For generations who have documented themselves ad nauseum on Facebook, it’s hard to imagine how previous generations survived without thousands of incriminating photographs littering a world wide web. Yet, several of our artists have not been able to conjure up one single photograph of themselves from during their creative period. Shirley Ann Lee has a total of four frayed photographs of herself… and she was a Nashboro recording artist! Another one of our favorite artists, Penny Sharpe of Penny & the Quarters, had only one photograph of herself… until a few months ago when she found a school portrait from (we think) the same year as her (now seminal) recording session with Jay Robinson and her brothers. The story of possibly the world’s most famous group to never cut more than a demo continues to unfold.
Filed under: Capsoul, Fern Jones, Prix | Tags: Fern Jones, Marion Black, Penny & the Quarters, Them Two
These never cease to amaze us:
Fern Jones’ “I Ain’t Got Time” lip-synched, well sort of.
Penny & the Quarters finally gets the twee rendition it’s been begging for by Designs For Living (who?).
Conor Byrne slaughters Them Two’s “Am I A Good Man, thankfully it appears that no one in the crowd is paying attention.
Finally, Marion Black’s “Who Knows” gets used as background for a school film.
If you can hang in until the 4 minute mark some dude starts rapping.
“You & Me”
Sometime in 2005, a lone box of master tapes escaped an estate sale and made its way through a network of collectors, record dealers, and “junkers” into the hands of leading Ohio soul expert Dante Carfagna. Dante identified the tapes as a clutch of lost masters related to Columbus, Ohio’s mysterious Prix label, an imprint already being considered for its slot among our flagship Eccentric Soul series. The discovery of those tapes—containing finished but unissued masters and a batch of raw demo tracks—offered the ongoing Prix project a jolting shot in the arm. A bit of research turned up Prix label owner George Beter, and combining Beter’s input with that of the few Prix artists and songwriters still around, most of this generally unlabeled material was identified. All it took was an endless series of phone calls and letters and two fields trips in Columbus.
But one complete mystery managed to make its way onto the final cut of 015 Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label. “You and Me,” a simple but irrepressible demo credited only to Penny & the Quarters, was found tacked onto a studio reel of various artists. Our survey of every willing lifer left on the Columbus soul scene, including retired DJs, producers, and important local artists, produced not so much as a glimmer of recognition at the name Penny & the Quarters. Though we loved the song from the first play, it may’ve ended up a bit buried on our original compilation, as #18 of 19 tracks.
“You Are Giving Me Some Other Love”
Four years later, Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label hadn’t exactly become a huge seller, although listeners had repeatedly told us that the unfiltered studio demos that fill out the record’s back half were true diamonds in the rough. Still, neither Penny nor her Quarters had appeared to claim credit for their efforts. Then, completely out of left field, we heard from respected screen actor and avowed Numero fan Ryan Gosling that Penny’s piercing bit of stripped down doo-wop was being considered for inclusion in Derek Cianfrance’s indie-weeper film Blue Valentine. What we didn’t know was that “You and Me” had been given a major role in what became a minor hit on the indie circuit, and that Penny & the Quarters would acquire instant status as the world’s most famous unknown doo-wop group.
Every week is a slow news week in Columbus, Ohio, and early January 2011 found the city recovering from the thrill of elevating Ted Williams—the formerly homeless guy with the awesome voice for radio—into a national news sensation. But both major daily newspapers in town, as well as the city’s alternative weekly, also ran stories about how a lost and unknown Columbus soul group had become the musical centerpiece of a film already garnering Oscar buzz. That mainstream spotlight aimed at Blue Valentine and Penny & the Quarters did the trick: we finally made contact with the widow of Jay Robinson, lead Quarters’ singer and songwriter. Robinson, it turned out, had also been the leader of Columbus doo-wop pioneers The Supremes (later known as “The Columbus Supremes,” for reasons which should be obvious). Jay Robinson never did give up on the dream of writing a hit record; even so, the posthumous realization of his dream is cold comfort for his widow and daughter. With their blessings, we returned to those estate sale masters and pulled down another neglected track (“You Are Giving Me Some Other Love”) from the still-unknown Penny and her now-partly-known Quarters. “You and Me” is a song that could not be suppressed: not when Prix failed to release it; not when Penny & the Quarters were forgotten; not when Numero stuck it at the bitter end of a much overlooked compilation. Its evolution from estate sale trash to movie screen gold has finally returned it to big-hole 45, where it probably should have lived all along.
