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Miami Sound Before the Machines

Once you put your hands on KC, Gloria, Luther, Nuclear Valdez, and the man who made Margaritaville, it wouldn't take much to complete the definitive South Florida record collection. Or would it? Fact is, thousands of albums by thousands of artists could be added to the mix, once you got your hands dirty.

Pawing through local piles of stray platters always dredges up the effluvia of any urban area. Every town, of course, has had its share of teen-beat garage bands, every strip its ambitious lounge act peddling a souvenir album. Among the Afro-Americana of any good-size inner city, the persistent collector is bound to uncover a fair share of soul sides. Regional proclivities, too (those that flourished in the Fifties and Sixties, as well as whatever has managed to sprout through the weeds of the digitized, McLogo-festooned culture of today), are to be found in stacks of now-obsolete wax.

Since the onset of recorded history, the Detroit-Philly-Chitown axis has produced plenty of examples of what they were proud to deem a "sound." Vintage southern cities such as Memphis and New Orleans have been distilling a distinctive musical flavor for at least as long. And Miami? Granted, Beatles clones like the Clefs of Lavender Hill could have happened anywhere. But from Palm Beach to Key West, a vast Ocean Drive full of sounds has made its long-playing mark. The multicultural stew brewing down at our end of the peninsula state is like nothing that's ever melted in the old U.S. pot.

The time line of South Florida vinyl comprises not only the obvious but the singular, and although not every one of the following selections -- and this is only a selection -- is prized by collectors, each is rare, unique in its own peculiar SoFlo way. Whether all these records actually are listenable is hardly relevant, either; like alligator wrestling, Flipper, and Deco pastels, they're homegrown and worthy of ownership, even curatorship. To spin any of these plates is to journey miles and miles from our high-tech, homogenized era of Estefan and foul-mouthed rap -- to dig our past.

MIAMI: THE PARTY FREAKS
Forget Boston, Chicago, Kansas -- we had Miami. The group that was also known as Notorious Miami epitomized all that was funky, freaky, and Floridian in the split-second that preceded disco. They were part of Henry Stone's TK dynasty, a group of labels that comprised what the world once knew as the Miami Sound, and a story unto itself. This album from 1974 is party -- as in par-TAY! Razor-scratching wah-wahs abound on familiar-sounding riffs that songwriter Clarence Reid (otherwise known as the infamous Blowfly) seems almost to have plagiarized. That really is local bluesman Roach Thompson in the photo from the back of the jacket (front row, center), except back then he had hair.

BOBBY WALKER: THIS IS WALKER COUNTRY
To look at this photo of Bobby Walker is to absorb a double shot of the angst of a Fort Lauderdale saloon singer far ahead of his time. This dude was a stone original, his weapon of choice something called the "funky country organ." "What's that?" you ask. The liner notes from this 1971 album provide the formula: "Take simple country, flow it free and easy, and then push hard and drive through with some jamming jazz, and you've created funk -- country funk." Obstensibly a solo lounge act of the Hammond B-3 variety, on this platter Bobby flows it free and easy and drives it through with a full band. And it is indeed funky. Hip hoppers could sample the dope beat underlying Walker's version of "I Can't Stop Loving You." The standout cut is the original "Peace of Mind and Happiness," a Zen-cowboy rap Bobby sings like Roger Miller on crank. Out there -- as in all the way.

BILLY YEAGER: WHAT'S IT GONNA TAKE
What ever happened to Billy Yeager? Originally one of the funky white boys of Wild Cherry, this 1983 solo album finds him in Hollywood -- our Hollywood -- riding what was left of the New Wave. "My Cup of Tea," the album's first cut, can also be found on The Album, a local-band compilation put out around the same time by ill-fated rock radio station K-102. This guy was actually a pretty hot guitar player, and his solo on the title cut still burns.

HELENE SMITH SINGS SWEET SOUL!
Sweet Soul ain't no lie. Smith's talent surpasses the wack jams contrived by local tunesmiths including Little Beaver and the ubiquitous "Blowfly" Reid. The label is Deep City Records, circa 1966, and it ain't hard to guess which region of Miami is the deep city. Labelmates included "such fine Miami talent" as the Moovers, Them Two, and guitar master Snoopy Dean.

THE KIDS
The Kids were a rock group whose visibility on the local scene in 1981 seemed to last about as long as Saigon Kick's did last year. Whereas the Kick ended up with a record on a movie star's label -- Third Stone is owned by Michael Douglas -- the Kids ended up on no record label but with their own movie star. Yep, that's him, one John Depp, lower right. Should anyone ever bootleg their demos, this is a must for any collection.

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