E. Mark Windle 2nd September 2022.
As North Broad Street Records goes from strength to strength, September sees the arrival of the seventh vinyl release in their series of quality previously unissued soul recordings. NBS 007 takes us to the Windy City for two fine tracks by the group who previously gave us a northern soul classic on Jacklyn Records.
A key figure in this particular origin story is West Yorkshire record collector and DJ Dave Box. When Dave passed away in 2018, the UK soul community lost a vital connection with some of the finest Chicago soul artists of all time. Boxy’s involvement on the soul scene goes further back than most—Normanton Baths soul nights from 1967, the all-nighters which followed in the early 1970s, and in more recent years, the Wilton and Frobisher events. Dave’s close friendship with a number of recording artists culminated in some UK stage appearances which discerning soul fans had only dreamed of experiencing. His commitment to the scene was unyielding, and the legacy continues with this latest release by North Broad Street.
The Lovemasters are of course best known for their solitary 45 release “Pushin’ and Pullin’ ”. Considering the record has been known to soul fans and collectors for decades, it’s ironic that the group’s history has only come to light in relatively recent years. In 2009 the late, great Chicago collector Bob Abrahamian managed to track down and secure an interview with founder member Edith Andrews for his Sitting in the Park broadcasts, ensuring that The Lovemasters’ story was documented for posterity.
By the time Edith Andrews had formed The Lovemasters, she’d already amassed a lengthy resume of singing and playing music. Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Edith’s love for singing started at school, and her musical ability was nurtured through her teenage years at the Chicago Conservatory of Music where she studied piano. Entry into the world of secular music involved singing doowop hits of the day by The Spaniels, The El Dorados, and The Dells with her classmates, before leaving high school and forming The Tonettes with three of her white co-workers from First National Bank in downtown Chicago.
The girl group fell short of signing to Chanson due to parental concerns over contract wording, and inevitably The Tonettes drifted apart. Determined to stay in the business, Edith placed an advert in the Chicago Defender in 1967 in the quest to find vocalists for a new group. Male or female, it didn’t matter: as long as they were as serious as Edith about trying to make it in the music industry.
Four replied, and three got the job: James Simmons (baritone), Michael Vonse (lead first tenor / falsetto), and Ronald (Ron) Murray (bass / baritone). A name was chosen—The Toronados, in line with the usual custom of adopting automobile makes of the day—and rehearsals commenced. Within weeks they were approached by a local booking agent looking for a support act for a young Tyrone Davis who was still signed with Four Brothers at the time and due to perform at a ballroom venue on 63rd Street. The Toronados fitted the bill perfectly, and performed mainly Motown covers on stage that night to an appreciative crowd.
Regular gigs followed. Over the next couple of years the addition of musicians Rich Sansky on drums, Willie Riser on bass, and Phil Crow on lead guitar completed the group. Now known as The Lovemasters, bookings took them to some pretty interesting venues around Chicago, including Cook County Jail and a detention centre for boys, but also out of state for the first time to St. Louis, Missouri and various clubs in Iowa.
The Lovemasters’ signing to Jacklyn in the early 1970s was the result of an introduction by a mutual friend to local record producer and businessman Johnny Haygood. Operating from a record store at 2200 East Seventy-Fifth Street, the Jacklyn label was one of Haygood’s many enterprises, named after one of his daughters, and essentially a vehicle to promote the singing talent of his stepson, one Darrow Fletcher. Outside of the family circle, a couple of ‘significant others’ were also associated with the label. Singer-songwriter Johnny Moore and his record producing, song-writing partner Jack Daniels had first worked together on Four Brothers and Bright Star material before arriving at Jacklyn. “Pushin’ and Pullin’ “ was the first record on the label to be credited to Johnny Moore, and was based on a popular dance craze of the time.
That was to be the group’s only release for Jacklyn, and with limited airplay the record languished. The Lovemasters’ contract was due to expire, and with no real sign of success with Haygood’s venture, most of the members agreed to split from the label (though Edith did appear on occasional later recordings for Haygood). That meant hitting the road again for a few years before returning to the studio, this time to cut a demo for Curtom. Curtis Mayfield was impressed enough to sign them but the writing was on the wall—Curtom’s halcyon days were on the wane, and there was no immediate call for the group to record. With The Lovemasters locked into the contract with Curtom, they were unable to record for another label. A few more gigs in the city followed, but eventually Edith and the boys called it a day in 1977. Curtom as a non-starter was part of the issue (the label eventually closed in 1980), but all admitted that a rest was overdue from years of hectic weekend performances. Ten years was pretty a reasonable tenure for any group.
Fast-forward twenty years. Over that time, Dave Box and wife Val were visiting Chicago on a frequent basis, record hunting and strengthening relationships with the likes of Chuck Bernard, Jimmy Burns and other industry professionals. A chat one evening over a catfish dinner with producer Jack Daniels led to the exchange of a telephone number for Daniels’ former partner, and a long lasting friendship began between Dave and Johnny Moore. The circle was now complete. By the 2000s, Dave was encouraging various acts to come over to the UK to perform on stage. Among those were Jackie Ross and Syl Johnson, who in 2006 provided an unforgettable appearance at his regular stomping ground, the Frobisher Suite in Stanley Ferry. Sadly, Johnny Moore passed away the previous year or he would have been there too, though Dave did manage to pay homage, working with Garry Cape on the excellent Grapevine CD anthology of Moore’s work.
Regarding the North Broad Street release under the spotlight: these recordings are brought to you via a collaboration with Tim Brown, and an unissued Universal Recording Corp. acetate originally sourced from Dave Box’s collection. We know the acetate was destined for Jacklyn, and by deduction was likely produced sometime around 1972. Without the luxury of any credits displayed on the disc, Johnny Moore’s involvement in production can’t be confirmed, but it certainly is plausible given the circumstances of how Dave acquired it. “If You See Kate”, is a heavy bass driven funk number with a psychedelic edge, aurally in a similar vein to Sam Dees’ dark Atlantic numbers, though the message here is more about the pain of knowing his girl has gone rather than a commentary on inner-city life. The song will actually be known to collectors through the Buddy Lamp version on Duke and French Disques Vogue from 1971—in fact both versions appear to share the same backing track. Duke may be a Texas imprint, but credits on the Lamp version reveal Detroit connections. Johnny Haygood worked with Don Mancha regularly through the recordings of his stepson Darrow Fletcher and others artists, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Jacklyn was also considering the composition. For completion, North Broad Street have also included the acetate flip, “Let’s Stay Together”.
So then, yet another quality recording and a fine exercise in historical preservation from North Broad Street to add to the collection. “If You See Kate” will be available to order from midday 3rd September at https://northbroadst.co.uk
Acknowledgements: Released under licence via Ace Records for Darrow Fletcher. North Broad Street would like to thank Val Box and Tim Brown for making this release possible. Thanks also to Val Box, Garry Cape and Jock O’Connor for article assistance.
(Copyright 2022). E. Mark Windle is a freelance writer and biographer, working independently, as a senior writer with Story Terrace (London, UK), and for Sheridan Hill / Real Life Stories LLC (North Carolina, USA). Contact him via https://windlefreelance.com/contact/