Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Northern Soul for the 21st Century

Let me introduce you to Benjamin H Shulman.

I met Ben a couple years ago. He was only 17. He had a small kiosk at a local flea market selling used records. We struck up a conversation and I told him I was looking for Soul 45s. Little did I know that 2 years later, we would end up being good friends. He’s either a really mature teenager or I never really grew up. I suspect a little bit of both.

One thing is certain. He’s a walking Soul encyclopedia. You can give him the title of a sixties Soul 45 and chances are he’ll tell you the label, the year it came out, who produced it and who was in the backing band. He’s a Soul savant.

Our relationship started more as a business arrangement. He’s a record picker with 45s to sell and I’m a record collector. I’ve always dubbed him my “record pimp” and he’s directly responsible for the bulk of my collection and for my vinyl addiction. We eventually became friends. We even co-organized a few events together under the Modtreal name.

Ben is not only knowledgeable about music but he’s quite the musician too. Self thought, he once picked up a guitar and learnt it. That was just the beginning. He was a kid with a dream. A vision that one day, while he was still technically a teenager (can you imagine?), he would put out a Soul 45 on his own record label. This is when Papa Bill Records was born.

Paid for with his own money (financed in part by a bunch of records he sold me in the past I’m sure) here is his first 45. Have a listen at Boogaloo Down Clark Street by Black Joe Lewis and The Soul Distributors. 

Our young Canadian Berry Gordy didn’t just produce the record. He composed it, came up with the arrangements, helped with the mixing and played on it. With a limited pressing of only 500 copies, this is your chance to put your hands on what will one day surely be a collector’s item. This one is destined for the dance floor and should be in every DJs record box.

Ben and I have often deconstructed a Soul tune and talked about what we like. In our minds, a hit might have a combination of killer horns, a drum break, screaming vocals and is usually up-tempo. It will make you want to dance and clap your hands. This one has it all! We often joke about it and call it the Modtreal sound.

Although we had many conversations about the record over the year, it was great to dig a little deeper. Once again, here’s Ben.

- Why Soul?

I was exposed to 60s music since I was a young kid. I always had an affinity for soul, especially the Motown sound. My favorite acts were The Temptations, The Four Tops and The Supremes. Recently, my mom found a video from when I was 4 and on it I’m singing Mustang Sally on my Fisher Price mic.

- Where did the idea for Papa Bill Records come from?

When I was 10, I wanted to be the white Berry Gordy. Before I learnt guitar, I would spend hours writing lyrics. The name for the record label came from my grandfather who was a successful businessman in the garment trade. I chose it in his honor. At first I was going to name it Grandpa Bill but I was afraid people would think it was a country label.

I chose yellow as the background as a nod to the Tamla label. I was also greatly influenced by the Daptone guys. They inspired me to start my own thing.

- What type of sound were you going for?

I was looking for something I can play at the Mod Club as a DJ and see the dance floor respond. Music you can mix with all the 60s stuff that we spin. I’m not a big analog fanatic. I just want it to sound good. I’m not there yet. Once I get a bigger budget, I’ll reconsider.

- Tell us how you teamed up with Black Joe Lewis.

I met him at a Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings concert in Ottawa. He was the opening act. I was hanging out backstage with the Dap Kings and helped Joe load the vans up. We struck up a conversation and exchanged phone numbers. He eventually moved to Montreal and we got into contact.

-  Any future projects?

I’m back in the studio with The Soul Distributors working on the next single. I’m currently looking for a female singer and I have a few people in mind but nobody definitive. It won’t necessarily be a dancer but it will definitely be Soul. I plan on taking the world one 45 at a time.

- Any chance of a Parka Avenue / Papa Bill Record release one day?

Yes! Once Pat gets his groove on with his bass and plays to the level of a James Jameson, we’ll put out a 45 on a Parka Avenue sublabel.

You can also have a listen at Ben’s Garage band The Ray.

Boogaloo Down Clark Street by Black Joe Lewis and The Soul Distributors is available on eBay for $6.99 US or through the Papa Bill Records Facebook page.


  1. Fantastic! This is inspirational stuff. I will give Ben and Papa Bill Records a plug on my blog in the next few days. Boogaloo On Clark Street sounds like a future classic. Keep the faith!


    1. Thanks Rob! I'll pass along your kind words to Ben. I'm sure he'll appreciate it. Cheers!

  2. Great white Northern Soul