The o.v.o debate has been going on for…forever!

This article was first published around 2001 (?)

Need to hear a deep funk classic but can’t just drop by a venue at any time of the day? Want to impress your friends and make your rivals seethe with envy at the sight of THAT record in your box? Or is it simply that you must spend hours gazing at the label design, transfixed by that strange snow capped mountain with smoke curling from its tip, wondering who drew it, why they drew it and what substances they were probably on when they drew it? Then the solution has been created and it’s been met with a mixture of applause, indifference and downright contempt.

Many of you reading this will undoubtedly be at some stage of collecting. If you’re new to the game then it may already be apparent that finding and aquiring the top sounds is, if not near impossible then financially asphyxiating! It may be that compilations are the only necessity in hearing these tunes…lucky you! Or maybe you’ve bought a few ‘illicit’ twelves of tracks like ‘Hot Pants Breakdown’ or ‘Apache’. The Rare Soul and Rockabilly scenes have lived with identical bootlegs for years, but until recently the funk collector had been spared the confusion of deciding whether the near identical issue of one of the scene’s most revered 45’s would be a good thing, a bad thing or just not really anything at all.

Which is a good point. Is there really an issue to discuss?

What is so problematic about pressing up a few thousand copies- with the original producer’s consent – of a highly sought after, ridiculously expensive all-time classic, on an affordable seven inch single with a limited run, relatively small distribution and little if no advertising in the mainstream music press? Well, clearly there is an issue, but it’s not an easy one to sort out and what it’s arrival has done is force certain ‘new’ collectors/would-be DJ’s to re-think the worth in paying huge sums for established classics which although widely known in the funk scene, are still heard only on limited occasion.

For instance, would it be right for the warm up guy to drop the re-issue 45 even though the main man had an acetate which had been scribbled on by the artist, pressed for testing purposes and had cost about a hundred times more than the one happily spinning on the deck? One the one hand it’s the music that counts and if it sounds as good as the original then it isn’t interfering with the listener’s enjoyment. If they are doing what you should be making them do…which is dance, who cares if it’s a rare dub plate, reel to reel, bootleg compilation or £5 re-issue? On the other hand it’s a scene largely based on records that are – in varying degrees – hard to obtain – often at a huge premium, seldom heard and owned by a few. Reputations are built on exclusivity and in a scene where skill and ability are judged on the structure and content of a set, a box of rarities contributes to the DJ’s popularity. Which is also great and wholly welcomed. It’s why it’s called the Deep Funk scene.

For some though, the cost of paying crazy money for the original is better than paying the equivalent price of a packet of fags and a cheap lighter for a reproduction…an albeit very good reproduction at that- too good in fact.
The record in question is of course the Herb Johnson Settlement’s monster ‘Damph F’aint’, a late sixties outing on the Toxan imprint from Philadelphia. The producer Wallace Osborne or Wally O as he’s known on the label credits, was pretty prolific and worked on many productions including sides by The Impacts who themselves provided scores of backing tracks for the Toxan imprint including Damph F’aint. Legend has it this tune was slung together ‘to fill the flip side’ to an almost rocksteady version of Carol King’s funk classic, ‘Will You Still Love Me tomorrow’! It’s near four minute journey consists of a pretty straight forward bouncing groove with a hard working back beat, two deep guitar riffs and the odd squeal and chuckle from Mr. Johnson.
It was probably dreamt up there and then and played a few times before being committed to tape. According to legend (again!) the record was distributed from a single store in Philadelphia and it just so happened that the guy responsible for the re-issue ran into Wallace Osborne one day in the very same shop.

