Various Artists

The Golden Era of Doo-Wops: Lummtone Records

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Lummtone was a doo wop label founded in Los Angeles at the tail-end of the '50s, in the remnants of the R&B boom. During the early '60s, in the wake of Alan Freed's arrival at radio station KDAY, which he turned into an R&B outlet, this music once more became big business locally. As Don Filetti points out in his liner notes, Freed's presence, and the counter-programming of other stations in response, briefly turned South Central L.A. into an R&B mecca amid the otherwise relatively undefined musical years of the early 1960s -- even local hits could earn a small label considerable profits, and there was the chance of being picked up nationally. Lummie Fowler was a postal worker (who also had formal musical training) from the Crenshaw district in South Central Los Angeles who formed Lummtone in 1959, releasing 36 songs on 18 singles throughout 1965. Fowler not only recognized that he understood music better than any of the competition, but could produce records with a distinctive sound. The company started out creating pure doo wop music highlighted by unusually complex harmonies, although by the end it was trying to compete in the more sophisticated soul market. One of his major groups, the Upfronts, featured a young Barry White in its lineup -- other artists on the label were the Elgins, George Powell & the Troopers, the Five Ramblers, and the Colognes. The music here is a mix of pure doo wop (the Upfronts' "It Took Time"), beautifully sung in an ethereal ballad style, and a more commercial rock & roll sound ("Benny Lou and the Lion," also by the Upfronts), with a harder, fuller backing band and a more emphatic beat. The late-'50s stuff by George Powell & the Troopers, or the Colognes, is all heavily influenced by the Platters and other sophisticated harmony acts of the era, all well sung with a lean piano accompaniment (played by Fowler), but Lummtone's early-'60s material shows the clear influence of early Motown sides such as the Contours' "Do You Love Me" and the Miracles' "Shop Around" -- the Upfronts could have been a Motown act in a different reality, and one of the songs here, "I Lost My Love in the Big City," even got picked up by Motown for some of its artists. "Baby for Your Love," also by the Upfronts, even sounds like a Motown release. There are some beautiful sides here, and even an answer record that Bear Family has managed to miss, the Upfronts' "I Stopped the Duke of Earl," which also manages to parody "The Book of Love." The mastering is very clean and the annotation is detailed and engrossing.

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