Reviving The 'Motown Of Cleveland'

The Boddie Record Company, founded by Louise Boddie and her husband was one of the first African-American owned record companies in Cleveland, Ohio. It had been relatively obscure until record collector Dante Carfagna and the Numero Group assembled a box set of the Boddie recordings. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with Carfagna and Louise Boddie.

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TONY COX, HOST:

Now we're going to take a little journey through the musical landscape of the 1960s and 1970s. In Detroit, African-American recording artists found a home on labels like Motown, of course, but what if you lived just a little farther south and east in a city like Cleveland, Ohio? If you're headed down to Leo's Casino, a popular music spot, you just might've caught Frankie Piggy and the Soulettes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRANKIE PIGGY AND THE SOULETTES: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

COX: Frankie Piggy and the Soulettes was just one of the groups that turned to Boddie Recording Company. Based in the Cleveland, the husband and wife team of Thomas and Louise Boddie issued more than 300 albums and 45s, recorded thousands of hours of tape, and even pressed their own records in a facility they built themselves on an old dairy farm.

For many years, Boddie Recordings lived in obscurity but just last month the Chicago-based record label Numero Group released a box set of these little-heard and long forgotten songs. Dante Carfagna is a record collector and helped put this box set together. He joins us from Chicago. Dante, welcome to the show.

DANTE CARFAGNA: Thank you for having me.

COX: Also with us is Louise Boddie who, along with her late huband, founded Boddie Recording Company. She joins us from member station WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio. Louise, nice to have you as well.

LOUISE BODDIE: Thank you.

COX: Let me begin with you, Louise. How did you get Boddie Recording started as a company?

BODDIE: Boddie Recording started actually as a hobby for my husband. As a youngster, he was the neighborhood DJ, so to speak. And it just kept growing and we were putting so much money into it after he went to the army and came back, and after we were married he was putting so much of the grocery money into it I said we better make this a business.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BODDIE: But we knew that many of them would never be discovered in Cleveland because Cleveland wasn't the place that the talent scouts were going out after.

COX: They were going to Detroit and New York and Los Angeles. Let me bring Dante Carfagna in for a moment because, as someone who has spent a lot of time with the Boddie catalogue, how would you, Dante, describe its signature sound to someone who has never heard any of this music?

CARFAGNA: I would describe the signature sound as not having a signature at all. And that's what's fascinating about what the Boddie's did on Union Avenue. They documented groups that, for the most part, would not have been documented had they not set up shop and allowed virtually anyone to come through the doors and record and make a record.

COX: Let's take a listen to one of those songs. This one is by a group called "The Headlines." The song is called "He's Looking for Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "HE'S LOOKING FOR LOVE")

THE HEADLINES: (Singing) Day after day, I must be crazy. I can't sleep. (Unintelligible). My (Unintelligible) must be winning. I can hear my friends say. I feel sad for the fella. I feel sad (Unintelligible). I'm going all out. I'm looking for love.

COX: So, Louise, I got to tell you, you know, that sounds pretty good. That sounds like music that was radio air-worthy back in the day. Was it?

BODDIE: It was. We thought it was very good. And, matter of fact, I enjoyed every moment of listening to them. And all of the talents that came out. There was some that wasn't as good as others, but I enjoyed it.

COX: Did any of the groups have any modicum of success? You know, a lot of groups got started, like The Temptations and The Supremes, who were the prime and the primettes way back in the 1960s, and they went on to, as we know, to international stardom and great success. Your groups, we know they didn't reach those levels of success, but how successful were they?

BODDIE: I guess the first talents that we really did, we started out with the Five Sounds - they ended up being the Three Sounds - and they used to come and rehearse in our basement. And they made a recording called "Boddie's Blues." Of course, they were leased or so to another company and after that they went big and of course most of the jazz people know about the Three Sounds.

COX: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, the Three Sounds. A very successful group. Let me just let the audience know, if you're just joining us this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox, sitting in for Michel Martin who is away this week. I'm speaking with Dante Carfagna, who helped pull together a box set of recordings from - you probably never heard of them before - the Boddie Recording Company of Cleveland, Ohio.

I am also speaking with Louise Boddie. She and her husband, her late husband, founded and ran the Boddie Recording Company. And we are listening to some of these long-forgotten tracks. We're going to listen to another one right now. This is "Jesus is All Over Me." It's by a group known as The Gospel Hebrews.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "JESUS IS ALL OVER ME")

THE GOSPEL HEBREWS: (Singing) Oh, Jesus is all over me. Lord. Jesus is all over me. I know. And he's keeping, keeping me alive. I know Jesus is keeping me alive. Oh, yes he is. Jesus is keeping me alive. I've got him in my heart, now.

COX: I want to ask both of you, first you, Louise, what do you hope people will take away from listening to this box set of recordings?

BODDIE: I'm hoping that they will take away the idea that there was someone that was unique, that did it from scratch, and put all the effort in and came out with something pure and clean.

COX: And Dante, what are you thinking and hoping people will take away when they listen to this?

CARFAGNA: Several things. Notably that I feel that there's two very distinct divisions in music. There was the business of music that you were referring to earlier about who was big and stars. And then there's the art of music and that's, for me, the real tapestry of American art and music, is the - what was happening, the thousands of bands that didn't make it. They're the ones that paint this portrait of what was really happening on the ground in any particular city at the time.

And the Boddie's enabled a large percentage of the African-American population in Cleveland. They gave them a voice to paint this picture for us, to get a clear picture actually what was happening in Cleveland and, as a result, across the United States in the late '60s and early '70s.

COX: Louise, in Cleveland is the building still there on...

BODDIE: On Union Avenue.

COX: Union Avenue.

BODDIE: Yes, it's still there.

COX: Is it still there?

BODDIE: Yes.

COX: And people in Cleveland, do they come up to you? Do they remember you? Do they ask about the music?

BODDIE: Oh, yes. I still get phone calls from across the country. I get letters and Christmas cards and they still call and they ask and they tell us how much they miss us and wish that we were still there doing what we were doing. And I really appreciate it and I'm grateful for it.

COX: Louise Boddie, along with her late husband Thomas, were the forces behind Boddie Recording Company, one of the first black-owned record studios in Cleveland, Ohio. She joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Also with us, Dante Carfagna. He helped put together Numero Group's box set "Boddie Recording Company, Cleveland, Ohio." Thank you both so much for being with us.

CARFAGNA: Thanks, Tony.

BODDIE: Thank you.

COX: And we'll give you a last taste of the Boddie Recording Company now with one of their biggest commercial successes. It's "Used to Live on Broadway" by the Cleveland Golden Echo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "USED TO LIVE ON BROADWAY")

THE GOLDEN ECHO: (Singing) I used to live, I used to live on, right down on Broadway. Broadway.

COX: I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin will be back to talk more on Monday.

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