Marc Rowlands Explores 20 Years of BBE
Although every era undoubtedly has something to offer, the mid 1990s was a great time to be buying music. Hip hop had just been through a purple patch that lasted several years and American style house music was once again the best thing on disco dance-floors, after several years of European rave interlopers having snatched the baton from Chicago. Vinyl and CD were still the popular choice for most young music enthusiasts and much of the hip hop and house they were buying pointed, via samples, back to an earlier era of inspiration that held worlds of wonder waiting to be rediscovered.
Not a moment too soon, enter BBE Records. Within no time at all this new label established itself as both a contributor to contemporary sounds and an expert guide through vintage sounds compatible with the musical zeitgeist. Over 20 years they have held our hands, leading us to unknown treasures from the histories of soul, funk, disco and jazz (then reggae and house) while adding forward thinking new hip hop, soul and house to the soundscape that was among the best available. Much more than just a reissue label, BBE Records became beloved for making the best sounds available to everyone. Their compilations were enough to turn a casual music fan’s home into a library of deep grooves capable of pleasing any party, while dedicated DJs and serious enthusiasts were also besotted by their consistency.
“Keb Darge, Kenny (Dope), Spinna, a lot of my peers and good friends have put together such good compilations for them,” Masters At Work’s Louie Vega told this writer recently. “I love the new Spinna project they’ve just done too, the Wonder Of Stevie album.”
Among the new music they have gifted to the world, original hip hop from the likes of J Dilla, Pete Rock, DJ Vadim, Madlib and Jazzy Jeff, the soulful sounds of Bilal and Georg Levin and the previously unreleased vintage sounds of Hugh Masekela and Roy Ayers Virgin Ubiquity are among the most highly cherished. Aside from their all killer no filler compilations, they sometimes deemed an artist’s work so special, such as in the case of Sandy Barber, Pal Joey and Jean Wells, to name just three, that they dedicated full reissues to one single artist.
“They’ve been an inspiring and reliable label for both new music and killer old obscurities,” says Mr Scruff. “Looking back on their massive back catalogue, there are a lot of highlights. I would say that the Legendary Deep Funk compilations are the pick of the bunch for me.”
Everyone, of course, has their favourites on this most highly regarded of labels. But, to celebrate their 20th anniversary year, we’ve attempted the near impossible and tried to distil their vast endeavours down to the best 5 compilations and the best 5 re-edits released by the label.
This proved to be a difficult enough task as a subjective solo endeavour, so this writer roped in the assistance of a range of DJs and music enthusiasts some, like the aforementioned being well known, others of a less famous but no less well informed standing. To be honest, it didn’t help that much in narrowing it down. The opinions offered up a range of differing potential inclusions, classic upon classic, as you might expect from such a revered library. But although their selections were not the same, the consistency and fact BBE had made such amazing music so accessible was a message we heard time and time again.
“They still have that ‘buy on sight’ quality which is very rare to see nowadays.,” said Tru Thoughts/Freestyle recording artist and DJ Diesler.
“They have helped curate, educate and bring to the fore so much underground music that would otherwise have remained in the exclusive domain of dusty fingered vinyl heads,” said London based partygoer and DJ Ben Brophy. “In my opinion, a serious service to music and musical heritage”.
“I loved how they made rare tracks available and I’ve gone on to track down originals and learn even more” said Manchester based DJ Chris Feinmann. “My record collection and musical knowledge has benefited hugely because of BBE.”
The plaudits went on and on. But enough of them. Like BBE, let’s concentrate on the music…
BBE’s 5 best re-edits
Two Tons Of Fun “Do You Wanna Boogie” BBE rework
Singers Izora Armstead and Martha Wash (and later Jeanie Tracy) first came to broad attention as backing singers integral to the live shows and albums of Sylvester, a titan of disco music. It is their vocals that elevate his songs such as “Was It Something That I Said”, “Dance (Disco Heat)”, “Over And Over”, “I Need You” into being among the best and most soulful of songs from the genre.
They went on to record their own standout album on the same label they’d worked on with Sylvester, Fantasy and with the same producer Harvey Fuqua. Although the track “Never Like This” from their follow up LP was an absolute killer, their debut LP, the eponymous titled “Two Tons O’ Fun” yielded countless classics including mid tempo heart melter “Just Us”, “I Got The Feeling” (which Patrick Cowley would go on to remix), the glorious “Earth Can Be Just Like Heaven”, “Make Someone Feel Happy Today” and “Do You Wanna Boogie, Hunh?”. Re-edited and given a house beat on BBE, the latter was a Transatlantic club smash in 1998 and 1999, a set highlight for hundreds of top flight DJs. “It still gives me goosebumps!” says Manchester based DJ Mike O’Mara of the track that appeared on BBE’s “Mad Styles And Crazy Visons” collection, compiled by Louie Vega. Mike, you’re not alone.
