Review

VARIOUS ARTISTS
WHEEDLE’S GROOVE: SEATTLE FUNK, MODERN SOUL & BOOGIE VOLUME II 1972-1987

In 2004, powerhouse local label, Light in the Attic, released Wheedle’s Groove: Seattle’s Finest in Funk & Soul, a compilation that revived interest in the lively soul scene that had percolated in the city a quarter century before Seattle became Grunge Central. It was followed by a terrific documentary film of the same name, released in 2009. Now comes another collection of long-forgotten goodies from the vaults on Wheedle’s Groove: Seattle Funk, Modern Soul & Boogie Volume II 1972-1987.

The compilation, culled by DJ Supreme La Rock (who provided the spark of inspiration for the first Wheedle’s Groove set as well), spans a particularly fascinating time in American modern music history, when soul and funk were transitioning into disco and hip-hop. [Liner note writer Jonathan Zwickel makes a compelling case of how the much-maligned disco beat lies at the roots of all of today’s modern pop music.] From the smooth, “Let’s Backtrack,” by Cold, Bold & Together, with singers vocally imitating the horns that were not yet in the lineup, to the synthesized drums laying down the dance groove in “Here I Go Again” by Septimus, the set’s musical palette is substantially broadened from the first Wheedle’s Groove collection.

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Case in point: Teleclere’s “Steal Your Love.” The trio (headed up by Tony Benton, better known today as Tony B on KUBE) provided the backing for Seattle’s first hip-hop group, the Emerald Street Boys, but the synth-heavy (indeed, robotic) “Steal Your Love” wouldn’t be out of place on a early ‘80s new wave compilation (one can imagine Soft Cell championing the track). One of the delights of this kind of release is discovering gems that would certainly have otherwise been lost to history, like “Trouble in Mind” by Malik Din. The song has the kind of propulsive, whiplashing beat that makes it irresistible, topped by Din’s funky falsetto (you’ll find a reference to Curtis Mayfield’s vocal style virtually every time someone writes about this track), with the mystery about Din’s identity adding to the intrigue — it’s speculated he may have been a murder victim. There’s even a novelty number in “Kingdome,” a jaunty tribute to the now-demolished sports arena, recorded by then-Mariners third baseman Lenny Randle in the hopes of kicking off a new dance craze. It might not have become “The Hustle,” but it’s still a fun track.

It’s quite a multi-ethnic collection as well, featuring racially integrated groups and a nice slice of blue-eyed soul in “You Turn Me On” by Push — especially when contrasted with the blue-eyed soul of Don Brown’s “Don’t Lose Your Love,” which is decidedly soul-pop/soul lite. One of Brown’s former band mates is aptly quoted as saying, “How could you somehow use ‘Don Brown’ and ‘funk and soul’ in the same sentence?” (though Brown’s song does feature keyboard work by noted local composer Norman Durkee, who also produced the track).

There are no acts with a future star on this set. The first Wheedle’s Groove collection featured one Kenny Gorelick — later Kenny G — in a lineup of Cold, Bold & Together. But there are some who surprisingly didn’t go on to bigger things. Such as Bernadette Bascom, here featured on two tracks. As a member of Epicentre, her forthright lead vocal on 1978’s “Get Off the Phone” caught the attention of none other than Stevie Wonder, who brought her to L.A. to record for his record label. When that fell through, she returned to the Northwest and recorded as a solo artist. “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,” released in 1981, displays the increasing influence of disco, and exudes the kind of appeal that makes you think it must’ve been a chart hit somewhere. Bascom’s currently an adjunct profession at Kirkland’s Northwest University and keeps her vocal chops in shape performing on cruise ships.

Wheedle2_Album_CoverNearly all the tracks were recorded in local studios, another indication of how things were progressing. Technological advances in equipment meant one didn’t have to go to L.A. to make first class recordings, and the slow but steady growth of the local music scene meant there were an increasing number of studios from which to choose. Groups were learning to make better use of the studio as well. Romel Westwood’s “I’m Through With You” (a later era track, released in 1987) is an industrial/disco mash-up, the R&B quotient provided by Westwood’s full-bodied vocal.

In a nice archival touch, original record labels and album covers are reproduced in the liner notes. All the album’s tracks were all originally released on out-of-print singles and albums, making it especially nice to see them. The inner sleeve shot of a ‘70s-era Seattle, the old SeaFirst building, the tallest building in the picture, tugs at nostalgic heartstrings. Vinyl fans will also be pleased to know that the album is also being released in a regular 2-LP version; a limited edition pre-release version on “Red Light Red” vinyl, and a post-release Light In The Attic shop exclusive edition — with one album a special Seattle Supersonics tribute picture disc (more nostalgia), the other on yellow and green vinyl.

A closer look at the liner notes also provides a hint of Seattle’s musical future. “Let’s Backtrack” was recorded at what was then called Triangle Studios in Ballard. The studio was later renamed Reciprocal Recording, and opened its doors to a crop of new bands recording for an upstart label called Sub Pop: Green River, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Nirvana. But though stylistically different, the musicians in Seattle’s soul scene did share a similar approach to their work with the grunge kids; both scenes strove to create music that was unique to the Pacific Northwest. “All the music that was popular on the radio was from California, LA, New York or Chicago,” John Studamire, bassist for Priceless, is quoted as saying in the liner notes. “It never really spoke to us in the Northwest. That’s why we started making our own music. It was for us.” Now these great sounds are for everybody else too.

—Gillian G. Gaar