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There are vinyl fanatics, and then there are Secret Stash Records founders Eric Foss and Cory Wong. The two have turned their passion for all things vinyl into a living, leaving behind rather unsatisfying work for other labels to found their own in Minneapolis in 2009. Secret Stash, in Uptown on West Lake Street, focuses on releasing terrific, often underappreciated or long-forgotten music in stylish, collectible LP packages. One of them, for '60s soul singer Mickey Murray, will be celebrated with a release party at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday night, featuring what is sure to be a spirited, rare local performance by Murray himself.
Murray made quite a splash in the soul scene in 1967, recording a version of Otis Redding's "Shout Bamalama" that became a million-selling single for Sun Records' international label SSS. Murray seemed well on his way to stardom, frequently opening for Aretha Franklin, touring with Wilson Pickett, and establishing a good friendship with James Brown, who was from Augusta, Georgia, just like Murray. In fact, Brown helped get Murray a record deal with King Records, which was in the market for a replacement for Brown, who was in the process of leaving the label.
Murray went on to record People Are Together for King's Federal Records imprint in 1968, but when the influential radio stations first got a listen to the lead single (the album's title track), they deemed it too controversial and combative for the times, and they shied away from giving the track much airplay. At the time, King/Federal was also struggling financially, and the record was dropped. Murray can't even recall if the album was ever made available commercially.
And that is where Secret Stash comes in. The label has lovingly reissued this long-lost soul classic, finally making People Are Together available for both old and new fans. It not only provides a direct musical link to the past, it also serves as a fresh reminder that good songs are frequently found where you least expect them. Foss and Wong set out on ambitious searches the world over for music that both moved them and that they connected with. Initially they headed to Lima, Peru, to find modern Afro-Peruvian music to record and to seek out classic Peruvian cumbia and funk records they could reissue on Secret Stash.
That trip would lead directly to Secret Stash releasing a collection of modern Afro-Peruvian recordings from an ensemble called Peña, plus a compilation of old-school 70s Peruvian funk, a compilation of classic Afro-Peruvian standards called Rhythms of Black Peru, and Constelación by Los Destellos, which is a classic Peruvian cumbia/chicha album from the leading band in the genre. These are all underappreciated, perhaps forgotten musical gems that the label is painstakingly reissuing on limited-edition vinyl for those who love a rare and wonderful musical find.
Will Gilbert joined the Secret Stash team toward the end of 2010, at a time when the label was broadening its search for unheard or underappreciated music. One of Secret Stash's achievements, Gilbert says, was finding a contact to license 1970s Ghanaian highlife, Afrobeat, and funk records. "So far that has led to four reissues from that genre, including two K. Frimpong albums, a George Danquah record, and a Vis-A-Vis record," Gilbert says.
Secret Stash didn't stop there. "We have also reissued a record from Tabou Combo, a kompas group originally from Haiti, a Persian Funk compilation, and a Mexican funk record from Grupo Oz," Gilbert says.
Each reissued album has been painstakingly crafted by people who are emotionally and financially invested in how the music looks and sounds. That care and effort clearly shines through in the finished product.
To find out more about Secret Stash, visit the website (secretstashrecords.com) or their office in Uptown, or come to the Cedar on Saturday night to celebrate the reissue of Mickey Murray's People Are Together and hear a special performance by Murray. As Gilbert says, "Every record has a different story," and Murray's is thankfully still being told due to the vinyl fanatics at Secret Stash.
MICKEY MURRAY plays with DJs Jim McGuinn and Bill DeVille on SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, at the CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER; 612.338.2674.