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New Breed R&B

Ady Croasdell

Ace has been in the R&B business since the early 80s when LPs from the likes of Huey Smith, Earl King, Rosco Gordon and Ike Turner were released. In 1982 our Kent label kicked off with “For Dancers Only” and “For Dancers Also”, inspired by my and Randy Cozens’ 6TS Rhythm ‘N’ Soul Society functions. Alongside the soul sounds the LPs featured tracks by Lowell Fulson, Z. Z. Hill, Vernon Garrett, Ike & Tina and Johnny Otis all of which were on the R&B side. Kent continued to feature R&B sides on its label-based CDs of Carnival, Excello and Poncello and there were compilations from R&B giants Chess - “Chess Club Rhythm & Soul” and Atlantic - “At The Club” devoted to where R&B met soul.

In 2001 Kent came up with “New Breed” to describe the sort of R&B records that were getting played on the emerging dance scene frequented primarily by second-generation Mods and Northern Soul dropouts. The increased interest led to prices of the most popular dancefloor plays rising; vintage music fans, record collectors and dealers took notice. A high percentage of the spins were from the early 60s, a period which had been somewhat overlooked by traditional blues collectors. As black music began to experiment with different productions, instrumentation and backing vocals, many collectors felt the music had been bastardised and any pop tendency was looked down on. Some stunning records with poppy choruses or heavily featured organs and the like were overlooked by collectors but this new dance scene was paying more attention to the beat than the virtuosity of the guitarist so a sub-genre came about. Ace having purchased Modern and Kent records in 1990, that catalogue was a natural one to mine for our first foray specifically targeting the new scene. With the help of Manchester’s Hideaway club DJs we put an impressive collection of R&B together and adopted the “New Breed” moniker of Jimmy Holiday’s 1967 Kent release of the same name. It was an appropriate raver of a record that summed up the burgeoning scene’s vitality and freshness.

The CD was very well received and within months “New Breed” was being used as a term for this new approach to black music. A year later we delved into the vaults of King and Federal records, an even better source with monsters such as Mike Pedecin’s ‘Burnt Toast And Black Coffee’, Little Willie John ‘I’m Shakin’’ and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s ‘I Say I Love You’. Running parallel with interest in the blues was the influence of the Belgium-originated Popcorn scene in the UK. These records were more mid-tempo than what would normally be played here but Popcorners had a thirty year history even then. Their DJs had discovered some sublime black music grooves from this very period over those years. They were not averse to slowing down records that did not fit their perfect dance groove, so some were already suited for UK plays at the correct rpm. Many of the black Popcorn records were accepted onto the New Breed scene simply because they were brilliant, previously overlooked tunes. The mod end of the crowd in particular had no trouble adapting to them.

So in 2008 we brought out the CD “New Breed R&B with Added Popcorn” with tracks like Nappy Brown’s ‘Coal Miner’ and Harold Atkins’ ‘Big Ben’ which fitted neatly with the raucous R&B of Banny Price’s ‘You Love Me Pretty Baby’ and Luther Ingram’s dancefloor sensation ‘Oh Baby Don’t You Weep’. In 2012 we produced a second volume from the deep King vaults and the following year saw “New Breed Blues With Black Popcorn” emphasising the musical hue of Popcorn on there.

Some of the tracks used on the Various Artists CDs were tasters to label stories or solo projects that usually appeared on our Ace label. The Tiny Topsy and Lula Reed shared CD of their Federal recordings was sub-titled “Queens Of New Breed R&B”. Little Willie John’s R&B sound is a cornerstone of New Breed and Ace has four solo CDs riddled with dance classics. Kent Harris’ early productions were spotlighted on “Kent Harris’ R&B Family” Ace CD in 2012 and “Foxy R&B; Richard Stamz Chicago Blues” on the same label the following year, was mainly mid to uptempo R&B that would entertain New Breeders with a hunger.

By the time of those releases younger collectors who had been attracted to the new dance scene were broadening their interests and inevitably finding the wonderful music of the previous decade. Ace of course had been issuing exactly that throughout its thirty plus years and compilations by Etta James, Young Jessie, 5 Royales, Hank Ballard and Otis Williams were just some of the many compilations that would widen the R&B experience. The recently released Ace CD “Cracking The Cosimo Code” is an education in New Orleans R&B as well as a great listen.

Ace and Kent continue to lead the way in all things R&B with our access to master tapes, issued or unheard. We continue to find musical gems, frequently making their first digital (sometimes any) appearance.

Selected releases