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Digging through DJ Le Spam’s record collection

DJ Le Spam, the man behind the world-famous, Miami-born Spam Allstars, has spent a good chunk of his life digging for records, from funk music to Latin, many of them obscure soundtracks to play on his one-of-a-kind Volkswagen bus mobile sound system.

And despite the fact that Miami isn’t exactly known for its record production, what stands out is how many of them are Miami records.

He remembers how his infatuation with collecting local gems began.

“I got a recording of Little Beaver’s ‘Party Down’ from my friend Superwolf in Kansas City. Through that I got extra obsessed looking for Miami stuff. I’d been living in Miami for 10 years almost and I couldn’t believe there was all this Miami soul music that I didn’t know anything about. It was like living on this planet just finding out about this civilization that was here before you,” he remembers.

Andrew Yeomanson, as DJ Le Spam is formally known, says he got the record collecting bug “really bad” in 1998 and would fill up boxes with records to ship home while on the road.

“From 1998 to 2001, my music was all beats I was sampling from my record collection. It was my part-time job to ride around [Miami] buying a few hundred records a week. Bass records, hip-hop, whatever funk records I could get my hands on, Latin records, Jamaican stuff,” he remembers.

“At the same time, I was doing this pirate radio show on Miami Beach, where the format I came up with was to play my record finds for 30 minutes, and play live 30 minutes, where I would bring in a new creation that I would make every week for the show.”

The New Tropic asked him to tell us a little bit about his 10 favorite Miami records and share the memorable stories behind them.

Helene Smith – Sings Sweet Soul

This may well be Miami’s first soul album. Willie Clarke claims that less than 100 were pressed. It’s the only LP on Clarke and Johnny Pearsall’s legendary Deep City label. Most of the songs here are penned by Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke, with the exception of Little Beaver’s classic “You’ve Got to be a Man.”

This album establishes the blueprint for ‘60s Miami soul. The Deep City recordings attracted the attention of Henry Stone and within five years much of the talent would be working for Stone’s family of labels. I had been searching for a nice clean copy of “You Got to be a Man” which came out as a 45 on Deep City and later Phil L.A. of Soul. I finally picked up the 45 and then a collector friend offered me the album. Every time I see Willie [Clarke] he offers to buy my copy. Willie worked for years as an art teacher in the Miami Dade public school system and he designed the labels for Deep City, Alston, Cat, Glades, Dash and many others.

Little Beaver – Do Right Man

It’s very hard for me to pick just one Saadia 45 for this list. For me, Saadia is the greatest Miami soul label. I found this record at a central Miami Goodwill over 12 years ago. I was made aware of Miami soul labels by my friend Superwolf, aka James Trotter, who is a DJ and artist out of Kansas City. ‘Do Right Man’ is a soulful declaration of love with a great vocal performance by Little Beaver…

The Saadia recordings stand as a testament to Frank Williams’ tenacity. Most of his resources were used up in recording and manufacturing these records, which according to Beaver never really generated much profit for Williams. There’s an alternate version of “Do Right Man” recorded with the same instrumental backing, with vocal duties performed by Sam Baker. However, they found it necessary to leave in Beaver’s high note near the end of the song.  Jazzman Records reissued all of the Saadia 45’s as a set a few years ago.

Little Beaver – Party Down

Although I was aware of hits like Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” and George Mcrae’s “Rock Your Baby,” this was my gateway into the Miami funk and soul sound of the early 70s. After hearing this album, I obsessively searched out anything I could find on Cat, Alston, Dash, Dade, Glades…any record I could find with a Miami address on the label. The album showcases Beaver at the height of his talent and popularity. Maestro Rhythm King drum machine, Wah and Echoplex guitar leads, heavy bass lines and Beaver’s soaring vocals all give the LP its unique vibe.

“Party down” captures the feeling of the pre-disco Miami scene better than any other album. The song “I Can Dig It Baby” features an early recording by Jaco Pastorius who is credited as Nelson Padron. Beaver told me during an interview that Jaco wandered into TK Studios looking for session work and the song was his audition for TK, but he didn’t take the gig because according to Beaver “he had other stuff to do.”

Ronnie Keaton – Going Down For the Last Time

There used to be a place in West Palm Beach called Craig’s Records. Craig was a great guy. I would spend all day in his shop or the garage of his house looking through endless boxes of 45s, usually buying a couple hundred at a time. Craig knew I was looking for local soul stuff and sometimes at the end of several hours of digging he would go in the house and bring out a box of local stuff he had already separated. He handed me this one for a buck.  I’m sure he knew it was worth more, but that’s the kind of guy he was.

