Tag Archives: 45

Cliff Nobles and Co: The Horse

Another installment of 45 Fridays: “The Horse” by Cliff Nobles and Co.

This right here is a bboy classic. I used to listen and dance to this song all the time in Philly and I was ecstatic when I bumped into it shortly after I started collecting records. “The Horse” is the bass-driven instrumental B-side of “Love Is Alright” which features Cliff Nobles singing. I remember being at the record shop, hearing the A-side and thinking, “this song sounds familiar.. but something is off about it”. But once I played the flip I instantly recognized it and had to get it.

Cliff Nobles & Co: The Horse

I thought that would be the end of it but the song popped up again while I was reading “A House On Fire“, a book about the history of Philadelphia Soul. It turns out that the record was produced in Philly (you can see that from the label — “Phil L.A. of Soul”) and that it has a strange story behind it.

Local Philly producer Jesse James and arranger Bobby Martin took singer Cliff Nobles into Virtue studios to record “Love is Alright”; all they had with them were the lyrics that James wrote and an expectation that the in-house musicians would figure out the rest. These musicians (guitarists Bobby Eli and Norman Ray Harris, bassist Ronnie Baker, vibraphonist Vince Montana, and drummer Earl Young) worked with Martin to figure out the melody for the song and soon they were able to get a recording together. And that was it for James. He was so confident that the song was a hit that, when asked about the flip side, he said: “I don’t give a shit, man. Use the backing track”.

And then he left, alongside Nobles, who sang his part and had little else to do that day at the studio. So Bobby Martin, with Frank Virtue and the key musicians, tweaked the backing track and ended up with “The Horse”, which was also credited to Cliff Nobles and Co. And it turned out that James was not as clairvoyant as he thought he was. The record began slowly dying out when it was first released. But then a DJ in Tampa, Florida played the B-side and the song sold ten-thousand copies in a week in Tampa alone. And Nobles, who wasn’t even in the studio when the song was recorded, soon had a hit that sold two-million nationwide. Unfortunately, the musicians who created the song got little more than their session fee. And Martin couldn’t get much more for them when he bugged James about it.

“The Horse” was a lucky turn of events for James and Nobles, who made it big with minimal effort, and it’s unfortunate that the musicians on deck didn’t get more compensation for their work. The good thing that came out of it was that all of a sudden, the guys who put together “The Horse” became locally famous and were highly sought after by Philly producers and labels owners. So karma took care of them, and of James too whom the band refused to work with again.

I didn’t choose this record because it’s a rare find, but because it’s an example of how much my appreciation for music has increased since I started collecting and researching records. I used to listen and dance to this song all the time in college, but I didn’t even know its name! Let alone that it was produced in Philly or that it had a strange story behind.

Also, make sure to check out the upcoming gigs I got lined up.

*Pretty much, all of the info about “The Horse” I found in “A House on Fire”, which is a phenomenal book about how Kenneth Gamble, Thom Bell, and Leon Huff shaped the sound of Philadelphia Soul. I highly recommend it.


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The Juggernaut Database

I wouldn’t be taking advantage of my records if I wasn’t listening to them all the time, especially at work or on the go. But I obviously can’t be expected to constantly carry a turntable and a stack of 45s around with me. That’s just silly, but there is an obvious alternative. I just need to digitize the records (easy!) and listen to them on my ipod, which seemingly solves the problem of portability and access.

But after digitizing about 150 records (~300 songs), I realized I was returning to an old pattern of play. Even though I had the records at home, transforming them into an iTunes list of song names really depleted the music of something… essential. It felt like business as usual and reminded me of how things used to be before I started The 45 Brains. But fortunately, I have taken drastic measures to avoid this “digital corruption” by starting a new project.

I call it “The Juggernaut Database”.

I’ll be straight about this, this new project is hard work and will take a long time to complete. But the beauty of it lies in the work required to complete it. In essence, the problem I was beginning to have with my digitized collection was that I was losing touch with the physical records. I was filtering all of the sensory information associated with vinyl down to a bland pill, to just another song name in a list. My interaction with the music was becoming passive, as it once was long ago. In contrast, The Juggernaut Database aims to remedy this issue by forcing me to interact with each record I care about. For instance, I recently input a batch of 30 records into The Database and it took me about 5 days of on-and-off work, that I did in the mornings between the hours of 7-9am. And the effects are immediate. Let me walk you through my 7-step program.

(1) The Batch

There are a lot of steps that need to be taken before a record enters The Database. So you’d assume it may be best to go record by record, focusing on one 45 at a time. But instead, I decided to batch a bunch of records (30 to be exact) into a “working pile”. I try to pick different artists and labels for diversity’s sake and this has a surprising added benefit. Songs in the working pile come to be associated with each other because they go through the process together, which means I handle and listen to them as a rough 2-3 hour mix instead of on a song-by-song basis. Each song now fits within the context of the batch.

