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 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.
THE FRANTICS FOUR: "DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM"
South Florida's musical roots run deeper than Expose, you can bet. From the Blues Image to Sixties teen beaters the Morlocks, our area had plenty to offer during the various rock eras. Try on this slice of Fifties psychobilly for all the echo-laden screams and reverb-drenched guitar primitivism you can stand. Totally frantic.
WOODY WOODBURY LOOKS AT LOVE AND LIFE
Alternative-music 'zine Forced Exposure recently ran an article describing what they called "cocktail punk," positing this record as a prime example. Recorded live at the Bahama Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Woody busts the 88s with tales of drunken eighteen-holers and every booze joke in the book. Only recently retired, the Woodman reminds us how frisky adults used to hang on Federal Highway, before the advent of early-bird specials.
THE JUDGE'S NEPHEWS
Arms folded, slacks flared, here come da...Judge's Nephews. You can tell by the size of their belt buckles that these guys were seriously hip. After only six months as a group, the Nephs managed to epitomize "the sophisticated modness of the `What's Happening Now' generation," rocking Miami Beach with nightly shows at Alfred's Lounge at the Forge on Arthur Godfrey Road. On the strength of these tepid, pseudo-Latin takes on the Bacharach/Webb songbook, the pundits at June Records declared it would be "a short time until they become the talk of the nation." That was the mid-Sixties, and that was the nascence of the "Miami Sound." Like they say, the rest is history. These days Carlos Oliva (who produced the Miami Sound Machine's first two albums) fronts the eight-piece Los Sobrinos del Juez, salseros-about-town, globetrotters, and the house band for Telemundo's La Feria de la Alegria.
LORD FLEA AND HIS CALYPSONIANS: SWINGIN' CALYPSOS
They may have signed with a major label, but these Jamaicans were Miami all the way, playing joints like Grey's Inn, Biscayne Boulevard's Club Calypso, and the Eden Roc. An incredible album, Swingin' contains hot numbers such as "Calypso Be Bop," wherein the Flea scats around lyrics about Miles and Bird. Porkchop's copious banjo solos will blister your brain; the late, local, Jaco Pastorius often cited bassist Lord Fish Ray as an influence, even though Ray's instrument consisted of one string and a washtub, with the running board of an old Ford for a neck. For all-out Flea mania, check the band's appearance in the 1957 movie Bop Girl Goes Calypso. Awesome!
BERJ VAUGHN: INSTRUMENTALLY YOURS:
This cat Berj has a jacket that's such a lurid pink it screams Miami Beach. In Instrumentally Yours, thoughtfully subtitled A New Album of Spectacular Originals, Berj has crafted the perfect cocktail-tinkling soundtrack for 1960s Biscayne Boulevard. As musical director of the "world famous" Pow Wow Room of the Thunderbird in Miami Beach, Berj was free to "blow the way he wants to blow." This plate was etched in four days. Shake yourself an appropriately dry martini and sip your way through tunes like "Fruit Cup," "Mama Maria," and "Keen Chick."
REUBEN J. YOCUM: FLORIDA MELODIES
The term curio doesn't begin to describe this piece of work from '64. Absolutely huge-sounding orchestral dirge pop, the words and music of Mr. Yocum are a vision of South Florida that our bed-tax dollars are still hawking to this day. From the oxymoronic "Meet Me In Florida at the World's Fair in N.Y." to the humbly titled "Florida Intracoastal Waterway," singer Kathy Kent is said to "vibrantly project the exotic allure of Florida." One only wishes her vocals were as jaunty as the way she sports that gob hat.
DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY WITH THE FOUR POPULAIRES
Subtle swingers with a nautical theme, the Four laid down the jams in the "lovely Panorama Room" of the Pier 66 Restaurant in Lauderdale. The Populaires' "decidely different offerings" captured here include versions of "But Not for Me," "Fascination," and "Me and My Shadow." Like many of the loungers in this selection, the Pops also plied their "smooth delightful rhythms" in Vegas and Honolulu, but this live selection is proof positive that South Florida truly floated their boat.
TUBBY BOOTS GOES TOPLESS
What can you say about a guy who looks like this? In his Sixties heyday, Tubby Boots was Miami Beach. Come to think of it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
No collection that attempts to document South Florida would be complete without an album or two from Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders. While you allow your eardrums to be incomparably assaulted by these maniac soul men, scan the liner notes by Jackie Gleason ("Wayne Cochran...is untamed. He doesn't just sing -- he explodes. How sweet it is.") and dig the cool 1967 photos of the Miami legend with some patrons at the Barn on Rickenbacker Causeway. The soul and character of our beloved South Florida musical heritage is like the stain on the back of Wayne's shirt, the grime of a nightclub floor ground into the skin of a performer writhing in his own sweat. May it continue forever. Ladies and gentlemen, start your collections!
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