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DEEP #1/2024 (January)

  My first column this year features two products that may not represent the deep end of our genre but I hope they still interest you. The first one is Steve Guarnori’s all-encompassing book about the All Platinum company and its sound. In the review there are quotes from Steve himself as well as from Oscar Toney, Jr., Solomon Burke, Don Davis, Ron Banks of the Dramatics and Michael McGill of the Dells.

The second item is Chazz Dixon’s latest release and again with some comments from the artist himself.

Steve Guarnori: All Platinum: The Making of a Sound
Chazz Dixon: The Best of Chazz Dixon, Volume 1


ALL PLATINUM – THE MAKING OF A SOUND

A long, long time ago I wrote about the history of soul music for a local music paper, and the second part of that article covered the 1970s. Of the New Jersey sound I wrote that “the music was thin, sort of lukewarm and gave you an impression of cheap production. But perhaps that was the catch that captivated your interest at least for a couple of years.”

Now we can learn more about that “dry” sound. Actually, we can learn a LOT more, because Steve Guarnori has written a book titled All Platinum – The Making of a Sound, subtitled The story of Joe and Sylvia Robinson’s All Platinum Records 1967-1979 complete with Discography (534 pages in A4 size, weighs 1,6 kg!). In Steve’s own words “it’s a comprehensive history of this most misunderstood of record labels.” Seven years earlier Steve had published Scepter Wand Forever!, the history of Scepter Records. This new book, published in November 2023, is a very detailed reference work based on numerous interviews that Steve has conducted and many published sources throughout the years. The book is divided into two parts: The All Platinum Story (310 pages) and All Platinum Discography (210 pages), and the all-important indexes are included.

Steve started thinking about writing this book in late 2020. Steve: “I would say it took closer to 3 years to write this book, including the research and drafting.” After The Intro, we can get acquainted with the pre-AP (All Platinum) history, including early days of Sylvia Vanterpool, Mickey Baker – of the Mickey & Sylvia fame – and Joe Robinson. In this chapter we can read, how Sylvia taught Tina Turner to sing It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, after Mickey & Sylvia had recorded it first (but their version remained vaulted) and about the Robinsons’ successful Blue Morocco nightclub in the Bronx.

The All Platinum label came into existence in 1967 and scored its first small hit a year later with Lezli Valentine’s I Won’t Do Anything, arranged by Bert Keyes and recorded at AP’s new Soul Sound Studio in Englewood, New Jersey. Mickey & Sylvia released a new single, too, but on this single Mickey Baker is replaced by Al Goodman of the Moments. The very Moments, who remained loyal to the company till the late 1970s, released their Not on the Outside single also in 1968, and it came out on a new Stang subsidiary. Similarly, Turbo Records was launched around the same time.

During All Platinum’s 12-year history the Moments were the company’s biggest money-maker. Their biggest hits included the gilded Love on a Two-Way Street, If I Didn’t Care and All I Have – all in 1970 – and later they still scored big with Sexy Mama (1973) and Look at Me (I’m In Love) (1975). The history of the group as well as the profiles of all the other artists on All Platinum and its subsidiaries are thoroughly presented in terms of all the releases, changes in line-ups or any other significant matter.

Other big-selling names for the company were the Whatnauts (Message from a Black Man, I’ll Erase away Your Pain), Ponderosa Twins + One (You Send Me in 1971 on Horoscope, produced by Bobby Massey) and Sylvia herself with another gold record in 1973 on Vibration titled Pillow Talk. Another lady from the past, Shirley Goodman of the Shirley & Lee fame (Let the Good Times Roll), surprised us with a big and boisterous disco hit – Shame, Shame, Shame – on Vibration in 1975.

Such music veterans as Bobby Patterson, Irene Reid, Derek Martin, Hank Ballard, Brook Benton offer us peepholes into different eras and styles of black music, but one connecting factor is that at some point they all recorded for the AP corporation. The restless Donnie Elbert came and left – altogether he had four stints in the company – and enjoyed his biggest hits with Motown covers: Where Did Our Love Go (in 1971) and I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Punch) (1972). Dave “Baby” Cortez (Someone Has Taken Your Place, in 1973) and George Kerr (3 Minutes 2 – Hey Girl, in 1970) were also familiar names from the past, and George actually became a mainstay producer and writer for the company. One of his protégées in the early 1970s was Linda Jones.

Linda is a good example of an artist from the deep end of AP’s roster, far from the common notion of the company’s thin and superficial sound. Her cover of Your Precious Love evolved into a big record on Turbo (Billboard: #15 soul, #74 pop), but sadly, as it was climbing up the charts, she died of diabetes in March 1972. After Jerry Butler and the Impressions’ original single in 1958, Oscar Toney, Jr. came up with the second biggest hit of the song in 1967, and this is what he told me about that famous monologue: “That recitation is something that I usually did before I was recording. With the Kayos, the Sextet, whoever, at the club, when I get their attention, get them on in the groove, I just say ‘into each life a little rain must fall…’ But it’s not every time I went into For Your Precious Love. Sometimes I would go into That’s How Strong My Love Is. I use that monologue as a build-up, and I might talk a good five or ten minutes – a lot of depends on the feedback from the audience.” Oscar added that Linda learned the monologue from him, when they shared the stage on tour.

Steve Guarnori, author of the book.

Steve gives rightful dues not only to artists but also to numerous producers, arrangers, conductors and sound engineers that developed the sound throughout the years - Nate Edmonds, Sammy Lowe and Alan Tucker, among others – and, of course, to such house bands as Willie & the Mighty Magnificents, the Rimshots and Wood Brass & Steel. Alongside successful artists there were many obscure names that have fallen into oblivion – the Equations, George Wilson, Bobby LaCour, Susan Phillips, God’s Gift to Women, Annie Kay, Bobby Gosh and Little April, just no name a few – but nevertheless Steve shares with us all the information available on these artists. To the list of main maestros at AP – besides Joe, Sylvia and George Kerr – we must add Al Goodman of the Moments, who along with his production work was a prolific writer.

