Jason Perlmutter is rebuilding the soul history of the Carolinas | Music Feature | Indy Week

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Jason Perlmutter is rebuilding the soul history of the Carolinas

Soul sleuth


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Jason Perlmutter spins a 45 in Columbia, S.C. in April.
  • Jason Perlmutter spins a 45 in Columbia, S.C. in April.

Jason Perlmutter started listening to soul music as a student at Raleigh's Enloe High School in the late '90s. For a while, the so-called "oldies station" was his main source, but he quickly began to dig beyond that.

Perlmutter started collecting obscure soul and funk 45s in late 2002, eventually getting his hands on a couple of 45s from a label named Chocolate Cholly's out of Gastonia. Chocolate Cholly's output tended to be more disco-y than Perlmutter preferred, but it was regional soul. He was hooked on the pursuit of regional soul, on uncovering the riches of the under-documented history of soul in North and South Carolina.

An appreciation eventually turned into a passion, and Perlmutter began helping other soul fans hear the music they craved. Through UNC-Chapel Hill's WXYC and his Carolina Soul Web site (www.carolinasoul.org), he became an access point for discovery. Through articles, his Web site, his radio show, and by curating collections of the music—two singles on the Kay-Dee label and a compilation titled Carolina Funk: Funk 45s from the Atlantic Coast set for November release on U.K.-based Jazzman—Perlmutter began changing that under-documented status by creating a multimedia history of these records. In short, he's making it possible for people to take music that was all but lost back home.

That journey is rich with sounds and stories. The first Kay-Dee 45 he compiled, for example, features Mellow Madness, a late '70s group of Fayetteville high school students led by their band teacher. The song is "Save the Youth," and while its message is after-school-special direct, its groove—remastered by Kay-Dee head honcho Kenny Dope—is undeniable. One side of Perlmutter's second 45 with Kay-Dee features a chugging funk number. Its flipside is a synth-kissed ballad from Bliss, a band out of Goldsboro that recorded the song in the international soul hotbed of Mount Olive. Perlmutter found the Bliss record on eBay for $3. Tracking down these cuts is rarely that easy, though.

"Detective work really is the word for it," Perlmutter says. He follows leads, like the one that led him to a record stuffed away in the attic of some band's ex-manager. He has his informants, like those who worked in recording studios or haunt record collectors' listservs. He's even made Jim Rockford phone calls, oftentimes ringing everybody in some small town who shares the last name of a musician he's trying to find. It's a pretty successful technqiue. Apart from that tenacity, he says, "I think it might just take luck."

The artists featured on the Carolina Funk compilation have some luck of their own through Perlmutter. "Jazzman wants to do it the right way," he explains. "They make sure people are credited and compensated." In his words, putting artists on the compilation and making sure they receive royalties means being able "to find the right person and make sure they're comfortable."

And a detective's work is never done: Perlmutter is looking for a singer named Wallace Coleman right now. Coleman went by the name Wally Coco in the late '70s, and his "Message to Society" is a Carolina Funk highlight. Then there's the mystery of a Carolina Funk cut he found on a metal acetate without any recording or label information. No one has identified it yet, but he felt strongly enough about it to include it on Carolina Funk as a CD-only bonus track. "If anybody knows who that is, I hope they'll contact me," Perlmutter says.

Compilation nation: A look at other regional and soul compilations


The upcoming Carolina Funk: Funk 45s from the Atlantic Coast hits two compilation themes: regional music scenes and, well, funk. With its popular Eccentric Soul series, Chicago's Numero Group might look like it's writing the book on the regional soul/funk comp. But plenty came before that, including several that focus on North Carolina and its neighbor to the north.

Carolina Soul Survey (Grapevine; 2002) highlights the superb original soul music recorded at Charlotte's Reflection Sound Studios in the '70s. The likes of Arthur Freeman and Carol Humphries might not be household names, but they'll make your home a more soulful place three minutes at a time.

Ol' Virginia Soul, Part 1: Jump Up and Down (Arcania International; 2004) finds collector Brent Hosier chronicling the '60s and '70s soul scene in Richmond and beyond. His ear-to-the-ground detective work provided inspiration (and a blueprint) for Perlmutter's efforts with Carolina Funk. The (shoulda been a) star is Ida Sands, whose infectious "Rescue Me" shares a title with the Fontella Bass smash and—blasphemy!—is just as terrific. Part 2 and Encore have since been issued in this series.

Venerable label Kent Soul has spotlighted scenes in San Francisco (Golden State Soul), Shreveport (Shreveport Southern Soul) and Nashville (Music City Soul), among others. And last year's Jamaica to Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974 (Light in the Attic) reveled in the cross-cultural music magic created when Jamaican artists moved to Canada's cosmopolitan city.

As for funk comps, their numbers are legion, but here are some good places to start. The great Soul Jazz label's Studio One Funk (2004) makes a nifty companion piece to Jamaica to Toronto. Soul Jazz also released New Orleans Funk (2000), while Grapevine's own Crescent City Funk (2002) and Funky Delicacies' multi-volume Funky Funky New Orleans cover that same fertile, thumping ground. And Jazzman, the label behind Carolina Funk, previously unearthed Midwest Funk (2004), Texas Funk (2002) and Florida Funk (2007). Enjoy. —Rick Cornell


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