Thousands of music labels have been established in the United States and most have faded into obscurity because of a lack of commercial success. Despite the failures, there was a lot of good music produced and issued by many of these long gone and forgotten labels. One such label was Minaret Records, established in 1962 as a Nashville country and rock and roll label. It was purchased by Finley Duncan in the mid-1960s, who took it in a soul direction and had it distributed by Shelby Singleton’s SSS International Records.
Artists such as Big John Hamilton, Willie Cobbs, Genie Brooks, Doris Allen, Willie Gable, Johnny Dynamite, and Leroy Lloyd and The Dukes may not be household names or even recognizable to most music fans, but rhythm & blues aficionados consider some of their singles to be the Holy Grail of collecting. Now all 20 A and B-sides of the Minaret soul singles, released 1967-1976, have been released under the appropriate title, The South Side Of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976, as a two-disc CD.
Big John Hamilton is the center of the CD as he appears on half the tracks, which include four duets with Doris Allen. He has a sweet soul voice that is perfect for everything from blues to gospel. He learned his trade during a stint with Hank Ballad & The Midnighters and Etta James’ backing band. “Big Bad John” (not the Jimmy Dean hit) could have been released by Stax. It has a funky horn section and a stinging guitar that serve as the underpinning for his vocal. “I Had No One” is a nice ballad featuring his silky voice, while “How Much Can a Man Take” is another ballad in the James Brown tradition. “Big Fanny” has pulsating rhythms to support the tale of the 300-pound chanteuse. His duet on “Let a Little Love In” with Doris Allen is a breezy and soulful redo of a country song. Their best collaboration is a soaring and rocking version of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.”
Genie Brooks was one of those local artists that many people couldn’t quite figure out why he didn’t make it in a big way. He had a flexible voice that could run up and down the scales. “South Side of Soul Street” is a typical late 1960s dance track but the other side of the original single, “Helping Hand,” is a passionate and socially conscious tale of prison and loss.
Perhaps the best track is the instrumental “Soulful Strut” by Leroy Lloyd and The Dukes. It has some bluesy guitar licks, but it is the brass that dominates the track.
The quality of the music makes one wonder why it didn’t sell well at the time of its release. One reason was small labels had limited funds for promotion and secondly, the larger labels, such as Motown and Stax, were releasing equally good and some times better music and more of it.
The major problem may have been the lack of a consistent sound. The album is a collection of very individual tracks and while many are excellent representations of late 1960s and early 1970s soul and provide a historical presentation of what was being issued by smaller labels, there is an inconsistency to the music.
In the final analysis, The South Side Of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976 is a valuable release in that it resurrects a number of hard to find tracks that are still a worthwhile listening experience.