Various Artists: Land of 1,000 Dances – The Rampart Records Complete Singles Collection

Landmark catalog of the West Coast Eastside Sound

Like many regional music scenes, the West Coast Eastside Sound was a one-of-a-kind confluence of artists, managers, record labels, entrepreneurs, nightclubs, radio DJs, and commercial and social circumstances. As detailed in this set’s introductory liner notes and  label history, a key  sociological spark that informed the Eastside’s musical development was race restrictions in Los Angeles clubs that led African-American artists to gig on the Eastside. This seeded the area’s Mexican and Chicano musicians with an R&B foundation to which they added flavors of Rancheras, Nortenos, and Salsas, and jacked up with the energy of doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll. Local labels, including Del-Fi, Chattahoochie, Whittier, Faro, Linda, Boomerang, Prospect, Valhalla, Gordo and Rampart built a recording scene, and it’s the latter’s catalog of singles that is featured here.

Eddie Davis, Rampart’s founder, first entered the music industry as a child member of the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir, appearing in a 1941 documentary (Forty Boys and a Song) and backing Bing Crosby in the 1944 film Going My Way. He joined the Navy in World War II, studied music at the College of the Pacific, owned a succession of restaurants, and returned to a quickly aborted singing career before founding his first label, Faro, in 1958. Faro led to the founding of Rampart in 1961 with the debut of Phil & Harv’s romantic ballad “Darling (Please Bring Your Love)” and its joyous New Orleans-tinged flipside cover of Cole Porter’s  “Friendship.”

Davis initially employed the mixed-race, Oxnard-based Mixtures as a backing band, but also pulled in A-listers from Los Angeles. A third label, Linda, was established in 1962, the same year that Davis branched into the promotion of teen dances. As with the Los Angeles club laws that incentivized bands to book shows on the Eastside, the city’s prohibition of for-profit teen dances led Davis to promote shows in Pomona’s Rainbow Gardens, outside the reach of the big city’s restrictions. And as with the club shows, the teen dances exposed the Eastside’s Mexican-American audiences, and more importantly,  its local musicians, to the cream of Los Angeles’ R&B acts.

Rampart’s early years included a Ray Charles-styled cover of “Home on the Range,” hot guitar and sax-led instrumentals, and with the Atlantics’ B-side “Beaver Shot,” the introduction of a horn section. The label hit its commercial apex with Cannibal & The Headhunters’ 1965 cover of Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1000 Dances,” memorably built on the incantory “Na, Na Na Na Na” improvisation, and on its original, uncut version, a revival-styled intro. Both the original and edited-for-radio single are included here. The single’s success led Cannibal and the Headhunters to television appearances and an opening slot on the Beatles 1965 U.S. tour – including shows at Shea Stadium and the Hollywood Bowl – yet the group was unable to extend their commercial breakthrough. Three follow-up singles, including the “1000 Dances” knockoff “Nau Ninny,” and the sunny, King Curtis-backed “Follow the Music,” failed to click, and the band moved on from Rampart to Date.

Rampart continued its releases  the 1960s with singles by the Atlantics, Souljers, Summits, and Four Tempos. There were Sam & Dave-styled duets, boogaloo workouts, uptempo soul, beseeching ballads, and even the socially-conscious philosophy of Pvt. Randy Thomas’ “The Great Crusade.” In 1968 the Village Callers released the oft-sampled (and recently “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” soundtrack featured) “Hector” with a sophisticated soul organ lead backed by a powerful rhythm track and horn chart. The soul turned swampier on the B-side “Mississippi Delta,” and the East Bay Soul Brass worked out with sax, trumpet and organ on “The Cat Walk.” The label continued to imaginatively mix 50s-styled  throwback ballads, airier mid-tempo late ‘60s soul, and foreground Latin flavors, pulling in both original and cover material for an evolving slate of artists.

A four year break from 1972 to 1976 found the label returning with the Eastside Connection’s update on the traditional “La Cucaracha,” and kicked off a short string of disco singles. The label’s sporadic subsequent releases included rock, new wave, uptempo Spanish-language synth dance numbers, but without the earthy soul of the earlier years essayed on the set’s first three discs. In addition to the introductory notes from Luis Luis J. Rodriquez and label history from Don Waller, the 102-page book includes a photo essay of Cannibal and the Headhunters on the road in shows promoted by Murray the K, Dick Clark and Motown, opening for the Rolling Stones and the Beatles in 1965, and performing on television’s Hullabaloo and It’s What’s Happening.

This is a rich document of a label born at the confluence of social circumstances, musical influences and commercial opportunity. Having the B-sides is particularly gratifying, as the label rarely shortchanged the flips – the Atlantics’ novelty “Sonny & Cher” B-side notwithstanding. To gain a full picture of the Eastside Sound, listeners will need to track down material from sister labels Faro and Donna, and key releases from Thee Midniters, The Romancers and other Eastside icons, but you could hardly find a better place to start enjoying and appreciating this unique moment in musical history than with this incredible set. Issued in a limited run of 1000, pick this one up before it becomes a collectors item alongside the original vinyl singles! [©2020 Hyperbolium]