Brewerytown Records owner talks the ‘Sound of Philadelphia’

Ron Aikens will play his first show in 28 years at World Café Live.

When the world thinks of soul sounds of Philadelphia, heads usually turn to the funky R&B of writer-composers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff and their platinum-plated work throughout the 1970s with Philadelphia International Records — the O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and more.

However, there are local artists who have made their mark on Philadelphia soul, but have gone unheralded—until now.

That is thanks in part to Max Ochester, owner of Brewerytown Beats record store on N. Bailey Street in North Philly. If you ask the longtime local what is more important to him — documenting great lost R&B and jazz or documenting Philly itself and the rich diversity of its people — his answer lies somewhere in the middle.

“Telling the story of lost Philly musicians through re-releases, social media campaigns and trying to revitalize careers — the preservation of the sound that, in turn, builds a legacy by giving a voice to the people that time has overlooked.”

Soul resurgence

Philly will soon be treated to the first new music in five decades from Ron Aikens, the legendary local vocalist with United Image, whose life changed once sentenced to prison in 1972. Music saved Aikens while at Graterford Prison when he joined the R&B band Power of Attorney. Now, Aikens has a new group, Ron & The Hip Tones, a new single with local poet Ursula Rucker, ‘People,’ and on Sept. 28, his first show in 28 years at World Café Live.

Along with his Brewerytown label releasing Aikens’ new single, Ochester is also a co-star in podcaster and director Christopher Plant’s new documentary ‘ReCollections: Val Shively & 50 Years of Collecting Records in Philadelphia.

Yes, soul sounds are alive and well in Philadelphia.

When asked what the phrase “the sound” means to him, Ochester says, “The Sound, for me, goes back to the mid-1960’s when players like Earl Young, Norman Harris, Ronnie Baker (Baker Harris & Young) used to jam, day-through-night at Cameo-Parkway and Sigma Studios. This camaraderie, along with the rest of the crew—guitarists TJ Tindle and Bobbi Eli, organist Lenny Pakula, arranger Thom Bell and percussionist Larry Washington—created a sound that was often replicated, but never duplicated.”

Preserving ‘the sound’

Ochester tackles a little bit of history when he states that Aikens’ Power of Attorney was looking for “that sound,” and how Brewerytown Records learned from those old school recordings.

Talking more about Philadelphia vocalist Aikens and his role in preserving classic R&B and funk vibes of the past, Ochester states that THAT is the point behind ‘People,’ the new single released this month.

“Ron & The Hip Tones are specifically recording with the techniques of the past, and using professional arrangers, real string sections and vintage-sounding horn players to help him achieve that,” says Ochester.  “Just the name alone evokes something from the past, the Hip Tones — it’s just got that classic ring to it.”

Ask Ochester to connect the dots between records from Aikens and local instrumentalist Manny Campbell, and what Christopher Plant is doing with ‘ReCollections: Val Shively & 50 Years of Collecting Records in Philadelphia’ and the Brewerytown Records’ boss says it’s simple: “The obsession… It’s a lifetime of searching and researching. It never ends.”