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Stone Coal White (2011) [1972]

Given that last week’s Past Perfect reviewed an unearthed gem from Washington DC’s Father’s Children, it’s safe to assume that the Numero Group rarely rests when it comes to their archeological quests. Equally fascinating and forgotten is the release by Dayton, Ohio’s Stone Coal White. The band never made a proper full-length, and unless you were among the very lucky denizens who frequented the Astro Club or the Bone Yard in 1972—or are a very astute record collector—you’ve never heard or heard of the band. Their two 45s released on the micro Ewing label have eluded any lost soul compilations that might accommodate songs of this ilk. Luckily, Numero’s chief investigator, Dante Carfagna, and Josh Davis (a.k.a. DJ Shadow) were big fans of said 45s and followed a long, arduous trail leading them to former Stone Coal White bassist Melvin Payne and the remaining pieces of the Stone Coal White mystery.

As Carfagna writes in the liner notes, Stone Coal White lived and created in the “deepest chasm of the black experience,” going beyond the underground at a time when Dayton was home to the Ohio Players and a heralded funk and soul scene. They were a motorcycle gang, prone to gnarly pornographic, drugged-out stage shows (they were often billed with a “XXX” after their name), and subsequently had a very unstable and short-lived existence. Fortunately, Payne was able to locate the entirety of Stone Coal White’s recorded output. What Carfagna found may only amount to a few covers of songs from the time (Curtis Mayfield’s “Hell Below” and Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine”) and the lengthy instrumental jam, “Warm Up,” but combined with the group’s original songs, it’s a stunning document of an absolutely raw, funky, acid-fueled moment in time.

What set Stone Coal White apart from their contemporaries laid in technique and fidelity. Their best known track, the sweaty slow-burn of “You Know,” is steeped in gooey wah-wah and panned from left to right at an increased frequency, making for quite a unique psychedelic experience. What seems like an eternity due to strategic uses of echo and reverb, really only lasts for four minutes. Even stranger is the straight-up Redding-soul of “Peoples,” which wouldn’t sound that out of place on many of the regional Numero series. In the hands of Stone Coal White, “Peoples” becomes a warped and slightly burnt-out piece of protest against Vietnam. In passing, tunes like “Free” and the group’s riled theme song might come across as pedestrian or amateur, and that would be a fair assessment, but zooming in on the history that surrounded them makes these recordings all that more profound. Focusing on the tiny eccentricities that dot these recordings makes it all the more real to those of us (perhaps everyone reading this) who never had the chance to experience a live Stone Coal White show. Stone Coal White was never meant to be Sly and the Family Stone, and they likely never had aspirations to be such. But for the handfuls of Daytonians who were a part of the racial and socioeconomic tumult that defined their urban landscape in the early ’70s, they were probably the Gem City’s perfect escape on a Saturday night. --- Kevin J. Elliott

Dayton, Ohio 1972.
Nearly two years after the death of Hendrix.

It’s another muggy Friday night in August and you’re on the prowl to find what’s really happening. The Dayton funk scene is exploding thanks to hometown heroes The Ohio Players, and tonight is no exception. Glitter jumpsuits can be seen sparkling through the barred windows of nearly every club you cruise past, disco is waiting in the rafters to descend upon the scene. For now, you’re looking for something different. “Freddie’s Dead” spins on the radio and you’re pulling up to The Astro House.

Motorcycles are parked around the entrance of the club, you can make out the silhouettes of a few bikers huddled around the side of the building. The flyer on the door reads “STONE COAL WHITE RATED X”. X rated, huh? You step inside.

Three men share the stage. Bassist Melvin Payne proudly sports a black vest with the Bad to the Bone motorcycle club insignia patched on the back, Tommy Mundy shakes sweat from his afro over his guitar, and Joey Rodrick sits behind the drums with an American flag draped over his shoulders and a makeshift turban is wrapped around his skull. He’s using a pair of dildos as drumsticks. The band’s deep into cutting up a swirling psych jam when suddenly they pause, stand up straight, and chant “Stone! Coal! White!” before returning to their groove. Every group needs a theme song.

Luckily for us all, in 2004 Josh Davis (aka DJ Shadow) and Numero Group’s Dante Carfagna unearthed Stone Coal White’s eight known recordings from the Bad to the Bone club house so that we may live this fantasy. Just last year, a deadly shooting outside the building began a domino effect that ended with a SWAT team raid and the condemnation of the Bad to the Bone headquarters. Although the involvement of the band as a whole is questionable, Melvin Payne himself was a member of the motorcycle club, and in fact owned the Bad to the Bone house. The Stone Coal White recordings might have sat in Payne’s untouched basement indefinitely if it weren’t for Dante and Josh.

What they’ve collected is at times a psychedelic-dusted soul that’s raw, funky and serious. The Stooges dropping acid with Andre 3000 in a cave under fire off the coast of Vietnam serious. Various vocalists contribute to Stone Coal White’s recordings. Dennis Mundy presents his best Curtis Mayfield, Robert Brown covers “Ain’t No Sunshine”, and King Solomon Prather keeps things smooth while someone called Cookieman wails in simple James Brown fashion on “Move Your Hand”. All together this creates a grab bag of R&B, but still, this is an R&B far grittier than it’s contemporaries. After all, Stone Coal White was “Rated X” by club owners. Transmitting fuzzed out tales of injustice into the minds of Daytons’ most bad-ass patrons of the nightlife will do that to a group.

From Numero Group: Only the 10th record from DJ Shadow’s long running Cali-Tex imprint, Stone Coal White fits the label’s bill of unearthing the most wasted and primitive funk records ever recorded to a T. Some will recognize “You Know” from the black-psych mix bible Chains & Black Exhaust, but as the group’s two 45s exist in single digit quantities, only a handful have heard the rest of this Ho Chi Min City-damaged oeuvre. Their two 45s have been bolstered with four previously unissued tracks, found in the basement of a now-condemned motorcycle gang hideout in Dayton, Ohio. (source)

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