Kendra Steiner Editions

January 6, 2020

“This Is Mainstream” (We Want Sounds CD, France)

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‘THIS IS MAINSTREAM’ (We Want Sounds, France, CD or 2-LP set)

from the back cover: ULTIMATE BREAKS & BEATS FROM MAINSTREAM RECORDS, THE SUPREME SOUND OF PRODUCER BOB SHAD, FUNKY TURNTABLE CLASSICS & HIGHLY SOUGHT-AFTER RARITIES!

French compilation CD of material recorded for Bob Shad’s MAINSTREAM label between 1971-1975, all taken from the master tapes.

  1. Saundra Phillips – Miss Fatback  3.09
  2. Afrique – Kissing My Love  3.08
  3. Hal Galper – This Moment  11.50
  4. December’s Children – Livin’ (Way Too Fast)  3.38
  5. Blue Mitchell – Blue’s Blues  7.08
  6. Maxine Weldon – Make It With You  2.56
  7. Reggie Moore – Mother McCree  2.57 LP2
  8. Jay Berliner – Papa Was A Rolling Stone  5.30
  9. Dave Hubbard – T.B.’s Delight  3.54
  10. Almeta Lattimore – These Memories  3.31
  11. Buddy Terry – Lean On Me (Lean On Him)  5.55
  12. Pete Yellin – Bird And The Ouija Board  12.35
  13. Sarah Vaughan – Just A Little Lovin’  3.10

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I reviewed a collection of soul material (on the UK Ace/Kent label) from Mainstream Records, circa early 70’s, a few years back, and it reminded me how much material was recorded by BOB SHAD for his little-label-that-could during its final push in the 1970’s. By the time I had a foot in jazz radio circa 1976-1977, Mainstream had already stopped releasing new jazz product, though we did have some of their albums in the station’s record library, and I remember playing tracks by some of my personal favorite Mainstream artists such as Blue Mitchell or Hadley Caliman or Charles Kynard when I was on-air after midnight.

There was a standard design to most Mainstream LP’s, and as someone who ran a small label myself for a number of years, I understand the advantages of that—-it keeps costs down, it allows you to focus on the music and the promotion instead of the design, and it gives your product an instantly recognizable look in the marketplace. I used to buy records in the early 70’s at a junk store on the north side (the side toward Boulder) of Golden, Colorado, where I would stop after high school in the afternoon. They had lots of radio station promos from Boulder and Denver radio stations, with the station name and date rec’d scribbled in magic marker on the front. I got many of the releases on the US branch of Blue Horizon there (and those changed my life), and I also got some Mainstream jazz albums there. I saw many 45’s on Mainstream too, but one only has so much money, and most of the artists I had either not heard of or were not people I was actively searching for.

It was very clear that Bob Shad was aiming the 70’s Mainstream label at a primarily African-American audience, and much of the label’s output was rooted (particularly in the rhythm section) in funk and soul. The playing on top of the beat might be quite free and “spiritual” in the Pharaoh Sanders sense, but there was a funky and even African undercurrent to the records…and this was true even when the artist (say Hal Galper) was not Black. Of course, it was the jazz side of the Mainstream catalog that was mostly of interest to me back then, and that’s still true today.

I always assumed Mainstream had a problem competing with both the major labels (in distribution) and the more focused labels specializing in Black music such as Stax or Brunswick (which I assumed had better contacts in the small radio-station community). Also, the funky nature of much of the jazz output was not the kind of thing that generated five-star reviews at Downbeat magazine! It did not surprise me when Mainstream went under–it’s hard to run a small label and compete with the big boys (and yes, they were pretty much male). I was happy to see when in the 80’s and 90’s the Mainstream catalog became very collectible because of hip-hop sampling and crate-digging DJ’s.

I’m also happy to see a new round of quality Mainstream reissues, from the master tapes and tastefully presented, from the French “We Want Sounds” label. Evidently, Mainstream itself was revived as a company (I remember seeing various reissues prior to that coming out which were related to Tamara Shad, Bob’s daughter) in 2017 by Bob Shad’s grandchildren, Mia and Judd Apatow, children of Tamara Shad. While there are a number of Mainstream reissues on We Want Sounds, if you want a one-volume distillation of everything that was great about the early 70’s Mainstream sound, the new THIS IS MAINSTREAM comp is a dream come true.

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As you listen to younger vocalists such as Saundra Phillips and Almeta Latimore, 70’s soul artists who had little to do with the “older people’s music” of 60’s soul, and then to long trippy but funk-rooted jazz instrumentals from the likes of Hal Galper and Blue Mitchell, to leisurely studio-jazz covers of pop and soul songs by Jay Berliner and Buddy Terry, to old-school vocalists such as Maxine Weldon and Sarah Vaughan doing 70’s “uptown” soul covers of the compositions of Mann-Weil and David Gates, all mixed together and programmed for maximum variety, it becomes clear (as it was to me, in a vague and undefined way, back in the 70’s seeing and hearing the Mainstream discs that I did) that to Bob Shad, this was all one music. Obviously, he understood the marketplace and knew that marketing jazz albums and soul 45’s were totally different activities with different contact persons in radio and promotion, but Shad seemed to have a kind of visionary quality, a man with a vision of the unity of African-American music styles (no matter what the ethnicity or cultural background of the musicians playing on the records, all of whom shared the vision) in the early 70’s. As you play this album, and you’ll want to put it on “repeat” as it’s such a wonderful mixture that’s expertly programmed, like the deepest DJ set, your jaw will drop at what a beautiful set it is.