And so what was formerly a near impossible 45 was suddenly available on an identical press, to hundreds of funk fans the world over.
This didn’t please some people.
Why would anyone claim that the over riding motivation for producing a near identical copy of a funk classic (the run out groove has SOUL FIRE DISTRIBUTION etched into the wax) was to distribute the music to more people than just a handful who owned the original. And then press a 45? Surely to reach more listeners you would license a whole album of rare tracks and issue it on a CD, which targeted a broader, less initiated market. Well, the 45 was aimed specifically at people with an aesthetic as well as aural fascination with the rare funk scene. You get the re-issue, you see the label and you own a ‘virtual original’.
Dissenting voices argue that the re-issue destroys the essence of what constitutes a ‘real funk DJ’: i.e. somebody who plays original issue 45’s and can answer to the ‘authenticity police’ if the situation ever arose. If too many people in the room knew that the record on the deck had been re-issued, even though it may be a £300 original, how long would it take for one of them to come up to the DJ and demand that the disc be inspected before they can continue to enjoy themselves, in the corner, spotting trains and noting car registration numbers?
It’s interesting that the ‘big’ collectors have praised the re-issue. Most, if not all of them have owned the original for years and have contributed to it’s status as a top sound. Others argue that if too many of the big records are issued with original artwork as seven-inch singles, the uniqueness of clubs renowned for exclusive set lists will be lost. In actual fact, it only takes a glance at the 10 sound of funk volumes, the numerous Soul Patrol albums and the BBE Deep Funk series to see scores of classic and still super rare 45’s sitting there waiting to be played.
It’s interesting that the ‘big’ collectors have praised the re-issue. Most, if not all of them have owned the original for years and have contributed to it’s status as a top sound. Others argue that if too many of the big records are issued with original artwork as seven-inch singles, the uniqueness of clubs renowned for exclusive set lists will be lost. In actual fact, it only takes a glance at the 10 sound of funk volumes, the numerous Soul Patrol albums and the BBE Deep Funk series to see scores of classic and still super rare 45’s sitting there waiting to be played.

The problem for the disapproving faction always comes back to the way the Herb Johnson has been re-issued. On a 45 complete with the A and B sides of the initial press and identical artwork to the original. These two simple and deliberate factors set it miles apart from the re-issue 45’s that Jazzman Records have been producing under their own name, some of which have included in-demand super rarities from the likes of Carleen & The Groovers, Sandi & Matues, and the Dee Felice Trio.

So, we have the approval/ indifference of the ‘big’ collectors, the eager and grateful purchasing of the modest collector and the ‘outcry’ from the wannabe ‘serious’ DJ.
What about the re-issuer?

Paranoid conspiracy theorists would put forward the argument that the re-issue was intended to systematically destroy the rare funk scene as it exists today, making it increasingly difficult for up-coming DJ’s to present sets comprised of relatively uncommon sounds. Some people have seriously questioned the true intentions behind identically re-issued 45’s. There are rumours that more big tracks are lined up for issue and the insecure anticipate these with fear and suspicion. ‘”What if the entire content of my set got re-issued with identical label details? I’d be forced to find even more obscure tunes in an age where anything even slightly rare looking is automatically priced impossibly high”.In a morbid twist to the whole affair, the original Herb Johnson still commands top dollar – perhaps even more so as collectors see the original as a status symbol, which has suddenly been attributed greater significance by the re-issue. The re-press has at least given something back to the original producers of the record. What probably started life as an informal jamming session, progressing to a structured song before being laid on a four track in a studio in Philadelphia, has made more money for dealers and collectors than it did for the guys who made it-which isn’t a new story by any stretch of the imagination.

Another interesting factor that surrounds the Herb Johnson re-press is the accompanying re-issue of ‘Witch Doctor Bump’ by Overnight Low, also complete with label details identical to the original 45. This may indeed be a rare record but it’s an appalling example of what happens when a bunch of musicians are allowed to consume as many chemicals of their choice before sloping of to the studio (with all due respect, Phillipe) At least that’s what it sounds like! Even those who disapproved of the Herb 45 viewed this as an aberration as opposed to a threat on the part of the issuer. It isn’t nor is it likely to be a hugely in-demand track (at least among DJ’s looking for uptempo dance records) so there’s no problem. Get the picture? If it’s an expensive, super rare dance floor monster, then both investment and reputation are deemed under threat from an almost identical, inexpensive re-issued 45. If it’s a dull set of sounds made by a bunch of wacky space cadets, re-issued on an inexpensive, near identical 45 then it poses no challenge. If the truth be known most people who attend the leading funk nights in the country (the UK that is) couldn’t really care less what is coming out of the speakers, who the records are by or whether it’s being relayed from vinyl, CD, Mini-Disc or a bunch of midget musicians tucked away in a shoe box under the bar. As long as it sounds suitably funky then they can usually find themselves getting down to it.

While we on the other hand…