The Soul Discography Vol 2 ~ G - M (Compiled by Bob McGrath - Eyeball Productions)

by Sir Shambling

The Soul Discography Vol 2 E - MIt is a sad fact that while Afro-American styles such as blues gospel and jazz have been the subject of serious academic research for several decades, soul music, long the mainstream genre for black musicians, has been largely ignored. Pioneering work on pulling all the multiple threads of soul recordings together was carried out in Japan by Yutaka Sakurai but his efforts were sadly stopped at the letter “O” by ill health, and his three volumes were very difficult to obtain in the West. The baton has been taken up by Bob McGrath, whose discographical  publications already include books covering the post war independent record labels, and blues and gospel recordings.

This newly published second volume takes his mammoth enterprise of compiling a Soul Discography all the way to letter “M”, and like the first volume which covered letters A – D it is hugely ambitious in scope. As in his previous publications, the data is presented in a large format, which measures 81/2” by 11” and weighs in at an arm deadening 31/2 lbs plus. This allows two columns of information per page in a font whose size will have readers of my generation reaching for their magnifying glasses but which does keep the number of pages down to “only” 675. McGrath has rightly decided to concentrate his forces on the Golden Age of soul, the 60s and 70s, and he has exercised an editor’s privilege to include some artists whose background was mainly in R & B like Chris Kenner from New Orleans and Lela Martin from the West Coast, as well as later recordings by those like the excellent Trudy Lynn who mainly made her music in the 80s and beyond. The discography gets pretty much up to date as well – Bob has valiantly keyed in the details of all 17 of Carl Marshall’s CDs, something I certainly couldn’t be bothered to do. His definition of soul is rightly drawn pretty wide. The wonderful singer/songwriter Percy Mayfield is here, as is jazzman Jimmy McGriff.

But while all the glory must be McGrath’s for the compilation and organisation (not to say typing) of the data here, he has been greatly assisted by a wide range of previously published material, and a whole host of contributors (including the present writer). Whereas previous discographies, like the meagre efforts on the pages at this website have been largely limited to simple lists of recordings, McGrath spreads his net a lot wider, and the wealth of detail on offer is simply staggering. The information is presented alphabetically by artist, with session details and dates, LP track listings, plus personnel and other particulars where available. And in an era of overdubs, re-recordings and other studio tricks these minutiae are much more complex issues than they were in earlier days and mean that the margins for error are that much greater.

And so, unsurprising in a work of over 100,000 lines of information, some errors have crept in. The Chicago artist Baby Huey is shown conflated with the West Coast singer Claude Huey as one entry for example, and the note that states that Lawrence & Jaibi are not related to Larry Banks for another. But I am delighted to say that these mistakes are much less common than in the A – D volume, while the editorial side of things has also been tightened up as well, with far less typographical problems and a lot fewer failures of cross indexing. But there will always be those who will take delight in pointing out the flaws as a means of boosting their own egos, but overall they will certainly not come out ahead. Such a small minded response to this phenomenally useful tome demeans the fault finders far more than the discography and playing “spot the error” must be the least rewarding response to it.

A much more sensible reaction is simply one of awe. Just flicking through the pages reveals so much that I didn’t know about a subject I’ve pretty much devoted my life to. Artists I’ve never heard of (Carl “Little Rev” Lattimore? Denise Mills?),  45s I never knew existed (Bobby Harris on Wen Dee from 1955? Cha Cha Hogan on Star Talent and Boulevard?), recording details and dates that I wouldn’t have been able to obtain from any other source. And any honest reader will say the same – the discography easily dwarfs any other publication or information source.

But Bob would be the first person to say that all endeavours of this nature are “works in progress” as new info becomes available all the time. For example I was able to acquire a Joe Medwick 45 previously undocumented (“Your Sweet Love” / “Just Be Yourself” on Boogaloo 1004) just too late for inclusion unfortunately. And of course this process will continue, for although 45s from the classic period are a finite resource, it will be a long time before a complete picture will emerge. After all blues records have been documented for over 40 years and yet new discs that have evaded the discographers so far are still turning up.   

Until the definitive history can be written McGrath’s astonishing achievement will stand proud. Along with the companion first volume, this book will be a constant reference point for me and many others – I will be consulting it on a daily basis for sure. The final volume will hopefully be available later this year and I for one can’t wait. This instalment, the previous one and the one to come are simply essential for everybody with any serious interest in the history of black music. Or for any soul enthusiast who wants to look further into collecting.

All Bob McGrath'’s publications are only available on line at his website here.


March 2012

Note ~ Vol 3 has now been published. You can read my review here.

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