Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound Screens at MIFF
South Florida owes a debt of gratitude to former Florida A&M Marching bandmates, schoolteachers, and music aficionados Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall. Without their gamble on the short-lived Deep City Records, there would've never been such a culturally identifiable thing as the "Miami sound." While some of the Deep City Records' artists went on to much more with TK Records or into the vaults of obscurity, the slabs that were cut remain some of the best R&B and proto-Motown/funk known to man.
Had it not been for the disagreement between Clarke and Pearsall trying to push Betty Wright and Helene Smith respectively, the latter being Pearsall's wife; the musical landscape of South Florida might just be slightly different nowadays, for surely the caliber of their stars, had they remained under the same stable, would've vaulted this sliver of America into the same rooms Motown would eventually come to occupy. Oh, well.
This year's Miami International Film Festival will feature Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound as part of their roster of fine films. For info on the movie and the team behind it, click here. Hopefully this piece of Floridiana will not go unnoticed by the locals and let's hope local filmmakers are detracted from pulling Ai Weiwei-styled protesting. What follows is a Miami sound playlist for your listening pleasure.
Them Two - Am I A Good Man?
Larry Greene and Larry Mobley were the hardest working dudes in the local nightclub scene. As regulars at the Sir John Hotel, they warmed up the stage for everybody who was anybody that performed in South Florida. This Clarke and Clarence Reid (a.k.a. Blowfly) arranged number was certainly ahead of its time with the two Larrys nailing the recording in one take, the stuff of legends. Greene was killed in a vehicular accident over twenty years ago but this song and its central theme of continuous questioning in the face of adversity will live on forever.
Freda Gray & The Rocketeers - "Stay Away From My Johnny"
This Reid/Pearsall ditty is only what it is because of Freda Gray's amazing vocals. Fun and coquettish, razor-bladed slightly, evocative and nary a quiver betraying her full confidence, she's a powerhouse singer. How this single is not played nightly on Magic 102.7, is a mystery and a travesty.
The Rollers - "Knocking at the Wrong Door"
Another Reid/Clarke piece that is yet again propelled by some awesome vocals and some blueprint musicianship of what will eventually end up on TK tracks. Disregard the Jackson Five comparison with "I Want You Back," that's just pure positing, and let's be honest, no matter how much young Michael sounded like a gal, you just can't beat the inflection of the real thing. Oh wait, I'm kidding, the Jackson Five were pretty righteous, but so were the Rollers! Blast this at your next party and confuse your musically ignorant friends.
Helene Smith - "True Love Don't Grow on Trees"
True love might not grow on trees, that much is true, but on this Reid/Pearsall track you almost believe it might. Listening to Smith's pipes on this song, one can almost see why things went sour between Pearsall and Clarke when it came down to promoting Smith or Betty Wright. Pearsall, of course, kinda had his hands tied on this one. Both women cut some amazing sides and went on to varying degrees of musical success, but this one track up here is no fucking joke.
Frank Williams & The Rocketeers - "The Spanish Fly"
These Rocketeers got themselves into everything! As they should, because when you have the guitar prodigiousness of Willie "Little Beaver" Hale in your arsenal, you just plain old rock it and ride the whole train baby. This mostly instrumental B-side to 1967's "You Got to Be a Man" is a rocking number that makes your Booker T.'s run and your Jimmy Smiths seem like stuffy old fuddie-duddies. Ahh-huh! This is rock and roll with a little R&B restraint, jazz funk, and straight-up sweaty dance-floor sexual energy. Alpert and crew should've fed this jam to their lonely bull.
Paul Kelley - "The Upset"
Paul Kelley's "The Upset" is an ominous and somewhat eccentric and avant garde soul number that seems more at home today in 2014 than it must've been back in '65. An early associate of Reid's and a Miami native, Kelley went on to record quite a few sides for numerous labels. While this track came out on the Lloyd Label, his association with the Deep City Records stable and the sheer awesomeness of the song cement it in the canon of this history in my opinion, so huzzah!
Johnny K. Killens and The Dynamites - "I Don't Need Help"
Great funkified rock and roll from this group that gleamed the outskirts of the Deep City catalogue, now packaged by the Numero Group with their purchase of release rights for Deep City music, you can get this and "Frenchy the Tickler" on their Eccentric Soul: The Outskirts Of Deep City double LP. Soulful and almost tropical, this song's got a great rolling background that's infectious and head-bop inducing.
The Moovers - "I Love You Baby"
First recorded for Deep City, this is Clarke and Pearsall with an Arnold Albury composition. The Moovers went on to change their name a few times (the Prolifics, Living Proof, etc...) and enjoy some rate of success through the '70s. This is traditional, group vocalizing soul that's endemic of the era; but listen to those lyrics and tell me this isn't a helluva lot more honest and real than what the radio peddled then and continues to peddle now in "oldies" formats. When will there be some justice?
For more information on these artists, the stories and history of South Florida's musical birth, please visit Long Play Miami, a website dedicated in full reverence to this era.
Get the Music Newsletter
Find out about upcoming concerts and special offers happening in the South Florida music scene.