Philly Soul: Brewerytown Beats, The Thompsons and The Ultimates

Credit: Photo by Ron Clark from back cover of I’ll Get Over It

(Spoiler alert: This piece is in large part a shout-out to Max Ochester and Joshua Kwedar for their efforts at bringing forgotten Philly Soul classics back to life, and to Dan DeLuca and A. D. Amorosi for spreading the word about this work.)

I first got in touch with Max Ochester who runs Brewerytown Beats, a great record store in Philadelphia, a few years ago when he was helping me pitch a story about The Showstoppers, of “Ain’t Nothin But a House Party” fame (still looking for a home, but that’s another story). I had been referred to Max by Jack McCarthy, a Philadelphia music historian who teaches a regular series of excellent courses in local adult education venues about Philadelphia music from the revolutionary period onward and has authored a series of articles on the Hidden City Philadelphia site on a wide range of topics related to Philadelphia’s music history.

Anyway, I finally got down to Brewerytown Beats on North Bailey Street and it was a great experience.

Max not only runs a fine record shop but is active in getting old/forgotten Philly artists back onto wax. He recently helped reunite The Ultimates, a group of (then) young women from West Philly, who had a local hit with “Why I Love You” in 1971, originally issued in a very small pressing on the Valentine Label. The song was recorded at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios when the three girls (Monica Thornton, Debra Herbin, and Shirley Carter) were only 14/15 years old. The tune got some local airplay but never really broke, and that was pretty much it for The Ultimates.

Here is a story by Dan DeLuca in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the group and the reissue effort. You just can’t help smiling at the pictures of these ladies getting a chance to revive their not-quite-hit. He includes a great clip of them performing last year at Linvilla Orchards, a popular venue for grade school trips, and our usual destination for cutting our own Christmas tree.

An interesting sidebar of the song’s history is explained by DeLuca:

“Over the last decade, ‘Why I Love You’ has a become a fixture on lowrider music playlists that prize rare, vintage soul and R&B, a soundtrack to “low-and-slow” Chicano custom-car culture in Southern California.

This is reminiscent of the revival of many soul classics by the Northern Soul scene in Great Britain beginning in the 1970s.

I picked up that 45 at the shop – here’s a pic of it:

The Ultimates’ sound is similar to such classic Philly Soul hits as “I’m Ready” by Barbara Mason and “Who Do You Love” by The Sapphires.

I also bought another reissue Max helped bring out, an LP by The Thompsons – I’ll Get Over It. Here’s a good article article about the reissue by A. D. Amorosi.

The cover pic for The Thompsons LP is very “of the era” and reminds me of graduation shots of the handful of black guys in my high school class. The Thompsons hailed from the same neighborhood where Brewerytown Beats resides, a few blocks north of Girard around 27th street.

Credit: Photo by Ron Clark from cover of I’ll Get Over It

Here’s the record itself, in all its red vinyl glory:

The songs here are mostly ballads that bring to mind such Philly artists as Eddie Holman, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and even Hall & Oates, while the upbeat numbers evoke Curtis Mayfield and Sly & the Family Stone, and would not be out of place on Soul Train.

I must mention the outstanding liner notes by Joshua Kwedar, a Philadelphia record collector and historian who collaborated with Max Ochester a few years ago on a Master Class on Philadelphia Soul at Montgomery County Community College. Kwedar goes into detail on the history of the band, the songwriting and production team and the unusual use of a Mellotron to simulate strings on what would have been a bare-bones production.

I’ll post more about other records I bought during this trip, but if you have a chance to visit the store, I recommend it highly (and Max does mail order, too).

2 thoughts on “Philly Soul: Brewerytown Beats, The Thompsons and The Ultimates

  1. Enjoyable article, especially with pictures of the records and the photos of The Ultimates. I see Brewerytown Beats record store is just off 27th and Girard, an area I haven’t been near for many years.
    Thanks, Sup


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