Wed. Feb. 20, 2019

The Basement Boys: Baltimore Soul tree!

Basement_Boys_featureSpeakin’ of Baltimore, and you would only find Randy Newman to have mentioned it in a song back in 1977. And therefore to state a discontentment in life… Mind you, the capital of Maryland has never had the past nor the prestige of cities like New York, Philadelphia or Detroit musicwise, despite being the cradle of P-Funk. Things would slightly change though by the second half of the 80’s with the establishement of The Basement Boys and the setting of an active House Music local scene…

Baltimore housin’… A reality to which the latter heavily contributed to. This while giving birth to a production unit under the form of an ever evolving collective of local talents. Including cats such as Thomas Davis, Sean Spencer (DJ Spen) and Kris Klayton (Karizma). But also Neal Conway and eventually Maurice Fulton around core members Jay Steinhour and Teddy Douglas.

In a unique style, they would give shape to countless classics. Cuts such as ‘It’s Over Now’,‘Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)’, ‘Lift Every Voice’, ‘Solid Ground’. This respectively for Ultra Naté, Crystal Waters, Mass Order and Jasper Street Company to name but a (very) few. Meanwhile fusing Jazz, Soul, Funk, African and electronic influences inherited from their respective record collections. Douglas serving as the manager of several record stores during the 80’s. And Steinhour working as a graphic designer in the meantime. With both of them starting as club DJ’s in the early 80’s.

I got to hear about The Basement Boys for the very first time back in 1987 when suggested to review a compilation called ‘Welcome To The Club’. They happened to open it with an adaptation of the Miles Gregory 1978 written classic ‘Love Don’t Leave Here Anymore’ for Rose Royce. Their version appeared under a slightly different title though (‘Love Don’t Live Here No More’). And eventually saw the light soon after as a single with a remix courtesy of Tony Humphries. One of my all time favs as a matter of fact. Even though Jay told me later on while in Paris how he never got happy with the singing…

The worldwide recognition came soon after for The Basement Boys. This with the successive releases of the critically acclaimed ‘It’s Over Now’ which launched the career of Ultra Naté. Then ‘Gypsy Woman’ that got Crystal Waters from her job as Federal officer in WDC straight under the spotlights…
“Berry Gordy’s management at Motown has been a major influence to us”, said Teddy to me later on, at a Baltimore Party during the Winter Music Conference. Something which would be of a definitive help when they came to launch their own label back in 1994. At a time when the major labels turned their back to House Music.

“We just adopted his philosophy for developing artists and songs based upon strong hooks and melodies”. Gospel-influenced group Mass Order being another brilliant illustration with the unmissable ‘Lift Every Voice’. Not to mention the magnetic ‘Love, Love, Love’ by the likes of Those Guys. A cut built on a sample of the memorable ‘Computer Incantations For World Peace’ by the likes of French Jazz renowned musician Jean-Luc Ponty. “Jazz, Blues, 70’s Soul, and Gospel together with African rhythms are the main ingredients without which there would be nor Hip-Hop nor House.” Their fuel coming from their love for music as for what they’re doing, remaining true to who they are. Miles away from countless wanabees around who’ve been jumping on the wagon along with the trends…

The Basement Boys are at the epicenter of what the late Mel Cheren used to call danceable R&B, and others (in a more restrictive way though) Garage. The latter being the most soulful version of House Music…
They somehow stand as Londoners Bobby & Steve‘s ‘(spiritual) uncles.

Interested in getting to know more about them? Their 2006 released ‘Anthology’ pretty much recaptures their consistent legacy.

Chosen few
Blue Notes In The Basement (Eternal / WEA) – Ultra Naté
15 Years Of Soulful House ‎(M8 Magazine) – The Basement Boys
House Legends (Groove Odyssey) – The Basement Boys

Interview: The Basement Boys

You might also like…
10 essential Garage classics…

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