The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

8 August 2004

The soul of the city

The transformation of the record business into the Music Industry basically spelled the end of the regional hit, the record that all the locals dearly loved and which the rest of the nation unaccountably spurned, ending up way below Billboard's Top 40 as a result but still able to bring back memories.

The archetype for this situation might be Bob Seger, who cut more than a dozen singles in the late Sixties and early Seventies that sold in the high five figures in his native Detroit and apparently nowhere else; of the lot, only "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," credited to the Bob Seger System and issued on Capitol 2297 in 1968, made any serious chart noise, topping out at #17. It would be six years before Beautiful Loser made him a household name in more than a handful of households, and "Night Moves" was still yet to come.

The Detroit soul scene included one monolith — Motown — and one scrappy little competitor, Eddie Wingate's Golden World/Ric-Tic group, which Berry Gordy eventually bought out, ostensibly to get Edwin Starr, Wingate's biggest act, perhaps more likely to keep the Funk Brothers from moonlighting on other people's records. There were major soul scenes in Memphis and in Muscle Shoals, and minor soul scenes in dozens of other places.

One of those scenes was in Columbus, Ohio, and the man behind it is Bill Moss, who at the time was a DJ at WVKO radio and who had cut a couple of records in the late Sixties that went nowhere in particular. In 1970, Moss called for local talent to fill up a local show and maybe fill out the roster for a new record label; the first release on Capsoul (short for Capital City Soul, of course) was Marion Black's "Go On Fool" b/w "Who Knows", issued as CS-20. "Go On Fool" was an extended lament in Toussaint McCall mode, which was picked up for national distribution by Avco Embassy. But the real gem was the flip: "Who Knows" was a spirited shuffle with gospel overtones which got far more airplay. While both sides obviously sold the same, neither individually made the Hot 100.

Still, it was enough to get Bill Moss going. He built a small studio and wangled some local financing, and in 1971 issued perhaps the most remarkable disc of his career: "You Can't Blame Me", CS-22, by "Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr," a group of Columbus kids who up to this point had been called the Revelations. Hawkins didn't actually exist — this was a typo by Moss, who apparently forgot Al Dawson's real name when he typeset the labels — but the one who got the attention was Virgil Johnson, who sang in a quavering yet somehow never thin falsetto that beautifully offset the bumpy bassline and the staccato shouts from the background. Not willing to be a big fish in a small pond, Johnson eventually betook himself to Los Angeles and promptly disappeared.

By 1974, Capsoul was still holding its own, having issued a dozen singles and one LP — Gently Down Your Stream (CSLP-370) by the Four Mints, then the label's most consistent act — when the bankers decided that they'd had enough: Bill Moss, they said, was "too emotionally involved" with Capsoul. Moss' studio was padlocked; he spirited away the master tapes and stored them at a friend's house. Flood waters came, with the results you'd expect; disheartened, Moss took what little inventory he had down to a record-pressing plant in Cincinnati and had it recycled.

And that might have been the end of that, except for one minor detail: memories don't die as easily as vinyl does. Bill Moss dabbled in politics, eventually serving on the Columbus school board; he still does a radio show for WVKO. Once in a blue moon, someone would ask to license Capsoul tracks, and Moss would say thanks, but no thanks.

Then Ken Shipley, late of Rykodisc and now running his own boutique label, got a whiff of "You Can't Blame Me." He drove to Columbus to talk to Moss, and this time Moss said yes. Nineteen tracks, all painstakingly remastered from vinyl pressings, are compiled on Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label, the first release (literally: #001) from the Numero Group. If you grew up in Ohio or thereabouts, you may remember some of these tracks; if you didn't, now's your chance.

Posted at 10:58 AM to Tongue and Groove