups including the developing Dells, the soulful Sheppards and some rare tracks by the Corsairs, along with hard-to-find discs by Wade Flemons, the latter including early songs penned by Curtis Mayfield. All three companies were equally adept in adjusting their musical targets to gain maximum commercial impact, and Soul City Chicago is a showcase for their success in this respect.
- Rinky Dink (Dave Baby Cortez)
- Something’s Got A Hold On Me (Etta James)
- Open Your Heart (Sugar Pie DeSanto)
- I’ve Got A Claim On You (Betty Everett)
- Doctor Feel-good (Dr Feelgood and The Interns)
- No Love (Like My Love) (McKinley Mitchell)
- I’m So Glad (McKinley Mitchell)
- Mister Moonlight (Dr Feelgood and The Interns)
- Waiting For Charlie To Come Home (Etta James)
- Reap What You Sow (Billy Stewart)
- The Town I Live In (McKinley Mitchell)
- Make It Easy On Yourself (Jerry Butler)
- Always Together (Dee Clark)
- Getting Right (Dave Baby Cortez)
- Father Knows Best (The Radiants)
- One Day I’ll Show You (The Radiants)
- Swinging Teens (The Dells)
- The (Bossa Nova) Bird (The Dells)
- Anytime (The Vibrations)
- If He Don’t (The Vibrations)
- Sittin’ On Your Doorstep (The Corsairs)
- I’ll Take You Home (The Corsairs)
- Tragic (The Sheppards)
- Loving You (The Sheppards)
- You Threw A Lucky Punch (Gene Chandler)
- Rainbow (Gene Chandler)
- At The Party (Wade Flemons)
- Half A Love (Wade Flemons)