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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 motorists alike. 

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 the label. 

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 oblivion. 

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 Roulette Records. 

"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 year. 

"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 Artists." 

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 York. 

Musette Records was---and still is---the "Shrine Records" of San Diego.

MR-102 – Sonny Craver - I'm No Fool / Come Back
MR-112 – June Jackson - You're Welcome / Bottoms Up
76- 9151 – Mickie Champion -What Good Am I / The Hurt Still Lingers On
65-10 – Lenni Groves - Sweet Sixteen / Fool For A Day
65-11 – Lennie Groves - Bye Bye Baby / A Million Tears Ago
65-12 – ?
65-13 – Garnett Sykes -Longer Than Forever / Go Go Girl
65-14 – Ervin Rucker -She's Alright / Kids Together
65-15 – ?
65-16 – Arlene Williams - Duck All Over Town / ?
65-17 – The Other Four - Searching For My Love / Why   

Musette Acetate – Unknown Artist - You know How Love Is

Angelo Alexander

*The above excerpt is taken from the forthcoming book, "Angelo Alexander's Private Record Collection," due for release in September. As an actor, Angelo has appeared in the films "Troublemaker," "Friend of the Family" and "Livers Ain't Cheap." As a singer, Angelo has completed his blues project "Angelo Alexander Sings Bessie Smith," a series of direct to DAT, 1-take vocal performances in a tribute to Bessie Smith, the World's Greatest Blues Singer; the CD will be released in June on TripJazz Records, a division of Andromeda International Records.


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