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This week, we release an exclusive variant of Funk Movement, a compilation of rare funk 45s recorded by underground funk legend Timothy McNealy. Here, in an excerpt from the Liner Notes, Egon from Now Again, the reissue record label responsible for compiling and bringing Funk Movement to life, writes about McNealy's history and how he came to meet McNealy.
I showed up at Timothy McNealy’s modest house in Oakcliff, a suburb of Dallas, on a March afternoon warm enough for me to wear a single layer. I’d not met Timothy before, but I’d been speaking to him for nearly 20 years. His “Sagittarius Black” 45 was one of the first key “deep funk” records of the genre’s re-discovery period in the mid- to late-‘90s, when collectors and DJ’s did with the black America’s fertile late-‘60s and early ‘70s musical scenes what they had done prior with blues, jazz and rock. Timothy’s 45– back then, we had no idea how many he’d recorded or released – was on par with Carleen and the Groovers’ “Can We Rap,” Billy Ball and the Upsetters’ “Sissy Walk” and fellow Texans Mickey and the Soul Generation’s “Get Down Brother.” These were name-your-price records when the most a zealous collector would consider paying for a funk record was $500. Still, if you were that collector and you owned a copy of “Sagittarius Black,” you considered yourself a rich man.
Timothy answered the door, moving a bit slower than I’d expected. He has a fierce reputation in the funk and soul-collector’s world as a feisty, protective musician keen to guard his musical legacy. His stubborn personality is part of the reason that his work had never been put together in anthology form. He didn’t make it easy for anyone professing to have his best interests at heart: He knew better, as he’d been burned too many times over the years.
But I hadn’t shown up at his house trying to piece together his musical history any more than I already had. I didn’t even think he would remember speaking to me, as the last time we’d talked was some years prior. I had shown up with the rather simple goal of buying the albums he had lying around – the common ones, the ones he’d listened to when he was recording the slew of 45s that had bestowed him living legend status amongst clued-in music fans - for a record shop I would stage in Austin the next day. I’d asked Roger Boykin, owner of Soultex Records, one of Dallas’s longest running independent imprints, to ask Timothy if he had some he was willing to part with.
“I remember you,” Timothy said when I walked in the door. I looked over and saw a rifle resting next to the couch. (This was, after all, Texas.) He laughed. “Don’t worry about that,” and he motioned to me to sit down. His left eye was blood-shot. “Don’t worry about that either,” he said, as he saw my gaze. “It’s just a popped blood vessel.”
We started to talk. I couldn’t resist: We had the same conversation we’d had for many years. Did he remember anything new about his ‘70s recording sessions? Had he ever gotten back the acetate, masters and photos he’d loaned to the European collector Erik Jung, the first person who promised Timothy he’d reissue his music and make him a star in the autumn of his life?
He seemed bored with those questions. At one point, he handed me a copy of “Will You Be There,” his first 45, one of the rarest American funk and soul records. It was the first time I’d ever held a copy.
“Do you want to buy that, with whatever else you’re going to buy from me?” he asked. I mumbled a polite “I don’t think that’s appropriate,” a phrase that I’d learned over the years, after meeting many independent-minded, self-funded musicians whose only tether to the dreams they held from their youth might be a piece of plastic.
“No, man, I’m serious. Just make me an offer,” Timothy insisted. “I just want to tell the folks who keep calling I’ve sold my last one.”
I spent the next hour going through Timothy’s records, finding a scattering of locally issued records amongst a host of major label releases. He found some of his own 45s, including two I didn’t know: one under the name of Rev. Timothy McNealy and one by the Gospel Express. I made what he deemed was a fair offer, and we drove to the bank to finish our transaction. It was there that he hinted that the time was right for someone to issue his life’s work, and that that person was me.
I’ll be honest and say that, at that moment, I wasn’t sure of what to say. His reputation as a hard-ass preceded him. And I’d been down that road before. The idea of archiving music is one that removes human emotion from the process; the idea of reissuing music – even if archiving is the ultimate goal – involves heaps of emotion, and not all of it the happy-feely kind that compilers get giddy about in interviews when they tell the story of the artist-that-time-forgot-that-got-his-dues-in-the-end. But thinking of that “Will You Be There” 45, I thought to myself that I owed it to Timothy and to those like my partner Madlib, who swore that it was one of the best soul records he’d ever heard, to try to do that music justice. And so I posed the obvious question. And Timothy said yes, let’s do it. And that’s why we’re here, now, a little too late, perhaps, for some sort of a sustained resurgence for Timothy, but in service of this wonderful music, collected in one place for the first time.
