One day after writing about the passing of R&B singer Al Wilson and the roundabout manner in which I eventually came to learn more about him, this happened:
Evan had lacrosse over on the east side of town, which is where our used record store is located. Given the choice between an hour of watching lacrosse practice in the rain and an hour of crate digging … you got it.
There, in the back of the small bin of soul and R&B records, was this:
Al Wilson’s debut album, “Searching for the Dolphins,” on the Soul City label, from 1968. It was produced by Johnny Rivers, as was its hit single, “The Snake.”
It’s in pretty rough shape. There are so many pops and ticks on it that it sounds like it was recorded in the rain. A plastic sleeve is holding the jacket together. The upper right corner of the jacket has a water stain. Most of the cuts are marred by skips.
It’s a little like an archaeological dig. You handle it carefully, dust it off, clean it off and perhaps only then do you find whether there’s a treasure that remains intact. As always, you be the judge.
“Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over),” a cover of the Four Tops tune from 1966. This is the cleanest cut of the 11 on the album.
“I Stand Accused,” a cover of the Jerry Butler tune from 1964. This is so good, so impassioned, I hope you’ll forgive the small skip at 2:16.
“Summer Rain,” a cover of the Johnny Rivers tune from 1968. Is it sacrilegious to suggest this version should have been released instead of Rivers’ version that year? Please forgive the small skips at 2:49 and 3:01.
All by Al Wilson, from “Searching for the Dolphins,” 1968. It’s apparently out of print in the States, but has been re-released on CD in the UK as “Searching for the Dolphins: The Complete Soul City Recordings and More, 1967-1971.” It’s available as an import.
Al Wilson was just 29 when he recorded this album. the first of his five U.S. albums. Though born in Meridian, Mississippi, he really was a kid from the L.A. suburbs, having moved to San Bernardino when he was in high school. He started out as a drummer, then started singing while serving in the Navy. Wilson was in his late 20s when he hooked up with Rivers, signing with his Soul City label. Wilson was 34 when he had his biggest hit, “Show and Tell,” then continued to make music for the rest of his life.