| |In the musical heyday of sixties Detroit many record companies and labels were formed in an attempt to imitate the immense success of that emerging musical giant located at 2648 Grand Boulevard West, MOTOWN. Studios that conjure up magical memories for collectors of that city’s soul music offerings include, United Sound Studios, Tera Shirma, Wingate, and of course the Motown hit factory itself Hitsville. Record labels that gained legendary status amongst the devotees of the UK based Northern Soul phenomenon including Palmer, De-To, D-Town, Ric Tic, Golden World, Impact, Fortune, Revilot, and Groovesville competed against each other and Berry Gordy’s company, in order to establish themselves and take their innovative soul sound to the mass white US audiences. Nestling amongst these companies was one that contributed at least as much as any other and almost managed to create dynasty to rival the “Big Brother” of Berry Gordy.
The late Ollie McLaughlin was a local black DJ/Record producer based in Ann Arbor (Michigan), a small city approximately 25 miles west of Detroit. Amongst his early claims to fame was the part he played in the development of Del Shannon’s career when he persuaded Harry Balk (a notable record label owner, to sign the fledgling singer to the Big Top label). But his real legacy in the music world however was to be the creation of record labels that would bear the names of his three daughters and produce some of the smoothest, slickest, soul records to come out of the city’s recording studios during that prolific decade. Ollie had three daughters, after whom his three record labels were named; Carla, Karen and Moira. All three labels’ artist roster reads like a who’s who of 60s Detroit soulsters. Barbara Lewis, Deon Jackson, The AdLibs, The Soul Twins, Betty LaVette and of course The Capitols, all spent time benefitting from Ollies production skills.
Amongst other notable Detroit luminaries with connections to the labels were Riley Hampton, Richard Wylie, Tony Hestor, Sonny Sanders, Jimmy "Soul" Clark, and Earl Van Dyke and The Funk Brothers (the 'house band' at Motown). While not all the product of the labels were of a soulful nature and records by the Excels, The Classics and the El El Baron 45 should be avoided by soul collectors, unless one was trying to complete the label collection, the soul content of the remaining discs places Ollie McLaughlin and his labels up there with the best of the genre. Ollie used a number of well known Detroit studios to record his artists and names like United Sound, Tera Shirma appear regularly in the label’s history. Some records, however, were actually recorded in Chicago and an example of this is the wonderful "Hello Stranger" by Barbara Lewis, backed by that perennial soul group The Dells. It went on to become a classic sixties cut that has become a standard within the music industry as a whole. Update To the Article - Summer 2005
Deon Jackson’s recordings on Carla have always displayed a smoother side of Detroit’s soul from this era and all his recordings are sought after by Northern Soul afficionados. His laid back vocals, usually celebrating love and pledging his feelings for his "other half" easily slip in between the slick production by Ollie, the result being a fully rounded and complete simple but ’soulful’ sound. Another notable recording is the Capitols - "Cool Jerk" outing on Karen 1524. The Motown house band Earl Van Dyke and the Funk Brothers were imported to play on this recording and when listening to other records on the label one can only assume that other recordings also feature some of the musicians moonlighting from West Grand Boulevard. A lesser known version of this song was also recorded by The Four Brothers on the same label, the flip side of which has become another sought after Northern Soul piece titled - "Let it all reach out".
As with most record labels these have a number of one offs and strange oddities. The Matt Lucas 45 on Karen has become the most sought after Karen recording. Matt Lucas was a white Rhythm&Blues/Rock-n-Roll drummer/vocalist who remained lifelong friends with Ollie. He arrived in Detroit having already exprienced success with a song called "I'm Moving on". His first collaboration with Ollie was a take on the dance craze at the time "The Twine". Matt created a Detroit connection and the song was titled "MC Twine". It sold virtually nil but before Ollie and Matt went their separate ways musically, they recorded the fantastic soul dancer - "You Better Go Go." This uptempo, upbeat infectious dancer has assured Matt Lucas a place in the hearts (and souls) of Northern Soul fans forever. Matt also recorded a great version of "You Gotta Love" the Deon Jackson song, on CJG. Matt has been inducted into a number of Halls Of Fame including the The Southern Legends Entertainment and Performing Arts Hall of Fame and is still sought after as a performer.
