The Baltimore-based Ru-Jac label, a long-time favorite of in-the-know collectors, is finally getting its historical due. Omnivore began digging the Ru-Jac vault with 2016 titles on Winfield Parker and Gene & Eddie, and now traces the length of the labelâ€™s entire story with four expertly curated, smartly illustrated and knowledgeably notated volumes [1 2 3 4]. Ru-Jac was born from the unlikely confluence of a numbers-running real estate investor and a dry cleaner with a sideline as a promoter. The latter, Rufus Mitchell, gained a spot managing the operations of the summer resort Carrâ€™s Beach, and developed a nexus of musical acts, managers and disc jockeys that provided a foundation for a booking agency, a song publishing concern, and finally, the Ru-Jac record label.
Volumes 1 and 2 highlighted the beginnings of Ru-Jac, chronicling singles from 1963 to 1966. Volume 3 picks up in that latter year with a pair of singles by Rita Doryse. As Kevin Coombeâ€™s liner notes explain, Rufus Mitchellâ€™s busy schedule managing Carrâ€™s and the flourishing of his dry cleaning business drew him away from his record label, and Doryseâ€™s singles, alongside the Mask Man & The Cap-Tansâ€™ â€œLove Can Do Wondersâ€ (included on Volume 2), were Ru-Jac slate for 1966. The first of Doryseâ€™s singles, recorded with backing by the Shyndells, is top-notch soul, with moody horns and emotional vocals of loneliness and longing. The B-side, â€œWhen Iâ€™m Alone,â€ previously recorded by Winfield Parker (and included on Volume 1), trades the originalâ€™s gospel style for a terrific Stax style.
Doryseâ€™s second single, backed by the organ-based Bob Craig Combo, is more supper club than urban soul, with a B-side cover of â€œGoodie Goodie,â€ a Johnny Mercer song that was a hit for Benny Goodman in 1936 and Frankie Lyman in 1957. Neither the top sideâ€™s torch singing nor the flipâ€™s bouncy pop played to Doryseâ€™s strengths; more fetching is the Brill Building pop of the previously unreleased â€œBorn to Be Loved.â€ 1967 kicked off memorably with Kitty Laneâ€™s funky â€œItâ€™s Love I Needâ€ and itâ€™s mid-tempo B-side â€œSweetheart.â€ Lane was a fiery vocalist who briefly backed Otis Redding; here sheâ€™s backed by a hot horn section, and on the A-side, a terrific organ player.
1967 also saw the reappearance of label stalwart Winfield Parker, featured here on an alternate take of the Arthur Conley-written â€œGo Away Playgirlâ€ (for the master take, see Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac), as well as the single â€œSweet Little Girlâ€ and a pair of demos. The year also welcomed the first Ru-Jac release by Gene & Eddie, whose early sides suggest both the mournfulness of Otis Redding and the bouncy duets of Sam & Dave. The duoâ€™s songwriter and producer, Joe Quarterman, performing as Sir Joe, is also heard here on the effervescent â€œNobody Beats My Love.â€ Fans can find their extensive singles catalog anthologized separately on True Enough: Gene & Eddie With Sir Joe At Ru-Jac.
Volume 3 is filled out with a pair of previously unissued instrumentals from the house band, the Shyndells, Leon Gibsonâ€™s invitation to dance, â€œDo the Roller,â€ itâ€™s Bo Diddley inspired B-side â€œWorking Hard,â€ and four previously unissued sides by unknown artists. Among the latter are a demo of Arthur Conleyâ€™s â€œSweet Little Girlâ€ (which plays back-to-back here with Winfield Parkerâ€™s finished single), the gospel soul â€œFinally Together,â€ the stage-ready showpiece â€œSearchingâ€ and the ballad â€œNever Never Leave Me.â€ After the low output of 1966, 1967 was a strong year artistically, if not commercially. Mitchellâ€™s ear for talent continued to shine, and the continuing presence of Winfield Parker and arrival of Gene & Joe gave the Ru-Jac stable a strong lineup.
Volume 4 closes out the highly productive year of 1967 (essayed in the main on Volume 3) with Winfield Parkerâ€™s original â€œSheâ€™s So Pretty.â€ Parker shows off the sort of high-energy soul coined by Wilson Pickett and Arthur Conley, and is complemented on this volume by the up-tempo instrumental â€œTighten Upâ€ (credited to Archie Bell as writer, but not his 1968 hit), Sir Joeâ€™s impassioned â€œEvery Day (Iâ€™ll Be Needing With You),â€ Ru-Jac staff arranger Paul Johnsâ€™ socially-charged soul-psych â€œChanges, Part 1,â€ and Willie Masonâ€™s energetic â€œI Loved You Once.â€ There were several ballads waxed by the Fred Martin Revue in 1968, including the open-hearted â€œIâ€™m the One (Who Loves You)â€ and lonely plea â€œWhen Iâ€™m Alone,â€ as well as the crisply drummed, organ-and-guitar instrumental â€œContagious.â€
The Dynamic Corvettesâ€™ 1971 single â€œKeep Off the Grassâ€ and its B-side â€œItâ€™s a Trapâ€ offer social messages, with falsetto vocals that suggest Curtis Mayfield. Mitchell wound Ru-Jac down by the end of 1972, though it popped back up in 1980 with Jimmy Dotsonâ€™s cover of Stevie Wonderâ€™s â€œThink of Me as Your Soldier.â€ The singleâ€™s stereo production, smooth sax and backing vocals are modern; the breezier B-side, â€œTo Be Your Loverâ€ more closely fits the Ru-Jac mould. Kevin Coombeâ€™s liner notes provide tremendous detail on these little-known artists, and explain Rufus Mitchellâ€™s decision to quiesce Ru-Jac to focus on his clothing-related businesses. All four volumes are essential, as are Omnivoreâ€™s releases on Winfield Parker, Eddie & Joe and an upcoming volume of Arthur Conley demos. [Â©2018 Hyperbolium]