Interview: Eric Foss on Mickey Murray
Minneapolis-based label Secret Stash Records is releasing their latest LP, a re-issue of the lost 1970 soul-funk album People are Together by Mickey Murray, this Tuesday, January 17th (pre-order HERE). They are following up with a release show this Saturday by flying in Murray for a rare performance at the Cedar (tix HERE). We talked with Eric Foss from Secret Stash about the record, the release show, and how each came to be.
Reviler: For those who don’t know, tell us who Mickey Murray is, how you found out about his record People are Together, and the reason you decided it needed to be re-released.
Secret Stash: Mickey Murray is a soul singer form the Augusta, GA, area. He had a million-selling single in 1967 with his recording of the song “Shout Bamalama.” Quickly after that in 1968 his label, SSS International, threw him in the studio to track a full length LP called “Shout Bamalama and Other Super Soul Songs.” The album was recorded in one night as a ploy to build on the success of the single. The following year, Mickey was signed to a King Records imprint and recorded “People Are Together.” The album was intended for release in 1970, but according to Mickey the album may have never actually been released. Will [Gilbert of Secret Stash] actually stumbled upon this gem just through lots of digging. Between the two of us we often spend dozens of hours a week doing nothing but research. This is just one of the many great records we’ve come across that seems to have been forgotten. Once we contacted Mickey and started speaking with people directly connected with this record, we knew that it was more than deserving of a proper reissue. Basically, we learned that when King Records was preparing for the loss of James Brown, they signed Mickey and recorded this record with the intent of making him the next JB. As it turns out, the lead single was viewed as far too racially progressive for a developing artist and the black DJs in the south refused to play it for fear of losing their jobs. Back then, radio sold records much more than it does today. Without any real radio support, the album was doomed. Also, during this time, King changed hands a couple times—and as a company they moved away from supporting new talent in favor of mining their massive catalog. So there was Mickey with no radio support and tour support from the label. The record quickly disappeared despite how great it is.
R: With a majority of your releases focusing on international artists and sounds, was there an intentional search for something closer to home, or did this record just happen to come along at the right time?
SS: This was actually intentional. We didn’t want to exhaust our customers or overwhelm them with so much rare global groove stuff. Plus, we’re huge American soul/funk fans. At the end of the day, we feel there is still a strong common thread between our world releases and this title.
R: You are flying in Mickey Murray for a show at the Cedar this Saturday. How did that come to be? When you decided to reissue the record, did you know that there would be this opportunity?
SS: When we casually decided we wanted to do this record, we had no idea anything like this could be put together. Then I tracked down Mickey to discuss the reissue with him. The rights are being licensed from the owners of King Records, but I wanted Mickey’s blessing before moving forward. The first time we spoke, he sang like two or three songs over the phone. He still sounds amazing. I walked out of my office after that call and said to everyone, “This is going to sound nuts, but I think we should put together a show with Mickey. I’m almost certain he’d be down!” We floated the idea past our friends at the Cedar and they enthusiastically jumped on board. Mickey didn’t take one second of convincing. It all came together really well. At first we were really scared about bearing the cost of flying Mickey up here and paying him and a band, and so on. But, every single person that’s been asked to participate in one way or another has been stoked to be involved with such a special project. It’s been pretty amazing. We’ve got a great crew working on all aspects of this, and we’re confident that the show will be a success.
R: What can people expect from the show Saturday?
SS: Saturday is going to be more than just a show. It’s going to be a full-on release PARTY. We’ll start the night at 8 p.m. with DJs Jim McGuinn and Bill Deville from 89.3 The Current. They’ll be followed by Brian and Greg from Hipshaker at 9 p.m. (regular DJs at the Kitty Cat on the second Thursday of every month). Then at 10 p.m., the man himself will take stage. His band for the evening was assembled by Secret Stash’s own Cory Wong. Most of the members of the band rotate in and out of Cory’s quartet/quintet that plays down at the AQ every Tuesday. I’ll also be playing in the group. I’ll be on drums for the night. We’ll have a merch booth set up with tons of records (including limited edition Mickey Murray records) and hopefully some other stuff like t-shirts and slipmats.
R: Lastly, what was Mr. Murrary’s response when you reached out to him, first about re-releasing the record and then about performing live?
SS: When we called him about reissuing the record, I think his response was, “Why would you want to do that?” That slowly turned into something very different. I think he’s very flattered that after all these years, people are showing an interest in his work. When I called him about doing the show, he didn’t even hesitate to say yes. He’s been very cool and laid back. It’s made all of this very easy.
—interview by Josh Keller