One of the nicer surprises of the Ponderosa Stomp-sponsored
2010 Detroit Breakdown concert at New
York’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors was the appearance
of the singer Melvin Davis. A tall man, impeccably dressed in white Panama hat,
black scarf and vest over crisp black shirt, and perfectly creased white
slacks, Davis looked as if this was the proudest day in his life. A singer for
a variety of small labels in the early 1960s, influenced by Motown (and early
Marvin Gaye/Temptations) but without its production/arranging/marketing
resources, he toiled in obscurity.
But Detroit Breakdown was giving him a new chance almost 50
years later to let an audience outside the Motor City
hear him live in a showcase presentation. And there was good reason for his
happiness, besides the fact his voice was still expressive and worth hearing.
(He shared the bill with Spyder Turner, the Velvelettes, Dennis Coffey and some
other forgotten figures of Detroit soul.) The Dirtbombs had covered a song of
his recorded for Groovesville in 1966, “Chains of Love,” and it had ended up on
the soundtrack of The Diving Bell and the
Butterfly. And a composition that had gathered dust in his basement for 48
years after being recorded for Fortune but never released, “I Won’t Come
Crawling Back to You,” had just been reissued by Norton Records, a label
devoted to reviving and rediscovering obscure rock & soul acts and records.
Since that performance, a similar label – Vampisoul, home of
the popular R&B Hipshakers volumes, has come up with this collection of 14 Davis recordings from the 1960s
that were first released (or left unissued) by Fortune, Groovesville, Jack Pot,
Ke Ke, and Wheel City, including the original “Chains of Love.” To borrow a New
Orleans musical term, these are solid but derivative “second line” Motown
songs, worthy additions to the public domain for those who want all the
authentic 1960s Detroit soul they can get their hands on. The CD comes with an
informative, attractive booklet featuring liner notes by Michael Hurtt.
DOWNLOAD: “Chains of Love,” “I Won’t Be Your Fool” STEVEN ROSEN