It’s my opinion that Timothy McNealy’s music deserves to be emblematic of Dallas funk and soul, in the same way that Texas’s other two largest cities – Houston, with the Kashmere Stage Band, and San Antonio, with Mickey and the Soul Generation – have their unique ambassadors, colored by those cities’ milieus. Dallas, to date, has had no such thing offered to the world at large. Roger Boykin’s Soultex is a tremendous enterprise, and his belief in his city’s musicians led to impressive recordings by the Soul Seven band and to moments like the well-documented (thanks to Roger’s foresight) South Dallas Pop Festival 1970, the first and only time that powerhouse Dallas bands like the Apollo Commanders and the Black Maffia were captured in performance. The Doin Our Thing imprint, home to Gap Band principal Jimi Macon’s first release, was short-lived. The Jetstar imprint was straight soul. Pompeii Records, was all over the place, though it did commit South Dallas all-star organist Les Watson and his band the Panthers to wax. Rapturea was a gospel imprint, though it did capture Macon and his band of Cincinnati transplants, along with singer Eddie Finley, on a killer 7” or two. But only Timothy’s recordings, on his self-funded and self-produced Shawn Records, offer the breadth and depth that make a case for important idiosyncrasies, as they showcase a singular musical vision and Dallas’s vast talent.
Timothy moved to Dallas in 1965, looking to advance his musical career. He started hanging around the Black Out club, where he met Bobby Patterson, then playing guitar with saxophonist Bobby Simpson. By 1966, he had, alongside his Six Sensations band mates Fugett on bass and drummer Ronnie Brewster, joined Patterson as Bobby Patterson and the Mustangs. Patterson was signed to Jon Abdnor Sr.’s Abnak Music Company, the marquee artist on the label’s Jetstar subsidiary. While Patterson wouldn’t have the immediate success of Abnak’s biggest acts, the Five Americans and The In Crowd, he would record consistently from 1966 to 1969, issuing somewhere around 20 7” singles and recording more. According to Timothy, the end of his tenure with the Mustangs came as a result of an argument about the band’s pay at a Saturday gig that led to Abdnor firing the band the following Monday. “The owner of the Tracer Club in Forth Worth had called Jon Abdnor, relaying that while on break the Mustangs were about to fight with Bobby on the parking lot,” Timothy states. “In a meeting with (Abdnor), he stated we had too much hate to continue.”
It had been an incredible run – not only had Timothy honed his songwriting and recording chops, but he’d played hundreds of shows. In a four-month run at Soul City, the Mustangs backed Dobie Gray, Eddie Floyd, the Coasters, Little Richard and performed double bills with jazz organist Jimmy Smith. Timothy also met his first wife, Mary, at the club. She bore their first son, Timothy Shawn. After he left the Mustangs, Timothy reformed with his band mates as the Upsetters and accepted the job as house band at the Central Forrest Club, where the Upsetters backed up Al Green, one of his favorite soul singers.
He appreciated soul singers the most – Green, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, and then Bill Withers as the ‘70s went on – but he paid attention to instrumental ensembles as well: James Brown’s J.B.’s, Kool & the Gang, the Bar-Kays, Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Locally, he admired Les Watson and the Panthers and Las Vegas transplants the Other Brothers. He remembers specific performers – the Panthers’ bassist Willie Weeks, the Other Brothers’ saxophonist Hank Red. He had already gotten the inkling to record himself, and he was searching for a band that could realize the visions that circulated in his head.
By 1972, Dallas’s black independents were on their way – Roger Boykin’s Soultex had issued three 45s by Boykin’s Texas Soul Trio, the Soul Seven and singer Gayle Joya; Paul Kirk, as A&R at Pompei, issued a series of records by himself and Les Watson and the Panthers and even snuck the Soul Seven onto an Ike Turner instrumental. And there was Jetstar’s success: Bobby Patterson and the Mustangs 45s were licensed for issue in Japan and the UK.
According to Timothy, he wasn’t aware of any of these concerns except for Pompeii. And Pompeii hadn’t influenced him to start a label. It was his connection with Walter Jackson, owner of H&W Records, a small Dallas chain, but the biggest black record stores in the city. Jackson also one-stopped – or second-tier distributed – for larger labels in Dallas. And he liked Timothy. “It wasn’t like it was like now with all of these outlets - we had regular black record shops (then),” Timothy states. “If anyone was selling anything, they was in those shops. They was big shops. They sold a lot of records every day.”
