The Soul of the Net's

Book reviews

The Encyclopedia of Soul 1950-1995:
Yutaka Sakurai's Effort Is A Soul Collector's Dream Come True

A review by John Ridley

Many of us have dreamt about and even discussed the possibility of preparing the soul version of Leadbitter/Slaven [an extensive discography of blues records - Yoni]. Of course, discographies and listings have appeared in various magazines over the years and, latterly the Internet has been widely used to disseminate useful information, but overnight most of this activity has become redundant [my activity? redundant? - Yoni] with the publication of this extraordinary and astonishing work. To my knowledge, Yutaka Sakurai is the first person to attempt to catalogue the entire soul music oevre, and he has made a truly excellent job of it. I may now have to take up rose-growing in my retirement instead! [that's a relaxing thought there John, I had been worried about having to spend my retirement years entering an endless soul database - Yoni].

Although he is not widely known outside his own country, Yutaka has long been one of Japan's foremost black music enthusiasts, compiling and annotating LPs and CDs as well as running their premier Soul On magazine for many years. In his Encyclopaedia he demonstrates a breathtaking range of knowledge about the subject, able to deal with all aspects of the genre from the pop girl group sounds of the Apollas to the deep southern styles of James Duncan, and chronologically from Ray Charles to Mary J Blige with equal facility. From the excellent first impression of the colour cover, complete with photo of Otis Redding, the whole publication says quality. It is published in soft-back, of near A4 size, and the 500 plus pages of entries are arranged in a double column on each page. Artists' 45s are listed in English in date order, where known, followed by 12" singles and LPs/CDs. Many of the subjects are annotated in Japanese, with cross-references to other entries or further relevant names given, in English. So, for example, an exhaustive catalogue of Jerry Butler's singles releases is printed, starting with his Vee Jay 45s as a member of the Impressions, with the entry completed 2 pages later with his albums, and notes indicating his membership of the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, doo-wop groups the Quails and Roosters, and cross references to Curtis Mayfield and, separately, the Impressions. Most of the pages are illustrated with black and white label shots of 45s or LPs which breaks up the text splendidly and adds some much needed visual interest.

What it isn't is a discography. There are no personnel or recording locations given, and thankfully no matrix numbers either. Am I the only anorak who finds this data of no use or interest at all? [well, sometimes they can help dating a recording, or finding out if two releases of the same song are the same recording or not, or they can give a hint as to what the A side was; but mostly I agree they are quite a waste of space - Yoni]

There's some overlap between the Encyclopedia of Soul and some of the Blues/Doo-Wop listings that have been available, but of course the real point of Yutaka's effort is all the music not covered in other tomes. And in the vast uncharted waters of soul he seems very sound indeed. All the artists you would expect to find are included - along with literally hundreds neither you nor I have ever heard of. I wasn't expecting to find Johnny Adams and Solomon Burke 45s I didn't know about, for example and the thoroughness of his research is often breathtaking. Recently Yoni Neeman and I spent a couple of weeks trying to sort out the various groups of Ambassadors there have been, ending up with 4 distinct recording histories. Yutaka has identified 9 separate Ambassadors, also 10 Barons - not to mention Barons both Limited and Unlimited!

There may be half a dozen people in this country who are aware of southern soulstress Ella Brown's superb Adams 45s. But I would bet that there are much less than half a dozen enthusiasts in the world who would know that one of the 45s was also as issued by "Della" Brown as shown here. This air of authority continues page after page. I hadn't heard of the Willie Clayton cut of Happy being released on Nuance, nor the fact that Doris Allen had a 45 before the great Shell of a woman on Minaret. Yutaka also confirms that Bobby Adeno (Backbeat) and Bobby Monygomery (Vault, Highland) is the same person. So in areas I unwisely considered myself qualified to pontificate about I was often surprised and informed. Thank heavens for that!

That's not to say that the Encyclopaedia is perfect - no publication like this ever is. There are the inevitable misprints, Ann Bogus is given as Bogu and I couldn't find southern cult hero Jimmy Braswell until I looked under Bramswell for example. More surprising omissions are in evidence as well. Yutaka correctly gives Harold Burrage's rare first 45 on Decca from 1950 but doesn't mention P-Vine's excellent LP retrospective of his marvellous M-Pac material. As many other soul freaks would no doubt be able to, I could add both to existing entries both famous like Clarence Carter and obscure like Ben Atkins as well as adding new artists. But I must make it clear that these amendments are at the margin. There may be some 50-100 things I could add against an estimated 25,000 records listed. When this book is widely available and studied there won't be the sort of revisions that happened to Leadbitter/Slaven which caused the second edition to be many times the size of the original. Yutaka has probably hit the 90% mark straight away, first crack out of the box and in a foreign tongue too.

And that is why I stand in awe of this book and its author. This is a staggering feat of scholarship and knowledge worthy of the utmost respect. It's important in two ways. Firstly its publication elevates soul music from the "poor relation" status it has enjoyed until now up to blues and jazz as a subject for serious study. And secondly it marks the definitive end of its subject as a popular entertainment medium. You can't really have an authoritative study of a living breathing music. The one major problem is now with the necessary updating. How will amendments be published? Books are not ideal for this sort of study - the best bet is the internet where additions and corrections are easily achieved, you get a broader base of informant which must aid the updating process and, best of all, the information can be arranged in different ways. I'd love to show this data as label listings for example.

By the time you read this review Volume 2 E-K will be available and when all 4 parts have been completed this will have been an outstanding addition to all our knowledge of black music. It should be owned by anybody with a serious interest in soul or related music. Yutaka is charging 10,000 yen (about 65) plus postage for A-D which is a small price to pay for the immense effort and years of painstaking research which has gone into it, in my view. It is simply the most useful reference work on soul ever published.

Until an enterprising importer brings copies in, (I'm hoping to persuade someone and will give further details subsequently), this book can be obtained direct from the author :-

Yutaka Sakurai
Koyamadai I-30-6#205

John Ridley
January 1999

Here are two excellent sources of information about soul music related book reviews: The R&B Primer's Literature Page, and the the books section at John Ponomarenko's Soul Review site .

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