Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The quest for Northern Soul records in Chicago continues...

The next place on my list of record shops I was going to visit during my stay in Chicago was Beverly Records. It was recommended by Brad from People's Records in Detroit. Located outside the downtown area at 11612 South Western, you definitely need a car to get there. And without my trusty GPS, I would probably still be circling the area. To be quite frank, it's in the middle of nowhere.

Esthetically speaking, Beverly Records is certainly not the most attractive place and nothing really prepares you for what you are about to see inside. I have frequented many record shops in my life, and I consider myself a flea market connoisseur but this was a shock. I thought that People's Record in Detroit had an impressive selection but this place rivals it.

If you feel adventurous, love treasure hunting and have hours to spare, this place is definitely for you. It feels a bit chaotic at first but once you get used to your surroundings, there are gems to be unearthed. Don't go looking for a soul 45rpm section because you won't find any. But if you're looking for a group or singer in particular, you're in luck.  Every record is alphabetized.

My problem is that I want to discover artists I've never heard of before. So when I inquired one of the owners about his filing system, he directed me towards a few rows of unsorted boxes of 45s. When I asked how much the records were, he simply said: "If you buy more than 10, it's 3$ each." At first, I thought that 3$ was a bit excessive but if you choose wisely, you can end up with records that would otherwise sell for substantially more.

So I randomly pulled out a box, sat on the floor and started pulling out every unusual label I came across. Don't expect records in mint condition because you might leave with nothing. The final count was 40 or so records in fair condition. I feel like I just scratched the surface of that place. Time was running out. I had to drive back to my hotel room to get ready for the English Beat and Bad Manners concert.

Was it worth it? You tell me...

Soul and R&B:

Lonnie Mack - Chicken' Pickin' - Fraternity Records
Micheal - The C.O.D's - Kellmac Records
I Got Love - The Intrigues - Yew Records
I Bet You Get The One (Who Loves You) - Detroit Emeralds - Westbound Records
My Wife, My Dog, My Cat - The Maskman & The Agents - Dynamo Records
But It's Alright - J.J. Jackson - Calla Records
Appreciation - The Ad Libs - Share Records
Music - The Festivals - Smash Records
Barefootin' - Robert Parker - Nola Records
The Wash - Branda & The Tabulations - Dionn Records
Skinny Legs and All - Joe Tex - Dial Records
Soul Serenade - Federalmen - Steady Records - Promo Copy (actually a Rocksteady track)
Let a Woman Be a Woman - Dyke and The Blazers - Original Sound Records
There It Goes Again - Barbara and The Uniques - Arden Records
She Can Give You Fever - Ernie Tucker - Earth Records
Keep It To Yourself - Raeletts - Tangerine Corporation Corporation
Cracker Jack - Mickey and His Mice - Marti Records

Garage Rock:

Dawn Is Breaking - New Colony Six - Centaur Records
Bird Dance Beat - The Trashmen - Garrett Records
Fire Ball - Mercy - Sundi Records
Walk Away Renee - The Left Banke - Smash Records
I See The Light - The Five Americans - HBR
Go Back - Crabby Appleton - Elektra Records

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Searching for Northern Soul in the Windy City

Chicago Soul has its well-deserved place in history. It has given birth to great soul acts and an array of labels that supported them. Chess, OKeh, Vee-Jay, Constellation are just a few of the labels that made their mark. So it was only natural that in a city known for such a vast and rich soul culture, that I was going to hunt down a few records to add to my collection.

I had a few addresses of record shops that I had summed up from the web but there’s nothing like the word of a local DJ to point you in the right direction.
That local spin master extraordinaire in question is DJ Sir Eric Colin. I had heard of him through the Facebook group MODchicago. According to the info on their page, a mixture of Soul, Garage Punk, Freakbeat, Euro Grooves and Psychedelia was on the menu at the Bar Deville. Sounds good to me!

The Bar Deville is the ideal place for this type of night. It’s a cozy neighborhood bar that has a very cool retro feel to it. Unfortunately, on that particular Thursday night, the place was virtually empty. Let me reassure you, it had nothing to do with the DJ's tunes. He was spot on. Sir Eric mastered the turntables and dropped the needle exclusively on 45s. That shows dedication in my book.

