Much interest domestically and abroad has
been generated over the years about a rare indie soul label
in San Diego, CA called Musette Records, whose short life
span (1965?-1968?) only produced less than 20 singles, and
no full albums. More than 30 years later, Musette would
achieve the collectible status among record buyers of
northern soul, who recognize and appreciate the R & B
grooves that pulsated on these now extremely rare singles.
Here is the Musette Records story:
Musette Records was not started as a true
record label, but as a sideline project and reported tax
write-off for then prominent Black doctors in San Diego,
including but not limited to Melvin Williams, Vell R.Wyatt,
and ? Hammond. These doctors would pool their monies for
start-costs and, while no one knows just which doctor came
up with idea, or who approached them about investing in such
a venture, the doctors put up the money for a local record
label called Musette Records. It was first based in a small
strip mall on Logan Avenue, in the heart of southeast San
Diego, the Black ghetto---if you will. The label address was
listed in the label text.
In the same building on Logan, facing the
street (i.e. Musette's tiny office was located on the side
of the building) was the Sportsman's nightclub that, in
1972, booked national talent. The first big artist to
perform there was none other than Mr. Excitement himself,
Jackie Wilson. Jackie sang so loud and clear that one did
not need to be inside the Sportsman for this legendary---and
probably his only---San Diego appearance. Jackie could be
heard all the way across the street to pedestrians and
Other artists that also performed at this
now defunct venue included Candi Staton, and an apparent
unauthorized performance by The Ikettes, without the
permission from Ike Turner, owner of the groups' name. It is
not known if any of the Musette artists ever performed at
the Sportsman, a la Motown's future acts discovered while
performing at Detroit's Flame Show Bar.
After jointly putting up the start-cost,
each doctor would additionally put up the money to sponsor a
Musette artist. In turn, the doctor would be given the
production credit, even though he had absolutely nothing to
do with the resulting sessions. In essence, the doctor(s)
only acted in the executive producer capacity, the one who
put up the money for the session.
The label output was geared toward soul
music. With the exception of one of the last releases by a
garage-rock band, Musette was soul all the way.
The label logo was simple, an arrow
pointing to a circular round ball, a "world," with "Musette"
inside the wavy arrow. Interesting as well was the fact that
the logo was done in 4 colors, the first Musette singles
being issued on dark blue with silver print or orange with
black print; later came the green label with black print and
the light blue with black print. The runs of each single
were very small, all less than 500 copies.
Musette hired an independent promotion
man to work the resulting records at radio and retail;
however, the promo guy was not exclusive to Musette; at the
same time he was promoting releases by other indie R & B
labels, including Brunswick Records, which was then still
distributed by the parent Decca/MCA Records.
But, as Berry Gordy, Jr. once coined the
phrase, "It's what's in the grooves that count," this
totally described the now historic performances of these few
Musette artists and their singles.
Probably the most commercial artist on
the label was Miss Mickie Champion. Mickie, who today is a
fantastic Blues/jazz vocalist, living and performing in Los
Angeles with several scorching CD releases to her credit,
recorded the rocking "What Good Am I (Without You)" and the
midtempo, cool "The Hurt Still Lingers On." This was the
only Musette single that was reissued by the label: the
first pressing was on the dark blue with silver print, the
second was on the light blue with black print.
It is an understatement to say "What Good
Am I," with the somewhat banal lyrics
"What good is a ship if it can't sail,
what good is a train without a rail,
what good is the sky without the blue,
and what good am I without you,"
is still considered one of the finest
soul performances ever recorded on wax. Mickie is in total
control of this song, her ad libs and shouts created an
enthusiasm that got the listener on their feet.
The-call-and-response between the horn section and Mickie
resulted in a red-hot tune, a hit with kids and parents
alike. No one could deny this "teenager" could sing, or belt
out this tune.
Well, this is only somewhat true...
Those that did not know Ms. Champion
would say, upon hearing the A-side, the voice belonged to
that of a teenager, all the boldness that made this a local
dance floor filler was there, with a thumping, soulful
accompaniment, complete with a funky, sax solo. The B-side
performance was just as good, with Mickie starting slow and
building to an A-side type, vocal climax.
The truth was that Mickie was definitely
not a teenager. She was a grown woman, whose only previous
tracks were issued on a rare album issued in the late 50's,
a compilation she would share with Billie Holiday!
The Mickie Champion single was helmed by
label mate Sonny Carver, although Mickie recalled Dr.
Hammond as her contact to getting on Musette.
Sonny Carver, whose own single released
at the same time, "Come Back/I'm No Fool," issued on the
orange with black print' logo style, showed Sonny as coming
off as a deep northern soul artist, "Come Back" was in the
vein of Freddie Scott ("Hey Girl" on Colpix Records). " Come
Back," with the rhythm accompaniment augmented by a string
section, seemed to drag a little, while the lighter, faster
B-side, "I'm No Fool," showed some smooth soul promise.
The Mickie Champion and Sonny Carver
singles were the only ones that did not name one of the
doctors in the production credit.
