An Introduction to Eccentric Soul

An Introduction To Numero Month

Launched in 2004, the Chicago-based Numero Group quickly established itself as a leader among reissue labels – combining outstanding music, sharp presentation, and exhaustive research into projects that emphasized the imprint’s “labor of love” mentality, with an appeal capable of reaching both novice and expert-level song hunters. With a catalog that now spans hundreds of releases in a wide variety of genres, one could reasonably argue – and many have – that Numero is America’s finest record label, reissue or otherwise.

Numero’s flagship series, Eccentric Soul, began with the label’s first release: 2004’s The Capsoul Label. Focusing on the work of Bill Moss – a Columbus, Ohio deejay who formed Capsoul in 1970 – the compilation was an instant hit with record collectors, who not only found several gems scattered across its track list, but also a compelling narrative in the hard-luck story of a label that came close to success, only to end in heartbreak and bankruptcy.

Finding a successful formula, Numero followed up Capsoul with a series of releases focusing on similar stories of near-brushes with success, and labels that never even registered more than a blip on their local scenes. Each of these releases added further depth to an already rich chapter of American soul music, while introducing a fascinating cast of characters to pop music’s history: Chicago’s Arrow Brown, who ran the Bandit label alongside a criminal enterprise; Allen Merry, who used his talents and his studio to keep East St. Louis teens off the streets; and Mike Lenaburg, who dreamed of creating a soul oasis in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona.

Now spanning twenty-seven entries – including a half-dozen that are only available as digital releases – the Eccentric Soul series is an absolute treasure trove for any fan of 60s-70s era pop music. Listening to the complete series on shuffle – as you can do via this Spotify playlist that we’ve assembled – one can get a fascinating glimpse into an alternative-history American soul music radio station: one that trades James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding for names like Marion Black, Marva Whitney, and Lou Ragland.

For those interested in wading into this deep pool at a more deliberate pace, we’ve assembled this introductory article and playlist. Primarily focusing on the series entries that are presently available in physical format, we’ll highlight some of the best that Eccentric Soul has to offer, but leave plenty left for you to discover on your own. Enjoy!

Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr

“You’re All I Need to Make It” (1972)

from Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label (2004)

The compilation that not only launched Eccentric Soul, but also the Numero Group as a whole, The Capsoul Label features one of the most compelling stories and arguably the finest grouping of songs from the entire series. Leading it off is the B-side to the second (and final) single by the Columbus, Ohio vocal group, Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr. We’ve already covered the track in our 2020 addendum to the A Century of Song project, and featured it in the inaugural installment of The Single File, but it just wouldn’t feel right to kick off this playlist with anything else.

Them Two

“Am I a Good Man” (1967)

from Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label (2006)

Easily among the most rewarding scenes uncovered by Eccentric Soul is the one that surrounded Miami’s Deep City label in the late-sixties – yielding two of the series’ finest releases. The first of those, 2006’s The Deep City Label, kicks off with a certified Numero classic: Them Two’s stunning “Am I a Good Man.” A dark blast of southern soul, the song has been sampled dozens of times since its initial release, but the elemental intensity of the original recording reigns supreme.

Eula Cooper

“Try” (1969)

from Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels (2008)

Yet to be issued on vinyl, The Tragar & Note Labels focuses on the work of two Atlanta area imprints from 1969-1977. Eleven of the set’s fifty tracks belong to Eula Cooper, who leaves the strongest impression with the A-side to her debut single for Tragar. Lushly orchestrated with strings and brass, “Try” is a rich vehicle for Cooper’s pleading vocals, and a standout from one of Eccentric Soul‘s most generous releases.

Bob & Fred

“I’ll Be On My Way” (1966)

from Eccentric Soul: The Big Mack Label (2006)

Existing somewhere deep in the shadow of Motown, Detroit’s Big Mack Records persisted for twenty years, but never scored anything even resembling a hit. It’s a shame, and particularly so in the case of the lone single issued by the duo known as Bob & Fred. Somewhere between doo-wop and Spector, “I’ll Be On My Way” is two minutes of blissful pop perfection – light as air, with a gorgeous melody beamed in from some wonderful celestial perch. This one is not to be missed; at least the second time around.

