Friday, March 2, 2012

Eccentric Soul: The Nickel & Penny Labels

(Numero) As Bill Dahl’s solid liner notes make clear, no Chicago southsider needs an introduction to Richard Pegue, the Dusty Record Man. A fixture on the radio since the 60s, and one of the only jocks to maintain an idiosyncratic aesthetic and playlist no matter where he spun, the bespectacled cool cat record nerd is just as loved for his powerful radio jingles. They were so powerful that after Pegue’s 2009 death ended his decades long side-gig of recording weekly radio spots for the Moo and Oink meat warehouse store, the business shut down within two years. But his amazing career as an R&B 45 crafter – as producer, engineer, writer, label impresario, talent scout, audio experimenter, and occasional vocalist - is less known, and rightly celebrated here. Of the sorely insufficient 25 tracks here, the best known (locally, not nationally) may be Little Ben and the Cheers magnificent recording “Never More.” Pegue knew who could sing, and he knew what songs to couple them with, he really knew how to showcase vocals, keeping the vox-framing backing tracks soulful, be they spare or extravagant, and he was a master of whimsical trickery, like the rattling “knock on your front door” on this gem. But it’s his less known lost masterpieces that make this collection essential. The South Suburban Electric Strings’ psychedelic soul exploration “Sign of the Zodiac” is mesmerizing…consistently weird with out ever losing a populist groove. The South Shore Commission, who had more success after leaving Chicago, are represented by the powerful “Shadows,” a soul rock burner that should be in constant rotation on black and white oldies stations. But if there’s a hero on this collection other than Pegue it’s the whereabouts-currently-unknown Jerry Townes. His deep, smooth vocals on one of Pegue’s best songs, “Never More” (with surprisingly not-incongruous outer space sound effects!) is wonderful, but better yet is an ass-kicking version of Ray Charles’ arrangement of “You Are My Sunshine” that is unquestionably superior to Charles’ super expensive session, and Margaret Norfleet puts the Raelettes to shame on her response verse. Townes also sings the strangely seductive “Three Sides to a Triangle” and the CD opener, “Just Say the Word,” in which his easy, rich singing matches the brilliant, bells-and-whistles production. But every track on here could be praised to the heavens, and no descriptions could equal hearing Pegue’s eccentric production style. The fantastic photos in the booklet not only tell the tale of one of Chicago soul’s greatest insiders/outsiders, but add rare documentation to the late 60s/early 70s era of black Chicago music, one that is too rarely celebrated (after Chess music historians seem to lose interest). There’s some decisions here I wouldn’t have made…Pegue produced a super funky Chipmunks-style record by a creature called the Matta Baby, and while the b-side instrumental transcends novelty, I can vouch for the A-side. The same (other than the Chipmunks part) goes for his weird recitation record  “Tale Of Three Monkeys,” which also appears here only as a killer instrumental.  And I, of course, wish some of his most famous jingles were on here, though they do include the record Sidney Barnes recorded with Pegue that was given out with purchases at Ember furniture. And if you want something heavier than a Ember Furniture bedroom set, check out this collection!

No comments:

Post a Comment