The tale of the tapes
Decades of music wait to be unraveled, heard
Marvin Maxwell and Walker ED Amick stand amid piles of master tapes. (BY MARY ANN GERTH, THE COURIER-JOURNAL)
"We're just tickled to death that he finally turned loose of them. I told him, 'Ray, you're gonna die, and I'm gonna die, and all of those tapes are gonna disappear.' " — MARVIN MAXWELL, 59
"Our main concern is that these get put out in a form that gives the performers their due. We've got to get this stuff out there." — WALKER ED AMICK, 53
On the third floor of a 112-year-old building in New Washington, Ind., sit several decades of Louisville music, waiting to be heard. The boxes of tape are cracked and splitting. Some of the tape is threatening to crumble.
The great Harvey Fuqua is stacked on top of the Bluegrass Alliance. There's also gospel music by former boxer Jimmy Ellis, Midnight Star, Bodeco, Abraham Rush, Nick Clooney and Gary Burbank.
On a shelf against the wall are Wayne Young, the Dynamic Invaders, Bob Braun, the Fanatics, Billy Paul, Kenny and the Accents, Dorothy Boy, the Aristocrats and Boot Hog Pefferley.
Several large boxes are filled with master tapes, the music dating from the late 1950s to the early 1990s: the Sultans, the Monarchs, Rugbys, Gary Edwards, Tren-dells, Denny Lile, Pure Funk, Henry Lee Summer, Kenny Smith, the Keyes.
Some you've heard of, while many were no-hit wonders, bands from Louisville and Cincinnati that scraped up enough money to record a handful of songs at Jeffersontown's defunct Sambo Recording Studios, which was later renamed Allen-Martin.
The vast majority of the music hasn't been heard in decades, but two men are trying to change that with a plan that could result in international distribution of CDs and a radio show dedicated to the unheard and unheralded Louisville music on the tapes.
It's a big job, but Marvin Maxwell and Walker ED Amick are determined to make the members of Boot Hog Pefferley stars.
Treasure IslandMaxwell and Amick have been musicians and raconteurs since they were teens. As partners in Groovy Music Inc., they've released three albums of vintage Louisville music, two by Soul Inc. and one by Elysian Field.
Maxwell was the drummer in both of those bands and recorded almost exclusively at Sambo/Allen-Martin. Since retiring from running Mom's Music, he and his wife, Beverly, have restored a historic building in New Washington and have opened a store, A Step Back. The place is also the "world headquarters" of Groovy Music Inc.
Maxwell's longtime relationship with Ray Allen and Grady Martin, who started Sambo, led to him and Amick buying the master tape motherlode earlier this year.
"We've got Louisville's history of rock 'n' roll," said Amick, 53, who's in public relations, lives in Scottsburg, Ind., and operates the Kids First nonprofit fund-raising organization.
The existence of the tapes wasn't a secret, and Allen had tired of fielding requests from specialty record labels and obsessive collectors.
"One of the reasons I got my hands on this stuff is that Ray just didn't want to deal with those people anymore," said Maxwell, 59, of Nabb, Ind. "They liked to drive him nuts.
"We're just tickled to death that he finally turned loose of them. I told him, 'Ray, you're gonna die, and I'm gonna die, and all of those tapes are gonna disappear.' "
Interest has increased significantly now that the music is being actively shopped. Maxwell and Amick want to start a series of releases under the umbrella title of 9912 Taylorsville Road, which was the studio's address. They've also recorded a sample radio show for local broadcast. Most CDs would be compilations, but there's enough material to release entire albums by Ellis, the Bluegrass Alliance, Midnight Star and many more.
"There's a lot of energy in this stuff," Maxwell said.
Some of the music will certainly generate interest beyond the collectors' market.
One tape features Cincinnati's The Charmaines, who apparently came to Louisville for some overdubs. They brought their own master, which happens to have several tracks cut by blues-rock guitarist Lonnie Mack, including the first four takes of "Memphis," a million-selling hit.
Clooney, George's father, tried some singing in addition to acting, writing and running for Congress. Fuqua was founder of the Moonglows and an integral part of the Motown empire who once managed and produced three Louisville bands simultaneously. Ellis was heavyweight champion of the world.
The late Braun was a longtime TV personality, singer and writer based in Cincinnati; he was host of "The Bob Braun Show" for 18 years. Maxwell and Amick are still trying to confirm it, but they think that several boxes of tape labeled "Billy Paul" are by the famous rhythm-and-blues singer responsible for "Me and Mrs. Jones."
The soul and rhythm-and-blues music in the 9912 collection is stirring the most interest nationally.
Kenny Smith is a soul singer from Cincinnati who did well regionally and became a cult figure in England, where the Northern Soul scene often embraced minor American performers.
Cincinnati's Chris Burgen, 27, is a music historian who has been helping Cincy's soul veterans re-release their music.
"The significance (of the tapes), at least to someone who's interested in quality soul music from the time period, cannot be overstated," Burgen wrote in an e-mail. "Kenny Smith is a bit of a minor legend in some parts of the world. …
"I know ED has uncovered a number of masters for songs recorded by Kenny. The ones I know of specifically are 'Go for Yourself' and 'My Day Is Coming,' which were originally released on the RCA label. An original copy of this single could fetch you anywhere from $30 to $100."
Lee Joseph owns Dionysus Records, based in Burbank, Calif. He specializes in reissuing music from the 1950s through the '80s and releasing new albums from bands influenced by early rock. He wants to partner with Maxwell and Amick to distribute the 9912 Taylorsville Road series internationally.
"Personally, I love the five-year period of rock music that started with surf and ended around the psychedelic era, when regional rock scenes were in full bloom and there were thousands of rock bands inspired by the trends and sounds of the day to entertain the locals, cut a single and have a stab at potential fame," Joseph, 47, wrote in an e-mail. "It's a curious mixture of archaeology, history, a rejection of modern culture and embracement of our very own lost Americana."
Red tapeMaster tape isn't the only kind that Maxwell and Amick are dealing with. The red tape is far more daunting.
As musicians who have been stiffed more often than not, they're insistent on discovering who played on which tracks, who's still alive and who needs to get paid. Part of the profits from future sales will benefit the Musicians Emergency Resource Fund (MERF).
The tapes themselves have precious little information, and a card file provided by Allen is incomplete. So Maxwell and Amick have set up a form on their Web site where musicians who recorded at Sambo and Allen-Martin can post all of the projects on which they worked.
"Our main concern is that these get put out in a form that gives the performers their due," Amick said. "We've got to get this stuff out there."
"But where do we start?" Maxwell said. "There's not been a very sophisticated way to let people know this stuff is here. It's been people calling somebody and somebody calling somebody else.
"We've got some work cut out for us." of the tapes