The Chandlers

“Your Love Keeps Drawing Me Closer” (1969)

from Eccentric Soul: Capitol City Soul (2014)

Fifty releases after hitting the scene with The Capsoul Label, Numero returned to its roots for the 2014 compilation, Capitol City Soul. Revisiting some of the artists from the former set (Kool Blues, The Four Mints), Capitol City Soul also introduced several other players from Bill Moss’ roster. Making the biggest impression among the newcomers are The Chandlers, whose charming track, “Your Love Keeps Drawing Me Closer,” leads off the second exploration of Columbus, Ohio’s deeply rewarding scene.

Helene Smith

“What’s in the Lovin'” (1967)

from Eccentric Soul: The Outskirts of Deep City (2007)

Equalling 2006’s The Deep City Label, the following year’s The Outskirts of Deep City further mines the rich Miami-area scene of the late-sixties. One of the region’s brightest stars, Helene Smith turned in a run of excellent singles. While the powerful “True Love Don’t Grow on Trees” may be a better showcase for her vocals, the upbeat “What’s in the Lovin'” takes full advantage of the Florida A&M University “Marching 100” alum that made their way onto several Deep City tracks.

Renaldo Domino

“Nevermore” (1969)

from Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation (2007)

2007’s Twinight’s Lunar Rotation focuses on the five-year run of Chicago’s Twinight imprint. Twinight boasted an actual hitmaker in Syl Johnson, whose 1972 departure from the label would leave it without a source of revenue to support its lesser-known acts. Among those acts, Renaldo Domino arguably leaves the strongest impression across Lunar Rotation‘s four LPs. Written by Penny Records’ Richard Pegue – who produced the original 1967 version by Jerry Townes, which appears on 2011’s The Nickel and Penny Labels – “Nevermore” is among Domino’s most appealing tracks.

The Debonettes

“Choose Me” (1969)

from Eccentric Soul: The Young Disciples (2008)

One of the most interesting stories in the Eccentric Soul series is that of Allen Merry. Through the South End Community Center, Merry used his experience as a recording engineer to provide a creative outlet for teenagers in East St. Louis, Illinois. Among the most intriguing tracks recorded by his “Young Disciples” is this doo-wop inspired throwback by The Debonettes. “Choose Me” is simple in its construction, but it creates a rich atmosphere, despite its minimalist backing.

The Norvells

“Why Do You Want to Make Me Sad” (1968)

from Eccentric Soul: The Nickel and Penny Labels (2011)

Alongside the large labels based in Chicago were a number of smaller imprints, including the pair run by deejay Richard Pegue. Also a songwriter and producer, Pegue’s talents run throughout the work of his Nickel and Penny labels, including this should-have-been hit by The Norvells. “Why Do You Want to Make Me Sad” turns its dour sentiment into a snappy pop single – easily one of the catchiest tracks in the entire Eccentric Soul enterprise.

The Soul Blenders

“Blending Soul” (1967)

from Eccentric Soul: Mighty Mike Lenaburg (2011)

Even as a native Arizonan, I knew nothing of a Phoenix-area soul scene in the sixties. Leave it to Numero to shed light on the work of young Mike Lenaburg, who worked diligently to try to turn the booming desert metropolis into the next Motown. While he didn’t succeed, (the currently out-of-print) Mighty Mike Lenaburg showcases the fruits of those efforts. The set isn’t presently available on Spotify, but its booming opening track – The Soul Blenders’ James Brown-inspired “theme song” – is.

The Arrows

“We Have Love” (1969)

from Eccentric Soul: The Bandit Label (2004)

The second Eccentric Soul entry found Numero diving into the seediest story of the series. Founded by Arrow Brown, Bandit Records was a small-time label that acted, in part, as a front for a criminal enterprise. Regardless, the tracks produced by Bandit were often stellar slices of Chicago soul. Among the best is this track from The Arrows, which features powerful vocal performances from Allen “Po’ Boy” Stevenson and Johnny Davis, the latter of whom died under mysterious circumstances in 1973.

Volcanic Eruption

“Red Robin” (1970)

from Eccentric Soul: The Way Out Label (2014)

Created as something of a supergroup of artists affiliated with Cleveland’s Way Out label, Volcanic Eruption recorded only two songs in the early-seventies – neither of which were released prior to The Way Out Label in 2014. Of the pair, “Red Robin” is the winner: a jaunty track in 3/4 time, with a sweeping arrangement and inventive vocal harmonies. It’s an easy highlight from one of the most underrated releases in the Eccentric Soul series.