“I Cried A Tear”
Shipping now from our website, but should find its way into your local retail establishment in the next few weeks. The expanded MP3 edition has an additional bonus track, “I Cried Another Tear,” if that sways you in anyway.
Filed under: Methodology, Prix | Tags: Columbus, Ohio, Penny & the Quarters, Prix Label, The Other Paper, You & Me
The Other Paper weighs in on the mysterious origins of Penny & the Quarters “You & Me” that is now featured in the film ‘Blue Valentine.’
“I do wish I knew who Penny & the Quarters were,” Sevier said.
The Numero Group label was founded on the principal of rediscovering not just lost music, but lost artists, and getting them their long-belated due.
“One of the main things I do is track people, and this is a situation where I feel I’ve failed,” Sevier said.
“I don’t feel like the music can be unlinked from the people who made it. And while, yes, we’re about rediscovering music, it doesn’t exist on its own. I feel like I’ve met some amazing people doing this, and their stories are every bit as beautiful as the music they’ve made. But that’s the missing piece to this song.”
So who is Penny?
Filed under: Prix | Tags: Blue Valentine, Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label, Penny & the Quarters, Ryan Gosling
Four years ago when we were putting the finishing touches on Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label, we had a handful of tough choices to make about the unreleased demos from the Harmonic Sounds/Prix archive. As we’ve told you before, a box of tapes and acetates turned up at a yard sale in Columbus a few years before we started the project, finding their way to Numero staffer Dante Carfagna, who used the contents of that box to spark the conversation on the Prix label. We chose a few heart-wrenching Eddie Ray demos, Ray’s “Wait A Minute,” a weird studio jam, unreleased cuts by Joe King and Marion Black, and finally “You And Me,” a sparely arranged demo by a group referred to only as Penny & the Quarters.
Rob Sevier and Dante hit Columbus hard that Winter, spending nearly two weeks interviewing as many people involved in Harmonic Sounds and Prix as they could find. With them at all times was a CD of Prix demos, including “You And Me.” This song was played for every single person we interviewed, and not a single one of them could match the voices on that tape to a group in Columbus.
With our paperwork in order from surviving Prix-label co-owner George Beter, we moved forward with the project hoping that the group would be coaxed out by local press on the record. The Dispatch and Alive did small stories on our 15th record, but neither mentioned Penny & the Quarters. Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label ended up as one of the poorest selling titles in the series, the group remained a mystery.
Time passed and the song became a line item on royalty reports, generating literally pennies for George Beter. Two years after the record was released we began a fruitful relationship with the PR firm Biz 3, who also worked with Dead Man’s Bones, the musical project of actor Ryan Gosling. Music from Biz 3 filtered through to Gosling, and against all odds, Penny & the Quarters got stuck in his craw. So much so that “You And Me” ended up appearing in director Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 film Blue Valentine, not just as background sound, but as the very song that ties the movie’s two principle characters to each other.
Via The London Times:
…[the song]was given by Ryan to the director Derek Cianfrance when he was asked for a tune that would represent his relationship with Michelle Williams in the movie. Derek – who has spent 13 years trying to make the film – said he envisaged the pair having a song and he told Ryan to keep it away from Michelle. He said: “I said that’s great. Just keep it from Michelle. Don’t play it to anyone.”
The movie dives directly toward NC-17 just after the clip above, but that’s hardly mattering to the millions of people who have by now seen the film. “You and Me” has gotten stuck in the world’s craw, generating not a ton of money for Numero or George Beter, but enough so that we’ve re-opened its cold case in the hopes of sharing the revenue with Penny, the Quarters, or their decedents. Others have speculated that some kind of infringement of rights has taken place, but rest assured that we have worked in concert with the Prix label owner since the onset of this project, and he is just as interested in solving the Penny & the Quarters mystery and remunerating the artists as we are.