In the 1960s, Richmond was indeed on the soul circuit: James Brown even name checked this city on his 1962 rendition of "Night Train." Virginia's capital had a vibrant black music scene even if there were no quality facilities in which to record. Access to first-class studios required big bucks and grueling road trips that were often made after gigs.
The following is a list of Richmond's best and rarest '60s soul music singles. Rare, as they failed to hit and disappeared quickly. A few had some airplay on local radio — WANT and WENZ — but none crossed over to the mainstream, even locally. Still, many of these indigenous platters have survived the ages to become highly desired artifacts among record collectors across the globe. Original copies are near impossible to find today.
1. The Honey Bees, "It Happen On A Tuesday" (Attack, 1963)
Most aficionados see soul music as an energy that jettisoned out of R&B because of what James Brown was into by 1964. "It Happen (sic) On A Tuesday" prefigures all of that by a few months, but it's still mighty soulful. In '67 Attack released "From Vietnam With Love" an unsettling love ballad credited to Lance Corporal Charles E. Scott. "Recorded Live in Chu-Lai, Vietnam," reads the label. The G.I. managed to serve abroad and still helm Attack, which had its headquarters in Richmond's mystery-laden American Building.
2. Dickie Wonder, "The Story Of My Love" (Sound Of Soul, 1965)
A male chorus makes for an almost doo-wop group ballad, but this mighty Wonder is not overshadowed. This is a great arrangement and production. Recorded at Bell Sound in New York, it's haunting, with an almost solemn chamber-music coloration. That quality was helped along by a prefame Thom Bell. "A&R Tommy Bell" reads his credit on the label. Spellbinding L-O-V-E. A gorgeous composition from Sound Of Soul man, Mr. Wiggles.
3. Sebastian Williams, "Too Much" (Sound Of Soul, 1965)
With just the right snap on the snare, baritone sax and bass to boost the bottom and roll against the grit of Seb's singing, "Too Much" is what they call a floor filler. It's music where the knowing dancer can get his or her spins in. Williams also supplied the basso-profundo voice chanting "home boy" on Mr. Wiggles' proto-rap masterwork of the same name, from 1966.
4. Little Tommy, "Baby Can't You See" (Sound of Soul, 1966)
"I'm Hurt," by vocalist and drummer Tyrone "Little Tommy" Thomas, was a local R&B hit. But the fine follow up, "I'm Still Hurt," didn't make much noise. On the B-side, however, still-in-his teens Tommy emotes like a 40-year old baritone belter, the horn intro alerts the listener that something bold is about to happen, and we are left with a performance where band and vocalist practically propel themselves out of the record's grooves. Search eBay for a mint copy of this gem and prepare to drop a grand or two.
5. The Deadbeats, "No Second Chance?" b/w "Why Did You" (Strata, 1967)
These white South Side Richmond kids already had quite a pedigree before cutting this two-sider for Philadelphia's Strata label. Group members had appeared on WTVR's "Teen Tempo" as the house band, backed and bonded with Little Tommy and recorded lo-fi versions of the above songs at Richmond Sound Stages on Cary Street. "No Second Chance" is a space-age blast that could easily double as a secret-agent theme, and drummer Jerry Fugget's fluid vocals are front and center on the more soulful "Why Did You." Today, soul fans debate which tune is tops, but in 1967 that very debate is what caused the disc to die.
6. Bernard Smith & Jokers Wild, "Gotta Be a Reason" (Groove, 1968)
Starting as an all-white band, Jokers Wild recruited Peyton Johnson and Bernard Smith, both of whom were black. This didn't sit well in certain social circles in 1966, losing them some country-club gigs and debutante parties. But leader Howard Awad was tenacious in booking the band and their popularity grew. Early in 1968, producer Martin Gary recorded the group at Edgewood, a 4-track studio in Washington. But nobody successfully marketed the record and the standard pressing (500 copies) saw few sales. "Gotta Be a Reason" is incredibly tight, with a near rumba rhythm carrying Bernard's suave vocal. It's a soul sound that seems headed for Virginia Beach, while sounding classy enough for the Riviera.
7. William Cummings, "Make My Love a Hurting Thing" (Bang Bang, 1969)
A member of Zeke and the Soul Setters, trombonist William Cummings was the featured vocalist on two of the 45s the group released in 1969 and 1970 under the auspices of writer and producer David Fitzgerald. Recorded at Rodel Studio in Washington, "Make My Love a Hurting Thing" may be Richmond's top-dollar soul disc. With a grand performance by the musicians, Fitzgerald's "Hurting Thing" is a magnum opus; a biting account of love at its most bittersweet.
Brent Hosier is the researcher and compiler behind Arcania International, a label that reissues and unearths classic Virginia soul, funk, garage and psychedelic rock from the '60s. For information on Arcania's "Ol' Virginia Soul" and "Aliens, Psychos and Wild Things" series, visit garagesoul66.blogspot.com.