I first heard Sugar and Spice, the A-side to this 7", many years after falling in love with The White Stripes. Before this single, there was just one band: The White Stripes. I'm pretty sure that I can pinpoint that it was after listening to this single that I started digging deeper into Detroit garage rock.
As the observant reader will be sure to note - Soledad Brothers are not native to the Detroit garage rock scene - they're from the Glass City (Toledo), Ohio! Well I'm going to count them as close friends, because:
- I discovered the Soledad Brothers because I was curious who this Johnny Walker fellow, who played one of my favorite slide parts in The White Stripes "I fought piranhas", was.
- The 7" was recorded in Detroit.
- I recently discovered that the Soledad brothers likely had something to do with The Upholsters single, although I don't know what yet.
- In the Striped podcast they also go into great details about Johnny Walker and his relationship with The White Stripes. In one episode, they explain that Johnny Walker got into med school (dammit) and as he explains in the podcast, when he called and told Jack that, Jack sounded kind of bummed out because he was going to ask Johnny if he wanted to join The White Stripes 😳. As Johnny is quick to say in the podcast episode that this was probably the best thing that could have happened to Jack, Meg and The White Stripes, because they wouldn't have been the same with him in the band. Still, dammit Johnny!! Why did you have to go to med school! The world needs Soledad Brothers!
Anyway, the point is that from what I can tell 20 years after they seem to be closely related to the scene there, so therefore I count them as part of my 90s Detroit garage rock collection.
Ok, back to the 7".
This is the first Soledad Brothers 7", which came out on the 90s Detroit ubiquitous label Italy records. Italy Records was run by Dave Buick, who was also frontman on The Go – which Jack White was in for a short while and which was believed at some point to be bigger than The White Stripes. The 7" carries the number 7, where as the first The White Stripes single also out on Italy, had number 3. It features a big white panther on the front. How do I know it's a panther?
Well digging in to the name Soledad Brothers, you will find that the Soledad Brothers were three convicted black criminals who killed a white prison guard at Soledad prison in California. The three brothers were a member of the Black Panther Party who's logo looks kind of similar to the white one on the front of this 7".
The back features a picture of Johnny and Ben Smith, esq (who's really Ben Swank, later co-founder of Third Man Records), the A and B-side tracks and then a few interesting bits of information:
- First of all, it says that it was recorded on Ferdinand Street, SW Detroit. Jack White happened to live at 1203 Ferdinand. I wonder if this is a coincidence. 🤓
- Mixed at Ghetto Recorders, like most Detroit garage rock at the time.
- Finally, a funny bit: "For a good time: 364 Summer, Toledo Ohio 43609" 😎
Now the music.
The A-side is one of my favorite by far and as mentioned earlier how I fell for Soledad Brothers. There's something about the speed of the track that really I really like. The simplicity. The distorted harmonica (at least I'm guessing it's a harmonica, it's not credited anywhere).
B-side is "Johnny's death letter". The words "Death letter" always carries the legendary Son House along with it for me, but this is not a Son House cover. This is an interesting blues track. There's something about the track that makes it sound like it's recorded in one take. Also the track itself sounds like it could have been recorded by Paramount Records in the 20s-30s. It's very Delta Blues like. Jack White is backing vocals on this track.
Final, fun remark: The etching on the A-side is "Open-E M.D". Open-E is a classic open tuning of the guitar which is often used when playing slide. And M.D is likely short for medical doctor. Maybe Johnny Walker already knew by then he was going to med school. Or it could just be a reference to the delicious slide guitar.