At one point, his musical selection took a sharp turn towards sixties French Pop. Brigitte Bardot's 1968 chart topper Harley Davidson echoed in the deserted place. My girlfriend and I started singing along to all the following French hits, one after the other. I am sure that the other few patrons in the place  wondered about where these weird strangers, knowing the words to these obscure French songs, came from.

At the end of the night, I went up to the DJ to thank him for the wonderful musical journey. A very friendly conversation ensued and the mystery of the two singing French Canadian was clarified. It was the perfect opportunity to ask him for the inside scoop on where to find a few must-have soul records. He was very helpful and suggested I should check out Hyde Park Records at 1377 E 53rd. He's been a long time customer. That was very generous of him because some people would rather keep the best places to themselves. But then again, I'm sure he had already raided the place.
The next day, off to Hyde Park Records I went. It's a great little shop with a few good rows of 45s to pick through. Of course, it would be unfair to compare it to the overwhelming choice you would find at People's Records in Detroit. That doesn't mean I left empty handed. I was also pleasantly surprised by the good condition of the records. Plus, the staff was very kind and hospitable. If I were living in Chicago, it would certainly be a place I would frequent often. According to Lary, new stuff is coming in on a regular basis.

 Here are some of the 45s that were added to the collection:

Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo - Jerryo - Shoot Records
The Bounce - The Olympics - Tri Disc Records
The Bump - Alvin Cash & The Crawlers - Mar-V-Lus Records
Booze In The Bottle - Carter Brothers - Jewel Records
What You Gave Up - The Continental 4 - Jay-Walking  Records

As for a good Mod friendly night in Chicago, you should seek out Chicago's own Face, Sir Eric Colin, at the weekly gig The Merge. I guarantee that it attracts a larger crowd then our quiet Thursday night escapade. For more info, check out the MODchicago gang on Facebook and the regular updates on The Merge Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crate Diggin' for Northern Soul in Detroit

It’s unconceivable to me that I would visit Detroit without going on the hunt for a few northern soul records. I imagine that with New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis and New Orleans, Detroit has to be one of the best places to buy soul 45s.

In Montreal, you really have to be lucky and patient to find something out of the ordinary. Aside from the classics, it’s virtually impossible to find small, independent labels. Even if we live relatively close to those cities, Montreal being mainly French, your average record bin will usually hold French artists from the seventies or the eighties.

I’m not a record collector per se, so condition is not my highest priority. I’m not out to look for the rarest print of a record that will go for a few hundred dollars on eBay. I’m not in it to make money or brag. I want something that sounds good and that I can bring to a party and play without worrying that it gets ruined. Records are meant to be played! As long as they don’t skip and there not over 5$, I’m happy.

At first I thought I was going to look for Detroit labels exclusively and then I found People’s Records. Situated at 3161 Woodward Avenue, it’s probably the best record store I ever visited. It was worth the 1064 km I traveled just to go to that place. First of all, they only sell vinyl. That is always a good sign. Second, soul is one of their specialties. I’m in heaven!

So my focus changed from buying Detroit Labels to buying every weird label I could put my hands on. I’m not a huge music aficionado, so some of those tunes might sound familiar but most of them were all new to me. It’s such a thrill for me to discover something I never heard before. I was like a kid in a candy store. I had to contain my excitement.

When I walked in and saw all the boxes of 45s on the shelves, I had to stop and take a deep breath. Luckily I had Brad to guide me. This place is not only a record nirvana but the staff is friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. They have to be some of the nicest people in Detroit. 

Brad not only steered my music selection in the right direction but also gave me addresses of record stores to check out in Chicago. That’s not all. He also suggested a great BBQ restaurant called Slows that is not to far from the shop. Wait, there’s more! He gave me a homemade CD full of rare soul and funk tracks. My mind was about to explode. Even the resident dog Irma is adorable!

I have three pieces of advice if you ever get to step in that store. One, bring a lot of cash. Two, have a lot of time on your hands.  Three, pick from the unsorted boxes. Unless you are looking for something very specific, you never know what you’ll end up pulling out. I just love these types of surprises!

