Headliners: Numero's Eccentric Soul Revue

  • Syl Johnson
  • Renaldo Domino
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From the Headliners: Numero's Eccentric Soul Revue edition

Even in the days before professional-quality home recording, CD burners and MP3s enabled artists to create and release music at will, the industry was producing more records than anybody could keep track of. As a result, lots of great music slipped through the cracks of history.

Chicago's Numero Group is devoted to digging into those crevices, lifting out the undiscovered gems and giving them a new spotlight courtesy of its prestigious series of reissues. Foremost among its ventures is Eccentric Soul, a set of compilations bringing new attention to "lovingly mishandled" soul labels from Detroit to Phoenix to Atlanta -and, quite frequently, Columbus.

The first Eccentric Soul release spotlighted Capsoul Records, a Columbus soul label run by the late Bill Moss and featuring obscure local talent Marion Black. Numero later reissued works by Capsoul quartet The Four Mints and dug up more of Black's work for a compilation of the Prix label.

Those albums will come to life at the Lincoln Theatre Monday when Numero's Eccentric Soul Revue rolls into town for an extremely limited engagement featuring Syl Johnson, The Notations and Renaldo Domino. The Columbus tour stop will also feature a tribute to Moss and special performances by Black and The Four Mints.

Though they'll only amount to a fraction of the action Monday, here's a look at the local legends who will be stepping on stage at the Lincoln.

Marion Black

Even before his music career stalled out, Marion Black had the blues.

Few sounds in the Columbus music landscape are as distinct - or as distinctly pleasurable - as Black's voice ringing out richly over slow, mournful grooves. But even when he scored a minor hit in 1971 with "Go On Fool," his dark, smoky brand of soul never caught on in his hometown.

"Most of my time was down South, on the East Coast," Black remembered during an interview last week at his Near East Side home. In fact, Black said he could only remember publicly performing his music once in Columbus.

The road was another story. Black toured for months on the back of "Go On Fool," a gospel-infused slow-drift that peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard R&B chart. After a dispute over royalties with Capsoul founder Bill Moss, Black left Capsoul for Prix Records and never scored another hit.

Even when he sold his song "Off the Critical List" to Chess Records in 1974, the label folded shortly after. Eventually Black gave up on music and stuck with waiting tables at the Holiday Inn on Lane Avenue, where he worked for 25 years before retiring in 1995.

Then, suddenly and surprisingly, this decade has brought Black more attention than ever. First, Columbus native RJD2 sampled Black's "Who Knows" on his acclaimed 2002 album Deadringer. Then Numero's Capsoul reissue rocketed the song into the pop-culture consciousness. "Who Knows," the neglected B-side to "Go On Fool," has appeared on TV shows li Who Killed the Electric Car?

"I thought it was dead in the water a long time ago," Black said. "I never had an idea that it would do what it's doing."

The royalties keep rolling in. Black said he's made more money from his music this year than all his other years combined. That's small consolation in the face of his faltering health and the death of his wife last year, but even a little bit of good news can go a long way towards curing the blues.

The Four Mints

The Four Mints who perform regularly around Columbus are not the same Four Mints who recorded Capsoul classics like "Row My Boat" and "You're My Desire" in the early '70s. Rather, they're sort of an all-star team assembled by original Mint mastermind James Brown to keep the group going as members departed.

That's how the Mints have operated since the mid-'50s, when they featured a rotating cast of Brown's East High School classmates. By the time the group hit the lower reaches of the Billboard charts in the early 1970s, Brown was performing alongside Jimmy Harmon, Donald Russell and Ben "Pete" Caldwell.

That lineup recorded a string of smokin' singles and toured throughout the Midwest regularly, taking their choreographed moves and harmonies to clubs, state fairs, baseball stadiums and college campuses with the likes of the O'Jays and Earth, Wind & Fire. But the rise of disco and the failure of their singles collection prevented them from achieving more widespread success.

"That disco scene just kind of destroyed live entertainment," Brown said.

That didn't stop Brown from pressing on year after year, booking Four Mints gigs wherever there's a demand.

"We sure didn't stay in this for the money," he said. "We have a love of it."

Nowadays, the Mints include Jimmy Radford of the Enchanted 5 and Willie Tatum, who used to sing with Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum and Durr. The first female Mint, Rema McCarroll, joked that she was asked to join just because the late local jazz icon Rusty Bryant was her uncle.

Returning to the Lincoln will be a nostalgic experience for the Mints, who remember attending jam-packed dance parties in the venue's upstairs ballroom. Though Motown hits from "My Girl" to "My Prerogative" often pad out their set, at Numero's Eccentric Soul Revue they'll be performing Four Mints originals exclusively.

Fans eager to see the group in full force can check them out Nov. 28 at the Gateway Health and Wellness Center, where they'll be performing sets at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. to benefit Jefferson Park's annual Jam-N Jefferson Festival.