With two discs and over 40 tracks, there’s plenty to choose from in the Way Out Records anthology, available from Numero Group. Here are our five favorite tracks and a little about the circumstances around which they were recorded.
While you're listening, do peruse this week's cover story detailing how this quirky, historical Cleveland record label gets new life.
BETTY & ANGEL - “HONEY COATED LOVING” (1972)
This was Ragland’s favorite Way Out recording, though technically it’s the sole release for its Every Day Records imprint. Betty White was only 19 when she recorded it but she’d already been making music for years. As a child during the fifties, she performed in sibling gospel group Echoes of Joy, and by the time she was 12 had signed her first label deal. She’d just scored a gold record for the Clarence Reid/Willie Clarke tune, “Clean Up Woman,” which peaked at No. 6 in Billboard pop charts. This funky little horn-laden rave-up has a Super Fly manner (released that same year) complete with Big Easy-boogie keyboard rides, as the two women promise to fulfill every man’s desire: “I’m gonna make some money so we can survive.” Sugar Momma indeed!
SPRINGERS - “I KNOW MY BABY LOVES ME SO” (1964)
This Wade Park area act scored Way Out’s first hit, 1964’s doo-wop R&B ballad “I Know Why,” which earned them a weeklong stint at New York’s Apollo Theater. Atlantic President Jerry Wexler caught them and offered a distribution deal. The backside of that track is the delicious two-and-a-half minute “I Know My Baby Loves Me So.” It opens with an ambling, almost rockabilly beat that feeds into impassioned gospel-style call-return lead vocals and harmonies, coming off like Jerry Lee Lewis crossed with Howlin’ Wolf. It’s lively. They’d release two more singles, their last in 1965, before quitting the business.
SOUL NOTES - “I GOT EVERYTHING I NEED” (1969)
Another favorite of Northern Soul collectors, the Soul Notes were led by William Bell (aka Bill Spoon). They released three singles on Way Out, including this final one, two years after the first two. The gospel-soul number is powered by Bell’s breathless passion. He notes how some might mock his tattered wardrobe, but his girl can see the real him: “When I take you out somewhere and McDonalds, and McDonalds is all I can spare, you just smile back and don’t seem to care.” It culminates with him recounting the day he watched her marry another man, and as she passed she said he would always hold a place in her heart. He recounts how he fell to his knees and moaned, letting out a teeth-gnashing howl the MC5 would be hard-pressed to top. Bell moved to Memphis and later Los Angeles where he does projects around his job at the L.A. coroner’s office.
BOBBY WADE - “DOWN HERE ON THE GROUND” (1971)
Wade actually hails from Pennsylvania, but he made his way first to Youngstown then Cleveland, where he worked as a Greyhound baggage handler. He hooked up with Lester Johnson in 1966, and wrote a song with Sensations members Washington and Simmons, “Flame In My Heart,” which became the second and final release on Way Out’s Big Jim imprint. After several years in New Orleans, Wade returned in 1969 and recorded two more singles, including b-side “Down Here on the Ground.” It begins with a huge horn section like a Fela song, before Wade’s velvety croon comes in repeating the titular lyric, “where there’s just no place for living.” Wade wound up in Las Vegas for a time thereafter fronting the Imperials (minus Little Anthony).
SENSATIONS - “DEMANDING MAN” (1969)
The most prolific artist on the label wasn’t even from Cleveland. The threesome of Johnny Washington, Esai Guxman and Rodney “Rico” Simmons actually hailed from Albion, Mich. Despite MGM’s backing, the band had trouble catching. Their fourth single, a treacly meandering pop ballad called “I Guess That’s Life,” allegedly soured the MGM deal.
Ironically, it’s their final single, “Demanding Man,” that is their most enduring. It’s gone on to become a favorite among British soul enthusiasts. With it’s sweet harmonies and sing-song melody it’s reminiscent of The Temptations’ “My Girl.” However it’s baked with a hard-bitten grittiness down to its Ike-Turner tone: “My good-lovin’ she won’t get, until she understands that I’m a demanding man.” (It’s still enlightened by rap standards.)
Eccentric Soul: The Way Out Label was released on July 15 on Numero Group. Pitchfork gave it an 8.0 rating out of 10.