Phoenix music historian Johnny "D" Dixon has a way with words. He recently updated his Mostly Vinyl Facebook page (the official site of his Sunday evening anything-goes program on KWSS 106.7) with a cryptic message: "What can I say.....I can't believe this has been sittin' in the can for 40+ years people. It wasn't released as much as it escaped! Better snatch a copy while you can.....when you can."
Of course, Valley cats Djentrification and Dump La Roc were already on to him. Both funk-fans had linked to a nondescript looking entry on Numero Group's blog that featured a song snippet and and announcement that February 28 would see the release of a vintage Phoenix '45, a band called Memphis Soul, and a soul-riff song called "Don't Down Me People (Part 1 and 2)."
We caught up with Numero Group's Ken Shipley and George Bowman, the songwriter/vocalist featured on the reissue, to discuss where this thing came from, and why it's such good news for Valley soul fans.
And lucky for us, Bowman is still around, gigging about town. He's scheduled to perform on Friday, January 28 at The Rhythm Room.
Up on the Sun: Numero Group has done a couple different reissues of stuff from Doug Ramsey's Audio Recorders, like the Liggins Brothers and the Eccentric Soul: Mighty Mike Lenaburg release. How did this particular reissue come to be?
Ken Shipley: Well, we're working on a larger set of '45s that we're going to be putting out this year, as part of a 10th anniversary of Eccentric Soul series, and when I was talking about [John] Dixon about another record that we're getting for the set. He told me about this tape that he had gotten in the Audio Recorders buy he had done.
He was like, "Man, I've always wanted to do something with this, but it's just one song." I said, send me a CD of it. So he sent me a CD of it and when I listened to it I realized that it wasn't one song, it was a classic part one and part two, you know, done very much in the style of Dyke and the Blazers and James Brown, right on the cut of that, like '67 or '68. [Dixon mentioned] this guy, George Bowman, [as] kind of a legendary cat around town, and I was like, "John, we should definitely press this."
So Dixon brought it to the table.
Shipley: He told me, "I've been thinking about this thing for a decade almost, and didn't know what to do with it. He was like, I don't really own the song, it's George Bowman's song." It just happened to be sitting in the Audio Recorders vault at the time he purchased it. He knew George well, and he was just hanging on to the tape so it didn't get lost in the shuffle.
George Bowman: I hadn't thought it about it in a long time. John Dixon showed up at the Rhythm Room with a copy of it.
Shipley: We licensed the track directly from George. It was a pretty painless process, if you can believe it. George was a little unsure at first. He didn't know who we were at first, and thought "why would anybody be interested in releasing this" when he's got new music and new albums that he thinks we should be much more interested in. We told him, "We're serious about this song and how we can make something cool of it." So he relented.
Bowman: "I was surprised when they called me to ask about it. I was just a kid when I recorded that.
How old were you?
Bowman: Just out of high school. There were two of us singing, me and Rochelle Whitehead Jr. We shopped it, you know? We didn't have the money back then. But it was a good song.
And now, all these years, people can actually hear it.
Bowman: That is something. I was totally shocked about that. I was intrigued about the whole idea. The people were pretty nice about it too. That's good.
The sample Numero put up is killer. Such a great riff. Is it going to be released digitally as well?
Shipley: There will be a digital version, but we probably won't put that out for a few months. We'd prefer if people bought the '45 of it, before people can just steal it for free. Which is in inevitability. But if you can kind of make people actually hear something in the setting it's intended, it's a [good thing].
Will it be available at all the local record shops?
Shipley: Absolutely. We'll be very much hitting up Revolver, Stinkweeds, Zia...
You guys are working on a bigger release later in the year. Is that going to include some more Arizona stuff?
There's another Arizona song, but I'm kind of keeping that one close to the vest. It's an incredible piece of Arizona funk that's never had anybody talk about it or thing about it. We're really excited about the possibility of continuing our work in Arizona. When we did Lenaburg [reissue] a few years ago, you always think you're just scratching the surface, and in the end, you are. We're always hoping there will be another great archive to come out of it. There's always things that are buried underneath the surface that are waiting to come to life.
You guys are experts regarding soul from all over America. Arizona is kind of weird in that a lot of people come here from other places (like the famous Dykes and The Blazers story -- the band getting stranded here). What do you hear in sounds in Arizona funk that you don't hear in other regions?
Shipley: Absolutely. There's a mixture of Tejano and black and white cultures that's happening, between the '50s R&B kids moving from Southern California, straight-up through the military brats that were ending up there, that had been all around the world, to the Mexican culture that was coming up.
It definitely has its own unique sound. When you listen to The Soulsations or the Liggens stuff, you can hear that these are groups that had a ton of influences. They're not just going to be a soul band, they are going to be a creative outlet. Bowman followed that same path. I'm always curious why it was called Memphis Soul, and George just says, "We liked the name." But it's one of those things were its really cool to us to hear has this sound has developed over the year. Even if you go back to some of the earliest Phoenix stuff, it's always just a little bit left-of-center. They were pretty great about developing what can only be a Phoenix sound. Is there plenty of material recorded there that wants to be in LA? Absolutely, but Mike Lenaburg's stuff really sticks out as being on the of true visionaries of the area.
Bowman: [It was] R&B mixed with the funk. We didn't have all those keyboards and stuff. It was pretty raw, you know? The recording back then ain't nothing like today. But it was a good song. We put our guts in it.
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George Bowman and Baddboyz Bluez Band are scheduled to perform Friday, January 27 at Rhythm Room, and Memphis Soul's "Don't Down Me People (Part 1 and 2)" is scheduled to be released on February 28 on Numero Group.