HOUSE HUNTING #64 – COLONEL ABRAMS

More crate crusades with our very own house mogul...

HOUSE HUNTING #64 – COLONEL ABRAMS

More crate crusades with our very own house mogul...

Yo so been a wax while as been stockpiling second-hand slices over the last month as House Call left House Hunting HQ to make its Hackney Record Fair debut. Shout to all those who checked out the House Call stall loads of diggin’ deals and house haggles goin’ down… I’ll be reppin’ for the next one in the new year for another house hustle’n’bustle (and watch out for a Ransom Note record fair on the horizon) but in the meantime I’ll be hosting another House Call on Sunday 23rd October back at House Hunting HQ event details HERE, hit me up! 

Anyway, last month no joke I had some diggin’ dreamz where I was on a rack raid at Crazy Beat Records man I need to get a life! It had to be a sign that jetting on a crate crusade there was my calling so as was my day off and Tonya at work an early-morning escapade to the Essex emporium had to be done…  I got there at 11am for some early-doors diggin’ and had the shop to myself so I started with some proto-house perusing through the disco racks. I was pulling out piles of Prelude platters, Salsoul slices and West End wax but as I’d been busy stockpiling for the House Call stall at the Hackney Record Fair I was seeking second-hand solace for myself. After an hour of rinsing those racks my choice cops were The Emotions’ ‘You’re The Best’ on Chicago’s Red Label (all about the dub on this one by mixmasters M&M aka John Morales and Sergio Munzibai) and Al McCall’s soul slice ‘Lock It Up’ with proto-house prophet Eric Matthew on the mix (head straight for the instrumental on this Profile platter) – both coming complete in company sleeves with shrink intact and a fiver a pop nice one! Next up I checked out the LP racks and it was diggin’ déjà vu as I pulled out the ‘Touch’ LP which I also scored on a Crazy Beat crate crusade earlier this year – you can read about that Supertronics score HERE.  To finish I checked out the house section which had been replenished since my last visit with the racks rammed with loads of the usual suspects on Trax and Nu Groove however my fave find was a 12” by Dream 2 Science affiliates Dance Advisory Commission. This one was ‘Free Your Mind’ on 12th Avenue Records (an offshoot of Fore) and though most heads will probably go for the more uplifting ‘Yesterday’s Mix’ for me it’s all about the deeper trajectory on the house instrumental – early 90s NYC house just the way I like it…

It was now lunch so settled my score and jetted back from the outta limits of zone 6 back to London Town. As goin’ on the Overground via Stratford thought I’d stop by a lil’ perusal pit-stop at Hoxton haunt Love Vinyl as it’d been a while. Zaf was at the controls and he just had a fresh batch of haute house including a load of Mad Mike’s Happy Trax and some choice Chicago cuts too but I wasn’t looking to spend serious even though dangerous when Zaf in the house. I had a quick scan on the wall and rifled through the racks but nothing shouting out at me so descended to the Love Vinyl lair to see if could unearth some bargain bin belters. Majority of all these were a pound a pop and copped some cheap cuts such as the Smokin’ slice ‘Vanessa Del Rio’ by Corporation Of One aka Freddy Bastone and the boogie bomb ‘This Beat is Mine’ by Vanessa D on Sam Records. Check out my Crazy Beat cuts and Love Vinyl lacquer here…

I was about to jet home but as choice curators Cosmos Records were in the vinyl vicinity had to take a jaunt up the Hackney Road to check out the latest addition to the Hackney vinyl empire. This is the sister-branch of their celebrated Canadian outpost in Toronto and houses a serious selection of carefully curated collections in the realm of soul, jazz, funk, disco, Brazilian, psych, rock and more obscure allure. Though some speculator specials that’ll appeal to the trainspotters and hardcore collectors it’s a friendly vibe with welcoming staff that ain’t pretentious purveyors – just a bijou boutique that’s all about the records. In terms of house only a small selection which I didn’t scope anything in and no joy in unearthing diamonds in the disco racks despite being my quota of US imports. I hate leaving empty-handed so turned my attention to all the alluring LP lacquer adorning the walls and racks underneath all housed in PVC to preserve and protect. I scoped some legendary LPs with some proto-house flow from the likes of Aleem and Gwen Guthrie, but just as I was on my last-ditch diggin’ attempt I clocked Colonel Abram’s eponymous LP which was practically mint complete with hype sticker and shrink intact nice one! Though usually a dollar bin dig considering Cosmos ain’t cheap and condition records was in was expecting to be a tenner so was a bonus when saw that it was half that at a fiver so the Colonel had to be copped! 