Another oddity that found it’s way onto the Norther Soul dance floors of the world was the intriguingly entitled instrumental "The Gallop" on Carla 1902. A wonderful instrumental with swirling strings laid over a drum beat that reminds the listener that this is Detroit and this is the mid sixties! The Motown guys at work again? Written by that famous Floridian, Milton Wright, arranged and conducted by that legendary Detroiter, Mike Terry, and credited to The Tera Shirma Strings it’s a slick production that the soul folks at Groovesville or Solid Hitbound would be proud of. Point of note is that Milton Wright actually issued a vocal version of this tune on Sariton in the 80's.
When investigating the Carla label’s catalogue the majority of the 45s are attainable by the average soul collector although a number of them do fall into the 'Hard To Find' category. The Deon Jackson records are all worth picking up and will not disappoint the fans of any soul genre. His classic rendition of - "Ooh Baby" and the upbeat Northern Soul dancer - "That’s what you do to me" have filled dance floors for years and will no doubt continue to do so for many years to come. His slightly sweet vocals, coupled with his love struck lyrics when matched with Ollie’s slick arrangements and not over the top production, produced a full, rounded, soul sound that fans have stayed loyal to for years. Amongst the hardest to find on the label are the Compacts 45, The Kelly Micheals disc, the Four Pros 45s. The Gambrells - "You better move" took the author a number of years to track down and is also a hard one to prize from existing collectors hands for at a reasonable price. (Never seen a Promo of this 45). The hardest one of all however, must be the Jimmy Delphs outing on Carla1904 - "Dancing a hole in the world". A fantastic upbeat dancer, similar in theme to Martha Reeves and The Vandellas - "Dancing in the Street" on Gordy. It was only produced in Promo format and has remained the Holy Grail of Carla collectors for the past three decades. Two copies were for sale via e-Bay® last year (2004), both of which found their way to ‘The Land of The Rising Record Price'. Japan is fast coming second only to the UK in it’s thirst for Detroit 60's rare soul records. For collectors there is also the same song recorded by The Esquires on Rocky Road records which is quite a good version that will ‘fill the gap’ until the Carla one becomes available.
In contrast to the Deon Jackson outings is the contribution made by Betty La Vette on the uptempo, RnB, flavored - "What condition my condition is in". A full blown gritty dancer from one of Detroit’s favorite female vocalists, it too has seen massive turntable action in recent years. The other three discs by Ms La Vette are also noteworthy. Her renditions of Stevie Wonders - "Hey Love" and Jimmy Delphs - "Almost" are quite good to say the least whilst her talented vocal range and the ‘oh so soulful’ quality of her voice is all showcased on her funkier cut -“ Let me down easy”. With a talent like hers it seems strange that Ollie would release an instrumental on the flip side of her - 'Almost' 45? (See discography at the end).
Of all the dance records on the labels the one that has endured the most turntable action over the years must surely be The Soul Twins massively popular double sider - "Quick change artist b/w Give the man a chance". The first (jump) side being an out and out soul stomper that will make the walls of any dance floor venue reverberate to the sounds of fleeting feet whilst the flip is a mid tempo production of extraordinary quality. An evergreen on the Northern Soul circuit.
Although the Capitols 45 - "Cool Jerk" is probably the most famous of their records, any fans who think the group are limited in their ability and only capable of the ‘Dance craze' 45s, need to take a listen to their Karen 1549 - "I thought she loved me". The group showcase their more mature sound and give us a completely different type of offering. The melancholy lyrics and their tight group harmonies provide a career matching performance and may surprise a few listeners. A true soul record that has passed by unnoticed by most.
Another group that have trod the Detroit label route are The Volumes. Sure enough, they appear here on Ollies Karen label too. Their only record being the much sought after dance floor favorite - "Ain ‘t gonna give you up". Not in the same league as their outing on Impact but noteworthy nevertheless. Other records on Karen that fall into the 'HTF' category are both the Sharon McMahan 45s, The Antionetts 45 (Never seen a promo), and the Rod Jordan 45. The hardest record to find on the Karen label would have to be the Matt Lucas 45 already mentioned. This particular record has still not been filed in any of the author’s K or L boxes!
The strangest 45 of all the labels has to be the Wylie/Hester/Sanders penned - “Rosemary - What happened”. Richard Popcorn Wylie and Tony Hester became one of the most prolific (and successful), Detroit writing/arranging/producing partnerships to emerge from the era. Over the years they developed a very ‘distinctive’ style and sound and on this particular record that style is evident. Sonny Sanders also went on to become a prolific writer/producer and the three of them would contribute immensely to the development of the Detroit soul scene of the sixties and seventies. This particular 45 is based on the Satanic film ‘Rosemary’s Baby” and is obviously an attempt to cash in on the film’s success at the time. The flip side is the instrumental version and once released from the constant chorus of “Rosemary - what happened?” the musical quality of the three guy’s work comes shining through. A haunting piece of Detroit dancing music that whets the palate for things to come from this inimitable and talented trio.
