- Release Date 2016-05-13
- Label Athens Of The North
- Catalog AOTNLP006
"How do you measure achievement when you've never been paid? A hell of a question ain't it?"
Former Rasputin's Stash band member, Paul N. Coleman, is considering how best to appraise his remarkable life experiences in terms other than monetary earnings. He has to. He's never really had any. Still grinding hard, but happily, at the coal-face of songwriting and production in a musical career now almost five decades long, he is, at the time of writing, yet without a nickel in royalties to his name. For one whose recorded output still resonates and sells today, who has graced stages facing almost fifty thousand concert-goers in a single venue, and yet who was ripped off in every which way but inside-out, it is indeed a hell of a question.
Even the name of the band was born from adversity. Starting out in late 1960s Chicago as The Fantastic Epics, the young, small group serviced dives of the oft-romanticised Chitlin' Circuit - with all its attendant racial tensions and segregations, rubber-cheque promises and .45 calibre resolutions - before being split up by the military draft. Paul himself narrowly escaped transportation to Vietnam, however, and spent his term on home soil instead, expanding his musical chops under the tutelage of an army bandsman with an ear for Jazz; a little sunshine in a otherwise cloudy epoch. The four known singles released under the Fantastic Epics monicker between roughly 1966 and 1969, one backing fellow Chicago R&B legend Jimmy Burns, are sought-after Chicago soul classics, but dented no charts on release.
"After coming out of the service," he recalls, "I walked straight to the bandstand, where we reformed the group. In one of the clubs we were playing, I met an individual that suggested a name change. You see, this band had paid a tremendous amount of dues, starting out very young and naive, being introduced to the real world of not-so-honest people and strange situations. We learned the hard way."
And hard would the way continue to be. Despite apparent opportunities afforded by hard-earned major management and recording deals, the 1970s seemed to consist of little more than rare peaks of spiritual reward among expanses of misfortune. Whole album recordings were shelved following ownership squabbles between Motown and Atlantic, master tapes vanished seemingly forever and heavy nationwide touring schedules were endured without profit, the group even travelling a thousand miles to one venue they found closed due to race-riots there the day before. They once hauled overland to Harlem's Apollo Theater for the first Black Expo celebration, only to find all their clothes stolen after a sound-check and every piece of musical equipment missing from their hotel's vault. While supporting The Impressions in a hometown stadium, Paul was dragged offstage by overzealous front-row fans and had half the beard torn from his face. Hence the group being renamed for the infamous Rasputin. He was, as Paul plainly states: "a man very hard to kill."
Luck eluded them still. The official new name of the band, now an eight-piece, was actually Rasputin Stash. However, after finally having inked a solid album deal with Atlantic's Cotillion subsidiary in 1971, the band's mood was blighted anew as industry members struggled with its pronunciation. A label executive mistakenly added the apostrophe and 's' on its first release and the band got stuck with an irksome misnomer for the remainder of its career. The two evergreen, soulful funk albums the band recorded, an eponymous debut and 1974's The Devil Made Me Do It on Gemigo Records, are rightfully hailed as classics of their day and sold respectably, but without furnishing the band with fiscal dues. An increasingly weathered Coleman would eventually drag the band's contract home to Chicago once more, to Curtis Mayfield's own Curtom imprint, for a couple of single releases around 1977 - but with another (perhaps-fatal) renaming of the band, to r-Stash. Before too long the Stash, however it was spelled, was spent. Paul would form another local group, Crystal Winds, for one superb, independently-released 1984 album before slipping unceremoniously out of the broader public eye and into the realms of the obscure.
The previously unheard mid-1970s recordings here, lifted from two disparate sessions, are ostensibly a third and perfectly-realised Rasputin Stash album, if only one of several we might have otherwise heard. Well-earthed, but with a honed commercial polish, it stands as testament to the drive and talent of someone whose travails might have felled a lesser man. Paul, whose spirits have been renewed by a flurry of recent rediscovery and interest, is still indefatigably working for anyone who wants his music and now fully understands the achievements of which he can be justifiably proud: "One: being able and lucky enough to record your ideas and emotions on wax for the world to experience. Two: a legacy, very important. Three: to have gained the knowledge and experience to call myself, and to be, a good musician. I still keep the dream going by writing and programming my tail off in hopes to get great music to other artists. Causing or creating interest in the music industry and signing contracts is an achievement that many never, ever experience. These types of achievements, I guess, are the things that keep musicians going in a world of uncertainty.
"I can sum it up by saying the ride has been extremely interesting and exciting," he admits, "always reaching and never giving up. Almost everyday of my life I am writing, programming and singing. I've lived by music and I'll die by it.