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V/A - Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland, Ohio

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Artist: V/A

Album: Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland, Ohio

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Nov. 23, 2011

Boddie Recording Company started life as so many DIY ventures often do, as a brainchild birthed in the adolescent bedroom of its founder. An avid electronics enthusiast, Thomas Boddie turned his natural aptitude into an ambitious lifelong pursuit, honing his skills under various apprenticeships before striking out on his own at a time and place when success for a black entrepreneur was a long shot. Over the span of three decades, Boddie’s business experienced longevity on the Cleveland scene uncommon to its ilk thanks primarily to his passion, work ethic and a resilient openness toward recording nearly all comers. Also instrumental to the success of his venture was the collaborative support of his wife, Louise. The breadth of the couple’s interests bears out in the diversity of this comprehensive Numero Group collection. Alongside expected crate-dug local soul and funk flavors, there’s also a welcome assortment of gospel tracks hatched under the same independent-minded ethos. The musical and biographical eccentricities in this latter clutch frequently exceed those of their secular counterparts.

Tallying the number of artists and groups that turnstiled through the Boddie Studios, a fair percentage of flops and failures would understandably be par for the course. Curiously though, the creative hit-to-miss ratio is actually quite higher than the usual musical law of averages might indicate. For every derivative Stax or Muscle Shoals session clone, there exist a handful of genuine soul and gospel unicorns in answer. While a certified hit eluded the Boddies for virtually their entire run, and financial setbacks were a regular part of daily business, neither was one to be deterred from their shared goal of supplying a one-stop shop for aspiring regional music acts. That sort of sustained tenacity is rare in any industry, but as delineated in the sounds and documentation here, it’s an even more impressive feat considering the obstacles that Boddie was up against.

Boddie Recording Company – Cleveland, Ohio surveys the output of the three most prolific labels in the Boddie’s stable from 1965 to 1983. Artists on the Soul Kitchen imprint occupy the first disc, while selections from Luau and Bounty fill out the second and third. Other labels, like Plaid (the home of Boddie’s first single and originally intended as their jazz outlet), fizzled before finding an audience. Some of the teen market-oriented acts on Luau sound the most dated, with commercially-minded iterations of bubble gum R&B and boogaloo supplying the most common fodder for artistic expression. Tracks like A.C. Jones & the Atomic Aces’ “Oh Baby (I Love You)” and Little Anthony & the Detergents’ “Don’t Make Me Blue” telegraph their relative depth of content in their titles, and the second disc’s offerings, while decent, offer little that is truly out of the ordinary for the time.

The sounds are often edgier and more eclectic on the Soul Kitchen sides, with funk and rock elements foregrounded and formulaic song craft less frequent. Inter-Circle’s pair of instrumentals, “The Pusher” and “The Players,” combine heavy swirling organ, swollen riffing horns and slashing guitar to potent effect. A few of the cuts openly reference Rufus Thomas’s “Funky Chicken,” including Angela Alexander & J.D. Saddler’s humorous ode to domestic discord, “Don’t Make Me Kill You.” Chunky wah-wah guitar also plays a frequent and prominent role in many cuts, including Creation Unlimited’s “Chrystal Illusion” and Bo & the Metros’ slow burn instro-groove, “Buttered Out.” King James Version was one of the few the gospel ringers on Soul Kitchen, and their pair of tracks, “He’s Coming” and “He’s Forever,” presage the bounty of sacred-themed sounds on the set’s final disc.

The Bounty disc serves as a fitting companion to Numero’s earlier gospel funk compilations, with nearly every cut folding then-contemporary black music facets into sanctified songs of often highly personal nature. Unlike the other two labels surveyed, each of which specialized in 45 rpm releases, the majority of recordings on Bounty were self-financed by artists and their congregations as vanity LP projects. Ever the go-getter, Boddie was able to broker these mutually beneficial relationships through a side business he had repairing organs at local churches.

Rev. R.L. Hubbard’s dramatic vocal affectations on “Child of the King” get things started in fine fashion, running down heavenly praises over a curiously anomalous reggae dub beat. Brother Bill’s “What’s Happ’nin” couldn’t be more different with its throbbing electric bass groove gliding beneath his avuncular and lengthy rap about the urban temptations of sin. Corinthian Singers’ “Why? (It’s a Shame)” covers similar lyrical ground in its anti-drug message, but is most intriguing for the intricate guitar work and killer breakbeat at its core. Generic only in name, Gospel Ensemble’s “What You Need” joins a funky tambourine-heavy rhythm with a soulful female lead who evinces no shame in showing off a strong Aretha-influence.

Several songs borrow blatantly from the chart hits of the day, including Sound of Soul’s “Gospel Train” (a thinly-veiled riff on Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”) and “Jesus, You are My Shining Star” by Fantastic Lightning Ares, which resets The Manhattans famous romantic ode to an ebullient devotional vector. Juanita Ellis’ “Make a Joyful Noise” makes for an inspired closer to both disc and set, riffing off of a skeleton of Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” with a full gospel band and choir and reaching rousing heights.

Engaged in sum, the three discs also clearly illustrate the evolution of Boddie’s recording skills. While a number of the Luau cuts betray their boxy ’60s vintage as products of earlier iterations of the studio space, many of the Soul Kitchen and Bounty sides belie their low-budget beginnings with comparatively clear instrument separation and dynamic sound. Nothing here approaches the pristine fidelity of a Motown session, but the grainier edges and seat-the-pants production personify the Boddie charm.

As immediately edifying as much of the music is, the accompanying booklets are almost on another level entirely in terms of the wealth of information they contain. Photos and ephemera — including band business cards, PR glossies and 45-label facsimiles — abound, along with detailed annotations on each of the set’s tracks. A handful of essays elucidate the Boddie story and place it into cultural context while mapping all of the minor triumphs and major tribulations they endured. This sort of dedication to source materials is something of a Numero standard, but in this particular case (as with their definitive Syl Johnson set from last year), it still has the power to astound. Echoing the ethos of Boddie’s original venture, this thing is a labor of love and it shows in every aspect.

By Derek Taylor

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