When Willie Clarke picked me up at the Fort Lauderdale airport in June of 2005, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had never been to Miami, and my knowledge of its celebrated soul history was informed by just a stack of TK-related 45s, sixty pages of Jeff Lemlich’s Savage Lost, and a rough discography of the Deep City and associated labels. As Willie’s sun-baked Nissan Sentra merged onto I-595, I popped in the “Deep City Sound” mix tape I’d made for the trip, and for the next few hours we drove around Overtown and Liberty City, glimpsing stray dogs everywhere, listening to that cassette over and over, me filling the pages of a little blue notebook, while Willie gushed a fountain of nicknames, places, gangs, songs, girls, money lost, Florida Marlins trivia, traffic patterns, and expletives. We hit all his old haunts: corners, nightclubs, strip joints, flophouses, the barbeque joint where Johnny’s Records used to be, and Helene Smith’s house around back. We were supposed to be making a record, but instead we were just hanging out. An odd friendship was forged that weekend, one that would have my phone ringing at all hours of the night and eventually lead us into Deep City’s distant outskirts.
The tale of the misfits of FAMU’s Marching 100 band was told in great detail on 2006’s Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label, and other than a few names, a dozen photos, and a handful of tracks, that story remains largely intact. Left unexplored, though, were so many side quests and side labels, those narrow roads leading out from the center of Deep City and into the suburbs: the Reid, Sun Cut, and Lloyd labels. Outside that urban sprawl, arrowed road signs sent us to Concho and to Solid Soul (Population: 1), and the highway narrowed from four lanes to two. Way out there, inside a closet that time forgot, a box of tapes was waiting.
Willie had mentioned these mysterious tapes to me on that first trip, and my mouth watered at the possibility of visiting his ex-wife’s place for an extraction. But that would’ve been too easy. It would take nearly two years of badgering to convince Willie to pick those tapes up and no small amount of wrangling before he’d finally hand them over.
That ragged cardboard box-its master tapes and a few cracked acetates-began to fill in parts of the map that we’d always considered lost. Unreleased songs by Snoopy Dean and the Rollers were backed up against a rumored-to-exist Clarence Reid’s single, all on a tape stored inside a weathered Ziplock bag. A flood of instrumentals from the Deep City Band-including previously unheard versions of “Masterpiece,” “Am I A Good Man,” and “Darling I’ll Go”-showed us the ex-100s in top form, well before TK both hired and fired them. A new cast of characters emerged with stories from fresh perspectives, including Arnold Albury, who led us to his Sun Cut archive and the music of The Rising Sun, Lynn Williams, and Perk “The Soul Percolator” Badger. Dependable as ever, Willie Clarke ran around Miami collecting photographs, flyers, newspaper clippings, fan mail, and yearbooks, making it possible to dig deeper than we ever had before. We tapped collectors Jeff Lemlich and Angelo Angione to see what else, if anything, was left in Deep City’s tank. A second collection was taking shape, but it was no mere sequel. This was a rich appendix, not just to our record, but also to every other compilation of Florida soul issued in the last decade.
Both a reference and a road trip, The Outskirts Of Deep City is our appendix to the first Deep City expedition. Instead of recounting any auspicious beginnings, bracing stories of growth and hardship, or heart-wrenching endings, we’ve opted for track descriptions, and a glossary, bibliography, and discography. Think of this 2nd disc as a companion to The Deep City Label and, if you don’t own that quite yet, as an introduction to the unfathomably wide world of Miami soul. Who knows? Any day now, the USPS might recover yet another box of missing tapes, stolen upon its delivery to Numero’s front porch, and we’ll glimpse a third installment just around the next bend.