Deep City Records: Bedrock of Funk Samples

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Deep City Records was founded in the 1960s by alumni of Florida A&M University's Incomparable Marching 100 Band. Known for highly aggressive performances, their sound formed the foundation of Deep City. Though the Miami-based label existed for only a few years, it had a lasting impact on rhythm 'n' blues via a series of singles that it released. Meredith Ochs has a review.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

As the year winds down, tastemakers are putting out their best-of lists, some choosing music from 2006 releases.

Our music critic Meredith Ochs says the best album of the year was a collection of 1960s soul songs from a now defunked label called Deep City Records. The CD is called, “Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label.”

(Soundbite of music)

MEREDITH OCHS: No doubt you're familiar with Motown, and you may know about smaller R&B labels like (unintelligible) out of Memphis. But in the 1960s, there were dozens of independent labels scattered across the United States, turning out nothing but singles. The Deep City Label was one of them.

(Soundbite of song, “Am I A Good Man”)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I have a woman. And I know she knows too. But damn! I keep my head up high to try to feel the pain that a good man do. Oh, Am I a good man?

OCHS: Cheap to produce and cheap to buy, the 45 rpm was consumer friendly, and did more than dispense music. Singles told the story of all these little record labels and the cities they came from. A record like this one by Helene Smith could be the soundtrack of house parties and clubs around south Florida, and maybe even garner some local radio airplay.

But drive a couple hundred miles out of the area and no one would know her name. It was a great era for regional music, as aspiring performers hoped that a hometown hit would turn into a national one.

(Soundbite of song, “I Am Controlled By Your Love”)

Ms. HELENE SMITH: (Singing) There are things, I should too. But I know it's just no use cause I'm controlled by your love. I'm controlled by your love.

OCHS: Even if you've scoured every thrift shop south of the Mason-Dixon line, you'd never stumble upon a treasure trove of 45 rpm records like the ones collected on this CD. But far from being consigned to the dustbin of history, Deep City Records helped shaped south Florida's music scene. It set the stage for TK Records, the renowned disco label that yielded national acts like KC and the Sunshine band.

But what made the deep city sound so extraordinary was its house band, comprised of former members of Florida A&M University's incomparable Marching 100. This was no geeky marching band. With a pounding halftime show that included wild acrobatics in the sweltering Florida heat, these guys were known to be tougher than the football players. Their horn arrangements and their rhythm sections, as you can hear on this song, put a stamp on their regional sound.

(Soundbite of song, “Someone To Fulfill My Needs”)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Put your hand (unintelligible). I will come in. Love me. Love me and to hug me. (Unintelligible) and squeeze me. Yeah, Stop me displease me. It doesn't matter.

OCHS: The most compelling song on this compilation disc is also its rarest track, a previously unreleased single by a group called The Movers. The song combines deep soul harmony, a Caribbean vibe and the butt-kicking cacophony of the Marching 100 into a joyous uproar.

It may be a nod to The Four Tops, but it's also a celebration of the can-do spirit of independent music that Deep City Records embodied, and a celebration of a time when big success seemed impossible for an indie label.

BLOCK: The CD is “Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label.” Our reviewer is Meredith Ochs. You can find the rest of her picks and other reviewer's favorites at NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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Eccentric Soul, Vol. 7: The Deep City Label

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