Cindy & The Playmates

“A Portrait of God’s Love” (1972)

from Eccentric Soul: Sitting in the Park (2016)

Borrowing its title from his long-running radio show, Sitting in the Park is a celebration of the late Chicago deejay and record collector, Bob Abrahamian. Compiling a dozen of Abrahamian’s favorite little-known tracks, it may come off as a minor release, but it represents a glimpse into the life’s work of a true music obsessive. The opening “A Portrait of God’s Love” – released as the B-side of a 1972 Kemp Records single – is a definite highlight of the set, and a charming re-creation of the kid-soul sound.

Skip Mahoney & The Casuals

“I Need Your Love” (1974)

from Eccentric Soul: A Red Black & Green Production (2012)

While the Eccentric Soul series reaches all the way into the late-seventies, the inclusions on this list largely reveal my clear preference for all things sixties. As the latest recording of those collected here, “I Need Your Love” doesn’t quite display some of the funk/disco influences that dot some of the Eccentric Soul comps, but it’s an impassioned deep soul cut, and a standout from 2012’s A Red Black & Green Production, which highlights tracks from the Washington, D.C. area scene.

Betty Wright

“Mr. Lucky” (1967)

from Eccentric Soul: The Outskirts of Deep City (2007)

The first single from Betty Wright inaugurated a successful career that would span parts of six decades before her death in 2020. Featuring a powerhouse performance from the then-thirteen-year-old vocalist, “Mr. Lucky” is a first-rate jam. The gunshot noises may add a bit of pizzaz, but even they have nothing on those hot snare cracks. Throw in a commanding bass groove, sinister organ, and – yeah – those killer vocals, and you have some straight-up dynamite.

The O’Jays

“Shattered Man” (1971)

from Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label (2018)

One of the biggest names to appear on an Eccentric Soul compilation, The O’Jays had tasted success before, and would become legitimate stars in time, but their contributions to 2018’s The Saru Label catch the Ohio group in something of a transitional state. The highlight of their brief affiliation with Saru is the hard-charging “Shattered Man.” While it wasn’t a hit, the track tapped into the sound and energy of contemporary funk music, drawing the group closer to the success of 1972’s “Back Stabbers.”

Gene Williams

“Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away” (1970)

from Eccentric Soul: The Forte Label (2013)

Kansas City’s Forte imprint was best known for the work of Marva Whitney, but for my money, the best song on Numero’s exploration of the label is Gene Williams’ stirring “Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away.” While Kansas City would play the part of perennial underdog to Chicago, The Forte Label – and Numero’s excellent 2014 rock compilation Local Customs: Cavern Sound – provide further evidence that the city’s music scenes deserved far more attention from the rest of America.

Baby Neal & The Smart Brothers

“I’m Not Ashamed” (1965)

from Eccentric Soul: Smart’s Palace (2009)

You wouldn’t find many people weeping for Kansas City at Smart’s Palace, because if K.C. was overlooked, what would that make Wichita? While few would pick the Kansas town to be a hotbed of soul music, a fascinating scene centered around the Wichita-based Smart family for several years. Collecting some of its best recordings, 2009’s Smart’s Palace may not be the most polished entry in the Eccentric Soul catalog, but it’s certainly one of the most spirited. In an attempt to mimic the intensity of their legendary live performances, The Smart Brothers added pre-recorded screams to their 1965 studio recording of “I’m Not Ashamed.” While it’s not quite the second coming of Live at the Apollo, it’s electric nonetheless.

Little Jr. Jesse & The Tear Drops

“Give Your Love to Me” (1965)

from Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label (2013)

The British Invasion hit America’s shores in early-1964, and as this single from 2013’s The Dynamic Label shows, it didn’t take long for it to reach the heartland. The vocal melody and heavily-reverberated production of “Give Your Love to Me” are straight-up Merseybeat, but the mariachi horns and twangy guitars serve as confirmation of the cross-cultural influences expected of a multi-racial rock group from San Antonio, Texas.

Pearl Dowell

“Good Things” (1970)

from Eccentric Soul: The Saadia Label (2017)

One of Eccentric Soul‘s digital-only releases, 2017’s The Saadia Label collects fifteen tracks from a Miami-based imprint. The B-side to Pearl Dowell’s only single, “Good Things” is a spirited track that matches a James Brown-esque backing to a solid vocal performance. The A-side, “It’s All Over,” is also included in the set, standing as another one of its highlights.