While I was drooling over a few records, I overheard the owner explaining to a local customer that for people from Detroit, these records might not be anything special but that people from overseas really appreciate the selection they have on hand. Are you kidding me? This place is a gold mine! And I live just across the border! And here’s the biggest secret… Most of the records I bought were  only a dollar. I only have one regret. I should have bought more records!

This place is going to be hard to beat. Period.

Here are a few of my favorite picks:

Karate - The Emperor’s – Mala Records
Don’t Jump – Fontalla Bass & Bobby McClure – Checker
Breakin’ Down The Walls of Heartache – The Bandwagon – Epic Records
Loosen These Pants and Let Me Go – Albert Washington – Jewel Records
Red Pepper – Roosevelt Fountain – Prince-Adams Records
Treat Her Right – Roy Head and The Traits – Black Beat Records
Karate Boo-Ga-Loo – Jerryo – Boo-Ga-Loo Records
Fools Are Not Born (They Are Made) – Clarence Reid – Alston Records
Get Your Lie Straight – Bill Coday – Crajon Records
I Can’t Stand It – The Soul Sisters – Sue Records

The garage section hardly has anything but I did end up with a few cool tracks.

In the Midnight Hour – The Wanted – AM Records
Ben Franklin’s Almanac – The Cryan Shames – Destination Record
Turn On Your Love Light – The Human Beinz – Capitol Records
Bald Headed Woman – The Mugwumps – Sidewalk Records
Almost There – The Turtles – White Whale Records

If you are ever in Detroit, make sure you stop at People's Records and tell them Parka Avenue sent you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Mod Mecca - Motown, Hitsville USA

 Today felt like a pilgrimage. I was going to the Promised Land. Last summer I walked on the beaches of Brighton, last March I strolled down Bourbon Street in New Orleans and this time, I got to add another check to my mental list. For a Mod this is the equivalent of Graceland for a Rocker. Motown, I am home! 

For all of us northern soul fans, we can’t deny the impact that the founder Berry Gordy Jr. had on the musical landscape. He turned an initial 800$ loan from his family into a multi million dollar empire. And if you visit the Motown Museum, you get to see that contract. You get to step back in time and see where all the magic happened. The little house that Berry dubbed Hitsville USA holds a collection of photos, costumes and memorabilia.

I also got to experience what they call the echo chamber. One of the reasons why Berry loved the house is because of the echo a hole in the ceiling produced. This is the precursor to the reverb you hear on songs like Dancing in The Streets. Our tour guide pulled me out of the 20+ crowd to test it. She was quite surprised that I was so eager to sing. “People usually hide in corners when I point  them out. You got the attitude man! I like that!”

I thought I was going brake some glass when I sang my version of Heat Wave from Martha and The Vandellas. The visitors laughed when I changed one verse from “Whenever he calls my name. Sounds so soft sweet and plain” to “Whenever SHE calls my name. Sounds so soft sweet and plain”. I was surprised when people applauded after my questionable performance.

You also get to see the upstairs apartments with the original couch where Marvin Gaye slept on on countless occasions. The couch being 4 feet and Marvin being over 6 feet, you can imagine that those nights were probably very uncomfortable.

The highlight of the tour has to be the famous Studio A. You get to stand on the floor, next to the original instruments, where more than 200 number 1 hits were recorded throughout the years. Every Motown tune you could name was recorded in that very room. My girlfriend got to test the acoustics when she got to sing Diana Ross’ part from Stop in The Name of Love. There is no comparison with my earlier performance. She’s actually quite a talented singer. I just wish I could prove it all to you but we weren’t allowed to take photos anywhere.

Photo from a Motown Museum postcard

The 837 km trip from Montreal to Detroit was worth it just for that visit. Need I say more?

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Mod's Temple

One of the main reasons I wanted to stop in Cleveland on my way to Chicago was to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. More than just an oversized Hard Rock Café, it’s a genuine temple to Rock Gods. And as an added bonus, there was a small tribute to Motown. The building itself is worth the visit. An impressive glass pyramid stands as a temple to all things that make you shake, rattle and roll.

The place is so full of rock artifacts that it’s hard to list them all. And all of them are of certain significance. To give you an example, they have John Lennon’s round spectacles, the passport he used on his first US tour and one of the uniforms worn on the cover of Sergeant Pepper. We are talking big stuff here.

