Secret Stash Records has sold out its purple vinyl editions of “Twin Cities Funk and Soul,” which debuted in September and chronicles “Lost R&B Grooves.”
The album compiles R&B hits that helped shape the Minneapolis music scene from 1964-1979. The music ranges from “sweet soul to full-on dance floor funk,” and the songs recall an era of North Minneapolis dance contests, clubs that were effectively segregated, and Minnesota’s first African American-owned record label.
“We tried to tell the story of the scene back in the ’60s and ’70s in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” said General Manager Will Gilbert. “The biggest part of the project was tracking everyone down.”
To collect licensing rights, staff needed to find aging artists that had scattered across the country. Over the course of a year-and-a-half, they interviewed 65 people and compiled their research into a 32-page newspaper that comes with each record.
“It was a really good time to do this,” Gilbert said. “Almost everyone we wanted to talk to was still alive. If we had waited 10 years, I think a lot of it might have been lost. This has never been written down before.”
During the ’60s and ’70s, local R&B music did not extend far beyond the black community, according to the record label’s research. R&B musicians were a tight-knit group, and they needed to be flexible to earn a full-time living, playing jazz or even rock on occasion.
Gilbert said much of Downtown Minneapolis wasn’t friendly for black music. A notable exception was King Solomon’s Mines, located on the ground floor of the Foshay Tower.
“That was the place to be, it was the biggest spot in town,” Gilbert said.
The club owner, who was white, booked R&B acts for two years before a police raid led to suspension of the club’s liquor license. When it closed in 1969, owner Dean Constantine told The Minneapolis Spokesman he thought the club was targeted because white tenants in the Foshay Tower and other nearby buildings didn’t like the crowd. The police found minors in the club, although Constantine said he always had two people checking IDs who turned 30 or more people away each night.
The Secret Stash research highlights a few Southwest hot spots for R&B. Old concert venues include Mr. Lucky’s and the adjacent Magoo’s at 29th & Nicollet, where Dave Brady and the Stars would play hits by The Temptations.
Another notable site was the Kay Bank recording studio at 26th & Nicollet. The Exciters bandmates recalled practicing material nonstop for three days prior to its recording session there, so they could limit the number of studio takes. The studio was originally named Swedien Recording, built in an old movie theater by founder Bruce Swedien at age 19. When he left the Twin Cities, Swedien went on to record Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Several of the Twin Cities’ first R&B artists came here from southern cities. Big local names included Maurice McKinnies, Jackie Harris, Willie Walker and Mojo Buford.
Gilbert discovered that most of these artists aren’t sitting quietly in retirement, and many of them are still performing regularly. On Feb. 8, Secret Stash Records will gather some of them for a show at Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave. S.
Musicians from the record have already performed a sold-out show at The Cedar to celebrate the release. Mayor R.T. Rybak visited the basement studio at Lake & Lyndale to hear them rehearse.
“We had hopes, but we never expected it to do that well,” Gilbert said. “It’s kind of an amazing level of excitement.”
Twin Cities Funk & Soul is the 25th release for Secret Stash Records, and it’s the first one to focus on local music.
The independent label was launched in 2009 by Eric Foss and Cory Wong, who grew up together in Fridley. The label primarily handles world beat music, and almost everything is issued on vinyl.
“We focus a lot on custom packaging and special-color vinyl,” Gilbert said. “We focus on the things we appreciate in records.”
Secret Stash’s niche lies in compiling lost or forgotten music, like “Soviet Funk” and “Porno Groove: The Sound of 70s Adult Films.”
The label recently partnered with KFAI Radio to generate monthly concerts at Icehouse, featuring world-music artists and Secret Stash DJs. The first concert kicked off in November, featuring the Afro-Peruvian music of Peña.
Afro-Peruvian music is another one of Secret Stash’s music discoveries. Foss and Wong traveled to Lima to record Afro-Peruvian music, very little of which has ever been recorded and released outside of Peru.
As for future projects, Secret Stash continues to dig into the music of its rediscovered R&B stars. On Black Friday, the label started selling two previously unreleased tracks by Prophets of Peace, which is one of the bands on TC Funk and Soul. The record features the band’s original Maxx Records label, designed to look like it rolled off the press in 1974.