Soul music devotees have long wondered why Los Angeles didn’t field a great 1960s soul record label like Motown or Stax. Hollywood was fast becoming the recording capital of the country and Motown would indeed relocate here by the end of the decade. Couldn’t the town produce a first-class soul label?
The question is not entirely fair to L.A. Motown and Stax filled vacuums in Detroit and Memphis, respectively. Both cities had much more black musical talent than they did recording outlets. In L.A., on the other hand, all of the major labels were represented, and a constellation of smaller indies such as Original Sound and Del-Fi operated around them. The two long-established rhythm and blues companies, Modern and Specialty, had catalogs dating back to the 1940s but more or less sat out the ’60s soul boom that exploded all around them.
For more than a few scholars and collectors, the short-lived Loma imprint serves as the L.A. benchmark for ’60s soul. Now a new box set, Loma: A Soul Music Love Affair, from Future Days Recordings and Light in the Attic Records, shines a light on a fleeting venture that sounds better all the time.
Loma put out some national hits (“Somebody (Somewhere) Needs You” by Ike and Tina Turner, “Good Lovin’” by The Olympics, J.J. Jackson’s “But It’s Alright,” “Hypnotized” by Linda Jones) and more than a few overlooked gems (tracks by The Apollas, The Enchanters, The Mighty Hannibal and Mary Lee Whitney’s “Don’t Come a’Knockin’” among them). It also released a slew of Jerry Ragovoy–produced, gospel-informed soul, some oddities (“I’m the Lover Man” by Little Jerry Williams before his Swamp Dogg incarnation; "Back in Circulation" by Dick Jensen and the Imports, with a second-line beat courtesy of New Orleans producer Mac Rebennack; psychedelia from Kim Fowley and others), and one unqualified masterpiece: Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me.”
Warner Bros. Records was deficient when it came to singles, so it created Loma as a subsidiary in early 1964. Promotional man Bob Krasnow was placed at Loma’s helm. He knew black music around L.A. — Ike and Tina Turner had recently moved west and were one of his first signings. Loma gave them their best production up to that time; the Gene Page–arranged horns on “Finger Poppin’” come roaring out of the speakers as Tina gives it her raw-throated all on Ike’s gritty lyrics: "You never bought me no clothes/I had to steal what I wear/I wore shoes so long until my feet went bare/But I don’t care no more about nothing you do ..."
The Ike & Tina Turner Revue worked everywhere in SoCal — the Tip Top in Inglewood, Dooto’s in Watts, the 5-4 Ballroom downtown, teen clubs like Bob Eubanks’ Cinnamon Cinder chain, even Valley bowling alleys. Before he managed and produced (Magic Sam, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Leo Kottke), Denny Bruce was at Valley College when he met Ike around his Loma tenure. “He told me the only way to keep an eight-piece band together and keep it tight was to work it every night," Bruce recalls. "He said, ‘If I ain’t got no bookings, them motherfuckers’ll take somebody else’s job. Then I gotta get a new motherfucker and we gotta rehearse. I don’t want that.’”
Their Loma singles precipitated Ike and Tina breaking new ground on the Sunset Strip at Ciro’s, the Red Velvet Club and the Trip, a spot on Phil Spector’s The Big T.N.T. Show, and TV appearances on Shindig! and Hollywood a Go-Go.
London-reared Alec Palao compiled the four-volume Loma box set and wrote the liner notes. Known for his thorough and scholarly treatments of ’60s and ’70s music (his Zombie Heaven box set notes remain a standard for annotation), he became aware of the Loma legacy though the Northern Soul movement in Britain.
“I have a Pavlovian response every time I see the burnt-yellow Loma label,” he says, from his home in Cerritos. “I was on the periphery in the ’80s, and as a label it was coveted among the collectors and DJs. We very quickly wore out the soul from Motown and other labels, so there was a never-ending search for music that people hadn’t heard before.”
The U.K. soul audience probably was responsible for the rediscovery of The Apollas, a female trio of singers responsible for a clutch of stirring records. “We all came out of a gospel choir and our manager got us a week in New York City at the Sweet Chariot," founding member Leola Jiles recalls from her home in Pittsburg, California. "Mahalia Jackson and some other people picketed us for singing gospel in a nightclub.”
A representative from Loma signed them and brought them to the Hollywood studios. “It was great recording there,” Jiles says. “We loved the arrangements that Gene Page and H.B. Barnum wrote for us. And we sang with the band,” she adds with pride, “not to prerecorded tracks.”
Russ Regan was L.A.’s hottest promo man in the fall of ’66 when he was tapped to become Loma's general manager. He says, “Joe Smith at Warner's told me, ‘We gotta get you off the street, Russ; it’s too dangerous. You gotta learn how to be an executive.’ It was a tough spot — in the middle of a big corporation, trying to launch black records. Jerry Ragovoy brought Lorraine Ellison to me and I signed her.”
Ragovoy was a Philadelphia Jew with a keen ear for the vocal music of the black church. “He said he aspired to write George Gershwin–type show tunes,” points out Phast Phreddie Patterson, the New York DJ whose visits to El Chavito in Silver Lake used to bring out the soul faithful. “But his ballads were so deep and filled with strong emotion — right out of the church.” Ragavoy would go on to take over the Loma label and see it to its close in ’68.
“As Warner's became associated with hit albums, Loma became less and less important — associated with regional hits," Palao explains. "The ones who had the big hits got albums on Warner's, so Loma was seen as a farm team. But its biggest failure was that there was no overall vision there, like Berry Gordy had for Motown and Jim Stewart for Stax.”
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Maybe Loma was just a waystation for talent on its way to bigger things. The Young Rascals juiced up The Olympics' “Good Lovin’” for Atco; Mac Rebennack morphed into Dr. John; The Rolling Stones took Ike and Tina on tour in ’69 and into the big leagues; Krasnow went on to run his wondrous Blue Thumb label; Regan took over UNI Records and later signed Elton John and other megastars. But as the music in the Loma box attests, it was a rewarding if brief enterprise.
All four volumes of Loma: A Soul Music Love Affair are available now from Future Days Recordings, via Light in the Attic Records.