We at Paradise of Bachelors have just returned from our first label fieldwork trip, visiting David Lee and Bill Allen in the Shelby, North Carolina area on Saturday and Ivan Sturdivant in Charlotte on Sunday.
Soul, Country, Opera, and Pop. These are the styles that Shelby-area music scene stalwart David Lee abbreviated as SCOP in the 1980s, taking the four letters pronounced “scope” as the name for his third record label. His previous handles were Impel (a truncation of Imperial–home for Fats Domino and other R&B greats who inspired him in the 1950s) and Washington Sound (shared with the record and PA rental shop he ran at 716 Buffalo Street in Shelby in the 1970s and 1980s). Over an expanse of thirty plus years, David has embraced music of all types, writing songs for himself and others and producing recordings of the same whenever possible.
His varied body of work enthralls us at Paradise, and on Saturday we were very excited to break bread with him, plan out a retrospective of his work, and excavate a trailer behind his house for vinyl, tapes, and ephemera. We’d like to point out that David’s greatest commercial success came in 1971 with Greenville, South Carolina R&B performer Ann Sexton’s earthy rendition of his ballad “You’re Letting Me Down,” which was picked up from Impel by important regional concern Seventy Seven Records out of Nashville. Hundreds of thousands of listeners heard this song back then via the radio show of famed disc jockey and producer John “John R.” Richbourg. Since, a new overseas audience has embraced the flip side “You’ve Been Gone Too Long”, cementing it as an evergreen classic on the Northern Soul scene. But little known is a 1973 remake of the ballad by lounge crooner turned family man Bill Allen, who we were also fortunate to meet, interview, and be serenaded by via an impromptu performance on the same hollow-body Gibson that he made use of in the studio back in ’73. We look forward to sharing the fruits of this day, and the best of David’s work, when we present his music and story on a compilation album this coming Spring.
The World That Died. This curious title crossed our radar in the Summer of 2008, on an obscure-looking 45-rpm record that had seen better days. The credits suggested a 1980 recording date at the Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, while lead vocal, composition, and production duties were identified as Ivan R. Sturdivant’s. The label name was Strategy Records, and a line of text below read “Time Zone No. Seven”, which for all we knew could have been the band name. Suffice it to say, we were intrigued, especially when some spacey music shone through above the crackles, and the soulfully-delivered lyrics described a place of psychokinetic abilities. We had to find the creative forces behind this track, and exactly that we did. Ivan, we would learn, is a son of Cecil R. Sturdivant, the recently-deceased former member of long-time Charlotte gospel outfit the Bell Jubilee Singers. In the late 1970s, with friends and family, Ivan formed Strategy–the first group that he would be the leader of and eventually the name of his record label as well–and they played soul music in the Charlotte area, opening concerts for the likes of the Philadelphia-based top-40 sweet soul group Blue Magic. Making the record was a chance to prove doubters wrong, and Ivan relished it, raising the $700 needed for the recording, publication, and pressing of two songs, the aforementioned of which took six months to compose, and another that was drafted on the spot at the studio. Along with bass player and close friend James Patterson–who tragically passed away of an aneurysm within months of the waxing–Ivan dropped off copies of the record, always in quantities of seven, at radio stations in the Carolinas and even a couple in New York. Patterson’s passing halted the momentum they had built up, which had led to a recording contract possibility with RCA Records.
On Sunday, over a meal at the Independence Boulevard K&W Cafeteria in Charlotte, we interviewed Ivan, learning about the personal importance of numbers such as seven, the dreams and inspiration for “The World That Died”, and his currently active IRS, or Invincible Righteous Savior, Music Ministry. While we are somewhat stumped about identifiying a like-minded track to pair with Ivan’s mystical masterpiece, rest assured that we will find a way to share it with you in 2010. Stay tuned.