“As to starting Shawn, I just felt like I needed my own label because I couldn’t put a record out on a blank,” he continues. “I knew names mattered. I thought about my oldest son, Timothy Shawn, and I took the Shawn.”
His first record was recorded, like all of his records, “on a shoestring budget.” He also remembers rushing. Always rushing. But he and his bands – first, Liquid Funk, saxophonist Larry “T-Bird” Gordon’s band from Bishop College (the same institution that educated Roger Boykin, Soul Seven drummer Wendell Sneed, bassist Mike McKinney and trombonist Charles Hunt) and later a hodge-podge of musicians, including his old friends from the Upsetters band – managed to create lasting impressions on Shawn’s scant run of 45s.
His next 45, “Sagittarius Black,” is his masterpiece. It’s a nod to “Will You Be There,” but is performed as an instrumental with a tantalizing flute lead suddenly dropping off to showcase the Liquid Funk rhythm section and Timothy’s grasp of melody. He is not a virtuosic piano player, but “Sagittarius Black” doesn’t ask for bombast. Timothy’s Fender Rhodes slinks around one of the heaviest funk grooves recorded in funk’s watershed years, his well-placed chords accentuating drummer Fred Alexander and bassist Michael Watson’s duet. Timothy alternately describes “Sagittarius Black” as “psychedelic” or “weed-smoking music,” but that belies his talent for writing a ballad, even if no vocals appear here. Those lessons “Bubba” Fagan gave him and Michael Fugett shine through. “That ‘Sagittarius Black,’ that’s a smooth tune, you know,” guitarist Andrew Jackson states. “[Timothy] had a few people create babies with that one.”
“Sagittarius Black” and “Funky Movement No. 2” can be seen as revisions to the songs on his first 45: These later songs are better paced and recorded, and are the fully developed ideas at which Timothy’s first record hinted. “There was a number of musicians that were supportive, but no one gave me any financial help,” Timothy states. “When I went to the studio to record, it was just from a paycheck: I would work a week and try to keep a hundred out or so, and do the same next week. I managed to just have enough to rush through a session to get it done and pay the musicians. I don’t remember a session that I didn’t have to rush through.”
Timothy’s classic period ended a year or so later, circa 1973, with a 45 of two cover songs, issued on a redesigned Shawn label. (Though the 45’s label reads 1972, Timothy recalls that this record was recorded a year after his previous 45.) His classic bands had departed by then: He’d never been able to get the sound he wanted, especially from his drummers - he felt they didn’t give him the pocket he desired.
Timothy was frustrated. He says that it only related to his music. From his struggle to be heard, to be taken seriously by his family and his peers. And from the stress that came from working multiple jobs and raising a family while self-funding a recording career against all odds. And from his conservative Christian upbringing, which spiritually challenged him. He felt like his calling was as secular as it was religious. He hated the divide within himself. It all came to a head in 1974 when we became a full time gospel performer. He issued two 45s, the last of Shawn’s run, at this juncture: one by the Gospel Express, and one under his own name, as the Rev. Timothy McNealy.
“I have some regrets because when I came back just doing contemporary gospel, I realized that a lot of the other R&B artists that became ministers – such as Al Green – were still able to do R&B. They kept going,” Timothy states. “See, all of my brothers were ministers and they gave me a hard time about my music. They said they saw placards on telephone poles as they went to different cities doing revivals, about a recording artist coming to town. And they would say, ‘Man, we see your picture on these placards: We’re trying to save souls and you sending people to hell.’
After that, his music career stopped. He saved the remnants of his label’s releases, his life’s work in music, as he changed jobs, divorced, remarried, raised eight children and became a grandfather. At one low point, his then-wife insisted he eject the detritus of a failed career. He held out as long as he could but, in 1991, he “finally threw my last 250 copies of ‘Sagittarius Black’ away. To satisfy her.”
But then came my talks with him, and the release of this comp, which will hopefully cement his musical legacy.
“My musical legacy is really important, man, but I don’t know what’s gonna become of it,” he states. “I’ve never been able to find a way to let people know who I am.” Of course, this concern is real, but the likelihood is that Timothy McNealy’s music, due to a combination of wit, quirk, talent, and intense self-belief, will continue to be heard, and for years to come. This banner for Dallas, Texas’s best and brightest in that wonderful moment for American funk and soul music is worthy as an album, and as a testament to what is great about American music in general, and its creators’ abilities to think beyond the immediate.
“I felt like I had been blessed with talent, and to be given my own style,” Timothy says. “There were people who told me that some of the stuff I was doing was ahead of my time.”