House Hunting #63 - Rochelle Fleming

I’ve been crate crusading for collections over the last month cherry-picking the choice cuts for myself.

House Hunting #63 - Rochelle Fleming

I’ve been crate crusading for collections over the last month cherry-picking the choice cuts for myself.

So as I hosted the House Call at House Hunting HQ the other week (for those who don’t know it’s a bi-monthly gathering round my gaff dealing black crack at mates rates next one Sunday 23rd October hold tight!) I’ve been crate crusading for collections over the last month cherry-picking the choice cuts for myself. As well the house calls I’ll be reppin’ at the Hackney Record Fair next month (Sunday 25th September) with a carefully curated collection of Italo, disco, boogie and HOUSE – no speculator specials or delirious Discogs prices so jot it down in the diggin’ diary and jet down for a house haggle!

Anyway, with summer finally touchin’ down the last couple of weeks I took a lil’ jaunt up the North London environ East Finchley to check out my local wax haunt Alan’s Records  as it’d been a while… I’m still amazed that loads of heads ain’t checked his joint out a proper treasure trove full of wax jewels waiting to be unearthed complete with a load of bargain bin belters for under a fiver a pop you’ll always score something plus Alan is the perfect host with the most…

As a Tuesday afternoon there wasn’t the usual hustle’n’bustle of the weekend trade so as I pretty much had the shop to myself it was time for a serious rack raid… As ever my first port of crate call was the house racks – straight away scoped the Desire pressing of Fingers Inc’s ‘Can You Feel It’ so sensed he had a recent haute house haul.  On flicking through I clocked more house hotplates including Victor Romeo’s ‘Love Will Find A Way’ (in original Dance Mania sleeve *swoon*) and Dionne’s classic ‘Come Get My Lovin’ on Bigshot so knew this was going to be a serious session so Tonya playing the part of wax widow again sorry love! After checking every house crate standard my choice cop was a more obscure house score in the form of Ricky Dillard’s ‘Let The Music Use You’ LP on Jack Trax – not shrink-wrapped but hype sticker intact intact so could live with that especially for a fiver! Though it features his classic Chicago cuts such as his Farley “Jackmaster” Funk collaboration ‘It’s U’ and the face-melting title-track featuring Frankie Knuckles, for me it’s all about the other tracks that have Larry Heard at the controls with these productions havin’ that ethereal house touch reminiscent of his earlier Alleviated releases. After the house hunt it was time deviate to the the overflowing disco racks for a proto-house peruse. Diggin’ deep in the disco I pulled out jams such as the original Hudson River Records pressing of Cutty’s ‘Naughty Times’ (forget the rap rhymes of the A-side and flip straight for the instrumental) and Kinky Foxx’s funk-fuelled ‘So Different’ with the Hump on the mix. Both these were £15 and in decent condition (Kinky Foxx in Sound Of New York company sleeve bonus!) so had to be scored along with a few slices of Salsoul to stock up for the House Call. Check ‘em out here…

Racks now raided, was time for my OCD to kick in and check them all AGAIN to ensure not missed anything from the thrill of diggin’ delight. Keeping my flickin’ fervour in check, on carefully cruisin’ through the crates had to do a double-take when I pulled out a fierce boogie bomb I’d been after for years. This one was the prime Paradise Garage platter ‘I Know Just What You’re After’ by Salsoul soulstress Rochelle Fleming of First Choice fame featuring proto-house prophets Greg Carmichael at the controls and mix master Shep Pettibone on the mix. On inspecting closer labels clean so that House Hunting quota met but as the copy was a bit beat up (let’s say VG) it was time to test on the turntable and blaze it on the shop stereo. It ain’t often Tonya’s ears prick up but this instantly caught her attention so if she’s feelin’ it you know it’s a sure shot slice. The record played fine and was more than happy to hand over seven quid for it – you can never beat scoring a record you been after for time in a record shop beats the soulnessless of your Juno carts and Discogs wantlists any day of the week… With a boss bassline, killer keys and reverb re-rub by Shep, add Rochelle’s powerhouse performance on vox in the mix and you got a spine-tingling slice of boogie bliss. Get goosebumps from this Gold Cleft cut here…