The author can’t leave the Karen label without introducing the reader to what he considers to be the best record on all three labels. The AdLibs have had a number of successes on a number of labels including the hugely popular - "New York in the dark" AGP and - "Nothing worse than being alone" (Share). Neither of which compares in sheer quality to the groups mid tempo mastery on Karen - "Think of me". From the opening drum roll and pounding opening bass line the listener knows this is going to be something special. Joined by the piano for a few seconds and then the ultra soulful vocal arriving bang on cue! The remainder of the song is a soulful plead to his girlfriend to “Think of me” whenever they’re apart. The drums, bass, vibes, keyboards and strong yet still clear vocals supported by the supporting harmonies all fall into place and the end result is a top notch, soulful outing of the highest order. Readers familiar with the Pied Pier Productions, it makes you wonder if any of that team are in the wings with Ollie? A true giant amongst Detroit soul recordings!
Finally we come to the third of Ollie’s labels - Moira. As the decade inched it’s way to the funk laden 70s, the Moira label inched in tandem and the funkier sound starts to appear, However, for the soul afficionado there are hidden gems in the Moira catalogue. Both Belita Woods 45s are quality Detroit dancers and the label holds probably one of the most underplayed quality dance records to come from this era of Detroit’s legacy. Jimmy "Soul" Clark appears on a number fo legendary Detroit labels and his outings on Teek, and SoulHawk are much sought after. His Moira 104 outing -“Tell Her” which is probably his most overlooked performance. Once again written by the ‘Dynamic Duo’ of Wylie/Hester and arranged by the masterful Sonny Sanders it’s a typically drum driven dancer of the highest quality. Available relatively cheaply (at least for now), it’s a must for all soul fans and particularly lovers of the Detroit dance sound.
As Ollie achieved success in and around the Detroit area and then hit nationally, Atlantic Records picked up the distribution of his artists work and both Barbara Lewis and Deon Jackson were artists that particularly benefitted from the better resources now available to distribute their records.
It’s obvious that Ollie was a stalwart in the Detroit music scene of the sixties. People who worked with him at his peak are unanimous in their praise for not just his professional abilities but also for his human qualities and the fact that he always remained a “stand up guy”. Ollie sadly suffered a heart attack and passed on in 1984. Fortunately he was fully aware of the extremely high regard in which he was held by soul fans worldwide, and he had seen the Solid Smoke label LP reissues of his labels’ work come to fruition. To have people still hitting the dance floors and enjoying your music 40 years on is not a bad legacy and I’m sure Ollie would be more than satisfied with that as an achievement.
I have recently discovered that 2 of the records mentioned in the original article have been discovered in rather interesting formats and thus thought it was worth updating the info, pictures and music. So... here we go ...
Belita Woods - Magic Corner bw Grounded Karen 106 (Promo Only)
This 45 eventually saw a release on the Moira label, but it’s interesting to note that the Karen promo pictured here carries the same catalogue # as the Moira issue and does not fit with the Karen catalogue numbering system. A slip up by the printers? A mistake by Ollie? Who knows ... makes it all the more fascinating eh? Anyway ... on to the record itself. Both sides are great examples of the Detroit Sound of the era. "Magic Corner" is a laid back mid-tempo reminiscent of the Cynthia Sheeler and maybe Barbara Mason’s Arctic outings from Philly. A really great vocal performance from Belita who is ably supported by a set of really classy backing singers. Anyone know who these girls are/were? The flipside "Grounded" is equally good. A much more raucus vocal is laid down by Ms Woods on this uptempo dancer that has seen recent dancefloor action., and deservedly so. Certainly two ecords that sum up the quality of Ollie’s labels as they moved into the late 60's/early 70's.
Jimmy Delphs - Dancing A Hole In The World - Carla
Until recently I had never seen a stock issue copy of this record. I was always under the impression that it was a promo only 45 that never saw a commercial issue. Well ... I was wrong, (Again!), and here it is in all it’s glory. The review of the record has been done in the article but now you can simply click on the record and judge for yourself. This record, for me personally, highlights the best of Ollie’s sound. A rather lightweight vocal, but one that fits snugly amongst the crisp, roll along type of music that Ollie made his own benchmark. Fantastic stuff indeed!