David Lee, Carolina Soul & The Paradise of Bachelors Record Label
David Lee’s Carolina Soul was originally published on August 2, 2011.]
Long-time readers might remember our piece from last year on the Carolina Soul site and the Paradise of Bachelors record label. POB’s first release, Said I Had A Vision: Songs & Labels of David Lee 1960 – 1988 was one of our absolute favorite records from 2010–and the release has continued to get some wonderful press, so I’d like to start off the week by sharing some of this information. If we’ve hit the summer doldrums (August), this record is the best antidote I can imagine. Paradise of Bachelors is now offering a limited edition LP repressing; folks can find the digital download at iTunes or Amazon Music.
Here’s “You’ve Been Gone Too Long” by Ann Sexton. As the liner notes explain, “the tune must make any list of curious, ‘Jody’ genre songs, for its reference to the archetypal male opportunist who, according to Vietnam-era folklore, would latch onto women whose husbands or boyfriends were serving overseas.”
While we are currently in a golden age of reissues and unearthed music, with more and more coming out each week, what sets Said I Had a Vision apart is its combination of context (rural North Carolina, from the civil rights era to the Reagan era), the quality of its songwriting, and the absolute exuberance of the performances. Many such records have these qualities in unequal parts, but Said I Had A Vision contains songs that exceed the normal obscurity-fetish that similar records often cultivate. After I play this record through, I generally feel like everyone I know needs to hear these songs.
A man of faith, [David] Lee’s output tended towards the spiritual. And although most benefit from Cleveland County’s proximity to Charlotte’s Arthur Smith and Reflection Studios, perhaps his most generous offering was recorded on location at Mice Creek Baptist Church, in nearby Gaffney, South Carolina. “On My Way Up” by the Relations Gospel Singers showcases the careening lead of Steve Allen, whose exorcism range leaves church-van tracks through a field of delicate piano and choral support, recalling the fly-on-the-wall intimacy of an Allan Lomax artifact. Much of Lee’s color-blind songwriting was realized by the Constellations, a salt-and-pepper ensemble who, during Shelby’s annual Art of Sound Festival last October, proved they could still do “The Frog,” walking sticks in hand. “They were just like kids to us when they started,” revealed wife Nelena of Lee’s most allegiant act. “We was just like a big family, rolled up together.” With the exception of “northern soul” curiosity Ann Sexton, most on Lee’s short-but-sweet roster still reside in Cleveland County, like blue-eyed crooner Bill Allen from nearby Cherryville. “You probably drove past there!” exclaims Lee. “You should have hollered for Bill when you was coming through.”
Further write-ups on the resurgence of interest in Mr. Lee’s work has appeared in Our State magazine and The Charlotte Observer. Earlier this year, Mr. Lee was awarded the Brown-Hudson award by the North Carolina Folklore Society, introduced by Mr. Perlmutter and Mr. Greaves. Afterwards, he gave a performance of “I Can’t Believe You’re Gone” and “I’ll Never Get Over Losing You,” the latter of which appears on Said I Had a Vision:
We spent an illuminating and pleasant afternoon in Mooresboro, North Carolina with the Lees; Harold Allen, Don Camp, William “Butch” Mitchell, and Benjamin and Bryan “Brownie” Guest of the Constellations. Hearing these gentlemen’s stories about unflagging brotherhood, camaraderie, and the timelessness of “love ballads”–in the face of physical threats, racist invective, and a Southern and national climate opposed to their very existence–was truly inspiring. The Constellations were the first mixed-race combo in the area, and they did it as mere kids, getting started in 1958 or 1959 as teenagers and only dissolving upon the departure of members to Vietnam in 1964 and 1965.In that time, they recorded six energetic sides for David Lee, all of which belie their tender ages, plus two unreleased tracks–”Have You Seen My Baby?” and “I Want to Jerk”–which Mr. Lee sent to Benjamin Guest while he was serving in Vietnam. Those tapes may yet emerge for your delectation…