Fistful of Soul will host a reunion on Saturday, December 9 back where they started when they expanded their project to Shoeshine Charley's Big Top Lounge in 2011 for a monthly residency. The project actually began in 2009 when Stewart Anderson started hosting vinyl nights at the since shut down Mink.
Anderson initially joined forces with Ben Browning and John Baldwin and the group, using their interest in punk rock and soul, curated musical selections of vintage ska, reggae and soul music.
As members moved away or began other projects, the collective shifted members but continued to include Anderson as the founder later accompanied by Joe Ross and Alex LaRotta with the group adding Jason Woods, a.k.a Flash Gordon Parks, all four who will be at the reunion show.
The focus of the group musically shifted with time as they honed in on soul music and really modeled themselves after the Northern Soul movement of Northern England from the early ‘70s where party organizers focused on playing heavy and fast beats from the underground music scene versus playing the well known hits.
“They built on consistency,” says La Rotta describing the rapid growth in attendance which pushed them from the smaller Big Top room to filling the larger Continental Club venue and backyard. ”It was free, consistent and you knew what to expect and they got this really fervent fan base where people were really intense about it.”
“Intense” is right as people packed the club during each of Fistful of Souls monthly dance parties and the group going on to win Best Of Houston Press awards and acknowledgement from DJs in other cities. “Who would have thought playing vintage soul music would become a phenomenon,” says LaRotta. “There's clearly a big response in the city from it and I always felt humbled by that.”
Despite the success, the group took a pause as LaRotta moved to New York for a few years. They initially planned to shift from once a month to possibly a yearly event but as COVID hit, their plans changed.
The group not only strove to bring fans fresh and new songs on a monthly basis, all on single, original 45’s, but also to help celebrate and spotlight local artists and Houston’s amazing musical history with LaRotta describing Archie Bell’s “Tighten Up” as their national anthem.
They even released a poster with step by step instructions provided to them by the main man himself, and a process which though it had been danced by millions around the world, had never been officially documented.
LaRotta describes the search for their selected songs as having the base of groups like The Temptations or The Four Tops but then expanding. “We’re also kind of spanning smaller genres in the pantheon of soul because we do R&B, which is a grittier sound before the polished soul sound of the mid ‘60s and I'll play early funk and a lot of Latin soul sounds. There's different variations of soul music that we like to pepper in that all have this feel of music from the ‘60s and early ‘70s that's mostly Black music.”
“We didn't have an answer,” says LaRotta, who began planting the seeds with his team for a reunion. “It was a lot of fun for us. We love that party. I’ve been a DJ for several years and that has always been the most fun and wonderful thing that we've ever done as a DJ group. I reached out to the other group members and everyone individually said yes.”
It was a natural choice to reach back out to The Continental Club. “It always felt like the right place to do it,” says LaRotta. “They understood what we were doing from the get go. It was totally symbiotic.”
Though it’s been four years since their last event and the public's love for vinyl and awareness for and accessibility to the more rare tracks of the past has only increased, the Fistful of Soul crew still saw a need for their special events.
“The nightclub scene in Houston is really diverse and there's DJs doing some really cool things in Houston but we felt like nothing really had filled the void of a classic soul, all vinyl night.”
The physicality of running these events cannot go unmentioned as they have to carry crates and crates of vinyl to fill the hours of entertainment inside and outside of the club as they have two DJ’s performing simultaneously in each space with no songs repeated.
The kinesthetic experience of hosting this can only be matched by the process of locating these rare gems to share with others allowing Fistful of Soul to breathe new life into these small yet mighty recordings. It’s fun to think of how a little 45 could have sat untouched and unheard for decades only to then make a whole crowd of people get down.
“A lot of the records we play are still not Shazamable, they are very obscure. We’ve got this beautiful sound system and people are dancing to it and it feels like you're breathing new life into those old records for sure especially when it’s local stuff. To have young people, generations removed for some of the youngest dancers, that's quite literally their grandparents' music.”
Fistful of Soul will perform on Saturday, December 9 at Shoeshine Charley's Big Top Lounge, 3714 Main, 8 p.m, $5.