Two Tons O’ Fun renamed themselves The Weather Girls and went on to have a huge hit with “It’s Raining Men” before parting ways. Martha Wash went on to have a successful solo career and sang on many house records notably, partnership with Jocelyn Brown on Todd Terry’s “Keep On Jumpin” and “Something Goin’ On”.
Family Of Eve “I Wanna Be Loved By You” Kenny Dope edit
In 2005 Family of Eve were featured in the February edition of the Pittsburgh Courier as the “longest running band in the Pittsburgh tri-state area.” Given their longevity it’s perhaps a shame they haven’t got round to releasing a widely available album. They did, however, manage to release one helluva stand out single in 1980 on Jeree Records. The 7” was little know outside of soul connoisseur and DJ circles until one of the deepest of such enthusiasts, Keb Darge, brought it to BBE in 1997 (alongside the single’s great flipside “Please Be Truthful”) for inclusion on the first of his Legendary Deep Funk compilations on the label. It was such a standout inclusion, crossing over soul floors into the sets of disco DJs and even the house sets of others like Derrick Carter, a 12” release was warranted and a wonderful Kenny Dope re-edit commissioned. Within this action, instigated by BBE and embraced with unending thanks by dancers, lies the very essence of why BBE is so loved. They helped turn a little known gem of excellence into a dancefloor classic cherished by legions.
Love Committee “Just As Long As I Got You” Dimitri From Paris Re-Edit
Love Committee first emerged on Golden Fleece Records, a subsidiary of the Philadelphia International Records hit making factory, helmed mainly by PIR’s integral Earl Young, Norman Harris and Ron Baker. Like their parent label it is a treasure trove of soul and early disco. Love Committee had grown out of great 60s Philly soul group The Ethics and also recorded for PIR’s other subsidiary TSOP before following Young, Harris and Baker to the umbrella of New York’s Salsoul Records, where they recorded two albums for the Norman Harris helmed Gold Mind Records. Just short of 6 minutes long when it appeared as the final track on their debut 1978 Gold Mind album, the Tom Moulton mixed “Law And Order”, “Just As Long As I Got You” was stretched into a more wild 12” version by the masterful Walter Gibbons that same year. But there was still a lot of slack in that version, its energy inconsistent. Dimitri From Paris did away with all that for his powerhouse of a re-edit, ruthlessly slashing sections from the original 12” and restructuring to create a dancefloor detonation more deadly than most then current house music. It was featured on his 2000 “Disco Forever” compilation for BBE.
Sandy Barber “I Think I’ll Do Some Steppin On My Own” Opolopo rework
Sandy B was a well know singer of the 90s house era when BBE started, recording for a series of quality New York labels such as Nervous Records and King Street Sounds before releasing the huge dancefloor hit “Make The World Go Round” on Champion Records. Few who bought the latter would have been aware that in 1978 she’d also recorded a sublime soul album. “The Best Is Yet To Come” had originally appeared on little know New York independent label Olde World Records, a valiant champion of traditional soul music sounds in the disco era and home to veterans of the genre like Brook Benton, Lloyd Price and Al Johnson. Their small promotional abilities meant that Barber’s album didn’t reach as many ears as was warranted by its quality. That changed when BBE lovingly reissued the album in 2011 as well as three re-edits of “I Think I’ll Do Some Steppin On My Own”, one by Al Kent, one by John Morales, the other by Stockholm based Peter Major aka Opolopo. It was the latter that was a club, festival and beachside smash across Europe and further still. And rightly so, it’s a masterful example of how good edits can very occasionally be.
Martin L. Dumas Jr. “Attitude, Belief & Determination” Zaf LoveVinyl Slight Edit
Surely by 2009 all the great, rare disco had been discovered and released? Ha! Think again. It was in that year that BBE issued The Real Sound Of Chicago: Underground Disco From The Windy City. Compiled by Mark Grusane and Mike Cole of the Mr Peabody Records store in Chicago and featuring several of their own edits, it unleashed two CDs full of little known but high quality disco to the world, including this Holy Grail for rare disco collectors.
Guitarist and singer Martin Dumas Jr is better known as a member of Rasputin’s Stash, an early 70s Chicago funk group also featuring Bruce Butler, Frank Donaldson, Paul Coleman and Vince Willis and that is the band that performs here. They recorded an album for Cotillion, another for Gemigo (which also issued The Notations and Arnold Blair’s “Trying To Get Next To You”) plus a couple of singles for Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. Chicago through and through, the essential backing vocals here are provided by Theresa Davis who was briefly a member of The Emotions and who also sang with Gene Chandler.
Uber collector Zaf LoveVinyl, also known to London’s record buying public from many years spent working at Reckless Records, created a subtle, seamless and epic joy fest of an edit which brought smiles and positivity to many a dancefloor in 2015.
