Ady Croasdell - Gettin' To Me
In the mid-90s when I wandered into Vinyl Experience a second-hand collectors’ shop on Hanway Street in London’s West End, for the first time in a few weeks and while I was checking out the various specialist collectors boxes that they kept behind the counter, I noticed about 50 sealed cardboard boxes under the LP racks. On asking the shop owner what they were he said, “Oh that’s the remnants of the Carlin collection we got a few months ago”. “What’s that all about then?” I ventured. It turned out that this famous music publishing company had decided to throw out all its old demos and samples as surplus to requirements. Mark Hayward, the shop’s owner, had snapped up the massive collection which included demos and acetates from every major popular music act of the 50s, 60s and 70s, including Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie etc. etc. etc.
After turning luminous green with envy, I realised that Mark knew which were the obviously rare soul records (as did everyone with the advent of Record Collector magazine), but, as he was sketchy on the more obscure items and ignorant of US labels altogether, a bit of damage limitation was in order.
I got permission to look through the remnants of the 45s collection in the boxes on the floor (I can grovel with the best of them) and in the first handful of the first box, I found a 7” metal acetate by Vicki Baines. I knew she’d had two Parkway singles and one was nothing special and I could only see the A-side, ‘Are You Kidding’. Usually these publishing acetates are cut on one side only, so the odds on it being the side I wanted on the flip were still pretty long. I turned it over and there it was, ‘Country Girl’ the legendary stomper, first played by Richard Searling at the Casino some twenty years before and still as rare as rockinghorse shit: but this was its first ever incarnation. My heart pounded, my hands went sweaty and my throat dried up, but I still had to look cool in front of Mark. I flipped it casually on to the counter to be the foundation of a pile that I would eventually buy and made small talk about anything but records. Using a well-rehearsed technique, learnt on my many US buying expeditions, I covered it up with any old rubbish record, before curiosity was aroused by Mark or any stray punter wandering in – believe me, it happens.
My thoughts were then of sheer avarice. If I’d found this in my first handful, and I had about five hundred similar handfuls to go, I was going to be retired by half past four!
Unfortunately that was the best 7” disc in the whole of the collection, although I did get about 400 great items, including Wayne Anthony on Walana, Dean Parrish and Porgy and the Monarchs (both titles) on Musicor, Lee Roy’s ‘Tears’ and many others. The deal was very reasonable – a couple of quid each, I think - so I was contented and eager to show off my new acquisitions to anyone I could brag to. Before that happened however, my experience taught me to explore all possibilities and I asked Mark if he had any more boxes lying about. There were no more singles, but there were a similar number of 10” metal acetates down in the basement, all publishers’ demos, with not even the names of the artists on them. Well, “I wouldn’t mind looking at those”; so we set up a date for later in the week as he was away on business for the next few days. I then had to go home and keep schtum for fear of arousing other vultures’ (Sorry, dealers’) interest and blowing the deal.
After several sleepless nights I made it down to the basement armed with my Soundburger (portable record player and headphones) and proceeded to play through about 2000 slabs of metal which varied from unplayable 78s to raw piano-only demos, to fully-orchestrated, wonderful songs I had never heard before. From that batch I got two copies of Lou Johnson’s unreleased version of ‘The Panic Is On’ (plus one 78 version!), Jean Carter’s ‘Like One’ (an alternative take to the Decca single), a pair of 4-track 33rpm Jobete publishing demos that included Eddie Holland’s beautiful ‘Day Dreamer’, the original demo of the Sapphires’ ‘Evil One’, a great new girl dancer called ‘Why Can’t It Be Tonight’ (two copies), and many terrific demos, ballads, classics and alternate takes that would keep me full of music for months.
Again the deal was more than reasonable and all that was left for me to do was to make that one last hopeful enquiry – “Is that it, or have you got any more hiding away?” Yes, there were a few more boxes of odds and sods hanging about on the first floor of the building, would I like to look at those? Oh, why not, what the hell, I felt like spending a few quid.
It was a mixture of UK and US 45s, 7” acetates that for some reason were universally naff. But lying among a pile of not particularly good 10” acetates was one solitary 8” acetate. A quick spin on the Soundburger showed it to be black, mid-60s, a powerful male vocal and a bit of a stomper once it got going. I threw it on the pile to worry about later. Oh what was the title? ‘Gettin’ To Me’: now this is where the story really begins.
