AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
Hidden in the back crates of an obscure collector's basement, or on the shelves of one of the few remaining record sellers in the area, are more than just old albums. To some, they're undiscovered hits waiting to flood the masses. To others, they're lifelong dreams on vinyl, waiting to convert to the kinetic pulse that unites a crowd for a few precious moments before they become strangers once again and go their separate ways.
For Jason "J Malls" Molyneaux and Gordy Greenawalt, promoters of the Title Town Soul and Funk party, the albums are jewels from the peak of the early R&B movement of the '50s and '60s and the burgeoning soul funk scene of the '70s and '80s. In their minds, the albums represent rejuvenation of the eras among young adults who have expanded beyond what's commercially popular today in search of good music.
"I think people will dance if the song has a good beat and if it's a good song whether it came out in the '60s or '70s," Mr. Greenawalt says. "It might not have been a hit back then, but these smaller labels put out songs that were great but might not have had the funding or been promoted correctly."
But in the minds of some of the artists who receive regular spins during Title Town USA, the albums represent a second chance in an industry that doesn't usually provide openings via decades-old material.
Thrown the last Saturday of the month at The Shadow Lounge in East
Liberty, Title Town focuses on lesser-known artists and songs and pays homage to several Pittsburgh artists, including some who are seeing benefits from the exposure. The event has drawn more than 300 people, mostly college-age, each time and is poised to grow with each month.
Clairton soul singer Chuck Corby's greatest hits "Honey Let Me Stay" and "Lonely Nights" achieved success on R&B and soul charts at the time of their release around 1966, but Mr. Corby never reached the level of national fame peers George Benson and Harold Melvin enjoyed. So when he started noticing the influx of young faces at local gigs he and his band, Quiet Storm, played a few months ago, he was tickled by the fact that his relative novelty is what brought them through the doors.
"I would go out and see a lot of young people in the crowd and think, uh-oh, but they were all really nice and enjoyed the show," he says. "It's unbelievable. Who would think young people would be interested in my music? It makes me feel wonderful."
According to Mr. Molyneaux, 35, and Mr. Greenawalt, 28, drawing the interest of younger crowds was never a concern because throwback parties were already a proven formula. The Northern Soul party "Soulcialism" hosted by Mr. Molyneaux's former DJ partner, Justin Hopper, spun rare soul records that were acclaimed overseas in 2002, and Tuesday nights at Kelly's Tavern in East Liberty have been dedicated to spinning classic albums for at least the past eight years.
Title Town started in November by combining Mr. Molyneaux's "The Big Throwback" event, which featured mostly '70s-era funk music, with the flavor of Mr. Greenawalt's various old-school soul parties. Aficionados of various genres, Mr. Greenawalt has honed his interest in classic soul over the past five years while Mr. Molyneaux has been sifting through old-school funk records since he was 15.
While the audible difference between albums and digital recordings draw some listeners to parties and the spirit of the era brings others, a key factor is a favorable shift toward funk-era music.
"A lot of these guys were trying this stuff that was crossover stuff back in the day and was really full of energy, and wanted people to do parties and get crowds dancing," Mr. Molyneaux says. "A lot of them are doing lounge-y, traditional jazz stuff right now. But I'm like, 'Dude, if you did the funk-era stuff right now you'd be so marketable!"
Hill District native and jazz and funk artist Larry McGee, who works as an artist and songwriter in Los Angeles today, compares the shift to changes in the fashion industry.
"Fashion is changing, but it might not be better. Obviously, music has changed, but did it progress?" he asks.Some of Mr. McGee's most popular funk songs, "The Burg" and "Super Steelers Disco," both released in 1976, have been rejuvenated through the efforts of parties such as Title Town. He recorded a remix of the "The Burg" in 2006. With plans to re-release both songs during the next viable Steelers Super Bowl run, he said the sound of the era will keep his music on playlists for a long time to come. "If something is classic and somebody wants something brand new, classic is still there. People who like classic and have classic tastes are going to see value in the music for the next 30 years."
Classic tastes aside, Mr. Greenawalt says, people who come to Title Town are looking for something fresh, something with sharp, memorable lyrics and infectious rhythms. Something that speaks to the young adult they have grown into rather than the consumer demographic they're categorized under. They're seeking something new and finding it in the past, and it's hard to get much better than that, he says.
"I'm hearing sounds that are new to me, so it's kind of like listening to the radio and hearing a new song, and it's records that have been sitting around 40-plus years."It's not pretentious at all. I think people really just want to come out and dance. They're not coming out to look good, they're not coming out to socialize. Well, they are, but they really just want to party."