A lot of Mod favorites are also featured. Stuff from the Kinks, The Animals, The Yardbirds are displayed. An impressive collection of Who gear is there for your viewing pleasure. You don’t see one of the many smashed up road guitars Pete Townshend discarded but the actual guitar that was used to compose and record the classic hits we all love.

Soul music also has its well-deserved place in the Hall. Programs, concert posters, stage costumes and musical instruments from soul legends such as Smokey Robinson, Martha and The Vandellas, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Ike and Tina Turner, Sam & Dave and many others.

But what made me laugh the most has to be the Sex Pistols’ letter in response to their invitation to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. It’s a true testament to their punk attitude.

If you plan to visit Cleveland, you need to set aside a whole day just for the Hall of Fame. We finished the day in the beautiful Warehouse District. Wow! The place looks like a loft lover’s paradise! 

We ended up in a small street fair with craft booths, local culinary delights and live music. After filling up our bellies at the Nauti Mermaid, we were attracted by what sounded like Billy Idol. The band The Spasmatics had us entertained for a while with their retro versions of 80’s classics.

What a great way to end our stay in that captivating city. Rock on Cleveland!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Mod on the road

It’s day one of our 10-day road trip. The final destination: Chicago. I always wanted to see Bad Manners live and since they haven’t been to Montreal in decades, I decided to go to them. They are playing in Chicago with The English Beat and Chris Murray. It’s a win-win situation.

And what do they say about the journey? It’s full of stops at vintage shops, crate digging for northern soul and tasting local beer? That’s what I thought… You can see road trips in two different ways. One, you can plan everything ahead, book hotels, follow an itinerary and reserve tickets for the popular tourist attractions. That’s the girlfriend way. Or you can throw caution to the wind and see where the road takes you. Go with the flow. That’s the Patrick way!

Last summer, we decided to adhere to the girlfriend mantra on our trip to England, Scotland and Ireland. The same rules were applied in March in New Orleans. The experience was memorable and probably less stressful and expensive then if we decided to follow my method. But this time, we decided we would try it my way.

Our first stop was Buffalo, NY, home of the famous buffalo chicken wings. Not much of a destination for the consummate Mod but as on any road trip, you never know what waits around the corner. 

 After leaving our gear at a cheap motel a few miles out of downtown, we were ready for the cocktail hour. We ended up on Chippewa Street, where all the trendy nightclubs are situated. We stumbled upon The Chocolate Bar. With an impressive list of designer martinis, we instantly knew where we were going to spend the next hour. A hip place with walls painted every shade of chocolate you can imagine. Quirky sayings like “Nobody knows… the truffles I have seen” and “Chocolate, cheaper than therapy” posted here and there.

 I was tempted by the Banana Cream Pie Martini, a sweet alcoholic concoction that might be more suitable as desert than an aperitif. It was a bit too heavy on the cream for my taste but yummy nonetheless.

 The missus went for the Raspberry Truffle Martini. She qualified it simply as sexy. But like everything that sensuous, it’s better not to abuse it.

 We were then ready to get down and dirty and go try the famous buffalo wings at The Anchor Bar, the place that gave birth to the now worldwide known recipe. I’m always skeptical with these types of places because they often turn into tourist traps. 

 Was I really going to taste the best wings in the world? As luck would have it, I did! I went for the traditional 10 wings single serving with the medium spicy sauce. It’s served with celery stick and a serving of blue cheese ranch sauce. Simply scrumptious! Add to that a side of coleslaw and a pint of local amber beer and you’re in heaven! The wings were fried to perfection and the sauce was hot enough to leave you with a tingly sensation around the lips. A dish I’m happy I made the detour for. 

 To make it all perfect, the Jazz Example where playing right in front of us. What a welcomed surprise! The smooth voice of the singer made it even more enjoyable. Her version of Killing Me Softly With His Song by Roberta Flank rivaled the original.

On the way out, I noticed something peculiar. Amongst the vintage motorcycles on display, there was a 2002 Malaguti scooter. On the sign in front of it, it reads Lambretta. Really? A Malaguti Lambretta? This is the first I hear of it. Well… maybe only in Buffalo.