(2) The Raw Scan

The most obvious thing that is missing from my digitized collection is the visual information of each record. By which I mean the colors, scratches, stickers, and designs that make each record unique. The Raw Scan is integrally important, and it takes forever to get through! But I get to feel, handle, and see both sides of each record and therefore develop a strong connection with the record.

Step 2: The Raw Scan

Step 2: The Raw Scan

(3) The Album Cover

Next, I open up photoshop. Each scan (for a batch of 30 records, that’s ~60 scans!) is rotated, cropped, and transformed to bring out all the beauty inherent in each record. This opens up the potential for future artistic work too.

Step 3: The Album Cover

Step 3: The Album Cover

(4) The Digitization

This part is obvious and necessary. I go from vinyl to AIFF (not mp3) because you can attach meta data and the sound quality is practically the same as a wav file. I attach my mixer to my macbook pro and record on audacity (free software, eh). I play the records straight off of the 1200s.

(5) The Transition Playlist

I put all of the newly recorded songs into a temporary playlist; this is my favorite part. Here I BPM each song, pick out a genre that makes sense to me (I have my own system that I adopted from Dick Vivian), and I repeatedly listen to the batched songs at work. I finally attach an “album cover” to each song which is basically the cleaned up scan. The ~60 songs will sit in this transition playlist, as a rough mix, for as long as I need them to. Until I feel that I know each song by heart before I move them out into…

(6) The Juggernaut Database

Here, I don’t search for songs by name, but instead pick them out by the “album art”, just like I would if my box of 45s was in front of me. Each record is also numbered and I input the information into a mega-excel file.

Step 6: The Juggernaut Database

Step 6: The Juggernaut Database

(7) The Purple Sleeve

Once a record gets put into The Database, it gets a new purple sleeve and a sticker with the song names and BPMs. I got the idea for this from DJ Foxx Boogie who told me that DJ Froz1 does something similar. So when I’m home I can immediately see how much work I have in front of me because only a small fraction of the collection has this color sleeve.

Step 7: The Purple Sleeve

Step 7: The Purple Sleeve

And that’s The Juggernaut Database; a.k.a. the way for me to re-establish my connection with vinyl. Each record now requires an inordinate amount of work and effort from me, so I no longer feel disconnected when I’m at lab and listening to my digitized playlist. The songs aren’t just abstract files on my computer but instead maintain a more meaningful existence. And searching for songs in The Database now has that “at home” feeling. Overall, I would say it takes about 30 minutes for a record, from start to finish, to enter The Database, but the time is all worth it.

Lesson? Music shouldn’t be a passive experience. Take action and engage with it!

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I bought my first 45 at Rooky Ricardo’s Records, but not on my first visit to the shop.

I first walked in during my initial exploration of Lower Haight, the neighborhood that I had just moved into. I didn’t buy any records then, mostly because I did not have a reason to buy any; it would take a few more months after that point before I came to terms with my disconnection with music. I shyly entered the store and walked around mindlessly, I was trying to make myself look as confident as possible. The storeowner, a man by the name of Dick Vivian, whom I will later develop a close friendship with, asked if he could help me. I thought my cover was blown, that the storeowner saw through my feeble attempts to look coolheaded and knowledgeable. I said no and quickly walked out of the store with my gaze glued to the floor. It would be months before I saw the inside of Rooky’s again.

I made my second visit on December 5 of last year. The whole experience seems like a blur, but I at least walked out of the store with something in hand. Dick, once again, asked me if he could help me find something; I later found out that he asks all his customers if they need help, even if they look coolheaded and knowledgeable. This time I said yes, and that I was looking for “funk 45s”. In hindsight, this was a silly answer because almost everything in Dick’s shop could fall under that category. Nonetheless, Dick didn’t laugh at me and instead pointed me to everything in the store. I browsed around and then bumped into the James Brown stack in the $2 soul section; I thought to myself “finally, something I recognize!”. The first 45 I ever picked up was Soul Brother Number One’s, “These Foolish Things” with “(Can You) Feel It” on the A side. This gave me the confidence to pick up a few more records in the vicinity before moving towards one of the store’s listening stations, a collection of four technica turntables lined up against the wall, each with a differently colored headphone set.

James Brown and The Famous Flames

I bought about $55 worth of records that day but, aside from “These Foolish Things”, I don’t remember what all of them were (a very scratchy “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl was in the pile though).  All I know is that I had a bag of records in my hand, and I was happy. I went home and put them on my desk. Now what? Well, that’s about all I could do with them at that point. I couldn’t listen to any of them because, well, I didn’t own a turntable.

