In terms of epicenters of great soul music, Los Angeles rarely enters the discussion. And while the city in the smog and sun didn’t produce the volume of influential work that Detroit-Chicago-Memphis churned out, there were plenty of amazing soul records cut in southern California.
I can think of no better place to start than the debut single from Brenda Holloway. Released in 1962, this is one of those records that I classify as transitionary between doo-wop and the birth of soul. Brenda was all of 16 here, and is joined by her sister Patrice on the ‘echo’ harmonies; Patrice was all of 13! The sisters show off a maturity beyond their years in their performances, and I find this to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful records ever cut to wax. At :32 seconds in, Brenda phrases the line in a way that foreshadowed the type of dramatic vocalization that became a staple with the likes of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Just two years later, Brenda Holloway was the first west coast singer signed to Motown Records, where she released a brilliant run of music for the label.
Not much is known about this blazing one-off record from 1967; the incredibly catchy count off and Latin groove is the type of record that, when I’ve DJ’ed it in the US, Europe and Australia, immediately connects with the crowd and is the definition of a floor filler. I played it in Seattle at the Emerald City Soul Weekender last October and by the time the intro count off repeats itself, the packed crowd of dancers began shouting along en masse; purely indicative of the quality of this record. With bigger distribution it could have been a hit.
While the name The Performers has been used by several different outfits, I believe that this LA group released only two records for the consistently excellent Mirwood label. This record is pure heat, with dramatic breakdowns and ultra powerful group vocals. Probably released in 1968.
Whether the group saw their name spelled as either The Raelettes or, here, as The Raelets (on the label), one is guaranteed that the vocal performances (from a long list of exceptional singers who were in and out of Ray Charles backing group) are gonna be hot stuff. Here, the legendary Merry Clayton positively WAILS on an all too short track from 1966. The other ladies on the track are believed to be Clydie King, Gwen Berry and Alex Brown.
(Derek See is a Bay area based musician who plays guitar with The Bang Girl Group Revue, Joel Gion & Primary Colours, and occasionally makes records on his own with The Gentle Cycle.)