I was listening to a CD compilation called Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities, Volume Four last week when one of the songs, “A Man of My Word,” caught my ear. I slipped the booklet out of the jewel case to read more about the band, Salt & Pepper (and no, this isn’t the Hip-Hop group Salt ‘N Pepa from the 1980s), who had recorded this catchy, funky tune. I did a double take when I read that “this recording was cut in April 1970 at the Sri Kruong studios in Bangkok, Thailand.”
At that time, of course, the Vietnam War was going on, and members of the band were all in the US military, stationed at the U-Tapao Air Force Base near Chonburi, right here in Thailand. In the CD’s extensive liner notes, it mentions that Salt & Pepper “soon had a regular Saturday set in Bangkok at Jack’s American Star Bar, a mainly black GI haunt that was later revealed to have been a front for heroin dealing. Friday nights saw them at Charlie’s Hideaway in the Pattaya Beach resort and they even got gigs in native Thai clubs.” The band’s name was inspired by the fact that the lead singer (Ed Mobley) was black, while the rest of the band members were white. According to additional information that sax player Steve Jarrell posted on an online soul music forum:
We formed the group and played the service clubs and on weekends we played in Bangkok and Jack’s American Star Bar and also at Charlie’s Hideaway in Pattaya Beach, Thailand. We recorded the songs that Ed had written and put them on Toni’s custom label. We were the first Americans to ever record in Southeast Asia. The record became a hit in Bangkok and received airplay on the Armed Forces Radio Network. I sang background and played sax on the records. I can’t remember if any of the other guys sang too. We did the old technique of “pinging” track to track back and forth. I am sure the machine was a 2 or 4 track recorder. The studio was Sri Kruong in Bangkok. I remember we had fun with the Thai engineer. We would move our mouths and not sing and he would start shaking wires like something was wrong with the equipment. We all got a big chuckle out of that.
In addition to that track, there are many more cool songs on Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities, Volume Four. As the title implies, these are all very rare recordings, many of them making their debut on CD for the first time. But that’s not to say that these are weak or inferior recordings. Far from it. The quality is excellent and listeners are treated to vibrant tunes that reinforce the therapeutic power of soul music. Like Salt and Pepper, many of these artists never recorded again, or if they did, their output was never enough to fill an entire album, thus the recordings were “lost” for several decades. About the only “big” name on this collection is singer Brenton Wood, who released several albums, including some “hits” compilations you can still find. The other three volumes of Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities are also chock-full of great tracks, just begging to be heard. Kent Records has done a fantastic job of culling the archives of various labels to find these rare records. More please!