Arts Desk

What Are Numero’s Plans for D.C. Soul?

You've heard a lot this week about Father's Children, a sort of obscure '70s D.C. soul band whose very obscure, unreleased record Whose Gonna Save the World gathered dust in producer Robert Hosea Williams' garage for decades. This week, the Chicago archival label Numero Group released the album, along with extensive liner notes that tell the group's fascinating story. (You can find the abridged narrative in my review.)

But Numero Group isn't done with the contents of Williams' garage. "There's a project in the works, but it's well over a year away currently," writes Numero's publicist, although the label—whose principles are busy this week tying up the loose ends of their massive project involving Cleveland's Boddie Records—declined to comment further. Fair enough.

Here's what I know: For the last seven or so years, the local soul historian Kevin Coombe—aka DJ Nitekrawler, and aka the guy who runs the website DC Soul Recordings—has been working on a book about D.C. and Maryland funk, soul, and R&B. Coombe's research led him to Williams in 2006, and they met at Williams' Maryland home and eventually became friends.

Williams is a vastly important figure in D.C. soul: He engineered and produced at places like Tracks Studios and the influential Edgewood Studios before joining D.B. Sound Studios in Silver Spring as a co-owner. That's where he produced for Father's Children beginning in September 1972. When the band's managers couldn't pay the tab for the sessions, Williams kept the tapes.

Williams kept a whole lot more, it turns out. Coombes writes in an e-mail:

Eventually, Jose took me to his garage. It was there that I discovered shelves and shelves of original '70s master reels (otherwise refered to as "tapes"), both those from sessions at his own studio, and those he helped engineer at other venues. I eventually went through all of it. Some covers referred to sessions I knew about.  Some covers mentioned groups I'd never heard of. And some tape covers made me stop cold and wonder...one such tape referenced "Father's Children."

There are hundreds of tapes. Some contain sessions for recordings that came out, including rarities like Public Notice's "Tack Head"/"Our Love Is Fading" 45 from 1976—which Coombe has only seen copies of twice. Other tapes are from acts that Coombe has never heard of. They may never have been released, or released to little fanfare.

In 2009, Coombe took his friends Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley—both from Numero Group—to visit Williams. (In fact, they'd licensed material from Williams before, for the compilation Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul.) Sevier and Shipley checked out the garage, and eventually they agreed with Williams to move the master reels to Chicago for transferring. They decided to make Father's Children their first release from the cache.

So what's the project? Talking to Coombe, it sounds like it'll be some sort of release pegged to Williams' role as a producer and engineer. That sounds like something that belongs in Numero's Local Customs series, which has collected music made at studios in Beaumont, Texas, and Ecorse, Mich. Or maybe it'll be something else.

Either way, we're about to learn a whole lot more about lost D.C. soul. I hope at least some of it is as cool as Father's Children.

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