This week's playlist comes to us from Brad Hales, head vinylista at Peoples Records in Detroit and a DJ at Funk Night for a decade. Last week, he was visited by Scott Craig, with whom he started Funk Night in 1999 at a scrappy little gallery called detroitcontemporary. The visit stirred memories of the sort of music Funk Night celebrated, especially obscure Detroit 45s from the late '60s and early '70s featuring psychedelic soul, tracks Hales says are influenced by psychedelic hits by such stars as the Temptations, but with more basic production values. Here are five songs Hales can't get out of his head this week.
Robert Starks & the Geniuses
Wow. Recorded by Bobo Jenkins, the legendary Detroit blues artist. In the 1970s for some reason he started releasing these homespun funk records. No doubt these guys were just wasted. Lots of echo and space effects — and groaning. It's cool he was working with these young guys on these crazy sounds.
"No I Don't Really Want It"
Frank J. Garcia, Jr.
Astro Chemistry Records
Just another echo-drenched sweet soul-type of psychedelic song about love. Astro Chemistry Records seems to be from here, and I've met people that said they've known him. The label says "A Paco-Squeaky Company" on it; I've never seen them have any other releases. But it's clear that effects were popular here early on. Detroit caught on to things like fuzz and echo and wah-wah and it was just huge here, because the hit records had that stuff. So it's fun seeing the crude copies that come from people's basements when that's the style in vogue.
Another favorite. The 45 is a different version from the one that came out on their album. I heard that the group cried when they heard what Chess records did to their sound, production-wise, how it didn't come close to the raw sound that they wanted to have and knew that they really had. And I think this 45 version shows how raw the song is, with the Hendrix-style guitar work. It's just heavy black rock 'n' roll and funk mixed together in the best of ways. The recording, again, is crude, and not up to the usual recording standards of Chess Records. It has a more raw and more Detroit sound, to me, that I'm really fond of.
"Bring it on Down to Me"
Bobby Franklin's Insanity
Another complete favorite. This is another record that's heavy with fuzz, in a Black Sabbath or Blue Cheer way, but with a Detroit heavy funk rhythm. It has the heavy guitars, but done in this different, Highland Park way. Interestingly, a friend of mine, Oliver Nevels, an active jazz and R&B guitarist around town, plays guitar with Bobby Franklin & the Insanity now, however, their original guitar player was the Highland Park serial killer. And so Oliver has to be careful when he tells people he's their guitar player! And Bobby Franklin is reputedly quite sane.
"Down by the River"
Then there's this Detroit funk-rock group, Purple Snow, doing a tripped-out version of the Neil Young evergreen. They give it the "Detroit treatment." The common thread of these records is their use of psychedelic effects, the recording techniques back then. Lots of fuzz on the guitars, wah-wah, panning the sounds back and forth on the speakers. But it's just kind of like the point where rock is a very black thing. It's a high-water mark of music there in Detroit, with all these things coming together — soul music, vocal groups, psychedelic hard rock. It's a good time in music.
Brad Hales runs Peoples Records, 4100 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-0864; and also curates exhibits at the MAHR gallery next to Trinosophes on Gratiot Avenue.