BBE’s 5 best compilations
Strange Games and Funky Things (Volume II)
BBE set the bar extremely high with the release of its first compilation and within a year delivered a knockout blow in the form of Strange Games and Things. Compiled by label head Peter Adarkwah and featuring perhaps the label’s first stellar piece of cover art, Strange Games and Things was simply the best collection of rare 70s soul then available. Its punchy tracks and killer breakbeats fitted perfectly alongside the era’s hip hop and R&B, effortlessly matching Puff Daddy source samples in arrangement and groove. Just a year later, in 1998, Peter managed somehow to better it with the follow up, a compilation stacked with so much finery it is pointless to highlight a mere sample. The opening track by Creative Source is the chosen example purely as it often reminds those who cherish this collection of the wondrous journey about to be embarked upon. Every home should have one .
BBE had already delved into disco but it was only when they roped in Joey Negro for 1999’s “Disco Spectrum” that they devoted a whole compilation to the genre. Just two years earlier Negro had compiled the stand out “Jumpin” disco compilation for Harmless. Perfectly timed due to a huge renewed interest in the genre, its clubs like Paradise Garage, its DJs like David Mancuso and Larry Levan and its music which was the source sample to much of the American house music of the day, you could have been forgiven for wondering if Negro could equal his Jumpin installments. On “Disco Spectrum” he did, delving deeper into the genre to cover records from the 70s and 80s, ones described as proto house, boogie, jazz funk and even Northern Soul. The release proved so popular that BBE commissioned its follow up “Disco Spectrum 2” for release just one year later and that effort is doubtless on a par. “Got To Get Your Love” is the chosen example as, outside of P+P fanatics and the few who had grabbed a copy of Boogie Tunes 2, this was the most wide exposure the track had received until then.
Stop and Listen 5
BBE’s first ever release was a Stop and Listen compilation. Its compiler Bob Jones utilised his extensive knowledge of soul music and passion for contemporary dancefloor action to turn in a collection that set the bar very high for BBE, including rarities like “Body Fusion” and “You Make Me So Hot” and classics like “You’re So Good To Me”, “Runaway Love” and “Hot Music”. The series changed compiler with each release and when it rolled round to being the turn of Masters At Work you knew you were going to be in for something special. Louie Vega and Kenny Dope had already contributed to the label, but in 2000 the association was to become inextricable as BBE released a fantastic MAW 10th anniversary collection and Kenny turned in a stunning new inclusion to the Strange Games and Funky Things series (the first to feature a mix). First though, was this all over the shop collection on which each took a CD, Louie’s including Boris Gardiner “Melting Pot”, Pépé Bradock “Deep Burnt”, the Freeform Five mix of Isolée’s “Beau Mot Plage” and Taana Gardner’s “When You Touch Me”, Kenny’s featuring Sun Palace’s “Rude Movements”, the Larry Levan mix of “Seventh Heaven”, Nina Simone “See Line Woman” and Jill Scott “Slowly Surely”. It is testament to their faultless tastes that many of the then contemporary inclusions are now regarded as classics equal to the vintage material they submitted.
DJ Spinna “Funk Rock”
BBE has always liked to cultivate strong relationships with their artists, which is why you’ll see many of the aforementioned names, plus people like Kon & Amir and DJ Deep, appear countless times on their credits. It’s a family setting. DJ Spinna is another such reoccurring contributor, yet unlike all the previous compilations, this breaks heavy collection of funk rock was sadly a one off. Those lucky enough had their appetites whetted with a promo release, but when it came time for the full revelation the tracks had changed dramatically, numbers by Steely Dan, Steve Miller, Chicago and Sylvester replaced with superior selections from the likes of Brian Auger & The Trinity, Buddy Miles, Yellow Sunshine and Babe Ruth some of which defined the release. They joined other stand out moments by Can, Sly & The Family Stone and The Headhunters on a release that could easily be regarded as the benchmark for anything attempting to cover the genre and which proved just how accessible rock music could be to all. A thrilling, unique inclusion to the catalogue.
?uestlove “Babies Makin Babies”
BBE’s compilations, whether containing disco, house, funk, hip hop or soul, always seemed firmly aimed towards the dancefloor, but when ?uestlove submitted tracks for his “Babies Making Babies” collection, released in 2002, it bucked the trend. Here was not so much a wild discotheque companion as a comforting partner welcoming you home after the club. Its dreamlike, atmospheric, sexy and sometimes snail paced selections were the perfect soundtrack for relaxation, reflection, sleep, introspection or intimacy and in classic BBE fashion the running order was sublime.
He followed it up in 2006 with a more heartbroken set of inclusions on the second instalment, each of the compilations displaying an old soul’s love of deep soul. The opening track, Smokey Robinson’s “A Quiet Storm” spawned a whole sub genre of soul that some American radio specialised in from the mid 1970s, its slow tempos, mellow dynamics and seemingly effortless flow mirroring what ?uestlove managed to achieve here.
Aside from the aforementioned, the following DJs and enthusiasts helped in the compilation of this list: Jon K, Sean Johnston ALFOS, Danny Daw, Nick Blow, Julie Wills, Martin Brew, Irfan Rainy City, Pete Haigh, Nick The Record, Howie Martinez, Darren Laws, Scott Taylor, Andi Hanley, Patrick Little, Stretford Dogs Home, Raif Collis
Words by Marc Rowlands