One of Zero to 180’s earliest pieces (from 2012) concerned itself with documenting the earliest recording of a melodica (i.e., keyboard version of a harmonica), and 1966 seems to be year to beat in this regard, with the composer, Steve Reich, as well as future pop giants, The Bee Gees, having both committed the melodica to tape that same year.
This summer on a long road trip, I was enjoying a CD compilation of rare 45s and obscure album tracks that had been thoughtfully assembled by musician/scholar, Joe Goldmark, (and partner at San Francisco’s legendary Amoeba Records), when I was startled to hear a 1960s recording of South African township jive that includes a melodica!
“Ice Cream and Suckers (pts. 1 & 2)” Soweto Stokvel Septette 1966?
Incredibly, when you search the entire Discogs database for recordings by the group, Soweto Stokvel Septette, only one item turns up: a various artists LP release issued on the Mercury label for US distribution entitled Ice Cream & Suckers: South African Soul, and which features the title track, parts one and two (stitched together in the mix above).
Zero to 180 is impressed with Mercury’s receptiveness to the exciting new sounds coming out of South Africa at that particular time in the 1960s (20 years or so before Paul Simon’s Graceland album) — only question is exactly when? Before 1966, possibly?
Here’s a clue: this 4-star review in Billboard‘s April 19, 1969 edition. However, this description for an online auction sale pegs the album as being a 1966 LP release! Curiously (or not), the description for this online auction sale approximates the release date to be “c. 1966,” while Lyon, France’s Sofa Records also understands the album’s year of release as 1966.
Assuming this is true, can we necessarily assume that Soweto Stokvel Septette recorded their two-part title track in 1966? In other words, was the recording made the previous year or even earlier? The back cover liner notes (courtesy of ElectricJive), unfortunately, do not shed light in this regard. Nevertheless, “Ice Cream and Suckers” is now, at the very least, part of a three-way tie for earliest melodica recording.
Double-click on image below to view liner notes at maximum resolution
One other supporting clue: Soweto Stokvel Septette recorded a 45 of “South African ska” that also happened to be released in 1966, according to this vendor.
Zero to 180, you might recall, put Joe Goldmark’s music research to good use when its staff compiled a special list of King-related steel guitar releases from Joe’s landmark work, The International Steel Guitar and Dobro Discography.
Zero to 180 history pieces related to the steel guitar