Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound Screens at MIFF
South Florida owes a debt of gratitude to former Florida A&M Marching bandmates, schoolteachers, and music aficionados Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall. Without their gamble on the short-lived Deep City Records, there would've never been such a culturally identifiable thing as the "Miami sound." While some of the Deep City Records' artists went on to much more with TK Records or into the vaults of obscurity, the slabs that were cut remain some of the best R&B and proto-Motown/funk known to man.
Had it not been for the disagreement between Clarke and Pearsall trying to push Betty Wright and Helene Smith respectively, the latter being Pearsall's wife; the musical landscape of South Florida might just be slightly different nowadays, for surely the caliber of their stars, had they remained under the same stable, would've vaulted this sliver of America into the same rooms Motown would eventually come to occupy. Oh, well.
This year's Miami International Film Festival will feature Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound as part of their roster of fine films. For info on the movie and the team behind it, click here. Hopefully this piece of Floridiana will not go unnoticed by the locals and let's hope local filmmakers are detracted from pulling Ai Weiwei-styled protesting. What follows is a Miami sound playlist for your listening pleasure.
Them Two - Am I A Good Man?
Larry Greene and Larry Mobley were the hardest working dudes in the local nightclub scene. As regulars at the Sir John Hotel, they warmed up the stage for everybody who was anybody that performed in South Florida. This Clarke and Clarence Reid (a.k.a. Blowfly) arranged number was certainly ahead of its time with the two Larrys nailing the recording in one take, the stuff of legends. Greene was killed in a vehicular accident over twenty years ago but this song and its central theme of continuous questioning in the face of adversity will live on forever.
Freda Gray & The Rocketeers - "Stay Away From My Johnny"
This Reid/Pearsall ditty is only what it is because of Freda Gray's amazing vocals. Fun and coquettish, razor-bladed slightly, evocative and nary a quiver betraying her full confidence, she's a powerhouse singer. How this single is not played nightly on Magic 102.7, is a mystery and a travesty.
The Rollers - "Knocking at the Wrong Door"
Another Reid/Clarke piece that is yet again propelled by some awesome vocals and some blueprint musicianship of what will eventually end up on TK tracks. Disregard the Jackson Five comparison with "I Want You Back," that's just pure positing, and let's be honest, no matter how much young Michael sounded like a gal, you just can't beat the inflection of the real thing. Oh wait, I'm kidding, the Jackson Five were pretty righteous, but so were the Rollers! Blast this at your next party and confuse your musically ignorant friends.