By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
"This group wasn't screwing around on the weekends," he would later recall.
Pierce and Lind named it the "Mystery Record," placing it on a shelf in their studio. Thus began their quest to figure out who was behind the music.
Their most obvious clues came from the record itself. Dated "April 22, 1974," the test pressing was put out on Century Records. Pierce found a Century Records discography site that was attempting to collect the information on every record released on the label. The site didn't have her record number listed.
Century Records was a large custom record label in California that specialized in small pressings for churches, high schools, and other organizations. The company, also known as Keysor-Century Corp., filed for bankruptcy in 2003. Company officials pleaded guilty in 2004 to felony charges of violating a number of environmental laws when they released toxic chemicals into the air and wastewater near the Santa Clara River. The company manufactured polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for record albums and other plastic products. Keysorx paid $4.3 million in civil and criminal penalties.
When their internet searches reached a dead end, they took the tunes to the airwaves, hoping listeners might have some clues. The two played a couple of songs on their morning show and asked listeners to contact them with any ideas on where they came from.
Their broadcast brought in a number of suggestions. One listener was convinced the band had played at his dad's pizza joint in Mankato during the '70s. He said the band was called "The Noteables," but Pierce had never heard of them. She later came across one of their albums and crossed that possibility off her list. The band was an all-white Dixieland lounge act and sounded nothing like the Mystery Record.
One by one, Pierce and Lind played the album for all 50 volunteers in their radio studio. Ric Roushar, their resident psychedelic expert and host of the Dr. Psycho Acoustics show, couldn't come up with a guess. Carl Nordmeier, the owner of Tune Town Records in Mankato, didn't recognize the music. Gary Campbell, one of the jazz and blues experts on staff, didn't have a clue. When they had exhausted nearly every music geek in town, it was time to take the Mystery Record to a bigger audience.
Pierce, who still owns an 8-track player and had just recently purchased a cell phone, decided to embrace technology in her quest for answers. She recorded a song she titled "Shuck and Jive" and put it on her radio blog in November 2008 so she could expand her search outside the Mankato area.
She made a plea to anyone who wanted to help:
There are nine tracks on the entire album, but I am sharing one of them with you. I have no idea what the song is called, I just refer to it as "shuck and jive," but it is a good example of the other songs heard on this "mystery album." When I listen to it, I dream that it is some long lost demo recording of a great regional band that never hit the big time, but is being rediscovered by record labels like Numero or Light in the Attic. Yes—it is just that good.
By the end of the week, the blog post was getting 500 hits a day, with visitors streaming in from Canada, Germany, France, Japan, and China. The "I'm Learning to Share" blog, which is often featured on popular aggregator BoingBoing, linked to the search.
A number of readers offered suggestions, including Chicago, California funk band WAR, and Steely Dan. One person also suggested they try getting in touch with Numero Group, an archival record label that specialized in long-lost soul tunes.
But Rob Sevier, one of the Numero Group founders, could only suggest that she track down regional record labels of the '70s for ideas.
Pierce emailed one member of a band from Texas that had a similar sound and put out one record in 1975. The answer was short and sweet: "Nope, not me."
In May 2009, Pierce and Lind planned to commemorate their radio show's nine-year anniversary by playing the entire Mystery Record. The album had taunted them for nearly half of their years on the air, after all.
Pierce and Lind prerecorded the show in the morning for the nighttime airing. As the album played out, Pierce decided to try searching the internet another time for some of the odd lyrics in the songs. She wrote down "shuck and jive," "I do love my lady," and 30-some other phrases.
When she typed in "I Do Love My Lady," she finally found a match. There was a compilation record, "Soulful Thangs Vol. 6" with a song titled "I Do Love My Lady" performed by a band named Haze. The site even let her listen to a clip.
Pierce streamed the clip. Sure enough, it was the same song she could hear coming off her studio's record player.
Now the real web searching began. Her first find was a 2005 City Pages feature listing "Minnesota's Fifty Greatest Hits."
"Another chapter in the Twin Cities' neglected history of pre-Prince R&B, Haze, formerly Purple Haze, scratched Billboard's soul chart in March of '75 with this groovy ballad in the vein of the Stylistics and Blue Magic," wrote Dylan Hicks. "Seven pieces strong on this, their lone hit, the group wheedles on bended knee with skyscraper harmonies, Paul Johnson's smooth bass rolls, Peter Johnson's organ swells, and lead singer Willy Thomas's falsetto swoops of devotion."