New York was overrun with independent disco and boogie record labels in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with Salsoul and Prelude probably the most influential and well known. But of the other east coast labels, Sam Records produced a strong catalogue of releases during this important time in black music history. Founded by Sam Weiss in 1975, Sam Records began issuing club friendly records for the then burgeoning New York club scene, having some success during their eight-year existence.
Here, Harmless Records again use the services of Bill Brewster to curate this triple CD 38 track compilation, the DJ and co-author of Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, which covers most of the labels important releases from 1975–1983 and mainly concentrates on their 12” single output, except for two album cuts. The collection crucially reflects the musical changes occurring during this period, from its fully orchestrated and string heavy disco releases, to the synth heavy boogie stylings of the early 80s, and finally, the post ‘Planet Rock’ Electro Funk era.
Notable additions include Sam’s first release in 1975 by Doris Duke, the hypnotic ‘Woman of the Ghetto’ and the 1976 block party breakbeat standard ‘I Can’t Stop’ by John Davis and The Monster Orchestra – and in its rarer extended form. But it’s Sam’s catalogue of 12” vinyl classics that will appeal to most music fans. These include in-demand boogie favourite Greg Henderson’s ‘Dreamer’, forgotten gem ‘Doin’ It’ by Underground and another John Davis and The Monster Orchestra stormer with a vocal version of Ashford & Simpson’s instrumental classic ‘Bourgie, Bourgie’ (also recorded by Gladys Knight).
Unlike some of the other independent labels at the time, the production values of Sam’s releases were always very high, with strong musicianship, songwriting and studio engineering skills displayed, with legends Leroy Burgess, Andre Booth, Greg Carmichael and Nigel Martinez at times all part of the Sam Records family. And with many of these releases appearing on CD for the first time, they will hopefully be discovered and experienced by music fans outside of the vinyl collecting fraternity.
I would argue that Sam Records was more of a boogie label than a disco one, as they had far more releases during the 1980s than the 1970s, with this set containing only eight songs from the 70s, which mainly consisting of releases by keyboard and saxophone player John Davis, and by Queens based disco outfit Gary’s Gang. And it’s rarely mentioned that the disco backlash that occurred in 1979 actually helped disco to become more structured and move into a more song based form that ultimately became known as boogie, with its prominent use of keyboards, synthesisers and drum machines, with Sam Records showcasing worthy examples from this crucial time.
Being a fan of the label, I couldn’t see an obvious omission from the set and thankfully Harmless have managed to use the original master tapes rather than transfer some of the releases from vinyl recordings. It also uncovers some of the lesser known material of Sam’s catalogue in addition to their popular records such as Vicky D’s ‘This Beat is Mine’ and Convertion’s ‘Let’s Do It’. But as like all labels from this period there are hits and misses, but Sam managed to maintain a high quality of output and fans of the boogie sound will undoubtedly enjoy this compilation.