Monday, April 9, 2012

Finding And Curating The Roots Of Soul Music


Some years back, I was driving across the South with a German friend, leaving early Sunday morning from Athens, Ga., and heading to Louisiana. I turned on the radio and found a black church service in progress, and a woman with a remarkable voice singing. "Who's that?" my friend asked. I told him I had no idea. "But with a voice like that, she must be famous," he said. Some miles down the road, when the station had faded out, he still didn't believe me."

Of course, that's no reason to believe that she didn't make a record. Mike McGonigal, whose literary magazine Yeti mixes indie rock and literature, has been collecting gospel 45s on vanity and tiny independent labels for years, and in his spare time he's put out Fire in My Bones and This May Be My Last Time Singing, two triple-disc sets of amazing stuff from his collection. Some of it, like the Mississippi Nightingales' "Don't Let Him Ride," is fairly conventional, but some of it isn't.

Elder Roma Wilson and Family were a man and his three sons, all four of them playing harmonicas, recorded in 1948 at a Detroit record store on the track "Better Get Ready." They weren't even informed that their record had been released until McGonigal contacted them.

Most of these recordings are fairly obscure, but not all of them. Elder Beck's "Rock and Roll Sermon" has long been snickered over as a prime example of a preacher preaching against something that his band knows only too well. For a denunciation of rock 'n' roll, it rocks; in fact, rocking is all over these collections. Witness Little Ax and the Golden Echoes on the track "So Soon."

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