Arts Desk

Numero to Release the Lost Recordings of Robert Hosea Williams

A flyer made by Robert Hosea Williams, scanned by Kevin Coombe

Last summer, Chicago archival label Numero Group did God's work by shedding light on a forgotten D.C. soul outfit, Father's Children. The band recorded an album of cathartic, messianic soul music beginning in 1972 with the producer Robert Hosea Williams, who kept the tapes after the band's management failed to pay the bill. The sessions might have stayed forever in obscurity, but a few years ago the local music historian Kevin Coombe reached out to Williams as part of his research for a book on D.C. and Maryland funk, soul, and R&B music. They started hanging out in Williams' Maryland home. Last year, Coombe told me:

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."

Coombe brought his friends from Numero Group to visit Williams, and they decided to release the Father's Children record, Who's Gonna Save the World.

There were hundreds of more tapes, though, and now some of the recordings will appear on an upcoming Numero compilation of songs recorded by Williams, A Red Black and Green Production, as part of the label's "Eccentric Soul" series.

In a blog post last week, Numero teased the upcoming release. Some of the 19 songs recorded between 1971 and 1975—like East Coast Connection’s “Summer in the Parks” and Promise’s “I’m Not Ready for Love”—came out on Williams' own label, New Directions. Some were released on different labels. Coombe, who writes that he helped out Numero a little with the release, says much of the material is previously unreleased.

A Red Black and Green Production drops April 24. Here's the official language from Numero:

Shrine Records, founded by Berry Gordy’s ex-wife Raynoma and his ex-employee Eddie Singleton, was the District of Columbia’s own attempt to stare down the mighty Motown. But after the destruction of the label during the riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, D.C. soul music never fully recovered. Raynoma and Eddie Singleton’s go-to outside engineer Robert Jose Williams wouldn’t be the only entrepreneur who picked up the torch, but it’s hard to argue that anyone produced better soul music inside the Beltway during the 1970s.

While not manning knobs and faders for Gil Scott-Heron, Hugh Masekela, and a host of major label also-rans at Edgewood Studios, the capital’s most opulent recording facility, Williams worked off-hours at his own scrappy headquarters—the basement of his parents’ suburban Silver Springs’ home on Octagon Road. Out of those cramped quarters came the underground sounds collected here.

Red, Black, and Green Productions is the story of a well-connected engineer whose cabal of Beltway talent surreptitiously produced the finest soul music coming out of D.C. during the midsection of the 1970s. Its flag flown fully behind the scenes, the company name never graced an actual label. But 40 years on, inquiring minds would collect fine- print references to Red, Black, and Green from a scattering of regional releases on labels large and small, finally connecting the boldly colored dots.

No true RBG record label to run meant no stock to manage, no promos to mail out, no disc jockeys to bribe...but it also made for tenuous control of the music’s destiny. Much of what Williams produced went unreleased, despite the indisputably high quality of all his recordings. The artists collected here represent the best that 1970s Washington, D.C., had to offer. Skip Mahoaney & the Casuals were an RBG success story, springing from local release purgatory onto a major label. Dyson’s Faces launched the career of small-time legend Clifton Dyson, whose recording and performing career took him through three decades. Father’s Children scored a one-shot Mercury deal eight long years after their RBG recordings (and a Numero reissues of their RBG productions in 2011). And East Coast Connection, Promise, and the Summits all managed to eke out a single or two, none of them distributed beyond District limits. The Exceptions never saw release at all, though a few members formed the current incarnation of The Moments.

Eccentric Soul has made a mission of shining light upon the darkest corners of the 1960s and 1970s independent soul music explosion in the US. With Red, Black, and Green Productions, Numero’s flagship series delves past the record label veneer and dives into a deeper well of sound reverberating out of the political capital of the planet. "

But wait, there's more D.C. soul news: Coombe has also compiled a Hilton Felton best-of anthology, which will be out this spring on Jazzman Records. In the '70s, Felton released his own albums and others' on his funk and soul label Hilton's Concept, Inc.

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