By Sheryl Aronson
In May 2015, Robert E. Johnson visited Los Angeles for the first time scouting talent for his newly acquired label Soul Records. At that time, I interviewed Robert E. Johnson about his story and vision for resurrecting the infamous record label which was first founded by Berry Gordy and the Motown Records Corporation.
“It has always been said that ‘The Soul never dies’…” Robert Erskine Johnson said when asked how he obtained Berry Gordy’s old vintage label, Soul Records. Mr. Erskine was inspired to bring this legendary label back into the present day recording industry. Here’s the reason why… while he was sitting in church one Sunday, he received a vision, or the call by God to resurrect SOUL RECORDS. He didn’t think SOUL would be available because of its illustrious reputation, but as his vision predicted, the label and trademark were waiting for him to revive its name. After intensive investigation and research, Johnson, who has degrees in law and is a Bar Association member, was able to acquire both items.
Chuckling about his good fortune Johnson remembered, “Sitting in church one day I got the thought that Soul Records was lying dormant and no one was using it… I investigated the idea. It was true. So I decided to resurrect Berry Gordy’s label and raise it from the shallow grave like the Lazarus effect.”
Being a record producer and owner of a company were familiar territory to Robert Johnson. Back in the 1980’s, he had founded MacDad Records with his brother, Fred, and they recorded local Philadelphia and New Jersey R&B artists that were associated with the Philadelphia Soul Sound. “We recorded City Brown, who sang It Must Be Love and he also wrote for Gamble & Huff… songs like Whole Town Laughing at Me which was recorded by Teddy Pendergrass. We also recorded the Twilight Band who sang Put Your Trust in Me. The lead singer went on to sing with the Ebony’s.”
This connection to the Philly Sound of the 1970’s brought about his first artist for SOUL RECORDS. When Johnson let it be known he was looking for new talent to record on SOUL RECORDS, a friend introduced him to Ricky Style, a songwriter/musician from that era of popular R&B music. Ricky had been grooming and mentoring a pop singer named Dru-Zak for three years. Style commented, “I had watched him interact with a few people and I noticed Dru-Zak seemed to attract the ladies…I couldn’t put my finger on it but his personality superseded his height of 5’2. I told him, ‘you have a secret weapon…it’s your height. There has been Little Anthony, Frankie Vallee, and Sammy Davis, Jr. That has taken entertainment industry over. Plus Dru-Zak can hold an audience because he’s so energetic on stage and can bring the mood down as well.”
Style wrote a catchy tune called Shimmy Twist that Dru-Zak was performing throughout New Jersey and Philly. Style also shot a music video where Dru-Zak sang the song and taught the steps. Robert decided to checkout Dru-Zak’s act and he liked the young man’s persona and singing talent.
“I thought Dru-Zak sang great. He had tried out for American Idol but got cut. I am thankful for that. Over the last three years the young man has performed with the likes of Billy Paul, The Delfonics, and Kenny Jeremiah of the Soul Survivors and Dru has perfected his style.”
Johnson and Style banded together and produced Dru-Zak’s first EP Cd, Shimmy Twist and began booking him in local clubs. The first steps of the Resurrection of SOUL RECORDS had been generated.
Berry Gordy started SOUL RECORDS in 1964 as part of the Motown brand. It was their 5th label. But somewhere along the line SOUL RECORDS died. As mentioned in the Tony Winning Musical, Motown, The Musical SOUL RECORDS was once the home of such legendary groups as Gladys Knight and the Pips, Junior Walker and the All-Stars, Jimmy Ruffin, Barbara Randolph, Earl Van Dyke and The Soul Brothers, to name a few. Also some well known hit records produced by SOUL were I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Baby I’m For Real written and produced by Marvin Gaye, Shotgun, Here Comes The Judge… and I Do Love You by Frank Wilson, (recently that record sold for $30,000 which is the most expensive record ever sold. And now the value of that recording has escalated even higher.).