So let’s delve a lil’ deeper into Rochelle’s roots… Rochelle grew up in Philadelphia and in her youth with her parents encouraging her to express herself she was a natural in singing – influenced by icons of the era such as Aretha Franklin. At high school she took a major in music along with hometown friends Annette Guest, Mulaney Star and Wardell Piper and they formed their own group ‘The Debonettes’ and rehearsed religiously around Annette’s Mum’s house. They were barely in their teens when they were doing the rounds at talent shows in and around Philly, and with their youth on their side they were confident enough to approach DJ Georgie Woods of WDAS radio who broke bands such as Blue Magic, The Delphonics and The Stylistics so was the considered the Frankie Crocker of Philly. They auditioned with an acappella of Aretha Franklin and blew Frankie away so he got on the phone to Philly soul producer and songwriters Norman Harris (who managed The Delphonics) and Allen Felder. They both saw potential in The Debonettes so got Stan “The Man” Watson on board to be their in-house producer. On signing the contracts for their first LP Stan prompted the group to change their names as he felt ‘The Debonettes’ was old-fashioned so after one of the girls said “First” both Rochelle and Annette exclaimed “Choice!” and First Choice were born. 

Their first record ‘This Is The House Where Loved Died’ which was released on Scepter Records subsidiary Wand didn’t set the charts alight however a year later in ’73 they signed to Philly Groove label and released ‘Armed & Extremely Dangerous’ which peaked at Number 11 in the R&B Billboard charts and broke the Top 20 in the UK charts too. Their next release was ‘Smarty Pants’ which also proved to be a hit and their subsequent appearance on Soul Train would give further exposure. Just as they were beginning to blow up Mulaney left as she wanted to marry and Wardell wanted to go out on her own solo so Joyce Jones came in and First Choice were now a trio. Their debut ‘Armed And Extremely Dangerous’ LP was a hit which as well as housing the title-track and ‘Smarty Pants’ also featured ‘Newsy Neighbors’ (which was rinsed by Nicky Siano at The Gallery) and their cover of Al Green’s ‘Love & Happiness’ which has been sampled loads including Ron Hardy’s edit in which he added both the Al Green and First Choice vocals over a primitive jackin’ joint by Marshall Jefferson for some Chi flavour. Get into all these here…

Throughout the late seventies despite another change in personnel with Ursula Herring replacing Joyce Jones who left in ’77, they continued to release more disco diamonds drenched in Philly Soul including Rochelle’s personal fave ‘Love Doctor’ in which Tom Moulton wanted to perfect the mix to the degree he had a heart attack – slave to the art! Their later LPs and releases on Norman Harris’ Gold Mind Records definitely headed into a more disco direction with Salsoul founders the Cayre brothers signing them up to licence and distribute their records on Salsoul. However, all good things come to an end as at the turn of the decade the trio disbanded as Annette wanted to marry and Debbie wanted to pursue Broadway. Their last releases were all on Gold Mind Records including ‘Double Cross’ and ‘Breakaway’ though my fave Gold Mind is ‘Love Thang’ which was released in the twilight of the disco era in ‘79 featuring Better Days’ bossman Tee Scott on the mix def my kinda disco… 

