Last month, Light in the Attic Records unearthed a group of songs that could at once catch the of ears of Nashville rockers and Brooklyn indie kids. Dubbed Country Funk, 1969-1975 (but not including the Boston band of the same name), the record places one-off demos and misfit tunes about female truckers side-by-side with tracks from Bobbie Gentry and late-career Bobby Darin. On Friday, Sound of the City talked to the label’s founder, Matt Sullivan, about the genesis of the project and the music’s place in history.
Can you talk a little bit about how you put this together?
A friend of ours named Zach Cowie—he goes by the DJ name Turquoise Wisdom—a couple of years ago he told us some of the stuff we were fans of before, like Tony Joe White and a few of the other artists, he came up with the concept of putting together a comp he nicknamed “Country Funk” and I was very intrigued. And he’d had mixes over the years that I’ve heard and liked, and when he DJs out a lot, in Los Angeles or anywhere else, he plays a lot of the stuff. So I was naturally and instantly a fan of it. So we sat down with Zach and tried to put together a tracklisting. Patrick McCarthy, the project manager here at Light in the Attic, helped out a bunch and picked out a few songs too.
And we narrowed it down, which wasn’t easy because Zach had a lot of great songs to choose from, and then I started working on the licensing and then we got a hold of Jess Rotter to do the artist and Jessica Huntley wrote the liner notes. Jessica has written books on Gram Parson and did the liner notes for our Louvin Brothers reissues and quite a few other things. It took quite a while, a lot longer than I thought it was going to take, mostly due to licensing just because most of the tracks are all owned by different parties. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t license things from majors and and indies on the same comp anymore.
Did you lose anything in the licensing process?
Actually, no; we got every track we wanted. When we narrowed it down, that was hard just because there were probably 30 tracks that we all really like. But once we narrowed it down we ended up finding all of the copyright holders and got to chat with most of the artists who are still alive, which was great. Unfortunately, a lot have passed away. We didn’t get a chance to chat with Bobbie Gentry—she’s as reclusive as they come.
What was the response from the artists with whom you did talk?
They all liked it. I think for them they enjoyed being on it and they loved the mix of artists, but I think for them the word “country funk” might have been new to them, even though they were deep into it and creating it. I don’t think they saw their music or these songs under that moniker. Not to say they didn’t like it, but I think it was something unique to them
When those artists were making these songs, to what extent were they listening to or even playing with the other artists who are included?
I think some of them were listening to each other’s music, but not all. It’s a wide array of music—people like Dennis the Fox, that was a private press kind of demo that he made, and I think Dave Clark even produced it or funded it. I don’t think he was going for a funky country sound, but I don’t know, and I think no one on this comp even knows who Dennis the Fox is. But people like Bobby Charles and Jim Ford and Bobbie Gentry, they were all in somewhat of the same scene, at least Jim Ford and Bobbie Gentry were. Mac Davis and Tony Joe White. Some of those people definitely did overlap. One thing I liked about it, which I don’t think we were expecting at all, was the theme of the South and heading west to Los Angeles—you notice it on the first few tracks.
When I heard the title, my first thought was James Brown covering “Your Cheating Heart,” or the country albums made by artists like Bobby Womack and Ray Charles. Was there any band-and-forth between that side of country funk—or country soul or country r&b or whatever—and the music collected here?
There’s actually two volumes of a comp that we distribute called Dirty Laundry, and those are great. When Zach first came up with the idea, he liked all that stuff but his cup of tea was more this stuff, so we wanted to go a different route. It wasn’t really intentional, it was just what we were digging, but those Dirty Laundry comps are incredible, some of my favorite stuff we’ve ever distributed. I don’t know if that answers your question.
I mean, were the Dirty Laundry artists listening to the Country Funk artists? Or vice versa?
I don’t know. I would think at this time, the late ’60s early ’70s period, the Country Funk artists were listening to some of those Dirty Laundry and probably grew up on some of them, but I don’t know about vice versa, that’s a good question. I don’t if Ike and Tina were listening to Bobbie Gentry and Link Wray, but maybe so.