The Dells' romantic slow jam "Oh What a Night"- with rich vocal harmonies - is a Lowrider love anthem.Record cover detail
The music biz is certainly no stranger to spotlighting intense love affairs (we’re looking at you, Taylor and her Swifties). But there’s an especially hot one going on now between record collectors and reissue labels.
Whether repping major artists and catalogs (Rhino, Sony Legacy, UMe) or more focused and esoteric tastes (Numero Group, Light in the Attic, Third Man), there’s never been a better time for a fan to find a long out-of-print record reissued, discover a slew of unreleased material, or grab a themed “new” release.
The last is well-represented in the latest compilation from Craft Recordings, the division of the Concord Music Group. Released on vinyl as a limited edition (3,100 copies) in either “Clear” or “Smokin’ Black” color for Record Store Day, Dedicated to You: Lowrider Love collects a dozen slow roll, laid-back romantic jams stretching from the ‘50s to the ‘70s. They’re all associated with the car culture which had its roots among young Chicanos around Los Angeles.
Blending smooth vocal group harmony, doo-wop, and Latin and R&B-tinged beats, the tunes are equally at home while lowriders worked on their custom cars during the day, or cruised the streets and clubs at night, clutching their ladies close to them.
“They’re sentimental songs, sometimes bittersweet, with a certain mood and style,” says Joe McEwen, Senior VP of A&R for Concord Music Group, who worked on the release. “They just give you this feeling, this moment. It’s not easily quantified, but you know it when you hear it!”
Of the dozen tracks, the only one that would be familiar to the average Oldies fans is the Dells’ “Oh What a Night” (largely responsible for their entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Songs like “Maybe” (Ralph Robles) and “Dedicated to the One I Love” (The Temprees) are more familiar from earlier versions by the Chantels for the former or the 5 Royales and the Mamas and the Papas for the latter.
Other tracks offer deeper cuts from better known acts like Gene Chandler, Brenton Wood, and the Impressions. But there’s also those known to record nerds only like Joe Bataan, the Harvey Averne Dozen, the Sheppards, the Dontells, the Serenaders, and one track by Ralfi Pagan. sung in Spanish (“Negrona”). They were culled from the original catalogs of labels Eve-Jay, Fania, Double Shot, We Produce, Riverside, and Abner.
“Several are B-side oldies classics, like Brenton Wood’s and Gene Chandler’s. And there is an audience for this stretching back to the ‘60s. But they still hold together, and I love all of it.” McEwen says.
McEwen originally hails from Philadelphia, where vocal groups (and especially R&B groups) ruled the culture in the ‘50s and ‘60s. But even a expert like him was surprised at being introduced to some of the tracks on Lowrider Love.
He notes that a previous series of a dozen bootleg records under the umbrella East Side Story by Anthony Boosalis mined some of the same territory beginning in the late ‘70s. And many of these songs were played by Los Angeles DJ Art Laboe (currently still alive and on the air at the age of 95), and who is credited with coining the term “Oldies But Goodies.” He replayed records that had been released years before, but to a new audience in lowriders.
For teens today able to pull up any song ever recorded in history at the touch of a button from the palm of their hand, waiting to hear a song on the radio if you didn’t have the money to afford to buy the actual record has got to seem fairly…ancient.
“Now, you can dial up anything and have an infinite number of music choices. But I always found there was a magic and a mystery in the hunt for records and getting something that was precious,” he offers. “Sure, it’s a lot easier now. But where’s the mystique?”
The fact that many of these songs came out on regional labels, were produced in smaller quantities, and may have only been distributed in a limited geographical area adds to their rarity, making reissue compilation projects like this one even more valuable.
Of course, the one song you won’t hear on “Lowrider Love” is the biggest hit by the band WAR and best known sonic celebration of the culture, “Low Rider.” It’s certainly not a love song, and the rights to the band’s catalog were recently acquired by Rhino from Avenue Records.
Today, McEwen is busy working on a number of projects for Concord, both in the reissue area (a 4CD box of singles from Latin label Fania) and new music by artists like Miloe (“from Minneapolis by way of the Congo”), Layla Tucker (daughter of Tanya on a Merle Haggard tribute record), and jam band favorites the Tedeschi Trucks Band (the Derek and the Dominoes tribute Layla Live), and a Gov’t Mule blues record.
One future project might even be a continuation of the Lowrider series. “This one is a one-off, but we’ll see how it goes. It was just thrilling for me, even after all these years, to get a copy of it in my hands,” he sums up. “It’s one of those little treasures in life.”
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.