Next up was the record debut of a
phenomenal local talent, a beautiful and stunning, yet shy
Logan Heights teenager who had 2-3 Musette singles released
at the same time on the green logo with black print.
Although accidental or intentional misspellings show her
first name as either "Lenni" or "Lennie," the teenager was
the then unknown Lani Groves, which later achieved fame as
part of Stevie Wonder's background singing group, Wonderlove
in the 70's (i.e. Lani is heard doing the solo lines on the
beginning verses of Stevie's big hit from 1972, "You Are The
Sunshine of My Life").
Lani's recorded debut, "Sweet Sixteen
(With A Broken Heart)/Fool For A Day," and the
simultaneously issued "Bye Bye Baby/A Million Tears Ago,"
has the production credit given to Vell ("Rufty") Wyatt, the
most prominent and loved Black doctor in southeast San
Diego. Lani's performances, especially on the midtempo
"Sweet Sixteen" showed much promise for the youngster,
albeit without proper promotion, airplay and distribution,
it is a wonder that any copies of the Lani Groves/Musette
singles still exist anywhere.
Nothing is known Ervin Rucker or his
single, "She's Alright/Kids Together," issued on the orange
logo with black print. Probably another forgotten local soul
singer of the day, the single more collectible because of
With literally no sales, airplay or
distribution, the Musette office moved (around 1967? 1968?)
to National City, 10 minutes south of the original Logan
Avenue location. The new address was placed on the label and
would be the last known location before the label was shut
down not too long after the move.
Here came the most popular, national
artist that Musette would have on the label. Issued on the
dark blue logo with silver print was the coupling "You're
Welcome / Bottoms Up" by June Jackson, a male singer with a
ton of soul, his uptempo performance on the A-side was
definitely on the level of Mickie Champion, the B-side a
ballad, which Otis Redding would have dug, rounded out a
great coupling that should have brought the fledgling
Musette label the sales and airplay it deserved; but alas,
this single would join the others and drift into soul
In the 70's, copies of this June Jackson
single could be found in discount sections of local San
Diego mom and pop record stores, including C.W. Dean's
Record City, still located on Imperial Avenue. But even more
interesting was the other name that the artist recorded
under: June Jackson in reality was J.J, Jackson, who had an
international smash single "But It's Alright" on Calla
Records, distributed in the mid-60's by the notorious
"But It's Alright" charted #4 on the
Billboard single chart in 1967; The single and artist
licensed to Warner Brothers Records in Los Angeles in 1969,
which quickly released the J. J. Jackson album and resulting
singles on the Warner Brothers and later Warner's R & B
Loma Records label subsidiary; the single charted again that
"But It's Alright" however proved a major
headache over the years for a DJ and one of the first VJ
(video jockey) of MTV with the same name of J.J. Jackson
who, for over 20 years had to tell everyone, from fans to
Mick Jagger, that “No, I did not record 'But It's Alright.”
Not much is known as to how J.J. came to Musette or why he
recorded under the name June Jackson. But June / J.J.'s
Musette single performance is right up there with his
worldwide smash and should have never been overlooked.
Somewhere in the late 60's the doctors
collectively tossed in the towel and closed the label.
Noting is known as to who has the recorded masters, and no
one at the time ever thought they would have any known
value. Mickie Champion recalls only being given one copy of
her Musette single, which was destroyed when children of a
family member opened her trunk and used her precious record
collection as Frisbees.
Although never as collectible as the
Shrine Records releases, Musette Records in San Diego was
one of the most important soul labels of the day; the
handful of singles released now fetch up to $100 on the UK
soul collectors market. This tickled Mickie Champion to
death when she heard about the high value of the original
Musette singles. The label's artists all had promise, the
vision was their but alas, the label came to an end and the
San Diego Black doctors found other projects to support, but
never anything that was music-oriented.
In the 80's, another small indie label
was started and extremely short lived in San Diego. Like
Musette, the focus of this new indie label called Lyon's Den
Records, which was intentionally located in a tougher part
of southeast San Diego by founder/nightclub owner Roy Lyons.
Lyons envisioned his label as grabbing up local talent and
making them stars in the manner Motown did in the early
60's, which was why he situated the label office on the
rural Ocean View Blvd., highly visible as it was sandwiched
in a strip mall with a fast food restaurant, local grocery
store, a state employment office, and a medical/dental
office. Their moniker was "Lyons Den Hungry for New
But, like Musette, Lyons Den Records also
existed as an apparent tax write-off. The label closed down
not too long after opening in 1981, with Lyons concentrating
more on his nightclub. Lyons Den only released a mere 2-3
singles, the most important single being the stellar soul
debut by singer Byron Blue, a handsome yet arrogant,
talented soul balladeer of the highest order. In many ways,
Lyons Den mirrored Musette Records, but in a much shorter
time, as Lyons Den had less than 1-year in operation vs.
Musette's 2-years plus musical lifetime.
Musette Records singles captured the true
essence of soul music during the day, which was moving away
from the gutbucket R & B sound (with the exception of the
Mickie Champion/June Jackson sides), to a much more smoother
sweet soul sound that was coming out of Philly and New
Musette Records was---and still is---the
"Shrine Records" of San Diego.