Our friend Kevin Coombe DJ’ed for the opening night of out Georgetown Pop-Shop a few weeks back. Kevin is an all-vinyl DJ, playing mostly 45s, and shares our love of classic soul, funk and R&B music. We recently caught up with Kevin to talk about record collecting, the art of DJing, and plans for his upcoming book release documenting the history of Washington, D.C. funk and soul music.
I stumbled on a NPR segment that you were featured on a couple of years ago that reported that your vinyl collection is in the thousands. This is quite an impressive collection, what do you look for when buying new records?
When I started buying vinyl to start DJing, it was all about quantity. I wanted to have a lot of records so I could play a lot of things. It made sense, but overtime I started to realize that it was really about quality. There was a point where I had bought a lot of records and was also selling records. Between my records and the sale records, I probably had somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000. It was a lot and it was too much for me. Now, as far as what I keep personally, it’s not nearly as much, maybe 6,000 or so.
6,000 records still seems like a lot to keep up with.
Believe it or not, 6,000 records really isn’t a lot, but for me, it makes me happy. As far as how I select what I keep, it’s like when anyone gets really into something, they do a bit of soul searching. Over time, their taste develops and they start making decisions to what they really like. I’ve kept a lot of things in a lot of different genres that I enjoy.
How has record collecting changed since the growth of the Internet?
15 years ago, it was much more difficult to track down a specific record that you wanted, but you could luck-out and collect some really crazy stuff. You could find rare records at a cheaper rate because there wasn’t as much access to information of what was out there. Now there’s so much more access to information and it’s easier to find a specific record and, in turn, for everyone else to find out what is out there.
Speaking of access to information, you founded a website, dcsoulrecordings.com, that serves as a catalogue of D.C. funk and soul music. How’d this come about?
When I first started DJing, I had no aspirations for researching or anything like that, but I wanted to get out, find less-obvious records, and use the sounds to make my own songs and background beats. By doing this, I found a lot of unusual records, especially within the genre of soul music. I was finding a lot of local records from D.C., and through DJing, I was meeting a lot of people from other cities who were playing a lot of local stuff from their respective cities. Some of these guys were documenting things from the cities they were from and it was something that I really wanted to do myself.
I launched the website seven or eight years ago to help document and share my discoveries. At first my goal was to only write a few articles, because at the time, I had no idea of the amount of soul and funk music that had been recorded in D.C. Over time I started to realize how much was out there, it was very humbling.
Based on your research, how has D.C. contributed to the genres of soul and classic R&B?
There was never a major soul music label that was D.C. based. Soul musicians who were very talented that lived here either cut a few records that never went anywhere or they ended up leaving the city. You can hear a lot of D.C. musicians in a lot of major groups but many people just don’t know it — for example, the theme song for Shaft. Everybody knows “Shaft” but not everyone knows that the guy playing guitar, Charles “Skip” Pitts, came up with that signature rift and is from D.C.
Eventually D.C. soul and funk developed a style and sound that grew into the sub-genre of go-go. Before this, most of the groups were emulating other groups that they wanted to be like. The sound of D.C. didn’t really change until the late-60s through the 70s, when people wanted to use more percussion to keep the beat going through breaks, which is where go-go’s style originated.
Who were some prominent musicians in the D.C. music scene who may or may not have made it nationally?
People like Roberta Flack and Marvin Gaye were the most prominent. There were many groups that would be considered one-hit-wonders, and by one-hit-wonders, they had one hit just inside of the city. Other groups had greater relative success including – The Young Senators, Skip Mahoney and The Casuals, and The Summits.
Al Johnson was a musical genius. He started in the 60s as a vocalist and eventually went on to become an arranger, producer, musician and background vocalist. At the peak of his career, he released an album titled Back For More on Columbia Records during the early 80s. The album charted but his career didn’t take off as well as it was expected. He eventually came back to D.C., dropped out of site, and resurfaced a little later but only worked on production and arrangements. He did some work with a number of groups including The Whispers and Lloyd Price, but he remained in the background. He is definitely one of D.C.’s greatest unsung musicians.
You’re also working on a book that focuses on the D.C. funk and soul music scenes. Could you tell us more about this?
I wanted to do some sort of larger documentation project ever since I started to realize how much history and music was out there. The book will have high quality photographs, anecdotes, themes and central ideas throughout the chapters that people can relate to. Chapters will include stories on the groups, venues, record stores, album artwork etc. The goal for the book is that it will not only flow with the music groups but within the entire culture and scene that was going on at the time.
We’re looking forward to checking out the book. When do you plan to have it on shelves?
I’ve been working hard on getting the book together this year, and I’ve given myself the goal of having everything written by the end of 2014. At that point, I want to have something, even if it’s rough, to present to publishers and hopefully have the book on shelves sometime during 2015.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Washington, D.C. when you aren’t behind the DJ booth?
I love going out to eat and I always try to discover new places and try new things. Around where I live, I have a couple of staples. Everyone loves 2 Amys, which is a really great pizzeria. Baked and Wired is a great D.C. bakery. Besides that, other things that I like to do . . . well between music research, promoting DJ events, spending time with my wife, and finding new restaurants . . . this is the bulk of it.
On a final note, what are of your three songs that you’re into at the moment?
1. Chocolate Sunday – “Second Story Man”
2. Smokin’ Brain – “Benny’s Crib”
3. Trace of Smoke – “Treasure Mind”
Kevin hosts a monthly funk and soul night, Money Town DC, every first Friday as DJ Nitekrawler at Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar (1104 H Street NE Washington DC). If you happen to be in the area, make sure to stop by. In addition to loving to DJ with all vinyl when possible, Kevin rocks via other means as well [serato/digital].