When the Bop Gun Jams

Plainfield's Tyrone Ashley once rivaled George Clinton. He may get his doo-wop due yet.

"We found out about Sammy through this crazy soul record he produced by a group called Black Velvet," says Leon Michels, co-owner of Truth & Soul Records and bandleader of his own instrumental outfit, the El Michels Affair. "That record had a Plainfield address, so we looked it up in the yellow pages, and Sammy had the same phone number." One visit led to another, eventually leading to the first T&S release showcasing Campbell/Ashley's oeuvre: Tyrone Ashley's Funky Music Machine: Let Me Be Your Man. The plushly packaged CD/LP features both instrumentals and vocal tunes recorded between '68 and '70, a dozen gems steeped in gospel, funk, and psychedelic soul. Ashley's strengths as a songwriter, arranger, singer, and producer shine, and though the musicianship (mostly Jersey locals peppered with some original Parliamentarians and Funkadelics) on cuts like "Gotta Clean Up the World, Parts 1 & 2" will free your ass, it's the beaming vocal harmonies that'll haunt the core of your soul. These are songs soaked in spirit, from the plaintive, Del Lark–drenched opener "Come On Home" to the sublime, otherworldly "Love Sweet Love."

A few months after my first meeting with Sammy in Plainfield, we cross paths again at Truth & Soul's Williamsburg headquarters. He's decked out in fly vines for a photo shoot, barely sucking it in for the camera; his reconstituted Del Larks, here to lay down some new tracks, bide their time by wolfing down fried chicken and catfish. When he's finally done, Sammy, with an impatient glance, leads his grizzled posse just outside the studio into a weakly lit hallway, where these five mere mortals proceed to pound out harmonies full of bounce, sweetness, and heartache—a reverberating old-school plea for George Clinton's long-gone mother ship to finally revisit the plain fields of home.

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