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Salsoul Records is a New York City based record label, founded by three brothers, Joseph Cayre, Kenneth Cayre, and Stanley Cayre (the Cayre brothers). Salsoul issued about 300 singles, including many disco 12-inch releases, and a string of albums in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The label started in business in 1974, went defunct in 1985 and was relaunched in 1992. Artists such as The Salsoul Orchestra (led by Vincent Montana Jr), Instant Funk, Loleatta Holloway, Double Exposure, First Choice, Joe Bataan, Skyy, Carol Williams, Jocelyn Brown, Inner Life and Charo were at one time part of their roster.
Bethlehem Music Company's catalogs, which included Salsoul Records, Bethlehem Records (a jazz label) and others, were licensed by Verse music group from 2010 for five years, before Verse's catalogs were bought out by BMG Rights Management in 2015.
The Cayre family had been involved in many entrepreneurial ventures before they stumbled upon manufacturing and distribution of 8-track tapes, which included Bethlehem Records, in the early 1970s. They had purchased some catalogs of Mexican music (mostly in the Mericana genre) to distribute, and inadvertently infringed the copyrights of CBS Records and RCA Records by selling them in the United States. They mended fences with the major labels, and even acquired a sole license for North American distribution for some of CBS Latino catalog. This led to recording sessions, involving Bataan, that were distributed by CBS. When the major label was unable to further market the music profitably, the rights reverted to the Cayres and they were up and running in the record business proper.
According to Ken Cayre, it was his exposure to the blossoming of early discothèques that gave him the idea to record music specifically for the dance market. Salsoul released the first commercially available 12-inch single, Double Exposure's Ten Percent, in 1976. Salsoul was affected by the disco backlash of 1979, but it was one of the few labels to survive after the death of disco. It continued to release new material until 1984 when the Cayre brothers shut down their recorded music operations to concentrate on the home video business, (such as GoodTimes Entertainment).
In 1992, Salsoul Records was revived as Salsoul New Generation Records (also known as Double J Records). Because of the resurgent interest prompted by Loleatta Holloway's "Love Sensation", Black Box's "Ride On Time" & Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch's "Good Vibrations" in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the label's catalogue was digitally remastered. It is notably more popular in Europe and the United Kingdom than in the United States. Two volumes of remix albums were also issued the same year.
A year after its revival, it changed its name to Bethlehem Music Company, but it still often used Salsoul as an imprint, with Bethlehem Music Company focusing on releasing Salsoul material and also Bethlehem's jazz recordings.
The Name Salsoul
The label's name was conceived by artist Joe Bataan, who recorded some of the earliest sessions for the Cayre brothers (predating the label's formation). "Salsoul" was street lingo for the musical culture of urban Latinos who were absorbing African American Soul music and infusing into their own Salsa music, and vice versa. He had chosen the name for an LP he made for the Cayre brothers. Joe Bataan had the first single, "The Bottle" and album, "Afro-filipino", on the initial Salsoul label released through Epic, before a new deal with RCA kicked off the dance label properly
The Philly Soul sound
As he admired the sound of rhythm and blues music that came to be known as Philly soul, Ken Cayre hunted down the genre's best session musicians. In particular, he started working with the key session players for Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International Records label and its predecessor/creative core: Gamble-Huff Productions, founding members of the MFSB Orchestra on Philadelphia International. Gamble and Huff were in dispute with their key musicians over business matters and Salsoul quickly took the chance to put them under contract. Among these Philly soul artists tapped for Salsoul were Vince Montana (orchestral arrangements and vibes), Norman Harris (lead and rhythm guitar, arrangements, songwriting and production), Ronnie Baker (bass guitar, arrangement and production), Earl Young (drums and percussion), Bunny Sigler and others. Baker, Harris and Young are now widely credited with crystallizing the sound and structure of a disco record.
Young's insistent use of the hi-hat cymbal made it easy for DJs to mix records in noisy clubs, as the high frequency of the cymbal stood out over the background noise and could be easily heard in the headphones of the DJ. Baker would plant his key bass notes on top of the kick drum of Young, making for a solid and thunderous bass sound. His widely-imitated signature style is best heard on the record Love is the Message by MFSB.
It was Montana who wrote, arranged and produced the first Salsoul hit, "Salsoul Hustle" by the newly formed Salsoul Orchestra, including members of the Philly session team. During the following years, the label enjoyed a string of hits, but Salsoul's biggest successes came in the later years, as the company's music moved in direction from dance/disco towards funk. Instant Funk reached the top of the Billboard R&B chart (#20 pop) in 1979 with "Got My Mind Made Up", a million-seller produced by Bunny Sigler, with the group's follow-up album also going gold. Skyy made it to #1 R&B in 1981 with "Call Me" (#26 pop) and Aurra climbed to #6 R&B in the same year with their release, "Make Up Your Mind" (#71 pop). Sigler also reached the R&B top 10 in 1978 with his solo single. "Let Me Party With You" (#8 R&B, #43 pop) on the Gold Mind subsidiary.
The Cayres also chose to record at the same studios, Sigma Sound as Gamble & Huff in Philadelphia (one of the earliest facilities to install 24-track equipment and in possession of one of the most admired "live rooms" for accommodating small orchestras). This is why it is difficult to tell an MFSB recording from a Salsoul Orchestra recording, as the musicians, arrangers, and recording facility were the same. Many of the remixes and singles were mixed or recorded by Bob Blank at his Blank Tapes Studios in New York, using the then-new technology of automated mixing.
Baker, Harris and Young had the girl group First Choice under contract and they brought them along to Salsoul. Led by Rochelle Fleming, the group had success on the Philly Groove label with Armed and Extremely Dangerous, which Salsoul acquired and would re-release among its classic catalogue in the 1990s. For Salsoul, First Choice would record a string of classic disco anthems, most notably "Dr. Love" and "Let No Man Put Asunder", which remained popular with urban DJs years after being issued as a dance remix.
"Love Sensation" and Salsoul's Revival
Loleatta Holloway's "Love Sensation" was produced by Dan Hartman for her fourth and final album on the Salsoul subsidiary label, Gold Mind, run by Norman Harris. It was later sampled into "Good Vibrations" by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and, more than a year beforehand, also in "Ride On Time" by House pioneers Black Box. Black Box were at first criticised by fans of vintage Salsoul and Ms. Holloway herself, but after legal matters were settled many lauded the Italian DJ group for exposing an entire new generation to the Salsoul Sound.
It is doubtful that the "second coming of Salsoul" in the 1990s would have occurred if not for Black Box's initial "borrowing" of Ms. Holloway's studio vamp. After an initial "white label" period (a now-common "trial release" for a dance recording that is often unhindered by legal clearance for any samples it contains), Black Box had legally acquired the license to Mr. Hartman's composition and the use of the Salsoul recording. Ms. Holloway's work has since been sampled frequently, and the ownership of publishing rights for other recordings, most notably "Dreaming", has also been disputed.
Disco received little in the way of serious historical study and documentation until the mid-1990s, when those studying the explosion of house music began to seriously documents its roots. An early champion for the elevation of Salsoul's reputation was English DJ, producer, artist, and label executive Dave Lee (aka Joey Negro), who himself had released several "borrowed" compositions under the moniker MDEMM (an ecstasy reference) beginning in late 1988: well ahead of Marky Mark and Black Box (late 1989 and 1990 respectively). He has since acquired a reputation as "chief historian of Salsoul", although this title also belongs to mixer/producer Tom Moulton, who has an equivalent reputation in the US. Joey Negro has since remixed and contributed to the production of several re-issues from the label's back catalog.