I would return to the shop again and again, on a weekly basis, each time buying a sizable stack of records and making a financial dent in my pocket. Dick caught on to the type of music I liked and started suggesting 45s from the “Girl Groups” section. I was shocked and surprised at how dead-on his picks were, and now I was buying high quality 45s that weren’t so scratchy. I, in turn, caught on to what labels I should keep an eye out for and I began to understand that anything on Galaxy, Invictus, or Stax was going to be good. But the problem was still there though. I still didn’t own a turntable and I was too ashamed and embarrassed to admit that to Dick. I continued coming to the shop and buying records, and then placing them in neat stacks on my desk at home. It would take at least another month and several stacks of unheard records for me to buy my first turntable: a Numark pt-01.

I bought it on DJ Foxx Boogie’s recommendation (if you don’t know about Foxx Boogie then check out Control Freaks and The Get Free Movement). The Numark is portable, can run on batteries, and it came with a built-in USB connection so that I can convert the vinyl records to mp3. In hindsight, I think that a small part of me didn’t want to completely give up on digital music. But the more honest answer is that I naively thought records were incredibly fragile and that I had to preserve them as much as I could. It seems I had a lot to learn, and my journey was just starting.

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Less than two years ago, I went to Amnesia, on Valencia between 19th and 20th, and heard Vinnie Esparza spin records with his friend who I currently only know of as Chris. They have incredible taste in music and I highly recommend you check them out. They also own a record shop on haight called Groove Merchant that only sells gold.

On that night at Amnesia, I heard them play this crazy funk track, and I had to know what it was. I got on stage and asked the DJ what he was playing. It was a 45 by Lou Courtney called Hey Joyce. I was happy to get the name because I thought I’d rush home and ask my friends back in Philly if they can find it for me. But turned out, I already had the song on my ipod. This was embarrassing and a little depressing. I’ve had this music for so many years and I didn’t know about Hey Joyce; who knows how many other gems were hidden in it?

This was the first major step towards my entry into the vinyl scene.

The second step was more of a giant leap. It happened about nine months ago. That’s when I traded my entire digital music library with a friend.

(Side note: If you are working for some copyright legals department and you are thinking of filing some case against me then you should realize right away that (1) there is actually no proof that I did this and (2) there is a non-zero probability that this entire post is fictional.)

Anyways, it wasn’t my idea and I was reluctant to do this. I was willing to share music but just not my whole hard drive, and especially not all in one go. Something felt off about doing that, almost like I was giving a big piece of myself away. But we traded music nonetheless and just like that, I went from having 60 gigabytes of music to having 120 gigabytes. In sum, I doubled my music collection in less than five minutes.

And that’s when it hit me. A feeling I can only describe as a complete disillusionment with digital music. How worthwhile was my collection If I could double it with a push of a button? And what is keeping me from deleting all of it with the same effort?

60GB is worthless under this mentality.

But it took me years to get to that 60GB mark. And yet I did not listen to the majority of it. Otherwise I would have known about Hey Joyce long ago. The reason I did not know about Lou Courtney’s song was simple. I had no connection with the majority of the songs in my library. For years I’ve been dancing to music; I thought I knew music. But I couldn’t be farther away from the truth. I had no real grasp of my collection. And that reminded me of an important discussion I had with Skeme Richards (world famous, Philadelphia bred, Dj of the legendary Rock Steady Crew and Sesion 31).

Skeme and I had a working relationship when I was in college. And, I think in 2007, while I was helping him carry his equipment back to his car we chatted briefly about what music means to new DJs. His contention was that the DJs he saw in the scene now were all playing digital music. He claimed that many of them didn’t own a single record and that they have no connection with their music. He said that when you buy a record, even before listening to it, you begin to build a story. You see that “this cat on the right side has this crazy afro, and this black girl on the cover looks hot as hell in those bellbottoms” and immediately you connect with the artists, the musicians, just by looking at the album cover. At the time I did not own any records and I did not truly understand what Skeme was talking about. I could not fully appreciate what he meant by “forming a connection” with the music. But his message rang loudly in my ear on the night that I doubled my library. To reconnect, or more accurately, to truly connect with music, I would need to follow his advice. I would need to go analog and step as far away from digital music as possible.

And that’s when I walked in to Rooky Ricardo’s Records on Haight street, between Fillmore and Webster, and bought my first 45 record. There are probably many more reasons for why I went to Rooky’s and not any of the other half dozen record shops in the vicinity. The most important reason being that I had a strange fascination with the 45 rpm record that would quickly develop into an intense love. But later would be a better time to explain myself.

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