Album Review

The History of a 1960s Should’ve-Been Soul Powerhouse

Various Artists - The Ru-Jac Records Story, Volumes 3 & 4

Finally Together - The Ru-Jac Records Story, Volume Three - 1966-1967

Changes - The Ru-Jac Records Story, Volume Four - 1967-1980

The Baltimore-based Ru-Jac label, a long-time favorite of in-the-know collectors, is finally getting its historical due. Omnivore began digging the Ru-Jac vault with 2016 titles on Winfield Parker and Gene & Eddie, and now traces the length of the label’s entire story with four expertly curated, smartly illustrated and knowledgeably notated volumes [1 2 3 4]. Ru-Jac was born from the unlikely confluence of a numbers-running real estate investor and a dry cleaner with a sideline as a promoter. The latter, Rufus Mitchell, gained a spot managing the operations of the summer resort Carr’s Beach, and developed a nexus of musical acts, managers and disc jockeys that provided a foundation for a booking agency, a song publishing concern, and finally, the Ru-Jac record label.

Volumes 1 and 2 highlighted the beginnings of Ru-Jac, chronicling singles from 1963 to 1966. Volume 3 picks up in that latter year with a pair of singles by Rita Doryse. As Kevin Coombe’s liner notes explain, Rufus Mitchell’s busy schedule managing Carr’s and the flourishing of his dry cleaning business drew him away from his record label, and Doryse’s singles, alongside the Mask Man & The Cap-Tans’ “Love Can Do Wonders” (included on Volume 2), were Ru-Jac slate for 1966. The first of Doryse’s singles, recorded with backing by the Shyndells, is top-notch soul, with moody horns and emotional vocals of loneliness and longing. The B-side, “When I’m Alone,” previously recorded by Winfield Parker (and included on Volume 1), trades the original’s gospel style for a terrific Stax style.

Doryse’s second single, backed by the organ-based Bob Craig Combo, is more supper club than urban soul, with a B-side cover of “Goodie Goodie,” a Johnny Mercer song that was a hit for Benny Goodman in 1936 and Frankie Lyman in 1957. Neither the top side’s torch singing nor the flip’s bouncy pop played to Doryse’s strengths; more fetching is the Brill Building pop of the previously unreleased “Born to Be Loved.” 1967 kicked off memorably with Kitty Lane’s funky “It’s Love I Need” and it’s mid-tempo B-side “Sweetheart.” Lane was a fiery vocalist who briefly backed Otis Redding; here she’s backed by a hot horn section, and on the A-side, a terrific organ player.

1967 also saw the reappearance of label stalwart Winfield Parker, featured here on an alternate take of the Arthur Conley-written “Go Away Playgirl” (for the master take, see Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac), as well as the single “Sweet Little Girl” and a pair of demos. The year also welcomed the first Ru-Jac release by Gene & Eddie, whose early sides suggest both the mournfulness of Otis Redding and the bouncy duets of Sam & Dave. The duo’s songwriter and producer, Joe Quarterman, performing as Sir Joe, is also heard here on the effervescent “Nobody Beats My Love.” Fans can find their extensive singles catalog anthologized separately on True Enough: Gene & Eddie With Sir Joe At Ru-Jac.

Volume 3 is filled out with a pair of previously unissued instrumentals from the house band, the Shyndells, Leon Gibson’s invitation to dance, “Do the Roller,” it’s Bo Diddley inspired B-side “Working Hard,” and four previously unissued sides by unknown artists. Among the latter are a demo of Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Little Girl” (which plays back-to-back here with Winfield Parker’s finished single), the gospel soul “Finally Together,” the stage-ready showpiece “Searching” and the ballad “Never Never Leave Me.” After the low output of 1966, 1967 was a strong year artistically, if not commercially. Mitchell’s ear for talent continued to shine, and the continuing presence of Winfield Parker and arrival of Gene & Joe gave the Ru-Jac stable a strong lineup.

Volume 4 closes out the highly productive year of 1967 (essayed in the main on Volume 3) with Winfield Parker’s original “She’s So Pretty.” Parker shows off the sort of high-energy soul coined by Wilson Pickett and Arthur Conley, and is complemented on this volume by the up-tempo instrumental “Tighten Up” (credited to Archie Bell as writer, but not his 1968 hit), Sir Joe’s impassioned “Every Day (I’ll Be Needing With You),” Ru-Jac staff arranger Paul Johns’ socially-charged soul-psych “Changes, Part 1,” and Willie Mason’s energetic “I Loved You Once.” There were several ballads waxed by the Fred Martin Revue in 1968, including the open-hearted “I’m the One (Who Loves You)” and lonely plea “When I’m Alone,” as well as the crisply drummed, organ-and-guitar instrumental “Contagious.”

The Dynamic Corvettes’ 1971 single “Keep Off the Grass” and its B-side “It’s a Trap” offer social messages, with falsetto vocals that suggest Curtis Mayfield. Mitchell wound Ru-Jac down by the end of 1972, though it popped back up in 1980 with Jimmy Dotson’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Think of Me as Your Soldier.” The single’s stereo production, smooth sax and backing vocals are modern; the breezier B-side, “To Be Your Lover” more closely fits the Ru-Jac mould. Kevin Coombe’s liner notes provide tremendous detail on these little-known artists, and explain Rufus Mitchell’s decision to quiesce Ru-Jac to focus on his clothing-related businesses. All four volumes are essential, as are Omnivore’s releases on Winfield Parker, Eddie & Joe and an upcoming volume of Arthur Conley demos. [©2018 Hyperbolium]