I will definitely be getting some more of these We Want Sounds reissues of the Mainstream catalog (I see they are on LP too, for those so inclined). Here is a list of some I see for sale online:

JACK WILKINS, windows

BUDDY TERRY, awareness

HAROLD LAND, a new shade of blue

ALICE CLARK, alice clark

and some compilations including

INNER PEACE: RARE SPIRITUAL FUNK AND JAZZ GEMS, THE SUPREME SOUND OF PRODUCER BOB SHAD

FEELING GOOD: FUNK, SOUL, AND DEEP JAZZ GEMS, THE SUPREME SOUND OF PRODUCER BOB SHAD

kynard

As a lifelong blues fan I’m well aware of Shad’s late 40’s/early 50’s work with SITTIN’ IN WITH (SIW) records and as a lifelong jazz fan I’m well aware of his work at EmArcy later in the 50’s. And every fan of 60’s psychedelia knows the many great albums released on Mainstream. I know that the 70’s Mainstream output is not to the taste of many reading the KSE blog–hey, the “uptown” 73-75 soul is not to my taste either–but it’s great to see the jazz especially be given a second life, and unfortunately, some of these albums may be getting wider exposure now than they did in their original 70’s release. I know that some I stumbled across in used records stores in the 80’s and 90’s I NEVER saw a physical copy of in the racks in the 70’s.

Let me end this piece by reprinting my review of the Mainstream SUPER-DUPER LOVE compilation on Ace-Kent, which I published in Ugly Things a few years ago. It provides a capsule history of Bob Shad. Also, before that, here is a mention of the revival of Mainstream from producer/broadcaster Bob Porter, a man whose name is synonymous with Soul Jazz and who was a colleague (working for other labels, of course) of Shad for many years. I’m glad to hear that Shad had a good life after leaving the record business behind and moving to California. I always wondered what happened to him in the post-Mainstream, pre-internet age!

Bob Porter: https://www.wbgo.org/post/judd-apatow-revives-mainstream-bob-shads-independent-record-label#stream/0

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V.A.–Super Duper Love: Mainstream Hits and Rarities, 1973-76 (Kent, UK), CD

Bob Shad produced jazz/blues greats such as Charlie Parker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Big Bill Broonzy, and later he was the first to bring national attention to Janis Joplin, Lou Reed, Gary S. Paxton, The Amboy Dukes, and Skip Battin. He began in the mid-40s working for Savoy and National, and then started his own label, Sittin’ In With (SIW), which was largely blues-oriented, then worked A&R for Mercury in the 50’s  and ran their acclaimed jazz subsidiary Emarcy, then went independent again with Time and Brent Records in the late 50’s, finally emerging with his best-remembered label in the mid-1960’s, the legendary Mainstream.

Shad’s Brent label began issuing soul 45’s in the mid-60’s (collected previously on Kent’s excellent CD “Brent–Superb 60’s Soul Sounds”). By the early 70’s, much of Mainstream’s LP output was soul-jazz (a genre they stood by longer than other labels), but most of their 1970’s 45’s were aimed at the soul charts and Black radio stations. Super Duper Love focuses on the last few years of Shad’s soul releases on Mainstream and on related labels such as Brown Dog, Fast Track, and IX Chains. Most of this material has never been reissued.

The good news is that this is a well-programmed archival dig through 24 obscure singles most of us have never heard…although 9 of them made the R&B charts back in the day. The not-so-good news is that, unlike some productions coming out of the South at the time, these recordings might be a bit “uptown” for the Ugly Things reader. The performers range from well-known artists in between labels and trying to stay current such as Little Richard and Lenny Welch, to many strong lesser-known female vocalists, a number of whom are in the then-popular “sister to sister” talk-singing style, to a number of vocal groups such as The Dramatics and The Steptones. Soul music was evolving during this period, and that evolution is made clear as we proceed from 1973 through 1976 here.

However, faulting these recordings because they don’t sound like something from a small label in Jackson, Mississippi, or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is not really fair. This was a New York label, and it also licensed material from major cities such as Detroit and Washington, DC. Urban Black radio of the day in Northern cities wanted sophisticated records, something that sounded modern and “classy,” and Mainstream’s soul 45’s from the final years of the label certainly delivered that very well. Performers such as Doris Duke and Sandra Phillips and Darlene Jackson and Calvin Arnold are as deep and soulful as the best artists from that period. Just imagine you are tuning into a 1974-75 soul radio station in Philadelphia or Baltimore. It’s a tribute to Bob Shad that a man who began his career in the 1940’s could still be issuing fresh and modern sounds that competed quite well on the playlists of Black radio stations of the mid-1970’s–and this is a masterful compilation of first-rate material, if 1973-76 uptown soul is to your taste. Bob Shad has left us a quality and diverse soul legacy!

Bill Shute, Ugly Things Magazine

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