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Dobre Records
Studio Players
Founded in the mid-70s by Ray Lawrence, who also owned a handful of smaller Jazz imprints like Jazzz, Milagro, Prima and Trident, Dobre's artist roster read like a who's who of session players and also-rans.
Dobre Records: Studio Players     by DJ TREW

It's been said that Los Angeles makes the rest of California seem authentic. Here's a city where you can ride an ecological high horse and drive a gas guzzling SUV at the same time, a place where vanity isn't considered a sin but rather a necessity for survival, where you can do Pilates in the morning and a line of Coke at night. But in spite of LA's various moral shortcomings the city is, for better or for worse, a beacon of hope to many aspiring musicians, writers, actors, artists, and porn stars. This may come as a disappointment to the Jenna Jameson fans out there, but for the purposes of this column we'll be focusing on the musical aspect of La-La Land (perhaps Porno-Funk will appear as a future Loudspeaker?)

When it comes to the worldwide music industry, few cities are as integral and influential as Los Angeles. Power players like Capitol, A&M, Warner Brothers, Interscope, and Rhino all claim L.A. as their home. But out of every 100 musicians vying for that coveted deal, only a handful are selected to record, and even fewer become stars. So what happens to the musicians who never make it? Some maintain aspirations for the big time, earning indie cred along the way, others leave town with their tails between their legs, and those with versatile talent, may find themselves fortunate to find work as session players. Considering the number of record labels in L.A., finding a steady studio gig is almost as good as being the featured recording artist. And in certain circumstances, Idris Muhammads' stint as a Blue Note drummer being a key example, standing out as a session player just might garner you enough credibility to record a solo LP.

A perfect instance of a label culling talent from the seemingly never-ending cache of studio musicians was the L.A.-based Dobre Records. Founded in the mid-70s by Ray Lawrence, who also owned a handful of smaller Jazz imprints like Jazzz, Milagro, Prima and Trident, Dobre's artist roster read like a who's who of session players and also-rans. Old school A&R man Jack Tracy, who was once a key figure at Mercury, acted as the creative brains behind Dobre. Perhaps Tracy was going for the 'next big thing' by signing lesser known talent, but what resulted was lackluster sales and albums destined for the cut out bins. After a scant 43 releases (the official number of releases is still contested) the label went under, and Lawrence was forced to sell off Dobre's corporate holdings right down to the office furniture.

But what was not appreciated back in the day has since been resurrected by legions of sample fiends, jazz aficionados, and break collectors worldwide. DJ Shadow may have brought Les Demerle's Transfusion to light but since then, the label has piqued the curiosity of many, including this writer. Of course not every entry into the Dobre catalog is worth a listen, so for this month's Loudspeaker we'll focus solely on the laudable releases...

Elliot Fisher - In the Land of Make Believe (Dobre 1976)

Starting off the trio of session men is violinist Elliot Fisher. Like many Dobre artists, Fisher had an extensive career playing back-up to the greats. As you can imagine, studio work was limited for a violinist but in Fisher's case he found a home playing for Soul man Sam Cooke, and Country guitarist Johnny Cash. On In the Land of Make Believe, one of the first Dobre releases (catalog # 1003,) it's apparent the label wasn't taking any chances.

The tracklisting sports cover version after cover version after cover version, including his excellent, breakhead-friendly take on the O'Jays' "Money" and a surprisingly thorough exploration of Freddie Hubbard's "First Light." But what would a session man be without session men? Backing up Fisher are Jazz Funk staples Harvey Mason on drums, Carol Kaye on bass, and Mike Wofford on keyboards.

Tommy Vig - 1978 (Dobre 1978)

Next up is Vibraharpist Tommy Vig who worked with everyone from Quincy Jones to Dean Martin to Joe Pass to Miles Davis. His resume boasts an amazing 1400+ studio sessions, as well as two Academy Awards for film scores. So if any studio player deserved some shine on a solo outing, it was Vig. His 1978 album contains only three tracks, all of which resound with a strong 'jam' vibe combined with a touch of disco. The lead off song "Gypsy" begins with uptempo interplay between the drummer and bassist, which slowly devolves into a free jazz excursion led by Vigs.

It should be mentioned that the bassist in question is journeyman studio cat Abe Laboriel. On the album closer "Malibu Canyon Road," we get a heavy 4-on-the-floor beat punctuated by Vigs' vibraharp phrases. In a move that's certain to satisfy even the staunchest breakhead, mid-track the drummer gets plenty, rocking a solo with at least six different, loopable sections (I stopped counting at six.)

Nat McCoy - Soul (Dobre 1979)

Rounding out our selection is producer/label head Nat McCoy. Technically McCoy wasn't a session man, but instead he was found behind the scenes, writing songs, manning the boards, and securing distribution. Originally, McCoy made the move to Los Angeles from Jacksonville, Florida to find better work as a songwriter, and subsequently started the Sotoplay and Carolyn imprints, which focused largely on Blues musicians. On his 1979 Dobre release Soul, (one of the last on the label, catalog #1033) McCoy moved into the spotlight working as the producer, songwriter, and most importantly, lead singer.

Nat's vocal tone resembles Bobby Bland, and over the course of Soul's ten tracks he works in a mildly disco-fied Blues style. The standout cuts come in the form of straight up Funk or Blues, "Funky Mule" and "Help Me Baby" respectively. The former starts off with a heavy, crisp, and choppable drum break, and features Ohio Player-esque horn arrangements, while the latter bumps along in a late 70s Albert King mode, with a 4-on-the-floor beat, and rollicking guitar riff.

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