Johnson’s vision for resurrecting SOUL RECORDS was to bring back the classic sound heralded by the 60’s and 70’s Rock and R&B scene, however combining the music with a fresh, modern-day feel. He was not only scouting the East Coast for artists to sign with the new label during a trip to Los Angeles in May 2015, he wanted to include West Coast musicians who fit the goals of SOUL RECORDS.
One such songwriter/vocalist was Julius Thomas III, who played Berry Gordy in Motown, The Musical. Mr. Thomas is not only a Broadway Musical star, but also writes and composes songs with his writing partner Lucas. Julius wrote a song entitled, I am here, and written to support Tony Award nominated Valisia LeKae as she underwent her battle with ovarian cancer. Another artist Johnson met with was Rafael who is completing his newest CD, Soul Latino. SOUL RECORDS is on the verge of signing Rafael because his innovative sound of merging Soul music and the Latin rhythms reflect the new sound the label is featuring. While in LA (Erskine) had a chance to meet up and discuss music with Larry Dunn former member from Earth Wind and Fire.
Robert also met Latino Soul singer Mari Nobre and Leonardi Nobre at one of their functions, both whom now have Latin Grammy Awards. The CEO of SOUL RECORDS has also been communicating with Terry Steele, who wrote Hear and Now for Luther Vandross. Finally, Darryl Fitzgerald Walker/composer/vocalist/saxophonist and James Brown’s twin God Sons, Calvin and Alvin Almond, The God Sons of Soul are also in conversations with Robert Johnson…
Another exciting news item regarding SOUL RECORDS was that multiple deals had been negotiated between SOUL RECORDS and the World’s largest record distributors BMMG/BUNGALO/UNIVERSAL/UMG and WHOMAG/SONY/ORCHARD. After perusing the contracts and benefits to the public and the artists. SOUL RECORDS decided to go with WHOMAG/SONY/ORCHARD and continues to distribute Soul Records’ artists on WHOMAG/SONY/ORCHARD.
Within the last year, Robert E. Johnson has continued his search for talent to sign and has a gold mine of musicians in the New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City areas. “Recently I have signed Quad-S and Zey, who are very talented young singers and performers. Jimmy Lee, who performs with Fat Larry’s Band and Blue Magic, and I just signed songbird Shelia Coley, who has opened for Billie Paul and countless other top singers.” She is also the wife of Now That’s Entertainment CEO, Rick Coley. He and I are promoting shows under the names of “Soul Records Sponsors” and “Soul Records Presents” Now that’s Entertainment.
Soul Records Presents After The Show with Jaden Alexzander
Robert E. Johnson also revived the essence of Soul as he premiered the cable television talk series… After the Show back in April 2016. He found a home with Keith Reynolds, CEO of Radio Vision Network in New Jersey, and together they created a program that features R&B musicians of the past, present and upcoming future, plus the writers and producers of Soul music.
Host Robert E. Johnson of Soul Records interviews John “The Boss Man” Hall, legendary singer and performer.
Not just satisfied producing music, Robert E. Johnson has actively worked with the production of a new television series called Chase Street. He explained, “Denny Brown, creator/producer came up with the idea of Chase Street along with Thomas Freeman Jr., screenwriter/producer. Derrick Hammond is the Director and Nate Banks is another executive with the production staff. Actors Clifton Powell and Benjamin “Benny” Mateo have recurring roles. Chase Street is based on all the cities in America…the chase for the money, for power, and the things people will do to get that.”
Robert E. Johnson plays the role of a judge on the series, Ricky Styles/musician and producer plays a councilman, and a few of the newly signed musicians, Quad-S & Zey are in an episode plus look for upcoming appearances with Soul Records recording artists/groups like X-Cluzive Soul.
SOUL RECORDS seems to be thriving since Robert E. Johnson resurrected the label a year ago.
“It’s time to put classy sounding music back into the market that has Soul. It can be R&B, it can be Pop, and it can be jazz, as long it has Soul that’s the name of the game.” Johnson concluded.
Physical or Hard Copy EP’S or CD’S may be purchased from SOUL RECORDS PO BOX 632 Camden NJ 08101. You can also find the music on Itunes.
Facebook page Robert E. Johnson, CEO of Soul Records: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009585405296&fref=ts