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"Man, if we can just get through this, there's no way we're ever gonna do it again," says Numero Group co-owner Ken Shipley about his ambitious label's ambitious tour: the Eccentric Soul Revue, an unrelenting, sweat-soaked revue starring unsung heroes of '60s and '70s Chicago soul. "You gotta ride white-knuckle the entire time to get it done. That's not the business we're in. We make records. We source old master tapes. We don't do anything that's scary!"
Since 2003, Numero Group have been the hipper-than-anyone guardian angels of music preservation, going to any length to unearth and preserve water-damaged master tapes of Bahaman funk or Israeli soul, then packaging them with novella-length liner notes full of investigative journalism and vintage photos. Touting hyper-obscure artists with CD covers that revolve around a catalog number, Numero inspires loyal followers who simply (and correctly) trust that every release is the product of impeccable taste and a loving touch.
Shipley is hoping that same trust carries over into the Eccentric Soul Revue, a package bill (much like Motown's Motortown Revue) in which artists take turns performing in front of one razor-tight backing band. The bill stars RZA-adored cult hero Syl Johnson, the ecstatic croon of the Notations, and the indelible voice of Renaldo Domino—all artists who recorded for Twinight Records, a middle-tier label from the bottomless wellspring of Chicago soul. Twinight released 55 singles between 1967 and 1972, including eight charting singles (seven by Johnson), but Shipley assures us that this is not an "oldies show," but instead a meticulous re-creation of the lost art of '60s soul revues—"a two-hour show where the music, literally, never stops"—starring once-forgotten performers who still have it and a backing band of contemporary groovepunks.
After two years of cold calls, banging on doors, and hunting down a Velma Perkins record with one known copy, Numero put together the compilation CD Eccentric Soul: Twinight's Lunar Rotation in 2006, their 13th offering. (The release of their first book in 2009 brings the total up to 33.) Its highlight was the tenor of Chicago teenager Renaldo James, a/k/a Renaldo Domino, named after the sugar brand his voice is assuredly as sweet as. In the span of roughly three years, Domino recorded six sides for Twinight, routinely played Chicago nightclubs, and toured a few times throughout the segregated South, sleeping six to a hotel room. After zero charting singles and his manager's nervous breakdown, Domino quit music and started looking for steady work so he could support his first son.
Almost 40 years later, his second son helped get him back. Since they didn't know his real last name, Numero had no idea how to get in touch with Domino, so they contacted his son, Raphael, through an eBay auction where he bid on a record by his father, who had spent the past 25 years working as a cable-TV contractor. "I told my son, since I had put him through five years of college to get a computer science degree, 'Get on the Internet and check these guys out and see if they owe me any money,' " laughs Domino. Numero would end up sending the singer his first royalty check ever.
Soon after, Numero put together the first incarnation of the Eccentric Soul Revue: a massive, one-night engagement at Chicago's Park West Theater featuring the stars of Twinight backed by a 17-piece band. Shipley says Domino took the least coaxing to get onstage. "Man, it was something else," says Domino. "That was the first show I've done in 39 years. It was like riding a bike. Nerves didn't even enter. That's something I feel I was born to do—that was my God-given talent."
"Sometimes I'm at rehearsals, and I listen to them, like, 'God, how did this guy not break through?' " says Shipley. "You just scratch your head and say, 'Well, at least he's doing it now.' "
The Numero Group Eccentric Soul Revue comes to the Music Hall of Williamsburg on November 13