So let’s hark back to this MCA mainstay’s house history… Though born in Detroit, Colonel Abrams (how HOUSE is that name for real the fourth in the family line with that military name!) was raised in NYC after his family moved to the East Village in downtown Manhattan. No doubt the counterculture of the beatnik borough was an influence on his artistic aspirations, with him forming a few groups and even performing with his brother Morris in their group Conservative Manor playing at haunts such as Bogard’s, Grand Finale and Café Reginette in Manhattan. However, Colonel wanted to pursue a recording career so auditioned for Minneapolis’ 94 East – who at the time had the one and only Prince (RIP) playing guitar for them! Colonel’s audition was successful and he recorded a track with the group back in ’76 but it never saw the light of day. He later joined the group Surprise Package in East Orange, New Jersey whose alumni included Steve Arrington of Slave fame but not wanting to be left in the shadows in ’82 he tried his luck in breakin’ out on his own. His first solo score was recording a few joints on an 8-track tape with House Hunting hero Boyd Jarvis which include ‘You Got Me Running’, ‘Release The Tension’ and ‘Celebrate’. These tracks were the blueprint for Boyd’s future productions and laid down the house foundations – the stripped-down garage styling perfectly complimenting the Colonel’s yearning larynx. For decades ‘You Got Me Running’ and ‘Release The Tension’ was a ridiculously rare white label pressing that’s been in many hardcore housespotters’ wax wantlists – easily goes for over a ton… Even with my rack raiding rituals I’ve only come across one of these seldom seen slices in my lifetime and typically had a nick in it that caused a one-second skip that my OCD couldn’t take! So shout to Echovolt Records who last year respectfully re-mastered and re-released the record in tandem with reissue kings Rush Hour – also including the previously unreleased choice cut ‘Celebrate’. After recording these to tape Boyd’s production partner Timmy Regisford dropped these on his WBLS show – check out this live recording from ’83 which has ‘Celebrate’ in the mix. It was only a matter of time before DJ deities such as Larry Levan and The Hump got copies and rinsed in the Paradise Garage and Zanzibar – breaking the bedroom productions into a choice club cuts that would drive the dance disciples crazy as they could only hear via them as the record didn’t receive the release it deserved. Hark back to those house roots in NYC ’83 here…

With the 8-track tape circulating in clubs the local record companies began circling looking for a piece of action and to strike a deal with Boyd’n’Timmy. While this was goin’ down the Colonel had recorded the ballad ‘Leave The Message Behind The Door’ which was signed up by Arthur Baker’s Streetwise stable. The track charted well but the Colonel wanted to recreate the house magic he produced on the 8-track. Streetwise agreed a club cut would be the perfect follow-up so called on their studio whizz Winston Jones (the mastermind behind Cultural Vibe’s ‘Ma Foom Bey’) who had previously released ‘Use Me Lose Me’ with his production partner and fellow proto-house pioneer Paul Simpson as The Paul Simpson Connection. Winston’s collaboration with the Colonel was a departure from his disco-tinged debut on Streetwise with it’s stripped down styling and emphasis on the drums baring all the hallmarks of house. Hardcore housespotter hint if you listen carefully you’ll clock that Winston’s uses the spine of jazz dance instructor Frank Hatchett’s ‘Music Is The Answer’ track from his ‘Dance Crazy’ LP on Statler – proper proto-house Holy Grail! Anyway, the Colonel and Winston had found the formula that made his debut joints all choice club cuts and upon it’s release in ’84 was a house hit. Get into this serious Streetwise slice here…