The biggest tsunami in the history of the company took place, when AP purchased the Chess Records in 1975. In addition to sorting out the huge back catalogue, they had to deal with artists that still had effective contracts. One was Solomon Burke, who released his Back to My Roots album in 1976 on Chess. Solomon: “Sylvia Robinson and Joe Robinson, two very wonderful people. They had a lot of spiritual input. They were there and they supported me and gave me the freedom to go into the studio just like MGM. They supported me with some of their staff and I had a wonderful time doing the album. I was one of Sylvia’s fans. Sylvia and Mickey Baker played on many of my early recordings in the 50s. On Apollo, Mickey Baker was my guitarist.” Solomon still explained that with the album “basically we were shooting for the soundtrack for Roots.”

Besides Etta James, Little Milton and Chuck Berry, AP now had two heavy-weight soul groups in their hands. Or actually only one, since the Dramatics never signed with Chess. They just cut one joint album with the Dells already in 1974, and that was the producer Don Davis’ idea. Don: “…from the Dells being around the Dramatics we decided to do an album together - - I think that is one of the most undervalued albums that’s been out in a long time.” Ron Banks of the Dramatics: “We didn’t sign with Chess. We gave them an album which was a classic album with two groups that were happening and were very popular. The lack of promotion on the album was really a shame. The initial response for the album was huge. Radio loved the idea. We knew then we couldn’t sign with Chess/Janus. It wasn’t the place for the Dramatics to be.” The Dramatics’ singles on Cadet derived from this album, which was cut prior to the purchase of Chess by AP.

The Dells, on the other hand, were signed to Chess, but their album in 1976 called No Way Back, recorded at All Platinum studios, was released on Mercury, as well as They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, But We Did It a year later. Michael McGill of the Dells on No Way Back: “Cheap productions! All Platinum, Joe and Sylvia Robinson, did not do what they should have done for the Dells. The production was cheap, musical selections were not good, and they took the Dells out of their element, of what they were capable of doing. That’s one part of our career that we’re not happy with. It’s an album I never listen to.”

Michael’s words lead us to many operational failures within the company and many grey areas, which as such descend from the very early days of the record industry. Mostly we are talking about non-payments to the artists, but in this case also included tax write-offs, connections to individuals like Morris Levy, badly organized operations, poor promotion, carelessness and unfriendly behaviour. You’ll find many examples in the book. But, as you can see above, some people were also very satisfied with the company and the way they worked.

In the Discography part of the book Steve shows us the label of every released record on AP and its subsidiaries and lists the names of the artist, titles, producers, writers, label and matrix numbers, the year of release and notes about the history and the very sound. Steve has obtained almost all the copies. Steve: “I collected All Platinum records from the 70s but not seriously, until I decided to write the book. In other words, I would buy records I heard when I heard them. When I started to write the book, I then went into overdrive and sought to collect every single release – album and single. I am now only missing about 3 LPs and a handful of singles.”

You can purchase this book at allplatinumbook@gmail.com, but also “a number of specialist stockists have it – Nickel & A Nail, John Manship Records, Dusty Groove etc. You can buy it through a bookshop via order, but obviously the book wholesales and retailers all want a slice of the cost for their profits.” Steve adds that “this project is never going to make money and because it is such a specialised topic and I only had a few hundred copies made, I prefer to sell copies this way.”

If you’re interested in one of the most significant and interesting trends in the 70s black music history, then I strongly recommend you to purchase this exhaustive book.

CHAZZ DIXON

I’ve kept a close eye on Chazz Dixon, because for me his romantic serenades simply are quite enchanting https://www.soulexpress.net/chazzdixon2023.htm, but, as we know, Chazz also has a knack of coming up with catchy dancers. That side of his music is strongly featured on his latest album, The Best of Chazz Dixon, Volume 1, which was released earlier this month. Chazz: “After 16 official albums and another 7 in the can, it’s time for these volumes.” Chazz is planning to release 50 songs from the past over 4 volumes and the next volumes come out the first month of each quarter. “The next 3 volumes are mood specific, there’s a definite theme for each. I wanted volume one to be more eclectic.”

Of the 14 songs on display, the first seven are all up-tempo tracks. The opener is a disco dancer called Hey Deejay – even with a rock guitar solo -, while Can’t Help but Hurt Myself along with Get It are more quick-tempo scampers. The punchy Sexy Mama is funkier, whereas More More More, Talkin’ Bout My Baby and Baby You Got Me are more mid-tempo movers. Chazz: “Several songs were recorded in the early 80s. We could have easily placed 20 plus songs on this volume alone (too much), but I wasn’t trying to make a box set. The algorithm for volume one is more like an early ‘Motown greatest hits.’ The earliest recording on volume one is Can’t Help but Hurt Myself from 1981, and the latest recording is Sexy Mama, the Moments cover, tracked in 2023 at the request of my former co-manager, Bobby Jay.”

There are some up-tempo numbers among the rest seven tracks, too – e.g. the funky and rocky Send My Love and the snappy toe-tapper named It’s Magic (from the vaults, actually) – but for the lovers of sweet sounds there are such songs as the atmospheric Are You Lonely, the smooth and gentle My Weakness, Pour It on Me and Love Is a Wonder and the most romantic one, My Last Love Song. Chazz: “I still enjoy making music. The industry has changed but my love for the art is still very much alive.”

© Heikki Suosalo


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