It must have been 1995/6 when I purchased an intriguing funk compilation called “Original Raw Soul” from a record store in L.A. I hadn’t heard of any any of the artists listed on the reverse, nor had I heard of the record label “Hotpie & Candy”, whose ‘vaults’ had apparently been mined for the collection – yet my nose was telling me this was going to be a good purchase. I was far from disappointed – the funk was thick, powerful, simple, devastating. How had I missed this label, these artists? I later bought the follow up, “More Original Raw Soul” and was again treated to another outstanding feast of heavy funk. These guys are great, I thought. Who are these guys?
The answer was in fact that I was listening to new material, presented in such a way that you could easily believe it was recorded in the early 1970s. The sound was warm, authentic, rough and heavy – a return to the magic found on vintage LPs – the magic, the grit that seemed missing from the smoothness of contemporary productions of the time. This was the funk – pure, simple, rough and direct.
The acts themselves, to name a few – The Poets of Rhythm, The Whitefield Brothers, The Woo Woos, The New Process, The Soul Saints Orchestra – were all in fact aliases of one band, The Poets of Rhythm. A further surprise came when I found out that, despite the authentic, American, vintage sound, the band were actually from Munich.
In his sleeve notes for this release, Daptone Records’ co-founder Gabriel Roth describes one fateful night in 1995, when he met funk collector Phillip Lehman, who played him the Poets’ debut album “Practice What You Preach”. Roth was amazed and inspired by the quality and feel of this contemporary recording. So inspired that the pair set out to do similar with a record label of their own. Desco Records was born and took a similar approach to Hotpie & Candy, recording with vintage equipment and releasing 45s that could easily pass as collectibles from the 1970s.
As Desco’s audience and stable of artists grew, they naturally wanted to work with The Poets of Rhythm. The Poets, however, were undergoing a change musically by this time and the album they turned in for release was turned down by Desco for being too experimental. When Roth & Lehman went separate ways, an album did indeed surface on Lehman’s new Soul Fire Records and credited to The Whitefield Brothers. Roth in turn, went on to set up Daptone Records, who proudly reissued the Poets’ debut album. A further album with a more modern feel was also produced for Quannum Records and is also worth tracking down, despite not quite hitting the magic of the Hotpie & Candy period. This collection nicely rounds-up some of the best cuts from all these labels – a period of roughly 10 years.
Despite the term ‘Anthology’, this collection is by no means the be-all and end-all of the Poets’ material – if you like this sound, you should certainly consider hearing all of the Hotpie & Candy releases – believe me, it’s all strong. What this collection does serve to do is provide a fantastic overview of one of the finest funk bands ever, in my opinion – not just of the last 20 years. With heavy, heavy tracks such as “More Mess On My Thing”, “50 Yards Of Soul”, “North Carolina” and the killer breakbeat stocking filler “Santa’s Got A Bag Of Soul”, today’s soul / funk revivalists clearly owe much to The Poets Of Rhythm. They may have been relatively unknown at the time but it’s certainly time to give them their dues and their rightful place in funk history.