They didn’t fade into complete obscurity however… In ’83 Salsoul rereleased ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ which featured on their ‘Delusions’ LP that was released on Gold Mind back in ’77 and had an additional release in ’79 with Walter Gibbons on the mix. This had been a major club hit especially in over in Chicago where Frankie played it at the Warehouse and Ronnie rinsed it at the Music Box with his cut-up, loop-heavy edits of the Walter Gibbons version. The ’83 release on Salsoul had Frankie Knuckles remixing the track however for me it’s the Shep Pettibone mixes that really elevate the original production and with the added acapella completing the package the track has become one of the most ubiquitous disco anthems – sampled countless times from house heroes such as Steve “Silk” Hurley (‘Jack Your Body’), DJ Deeon (‘2-B-Free’ on Dance Mania) and Burrell Brother Ronald (‘I Need It’ on Nu Groove) – if you need a slice of Salsoul in your life this is the one! Check out those Gold Minds and all the mixes of that serious Salsoul slice here…

So that covers Rochelle but let’s have a brief chat about prolific proto-house pioneer Greg Carmichael who was at the controls of the Gold Cleft 12”. Though he regularly collaborated with fellow prolific production powerhouse Patrick Adams and legendary boogie boss Leroy Burgess, I feel Greg doesn’t get the props that his legacy deserves so gonna play proper purist pleaser. Greg founded influential imprint Red Greg Records which housed his and Patrick’s super groups such as Bumblebee Unlimited and The Universal Robot Band plus Donna McGhee’s scarce speculator slice ‘Make It Last Forever’. However, for me it’s all his early 80s productions that really showcase his production prowess with the raw drum and percussive elements intertwining effortlessly with the emergent electronics and synth-scores at the fore. His Convertion cut ‘Let’s Do It’ is a perfect example and came about after Greg approached Leroy Burgess and his song-writing/production partners James Calloway and Sonny Davenport to compose a song for Sam Records. The track was a hit so the quintet proposed they record an album for the label but Sam didn’t have the budget and to add further insult to injury turns out they copyrighted the Convertion group name. Undeterred, Greg approached the Cayre brothers at Salsoul who were more than happy to finance the project under their new alias Logg. Their eponymous LP dropped in ’81 and as well as being a Larry Levan fave it was a hit in Europe and got licensed to Rams Horn – I’ve had two House Call events and can’t believe no-one’s scored this lethal Logg lacquer off me hit me up! Anyway, during the recording of the LP Greg wasn’t happy with Salsoul so took the master tape of ‘Barely Breaking Even’ which was supposed to feature on the Logg LP and sold it to Moonglow who released it the following year in ’82. This jam is a fierce boogie bomb that was cut in one day after a marathon 14-hour plus session in the studio – you can definitely feel the energy of the session in this one and was the inspiration for reissue kings BBE. As well as Bumblebee Unlimited, Convertion and The Universal Robot Band other group guises included Inner Life (who with their muse Jocelyn Brown released a load of platters on Personal, Prelude and Salsoul which housed their hit ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’) and Wish with Fonda Rae fronting with her honeyed vox on the spine-tingling slice ‘Touch Me (All Night Long)’ complete with Better Day’s Bruce Forest on the mix – proper face-melter which I found at my local digs The Little Record Shop the other week. As well as fusing disco and boogie in his inimitable flow in the early 90s Greg turned his hand to house and garage with the In Groove imprint being a vehicle for his housed-up versions of his disco diamonds including Inner Life, Instant Funk and Logg though for me it’s all about the Colonel Abrams styling of ‘Your Love (Means Everything To Me)’ as Double Action house just the way I like it… Check out my choice Carmichael cuts here…

Back to Rochelle and post-disco she reappeared for a brief renaissance in the mid-90s on Aldo Marin’s Cutting Traxx collaborating with garage guru and House Hunting hero Paul Simpson on records including ‘Danger!’ and ‘Love’s Happiness’. However, I’m gonna rewind back to ’85 and leave you with her prime Prelude platter ‘Love Itch’ featuring that dream-team of Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael again supplying the proto-house pressure with the dreamy synths and sun-kissed keys the perfect compliment to Rochelle’s soul-drenched vox yearning “I’ve got a love itch for you, yes I do…”. With autumn on the horizon seek solace in this slice of summer pure boogie bliss…


 

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