On getting the record out of the shop, at the cost of £8, I was keen to get it home and assess just how good it was. The first play on a proper record player was illuminating. The song has a quiet beginning of bass, guitar and drums and the deep-voiced, rather mellow, male vocalist enters unobtrusively before the pace picks up and the bass and girly chorus join in, then the whole ensemble goes quite ballistic after only 30 seconds of music. At this point, a strange thing happens, the singer turns to plan B for the adrenaline-filled section and his voice changes from Dr Jekyll’s restrained, mellifluous tones to Soul Brother Hyde’s raw-voiced testifying. Have they shot their bolt too soon? No, they calm it down again before resuming the verse with renewed vigour. The middle-eight instrumental break shows the range and talents of a top notch New York production with the strings and girly chorus to the fore, bizarre percussion instruments and a fine horn section contributing to the richness of the sound. One more great verse and chorus then it flows into a long out-tro with the singer wailing away in his distraught persona.
Like him, I was left breathless and all for less than the price of a Kent CD!!
Next up, two tasks. Get it played and known, and find out who the hell it was.
One big clue was the sheet music that accompanied it, tucked into the aged buff sleeve. It was a Leiber and Stoller song, very important to the history of popular music, but giving no more clues as to the performer, as I couldn’t think of any uptempo stompers that the illustrious pair had ever written.
The following weekend I bumped into New York soul music specialist, Rob Hughes, at Camden Record Fair in North London. I mentioned the record to him and quick as a flash he came back, “Oh, that’s the unreleased Ben E King recording from the ‘Where’s The Girl’ session.” Fortune had shone on me again: I’d chanced upon one of only a handful of people in the world who would have known something that obscure.
The session was mysterious in its own right. Leiber and Stoller had produced some of Ben E’s great early 60s songs, like ‘Spanish Harlem’ and ‘Stand By Me’, but they hadn’t cut anything on him since 1963. Bert Berns had taken over, but by 1966 he was busy setting up the Shout and Bang labels. Leiber and Stoller themselves had been involved with the Red Bird and Blue Cat labels, but they were tailing off their productions. Presumably Atlantic were hoping to rekindle a winning partnership, but it was not to be. Only two songs were cut, the other being ‘Where’s The Girl’, a fine big city ballad that didn’t earn a release at the time either. It was belatedly put out on Atco 6596 as the flip of the Detroit-produced ‘It’s Amazing’, some two years later. Rob Hughes speculated that the big-city ballad style sounded dated by 1966 whenAtlanticwere developing their grittier southern style for most of their major artists. As for ‘Gettin’ To Me’, it is such an unusual sound, so atypical of Ben E King and Leiber and Stoller, that they must have put that down as an expensive aberration they would have to swallow.
The next revelation also came from Rob. Apparently, the Atlantic tapes for the session were destroyed and no one had ever heard the song since its recording. So, the 8” metal disc that I was now the proud owner of, was truly unique. A genuine musical find.
Knowing about recording sound quality from my work with Kent, I realised I had to get the music dubbed to digital tape before I played the disc again, to preserve it as well as possible, and that was duly done.
Then the task of getting the record known to the Rare Soul public and Northern Soul dancers in particular, began. The quality of the track meant that was not so hard, as it stood on its own merit, but the unusual rhythmic structure meant a few anxious plays at the 100 Club all-nighters, before the record’s sheer class registered. Since then, it has developed into something of a rare soul anthem and its life cycle was finally completed when Ace Records negotiated a 25 CD release deal with Atlantic Recording Corp.
“Gettin’ To Me” was the first title I inked-in on my series of CDs within the Ace family’s deal. Subsequent tape research proved the early dubbing of the disc to have been vital as no session tape existed. However its discovery and reissue can be credited to the Northern Soul scene, whose hunger and appreciation of rare soul dance records shows no sign of ever being satisfied. Without their demands, and eventual appreciation, such gems would have languished in dark rooms forever.
The serendipity of this story is only matched by the fact that I have scoured record shops, warehouses, producers’ collections and label owners’ garages all over the US for the past 25 years, but found the most important record I’m ever likely to find, a mere stroll away from my flat.