History, they say, is written by the winners. But for Chicago-based reissue label the Numero Group, the story of music's losers - the would-berecord moguls, the shoulda-been stars, and the hit records no one heard- is infinitely more interesting. "For us," says Numero co-owner KenShipley, "the attraction is that this music and these records are like strange cultural obscurities and anomalies. They're untapped and undiscovered, just waiting to be found."
Launched by Shipley and partner Tom Lunt three years ago, the efforts of the Numero Group (www.numerogroup.com) have evolved into a kind of ongoing musical rescue mission. Numero often provides a second chance for the artists and label owners whonever tasted any kind of success the first time around. Case in point: Bill Moss's Columbus, Ohio, label Capsoul. Conceived as a sort of mini-Motown in 1970, the company never got off the ground, despite a slew of talented artists and memorable songs. Frustrated, Moss quit the business and forgot about the label for the next three decades, becoming a respected member of the local school board - before he wasapproached by Numero to release a Capsoul anthology in 2004. (Mosspassed away last year, having finally enjoyed a flush of national attention following the release of the disc.)
It's easy to see why Shipley can empathize with the Bill Mosses of the world: At age 17, he started his own ill-fated label, Tree Records, before going on to serve as a regional A&R director and product manager for Rykodisc. He met Lunt, a well-respected ad exec, at a record store in 2001. There, they bonded over a mutual love of cult pop band Big Star, Peruvian music, and the Verve/Impulse catalog; in 2003, the pairdecided to go into business together. Seeking out projects with curiousand unusual backstories, the label has uncovered a fascinating mix of music - ranging from The Glory Road, a forgotten 1958 album from traveling Christian missionary Fern Jones, to an anthology of the Bandit label, a bizarre R&B enterprise run by the ruthless ArrowBrown and funded by, let's just say, unusual sources.
Like an art gallery, the label frequently enlists a guest “curator” for its releases. The Capsoul disc was conceived by Chicago DJ and record collector Rob Sevier, who’s since joined Shipley and Lunt as part of the team. The three men regularly spend time digging in the record bins of junk shops for ideas. “People want music that’s slightly off the beaten path,” says Shipley. “They just don’t know how to find it. What we’ve done is do the work for you. We make cool records for people who don’t have the time to go and search for this stuff.”
Now averaging half a dozen titles per year, their most recent spate of discs includes Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies from the Canyon — a compilation of private press recordings made by a cast of female folk artists in the early ’70s — and Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal,a set of obscure funk-inspired ’70s gospel sides. “More than anything,”says Shipley, “the goal is to save these recordings to show that this stuff really is worthwhile art. We just try and treat the reissues with the same love and respect people put into making the music in the firstplace.”