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New Release Brings Subterranean Sounds From 1960s, 1970s To Light

It was described as "one of the strangest recording studios ever built."

In the 1960s and 1970s, musicians found their way to Cavern Sound, a studio in an underground cave in Independence, Mo. James Brown and Brewer and Shipley recorded there. But so did garage bands, school choirs, gospel groups, and folk duos at a rate of $300 a day.

A new album called Local Customs: Cavern Soundfrom the archival record label The Numero Group, features unreleased recordings from Kansas and Missouri bands like Jaded, The Classmen, and The Dantes. 

"They’re making music available that’s been lost," Chuck Haddix, host of The Fish Fry, told Gina Kaufmann on a recent Central Standard.  "It's almost like they're archaeologists."

Extended Interview Highlights: Producer Ken Shipley, co-founder of The Numero Group

On first finding out about Cavern

"Cavern came to us through a guy named Tom Sorrells, who ran an incredible Kansas City label in the late 70s and early 80s called Titan. When we'd done the Titan project, we did a rather large overview of their label, he mentioned that he'd been holding on to the tapes for Cavern for the better part of almost 30 years. And was wondering if we'd been interested in looking at it and maybe doing what we'd done for Titan for Cavern." 

On the challenges of the project 

"Titan was a very tightly wound label, owned by two guys [Tom Sorrells and Mark Prellberg] with a handful of artists. But Cavern, there was really no ownership, chain of title on any of these recordings. A lot of this stuff was done because bands were going in to the studio, paying $300 and walking out with a tape or possibly getting a record pressed up on one of their custom imprints. And, as a result, it just created a really difficult task which was to go and not only listen to all this music, and decide what was worth putting out.

But [we found] 17 unique artists who hadn't thought of their music in any real capacity in 40 years. There's probably another 10 [artists] that we're still looking for that we didn't include. You start down a path. People move, people change their names, people decide they don't want to be found, people don't want to respond. We had a wish list of almost 30 artists, and whittled it down to what was possible to actually license."  

On bands trying to break out recording at Cavern

"I was really fascinated because it's a regional rock scene that isn't, for the most part, very well documented. Not a lot of big artists broke out of the greater Kansas City area in the 60s. The Classmen were a massive regional group, but never had any kind of national hit.

A lot of these groups at the time were doing school dances and fairs, places where they were playing 90% other people's material. Almost entirely their whole set had no original music. So, for these guys to take their own original music and head down to Cavern was a vote of confidence for their career in saying, 'Look, we're writers, we're performers, and artists.'

So everything that we presented here is a group that's not just living in the world of cover songs and playing band battles in hopes of getting a spot with Paul Revere & The Raiders on their next tour. These are real groups that are working and trying to break out of the region." 

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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