Now gaining notoriety with his club hits, Colonel frequented the choice NYC club circuit including the Paradise Garage, Zanzibar and Better Days singing these and doing personal performances. However, he couldn’t live off these forever – Boyd and Timmy re-cut ‘Release The Tension’ and released on 4th & Broadway as Circuit that same year so naturally there was going to be a limited shelf-life in the Colonel singing the track live. Though more polished the track didn’t capture the raw feeling of their earlier prototype with the Colonel and to many was an inferior version that didn’t catch-on as much as the original. Anyway, he went back to his home studio and recorded arguably two of his biggest hits – ‘Trapped’ and ‘Speculation’. These were recorded to tape which the mix maestro Timmy Regisford got hold of and played on his WBLS show – the tracks were an overnight hit and played in all the choice clubs whether further afield in Boston, Detroit and Washington DC or home turf in Newark and NYC. It was ‘Trapped’ that gained the most attention and the management of Boston R&B group New Edition (Colonel’s old label mates on Streetwise) took notice and knocked on the door of their label major MCA who also had the Colonel on their radar. They signed him up and they got Richard Burgess on production duties who had been at the controls on records for the likes of Adam Ant, Melba Moore and Spandau Ballet. He gave the home recordings of ‘Trapped’ and ‘Speculation’ a polish and along with disco deity Cerrone they produced an album’s worth or tracks. Now with a label major behind him, Colonel’s tracks could be released worldwide and gain commercial success. His huge house hit ‘Trapped’ transcended the underground clubs and ascended the top ten charts in the US and beyond especially over the Atlantic in Europe in countries such as Germany, The Netherlands and the UK – where that “Oh, Oh I’m Trapped” hook hit the heights of the top five resulting in the Colonel jettin’ in for Top Of The Pops! Other hits on the LP include ‘Over and Over’ and ‘The Truth’ (which has Cerrone at the controls) though my faves include ‘I’m Not Gonna Let’ (which was supposed to be an album cut but Colonel pushed to be a single) and ‘Speculation’ which he hooks up with is main man Winston again. Check out all the live videos here if only to practice the Colonel’s choreography – the best moves in house!

With all the success from his self-titled LP’s singles the following year in ’86 his album soared to number one in the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart for a couple of weeks with ‘Trapped’ selling a massive 5 million copies – it’s influence still felt throughout to this day as sampled loads complete with countless covers including Boards Of Canada’s Hell Interface edit. A year later in ’87 he released his ‘You And Me Equals Us’ LP which housed the hit single ‘How Soon We Forget’ (sounding like a semi-sequel to ‘Trapped’) and a reinterpretation of debut ‘Running’ but as a more polished production it loses the raw rhythm of Boyd Jarvis primitive precursor. The LP ventures more into soul serenading territory – ultimately losing the fresh house flow that thrust him onto the scene a couple of years earlier. After that things went a bit quiet for a few years until the early-mid 90s where he had a renaissance appearing on a load of labels including Freetown Inc, King Street and Strictly Rhythm collaborating with house heavyweights such as Roger Sanchez and Mentalinstrum’s Eddie Perez of Smack fame – majority of these a bit too soulful for me but would have found favour with that New Jersey revival five-odd years ago especially with the dubs. At the turn of the century he collaborated with the Trouble Men in Paris on ‘Hurt My Feelings’ and ‘In The Air’ on Pepe Bradock’s old haunt Kif Recordings plus more recently featured on Omar S’ ‘Who Wrote The Rules Of Love’ however for me all about the lasting legacy of his early-mid 80s records.

There was sad news when late last year due to ill health Colonel fell on financial hardship resulting in him being left homeless. A fundraiser was set-up to help secure him shelter and help towards his medical bills – here’s hoping that’s proved to be the helping hand he needed and we’ll see more of the Colonel soon. I’ll leave you to stand attention to the Colonel with that Top Of The Pops performance that is so house it hurts…

 

HOUSE HUNTING HERALD

Next month Ransom Note will be stepping outta the digital realm to open their Working Men’s Club at Leyton’s premier pub Pepper’s Ghost where R$N renegade Tonka will be hosting his massive pub quiz questions and House Hunting will be joining him holding a house history hark back with film, Q&A and records. Event details soon so hold tight but jot down Wednesday 2nd November in the diary and jet down – worth it alone to witness the gold-plated DJ booth serious scenes! See you down the front… 


Join Aiden for a VERY special "House Hunting Live", a house music 'educational and audio/visual extravaganza' as part of The Ran$om Note Working Men's Club, at Pepper's Ghost, Leyton on 2nd November 2016

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