my journey to strata records
People often wonder how in the world did I find the owner of Strata Records, Inc. and secure the exclusive license rights to it, but I always tell them it has been a dream of mine to run my own record label. Most people either know me from my accomplishments at Fat Beats, my work with my DJ partner Kon, or through my work as record label manager at Wax Poetics. However, very few people know much I love all things Jazz. Moreover, how much I love indie jazz labels i.e. labels such as Strata Records, Inc., Tribe Records, etc. Don't get me wrong, I love my Blue Note Records, Prestige, Verge, Impulse, etc. For me though, there was is no denying that many indie labels such as Strata that were artist owned and run were the cream of the crop.
When I first learned about Strata it was through a record trade with a friend of mine James Glass almost twenty years ago. I really don't remember the record I traded him, but I will always remember the record I got from him. The Lyman Woodard Organization- Saturday Night Special album will forever be one of my favorites albums of all times. I had never heard of Strata Records, but I had definitely heard of Strata East Records in NYC. I didn't know the difference at all; like most people I thought they were the same company. It wasn't until years later that I found out that they were closely related but not the same label.
Fast forward to early 2007, when I first started my stint as record label manager at Wax Poetics Records, I promised myself that I would find Lyman and try to convince him to allow Wax Poetics to reissue "Saturday Night Special." I also wanted to re-master it from the original master reel tapes, interview him for new liner notes, get new photos and so on. I mean you get the picture. It literally took me a year to find Lyman living in Owosso, MI. Additionally, I did a lot of research at the Charles H. Wright Museum; one of the oldest African-American History Museum in the country based in Detroit. I had found out that John Sinclair (the poet and jazz officando) had donated much of personal belongings many of which included Strata related assets and music. The crazy thing about me contacting them over and over was that they had forgotten that there was collection of Strata related assets and music in the museum. It literally took my consistent persuasion to make them believe that the Strata collection existed in the museum. Needless to say, my good friends Josh Dunn (a MI native) and I flew out to Detroit where we met up with Lyman at a bar where Ron English and Lyman were sipping on Jameson Whiskey! I invited both of them to dinner where we could sit and talk. In fact, I told Lyman that I would take him to his favorite restaurant in Detroit and that's exactly what we did.
For the next several hours I heard some of the most incredible stories that had me captivated from his first words: everything from him driving down the highway one night from Owosso to Detroit in the early 60s and hearing Jimmy Smith on the radio and pulling over in total awe. From that experience he decided that day onward that we would learn to play the Hammond B3 organ. I heard crazy stories of his days at Shelby Hotel where he would just play his Hammond in the Hotel Lobby and jam with some of the most well known Jazz artists in the MI area. I also was surprised at how much he was into Latin music particularly artists such as Perez Prado. Again, I was just in awe at what I was hearing. Although Lyman passed before I was able to officially re-release "Saturday Night Special," spoke every week. I also got him a year subscription to Wax Poetics magazine. In fact, he used to call me after he read the newest issue and would break down the articles he liked.
One of the many things that I had asked him was about the history of Strata Records. Who owned it? How many records came out? Actually, I had asked Ron English when I met him did his album "Fish Feet" ever officially come out as rumors indicated. His answer was an immediate NO, NEVER! During these many conversations, I began to form the idea of trying to find Kenny Cox and approaching him about licensing the Strata catalog. At this time I only knew of the official releases as well as the albums that were listed on the back of Lyman's album on Strata. In addition, I decided to present my plans to license the Strata catalog to the owners of Wax Poetics; however, much to my surprise they were not interested at all. I was definitely disappointed to say the least, but that is when I began my plan to license the catalog myself.
However, out of nowhere, Scion the car company approached me about submitting a proposal based on lost youth culture from the past for the Scion IQ online Museum. After much thought, I decided to submit a proposal based on Strata Records, Inc. They accepted my proposal and I started working with my two friends Linh Truong and Josh Dunn where we began researching through the Strata assets at the museum for a week straight. Throughout our research, we were able to contact the actual owner of Strata Records. Like the record nerd that I am, I contacted Barbara Cox the wife of Kenny Cox who passed in 2008. The first thing I asked her on the phone "do you have the Original master reel tapes for the releases and are there any unreleased masters." I even asked about the possibility of any multi tracks. She casually said yes. Man I was super geeked! So when Linh, Josh, and I entered her house I was floored at how many masters she had pulled up from the basement. The first thing she said to me was "I wish you had a U Haul truck to take all this stuff." I just told her that we should discuss a license deal where you still own Strata and I can help us both make money from the catalog. It took several months to be able to get our agreement right but we accomplished what started out to do. So in early in 2012, I secured the exclusive license master and publishing rights to the entire Strata Records, Inc. catalog of released and over 30 unreleased masters.
Now that I had access to so much music in the catalog, I began the task of deciding what first to release. I decided to kickoff my first release from the catalog with the previously unreleased Kenny Cox-Clap Clap! The Joyful Noise. I thought it was really appropriate that I start with his release because of his accomplishments as the founder and owner of Strata. Furthermore, this Latin jazz fused
album instantly became one of my favorites jazz albums. Moreover, the stories behind this recording were too priceless. For instance, Arista Records approached Kenny about releasing this record but he decided not to release it. His plan was to release the album on his own label Strata; unfortunately, he decided against that as well. He wrote an amazing poem for the record that is featured on the back of the release and the album featured the supremely elegant vocals of Ursula Walker.
Anyway, that's a bit of how my journey began with Strata. This journey has been challenging but VERY rewarding. I very much look forward to re introducing Strata records to the world. For those that know me know that I am man of many many stories; so please stay tuned!
- December 13, 2017
- August 24, 2015
- September 24, 2015
- September 29, 2012
- September 20, 2012