December 31, 2009
The year 2009 has come to a close. As the end-of-the year and/or decade lists pile up in the blog world, it’s hard not to wonder which musicians have been overlooked. As much as we try to follow our intuition and stay on the cutting edge, sometimes we can’t help but feel like we’re in the middle of a pack of lemmings, all hurtling in the same direction at cyberspeed. That’s why we thought this story seemed fitting as a sort of atypical end-of-the-year post. It reminded us that it’s hard to say which of our favorite bands of 2009 we’ll want to revisit in ten, twenty, thirty years, and it’s exciting to think that a group we’ve overlooked this year might get a break long after we thought that time had passed.
Chicago’s Walter Smith, Cliff Frazier, Brad Donaldson, and Keith Donaldson (along with Brad and Keith’s brother, David, now deceased) recorded in the sixties and seventies as the Green Berets, High Society, Walter & the Admerations, and, with Andre Williams, as Velvet Hammer. They started singing soul music together in their early teens, and like so many young artists, they came away from the studio with no money and none of the rights to their records. Because they were all drafted during Vietnam – just as one of their records began to chart highly – the Green Berets could never fully take advantage of their shot at stardom. But in the forty years since their studio days, the Green Berets’ records have become much-desired by collectors, selling for up to $5000, and in June they were contacted by Bob Abrahamian to conduct an interview on his Chicago-based radio show, WHPK’s “Sitting in the Park.”
As the story goes, Richard Lewis of Dig Deeper heard them singing on the show and just had to get them out to New York to perform in concert. Richard, and Michael Robinson, the other man behind Dig Deeper, track down their favorite soul singers, many of whom have fallen off the radar for decades, and bring them to Brooklyn to perform in their monthly Dig Deeper concert series. JezebelMusic.com recently talked to Richard and Michael about what it means to them to get an opportunity to see these artists perform their own songs live, so we decided to talk to the artists, too, to see what this comeback show of sorts meant to them. Erin Sheehy sat down with the Green Berets just hours before their Dig Deeper show at Southpaw in late October. You can also read her interview with the Dig Deeper guys here.
More on Green Berets
December 28, 2009
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT NYC
You wouldn’t be wrong if you called Richard Lewis and Michael Robinson show promoters, record collectors and DJs, but oftentimes these guys sound more like detectives. For the past two years, Richard and Michael (DJ Honky and Mr. Robinson when they’re behind the turntables) have been tracking down their favorite soul artists and bringing them to Brooklyn to perform at a monthly night called Dig Deeper. It’s harder than it sounds. Often you’ll find that the people behind some of the best mid-sixties soul records, from the heavy hitters like Don Gardner and The Mighty Hannibal to total unknowns like Eula Cooper, have become nearly untraceable. But Richard and Michael scour the earth, from illegal blues clubs in Sweden to the projects of East New York, to bring these musicans to the fans they might not even know they have, and to introduce them to a new set of converts. Check back soon for our interview with October’s Dig Deeper artist, The Green Berets, and if you want to see what Dig Deeper is all about, head over to Southpaw on January 23 to catch Darrow Fletcher.
JM.com: When or how did you become a big fan of soul music?
Michael: Well I go back a little further than Richard. Back when I was a teenager I was already DJing in London, back in the early eighties. The music at the time was horrible in England. It was called jazz-funk. Unfortunately it’s still kind of popular now. It filled me with horror, it really did. Around that time there was a thing in London called acid jazz, and although there were contemporary bands recording stuff like that, I was buying a lot of Prestige late sixties 7000 series, and then mixing in what I didn’t really know was James Brown’s backing band. The J.B.’s had a great LP, Doing it to Death, with like a ten and a half minute track called “La Di Da La Di Day,” which I would still play now cause it was time to get two drinks and have a chat with a pretty girl in the front of the bar. People used to sell soul packs: twenty records for two pounds. This was when I was living on ten or twelve pounds a week as a student, I’d buy the extra-thin turkey slices, sixteen in a pack, they were like, wafer-thin – you could see light through them! And I had two a day – I mean it was ridiculous – because you know, I had to buy music. It kind of took on a life of its own to the extent that by the time I was 24, I moved to America, because this was where the music came from. I got off the plane here not knowing anyone in the city. And then my very first weekend one of my all time favorite singers was playing. I got to pretend to be a journalist from a blues and soul magazine, got backstage, got to have him dedicate a song to me. So the first person outside of work who knew my name in New York was a singer called Chuck Jackson.
More on Richard Lewis and Michael Robinson of Dig Deeper