Cats are cool, sleek, and rule the internet, so no surprise that Henry Stone saw fit to found a record label named Cat at the dawn of the 1970s. The pioneering exec always had both eyes on the future, and an ear for hits.
With millions of physical copies of the Cat catalog sold around the world, and now generating hundreds of millions of streams online, Stone was obviously right.
A label specializing in the special brand of Subtropical Soul that only Miami could create, Cat Records made both hits and underground classics that both record nerds, and casual listeners still love. Here are the label’s top releases of the 70s, but definitely check out all they had to offer, there’s way more than ten great records in this collection.
10. Chocolateclay – Chocolateclay (album)
George Chocolate Perry started his career as a 16 year old kid at the T.K. Productions studio as a bass player doing session work. His talent saw him rise from the million selling Gwen McCrae “Rockin’ Chair,” and underground smash Blowfly “Porno Freak,” to recording and touring with the Bee Gees, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Dionne Warwick, Dolly Parton, Joe Walsh, and John Cougar Mellencamp to name a few. Here he is having fun in the studio with Clay Cropper, a singing T.K. producer who worked with George McCrae, Frederick Knight, and Clarence Reid.
9. TRAMA – TRAMA (album)
Imagine if Parliament Funkadelic were less northern chop and more Caribbean soul and you’ve got TRAMA and their non stop Florida funk. With an album full of call and response, sung and rapped lyrics, sultry vocals, singers trading off the lead, an epic horn line, conceptual vocoding, and a party sound, TRAMA are a diamond in the rough of music history. This album was produced by the world famous Sax Kari, who under a variety of pseudonyms traveled the world changing history at every stop he made. For a time he lived in the T.K. studios and guarded all the tapes for the company. He also shot the guy who wrote “Buffalo Soldier” in the same studio.
8. Melvin Carter – Love Is Sacrifice
“My heart been broken more time than the ten commandments, and I cried more than a weeping willow, so if you see a man walking the street late at night, don’t worry I’m not a burglar, I’ll be singing these words. Tonight I walk these streets alone, I can feel the pain coming on strong, I’ve got no one….love is nothing but sacrifice…..”
7. Purple Mundi – Stop Hurting Me Baby
Big voice, pop sheen, gravelly grit, Detroit structure, Motor City soul sound from lead singer with Magic City production by Willie Clarke and Betty Wright, and Steve Alaimo in the mix, this 1971 undergrounder never sold much but still shines bright like a diamond under dust.
6. Raw Soul Express – Raw Soul Express (album)
Somewhere along the line, a young Usher Raymond must have heard this record and been influenced by it, because the dramatic inflection of his vocals have the touch of Raw Soul Express all over them. Backed by a locktight rhythm of bass, guitar, and horns, there are also great echoing and phased ad libs and backgrounds in this texturally rich album.
5. James Knight and The Butlers – Black Knight (album)
Straight-up gritty Southern soul with rock and roll backing, the real rockin’ rollin rock and r&B roll, and marching band horns make this band’s great mix of Otis Redding, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Zombies, and Jackie Wilson an awesome combination of resonating elements that should have seen them sell millions. It’s the 70s version of the exact sound that RZA is doing now with Banks and Steelz. Truly awesome.
4. Little Beaver – Joey (album)
Straight outta Forrest City, Arkansas, Willie “Little Beaver” Hale hopped in a friend’s car one day and moved to Florida City where he cut his teeth in the rollicking clubs of South-Dade before taking over Overtown as the best guitarist on the scene. Somewhere along the line Frank Williams of The Rocketeers made him start singing or told him he’d be fired froma nice paying club residency. Eventually Hale made his way to Henry Stone and his guitar sound, a Delta-bossa-Latin rhythm and blues, has been admired the world over ever since.
3. Gwen McCrae – Something So Right (album)
Wow, what a voice: Sweet and smooth, flowing like honey, but not corporate honey-jar honey, honey from the honey comb, from the best wild honey bees in Florida drinking from the most pretty, wild growing, and flavorful flowers.
2. Little Beaver – Party Down (album)
According to Little Beaver himself, “Party Down” was just a part of my life when I was young and wild and reckless and partying involved drugs and beautiful women and life was carefree and I though we had it goin’ on. And we did. I had a friend of mine. I used to go to his house and we used to sit around and get high and listen to records…He played something for me, a white group that had these chord changes that was wild. I picked up my guitar and copied those chord changes and said “Man, that is so beautiful.” I can’t even remember if it had lyrics. I said, “This would be great if I just add some lyrics and spice it up.” I worked on it for a month at home by myself. Then one day, I heard a guitar on one of those Caribbean commercials, and it was like bam bom bum boom, and it seemed like it went right along with those chord changes. So I put the two together and played the drums with my feet on the floor. I could hear percussions in it, and I kept thinking islands, that kind of atmosphere with a Brazilian flavor, which I had never done before. I was inspired by Marvin Gaye and “What’s Goin’ On,” which was different for R&B at the time with its rhythms and percussions. So I came out with a new type of sound. And nobody was doin’ a rhythm like that.”
1. Gwen McCrae – Rockin’ Chair (album)
With inspired instrumentation by the T.K. session team, one that rivaled any at Motown, Muscle Shoals, or Stax, and songwriting by Willie Hale, Clarence Reid, R&B legend Sonny Thompson, world renowned hitmaker Steve Alaimo, five time Billboard #1 pop artist Harry Wayne Casey, and the inimitable team of Willie Clarke and Clarence Reid, this is the album Gwen McCrae responded to the success of one-time husband and manager George McCrae’s platinum “Rock Your Baby” with, and her powerhouse vocal performance, fully heartfelt raw emotion, expressive range, dynamic control, improvisational je ne sais quoi, perfect rhythm and confidence have made this a go-to for true fans of soul, as well as hip hop and house producers looking for a million seller with some feeling, since it first came out, and all the way till today.