The Mystiques

“Put Out the Fire” (1969)

from Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation (2007)

2007’s Twinight’s Lunar Rotation was the hardest collection for me to limit to just two tracks (quick shoutout for Krystal Generation’s “Satisfied” and Johnny Williams’ “Breaking Point”). An early highlight of the four-disc set, The Mystiques’ “Put Out the Fire” rides its uptempo, jazzy groove – pairing nicely with the smooth vocals of the group’s members. Twinight’s Lunar Rotation has currently fallen out of print on vinyl – thanks Discogs, for helping me track one down – but after The Capsoul Label and (maybe) the two Deep City sets, this is the best that Eccentric Soul has to offer.

The Sensations

“Lonely World” (1968)

from Eccentric Soul: The Way Out Label (2014)

In both its throbbing instrumental background and the Levi Stubbs-inspired lead vocals of Johnny Washington, The Sensations’ “Lonely World” recalls Four Tops’ 1966 smash, “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” Surprisingly, the powerful track was only released as a B-side to the good-but-inferior “Gotta Find Myself Another Girl.” Fortunately, 2014’s The Way Out Label would give the track – a seven other songs by the group – a much-deserved second chance.

Little Ben & The Cheers

“(I’m Not Ready To) Settle Down” (1966)

from Eccentric Soul: The Nickel and Penny Labels (2011)

Another track from Richard Pegue’s Penny imprint, the debut single from Little Ben & The Cheers was also written and produced by the multi-talented label founder. The moody “(I’m Not Ready To) Settle Down” would essentially be re-worked into Pegue’s own “Nevermore” – recorded by Penny’s Jerry Townes in 1967, and Twinight’s Renaldo Domino in 1969 – but its first incarnation is arguably the superior song.

Tee Fletcher

“All Because of You” (1968)

from Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels (2008)

Another winner from The Tragar & Note Labels, “All Because of You” was the Tragar debut for vocalist Tee Fletcher. One of the set’s earliest-recorded tracks, it showcases the lush orchestration that would soon become the trademark for Jesse J. Jones’ pair of Atlanta labels. On a side note, how about releasing this one on vinyl, Numero?

Toni & The Harts

“Thank You Baby” (1966)

from Eccentric Soul: The Path Label (2019)

This track from Toni & The Harts was featured on Numero’s excellent 2018 compilation, Basement Beehive: The Girl Group Underground, and it reappeared as part of the 2019 digital-only release, The Path Label. The closest that the Philadelphia-based Path would ever come to landing a hit, “Thank You Baby” is a delicately atmospheric recording from a trio of Camden, New Jersey sisters, led by Toni Hart. Whichever Numero comp you encounter it on, it’s a standout.

Kool Blues

“I’m Gonna Keep on Loving You” (1972)

from Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label (2004)

Another excellent track from Bill Moss’ Capsoul label, “I’m Gonna Keep on Loving You” was first issued in 1972 as the A-side of the debut single by Kool Blues. Carried by the co-lead vocals of John Primm and William Gilbert, the track is a brassy, uptempo number that is driven by its ultra-catchy piano riff and insistent tambourine.

The Ponderosa Twins Plus One

“Bound” (1971)

from Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label (2018)

Best known as the source material for Kanye West’s 2013 song, “Bound 2,” this Saru Label track is one of the absolute highlights of the Eccentric Soul series. Composed of two sets of twins, and additional vocalist Ricky Spicer, The Ponderosa Twins Plus One may have had a somewhat awkward name, but “Bound” is one of the greatest realizations of the “kiddie soul” sound, outside of The Jackson 5. Spicer’s lead vocal deserves much of the credit, but the song’s inventive arrangement – combining soul and baroque pop – is what makes it a true classic.

Penny & The Quarters

“You and Me” (approx. 1970)

from Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label (2007)

Probably the best-known song in the Eccentric Soul catalog, “You and Me” was a demo discovered by the Numero Group while assembling 2007’s The Prix Label compilation. Featuring a group vocal performance backed by just an electric guitar as accompaniment, the track gains emotional resonance from its minimalist nature. Almost unbearably charming, “You and Me” would be memorably used in the 2010 film, Blue Valentine, as well as in a number of subsequent advertising campaigns. Like so many other recordings in Numero’s increasingly vast catalog, it’s a poignant reminder that there is still a wealth of great music waiting to be discovered, and that – with time and commitment – even songs long-forgotten by their creators just might get a second chance.

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