By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
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The irony of the 45 rpm single is it was once a disposable product marketed to teenagers. Today, they're objects of obsession, desire, and even lust. Some sell for thousands, while most remain the plastic waste product of a fickle society. For an artist of the '60s or '70s, a single — an ephemeral two or three minutes of triumph and grace — may be the sole physical relic of unfulfilled, long-forgotten aspirations.
Overdue for revival is the Twin Cities' R&B legacy, which local archival label Secret Stash celebrates with a new compilation album, Twin Cities Funk & Soul: Lost R&B Grooves From Minneapolis/St. Paul, 1964-1979. It's the imprint's 25th release, but the first to feature Minnesota music. The double album, derived largely from ultra-rare 45s, is accompanied by a stunning 32-page book.
City Pages met with the Secret Stash staff in their basement lair off Lake Street. They had just finished the album's extensive liner notes and were clearly lost in the history of the Valdons, Maurice McKinnies, and the Prophets of Peace. Boyish general manager Will Gilbert doesn't look the part of a historian, but he's quick to rattle off a list of long-gone clubs that booked black R&B bands in the city: the Blue Note, Cozy's Bar, the Flame, and the legendary King Solomon's Mines, located in the ground floor of the Foshay Tower.
Twin Cities Funk & Soul All-Stars with Wanda Davis, Willie Walker, Maurice Jacox, and more play an album release show on Saturday, September 22, at Cedar Cultural Center; 612.338.2674
"When we got into it we felt we couldn't do some half-assed thing," Gilbert explains, pointing out that no one to date has compiled a history of Minnesota R&B. "This is the only time it's going to get done, and we can't screw it up for everyone else."
The first thing we asked Secret Stash co-founder Eric Foss was about unearthing the rare recordings compiled on the new album. "For the stuff where we have the tapes it's a pretty religious experience," he says. "The Valdons stuff came from a 16-track master, the Prophets of Peace stuff came from a 16-track master, but most of it is from 45s."
"The last time the Wanda Davis record sold it went for over $1,500," adds Gilbert. "We can do all our work, getting in touch with Davis and with other artists to talk with them for the liner notes and for the licensing of the tracks, but often they don't have copies of these records and there's not tapes around we can rely on." In those instances, Secret Stash turned to the Twin Cities DJs who have kept the music alive, especially the Hipshaker crew and Hotpants, who are celebrating a fifth anniversary this weekend.
The 21 tracks on Twin Cities Funk & Soul would cost a collector as much as $3,500, if the original records could even be found for sale. Even more staggering is the irony of the pop-culture cycle — DJs now serving to preserve the music they once rendered obsolete. Foss explains: "When we talked to these bands," says Foss, "the thing that kept coming up was that disco killed black bands."
Take the case of Morris Wilson, a musician and an activist for rights of musicians, especially black musicians. He started the Minnesota Minority Musician Association, and they fought against clubs playing records and tapes instead of hiring bands.
"I read an article in the Insider from 1978 about how he staged a march downtown," Foss adds. "They were chanting, 'Disco is jive! Bring back live!' but only eight people were there. No one cared."
And this led Secret Stash to the most exciting part of Twin Cities Funk & Soul — the album's release show. Secret Stash will present a classic R&B revue at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday featuring Willie Walker, Maurice Jacox, members of Prophets of Peace, Willie and the Bees, Band of Thieves, the Exciters, the Champions, and — for the first time in years — the reunited Valdons and singer Wanda Davis. The show will be unlike anything seen in the cities for decades, complete with vintage stage clothes and vintage gear.
Rehearsals for the release show have been brimming with a sense of "looming excitement," according to Secret Stash's Cory Wong, who has toiled away to make the concert happen. "A lot of [the musicians] have a history together. A lot of them haven't seen each other for years. We could sit for hours and hours and talk about the past and not get anything done," he adds, explaining the challenge of corralling the energy into a collaboration. "They're feeling like kids again getting to perform this stuff."
"We did shows with Prince," says Prophets of Peace bassist Anthony Scott. "And his band was the weak band. We were the stars — Prophets of Peace, Band of Thieves, the Valdons." But his pride isn't stuck in the past. "I'm hoping we can continue this thing."