Kings Go Forth
After years of vetting vintage R&B records at his Riverwest store, Lotus Land Records, and spinning rare funk 45s at his monthly "Get Down" event, Andy Noble says he's pinpointed the qualities that make a song stand the test of time.
"I'm in touch with how music ages," he explains. "There are certain elements of music that hold up, like rhythms. Good dance rhythms hold up forever. At the 'Get Down,' I play nary a record that came out after 1973, but they still sound good to kids in 2008. Soulful vocals are key, too. When there's really that human element coming through the music, that tends to be the music that lasts."
Noble noticed, however, that one of the most prominent components of classic American music has all but disappeared in the last decade: male vocal harmonies. For decades, they were a cornerstone of rhythm and blues, funk and soul, but since the new millennium they've been almost entirely absent from the pop charts.
Noble saw an opening. While a flurry of artists like Sharon Jones, Duffy and Amy Winehouse have sparked a renewed interest in '60s soul music, none of these acts attempts to recreate the era's swooping, ohhing, ahhing vocal harmonies.
"There's now a new generation of kids out there who have never even heard these harmonies before, unless they were from some super-produced group like Boyz II Men," Noble says.
Drawing from Milwaukee acts like The Esquires and the Seven Sounds, as well as countless other forgotten vocal groups that once thrived around the country, he set out to fill the niche with his new band, Kings Go Forth, an ensemble made up of veterans from the Milwaukee and Chicago area. The band members range in age from the mid-20s to the mid-50s. Many of the players have done time in Midwest ska bands like Highball Holiday and International Jet Set; three are currently in the Latin jazz draw De La Buena.
Kings Go Forth's searing horns, rollicking percussion and warm, low-budget production nod to 1970, but it's their three lead vocalists who hit home the era. That the band coincidentally has one black, one white and one Hispanic vocalist lends to a fuller range of vibratos for the band to work with, Noble says.
Noble says the band's emphasis will be on recording. "I see it all the time, these great bands come and go, and they leave no record behind," he explains, though he admits that recording is also a business decision.
"Our first show was opening for Sharon Jones in front of 700 people, which was scary and amazing," he says, "but at the same time, if you know what you're doing, you can have 10,000 people hear your single in the first six months."
Noble seems to have read the market right. Though Kings Go Forth only have one 45 to their name, it's been successful beyond the band's expectations, selling out almost immediately, with some copies going for around $100 on eBay soon after. And although the band has only been performing for about a year, their songs have already been licensed in Italy and England. Their biggest break may be on the horizon: The title track of their 45, "One Day," is in the process of being licensed for the soundtrack to the upcoming film Souled Out. With slated contributions by Duffy and the Dap-Kings, that soundtrack could prove to be the definitive document of the retro-soul revival, much as Swingers was to the '90s swing revival.
"This is the kind of group that I don't think I had the maturity and business wherewithal to pull off earlier," Noble says, "but it's the kind of group that I've always wanted to have."
Kings Go Forth headline the Bay View Bash at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13. Afterward, Noble's monthly "Get Down" event will debut at its new venue, Mad Planet.