This record is classic Miami funk, produced by King Sporty and backed by the Ocean Liners. Heavy break at the top, then the flute jumps in there followed by horns and Ms. Keaton’s soulful vocals.

Charles Austin and Joe Gallivan – Mindscapes

Miami’s free jazz electronic masterpiece. A live duo recording featuring Charles Austin playing saxophones, flutes, oboe and French horn and Joe Gallivan on drums, percussion and Moog (that’s a keyboard), recorded at Criteria by studio founder Mack Emerman.

Criteria was the go-to studio in the South by the mid ’70s, with big groups like The Eagles and Fleetwood [Mac] taking up much of the time, but Mack was a jazz guy. Mindscapes was its own little world with sax and flute lines endlessly intertwined with crazy moog-triggered stuff, punctuated by Gallivan’s atmospheric drumming. Released on the private Spitball Records label, this album stands apart from anything else that was recorded in Miami at the time and still sounds fresh today. I ended up meeting Charles Austin at an Olive Garden in Aventura, and he said the record was all done live, no overdubs, and that he liked playing the short pieces instead of longer, free jazz stuff. Austin spent many years as a music educator in Miami, and Joe Gallivan moved to the West Coast, where he has remained an active musical force.

Mighty Ryeders – Help us Spread the Message

I found this record in 1999 at the Mental Heath Thrift store in Downtown Miami. There were two sealed copies there, and I only bought one!  In those days I was buying a few hundred records a week. I would bring them into my little studio apartment and just put them in piles to sort out later.

At first I thought it was a gospel record because of the artwork and some of the song titles. It sat in a pile for a couple of months before my friend Superwolf spotted it in a stack and we realized what it was. Months had gone by since I bought it and he told me, “Oh man, if there’s another one, please grab it for me.” When I went back to the thrift shop three or four months later, the other copy was still sitting there. That’s how off the beaten path this place was… so I grabbed one for him too. This album was reissued by the Ubiquity label a few years back.

Lang Cook – She’s Hot with 2000w

I’ve never been able to find out much about Lang Cook. I included this record because it’s really one of the strangest Miami records in my collection. Basically a private press thing, there’s a Lang Cook 45 “Chocolate Stuff / More Chocolate Stuff” which came out in ‘79, a late disco-funk kind of number, but the rest of the tracks on this album are very different.

 

It sounds like a guy who holed himself up in his basement with some recording equipment and overdubbed himself playing all the instruments and singing. My favorite numbers are “Liberty City Jam,” which features some psychotically skittish keyboard lines over a stiff groove, and “DJ of the Year” which has some hilarious lyrics. Here’s a record by a guy who probably didn’t care what anyone else thought. The sound is really out there and the fashion on the cover is incredible, with Lang in boots and white gloves posing with a model in similar attire.

JPE Live

When I first moved to Miami I used to hear a lot of stories about Jam Pony Express, their mixtapes, and how they used to set up outside the flea market with huge speaker stacks, sell their tapes, and rock all day long.

I started collecting bass records so I would have a source for 808 sounds since I didn’t yet have an 808 of my own.  I slowly amassed a pretty decent collection of bass 12”s.  I have a few JPE records but JPE Live is in a league of its own. This record is a great example of what these guys would do with records, a mic, and delay effects.

This is the first place where I’d hear guys “riding the record” – muting out parts of the record and cutting in on the mic. The heavy delay effects take it over the top into psychedelic electro dub territory. It’s a nice document of that era of bass music [released in ‘93] in Miami. It’s a snapshot of how JPE sounded live. I don’t know of too many other live bass records.

Spiritual harmonizers – Leak in the Building

This is a group vocal gospel record in the style of the Soul Stirrers or Swan Silvertones. The Spiritual Harmonizers were led by Miami gospel legend Otis Wright and released a few 45s on local Miami labels. This one is on Wright’s own label, probably recorded in the late 60s or early 70s, but sounds more like a 50s record. The minimal instrumentation and vocal arrangement recalls the classic era of gospel records from the specialty label.

I had found this record and a couple of other Spiritual Harmonizer/Otis Wright songs on a digging expedition years ago with a reporter from the Miami New Times and she mentioned it in her article. Years after the article came out, I had people from England emailing me asking if I had any other Spiritual Harmonizer or Otis Wright records.

If you haven’t yet had the awesome experience of seeing DJ Le Spam live, check him out at Pulse on March 3 (more info here), when the New World Symphony is turned into a late-night lounge.