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Charlie's Angle

Early on in his radio and writing career, Charlie had also eased into the management, recording and music publishing side of the business. We jump back to 1971...

Charlie with Wai
Charlie with Maori futurists Wai
"Sound Of The City came out and I was completely astonished by the positive reaction to it, especially in America. I had just written it trying to sort out things for myself. I wanted to get the sequence of what happened and why, and the fact that it seemed to me that the roots of American popular music were black. Having had that as my reason for writing Sound Of The City, I kind of got it out of my system. And it was so difficult writing a book, so stressful and exhausting, and all the time you're pushing this boulder, thinking 'Nobody's going to be interested in this.' When they said, as a result of all the positive reaction, 'What are you going to do next?' I came up with what I thought was an answer which would result in them saying, 'We're not going to do that'. I said 'I would like to meet the people of Atlantic Records. Their story is fascinating and covers the same period, and if you pay my expenses so that I can go there and meet everybody that I have to talk to.' But they said yes, and paid me $3,000, which was a lot of money in 1972."

"I went out there and did the interviews, came back and I'd just finished writing when a friend of mine, Gordon Nelki, who was my dentist at the time, said 'What else could you do?' I said 'I suppose run a record label' - this was 1972. And he said 'What's entailed in that?' and I said 'I don't really know. But what I would put out on my record label if I had one is some of the music from Louisiana that I've been playing which you can't get here.' 'Oh' he said, 'well, why don't we start one up?' So we went down to New Orleans and Louisiana and had some really funny, absurd negotiating debates with people and then met the wonderful Floyd Soileau of Jin and Swallow Records in Ville Platte. In New Orleans, before we got to Ville Platte, we're playing pool in a bar and the juke box is just playing whatever it's playing, and suddenly this version of Promised Land comes on which nearly makes me push my cue through the baize. It was what we now know as Johnny Allen's version of Promised Land. I looked and I found what was playing and worked out it was B28 or whatever, and it's on Jin Records, which is the label we're going to go to, which is wonderful. So when I'm walking in the door and he's putting his hand out, I'm saying 'Have you got Johnny Allen's Promised Land?' He said 'Yeah, yeah, calm down. What are you interested in that for? It's a B-side.' I said 'I heard it in New Orleans. It's got to be on our album.'"

"He agreed a fee of something like $20 a track and a very reasonable royalty and said 'Just take away as many 45s as you want. Let me know the ones that you want the tapes of, and I'll supply them.' So we spent ages putting this compilation together out of all that. And of course I didn't have any contacts in the industry as such. We got turned down by a couple of people and I don't know what we were going to do next."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 218-219, Aug/Sep 2001


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