You Hear Me Knocking wasn’t an instant classic when it first hit record store shelves some 50 years ago, but thanks to the neighborhood record shop, audiophiles can check out a rare work in a limited re-release.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 19, 2023
Behind the counter of Inner Groove Records in Collingswood, store manager Steve Maygers spends a lot of time learning about people through their record collections.
“I’m almost like a bartender here,” he said. “People come in, they want to tell me their story about their collection.
“It’s a personal narrative; music touches everybody’s life in a different way.”
Maygers hears a lot about the collections his customers are building, but he might even hear more about the ones they no longer have.
Divorce. Flooding. Extended borrowing. Outright theft. A record collection can disappear from your life a lot of different ways. But if you run a record store, you stand a good chance of seeing most things a second time around.
Even then, however, there are some albums you almost never come across: albums like 70s soul singer Lim Taylor’s debut You Hear Me Knocking, a rarity that fetches upwards of $500 per copy among collectors. One day, a copy found its way into the Haddon Avenue shop.
Maygers had never heard of it, but he saw it was on Inner Groove owner Dave Frankel’s wish list, and “if Dave wants it, that means it’s good,” he said.
When he dropped the needle on You Hear Me Knocking, “it knocked me out [on the] first spin,” Maygers said.
“The first two [tracks] were a one-two punch of great songwriting,” he said. “Killer vocals, great hooks all the way through the record, and the production was top-notch.”
Maygers shipped it out to Frankel, who was almost in disbelief about the quality of the copy. After a couple weeks of listening, Frankel started thinking about what it would take to re-issue You Hear Me Knocking. He knew the record was valuable; it had been out of print forever. But he also believed more people, if only curiosity-seekers like himself, should have a chance to enjoy it, too.
“For every band or artist that records something, one in 1 million becomes an artist of note for the general public,” Frankel said. “For every Billy Joel, there’s seven thousand singer-songwriter types that nobody knows. The odds are so low to make it, that leaves so much good music out there that got no love, no attention.
“Nothing else really gets me pumped up except finding something, or becoming aware of something, that is great, lasted a short time, and that nobody really knows,” he said.
“This Lim Taylor record has been on my want list forever,” Frankel said. “So once I had the original, I tried to find any information I could find on Lim, and there’s nothing. It’s almost unbelievable.”
Limuel Taylor is the son of Mable John, a soul and gospel singer who recorded with both the Motown and Stax record labels, and spent more than a decade as one of Ray Charles’ backing singers, the Raelettes. Taylor’s half-brother, Joel Webster — another of John’s children — is the credited producer on You Hear Me Knocking, as well as the co-author of six of its 10 songs.
Both men signed with Cross Over Records, the label that originally produced the album, in 1974, the year of its release. (Webster’s LP, Elixir, was also released by Cross Over that year, although it doesn’t command the interest from collectors that Taylor’s has done.)
Rather than let Taylor’s work molder for another 40 or 50 years, Frankel reached out to the Ray Charles Foundation, which manages the Cross Over label, and asked whether they’d be interested in licensing a small collector’s run of the album.
They came to terms on a price for a limited run of 500 copies.
“They were a joy and a pleasure to work with,” Frankel said
With the rights in hand, Frankel traveled to The Village Studios in Los Angeles, where the original master tapes of You Hear Me Knocking are stored. Unfortunately, they were in such fragile condition that producing a reel-to-reel copy was out of the question. So he partnered with SunPress Vinyl of Opa-Locka, Florida, to re-master a digital version of the album.
SunPress was established in 2016 in the former Final Vinyl factory that once was the hub of operations for Jamaican record producer Joe Gibbs. In 2021, the company sold a controlling interest in the business to brand conglomerate Project M, effectively making the plant an exclusive production arm of its business.
But Project M took an interest in Frankel’s release, and as a result, bought up 200 hand-numbered copies of the 500-album run. Inner Groove is selling the first 300; Project M will release copies 301 through 500 through its various channels, which include media outlets like Revolver, Brooklyn Vegan, and The Hard Times.
Since none of the original artwork was available from the label, Frankel turned to his wife, Nina, to scan and digitally retouch his own album copy to serve as the cover for the reissue. He recreated the credits, added a new label for the spine, and it was ready to go.
“I got the test pressings a month ago, and I was really floored by the job the engineer did,” Frankel said. “The repress actually has a bigger sound stage, and the instrument placement is even a little more accurate somehow. Overall, I’m thrilled with it.”
Early sales of the record are encouraging, and Frankel plans to develop additional re-releases under the Inner Groove label in the coming months. As limited dimension of the store’s business, the label is more about the importance of curating and publishing hard-to-find musical artifacts than it is about revenue generation.
“Everything I plan to do is stuff that’s never been reissued before,” Frankel said.
“I’m not going to do 10 releases a year; I’m going to do two.
“If I break even, great; if I lose $500, great.
“I put something out there that makes me happy, that makes people happy, and it’s a lot of fun for me,” he said.
Since the re-issue hit the shop, Maygers has found that other listeners are catching on to its power.
“Every time I spin it, people ask me ‘Who is this? What is this?’” he said. “The best way to advertise this record is to have somebody hear it. The music speaks for itself. And we’re lucky enough to have a clientele that are looking for that kind of stuff; for the less-heralded artists.”
Part of its appeal may lie in the lost artifact status of the album, as well as in the dearth of knowledge about Taylor’s own life and career. But for Maygers, the effort invested in releasing a reissue of You Hear Me Knocking is all done out of love. He’s hopeful that Inner Groove can continue to expand its offerings to curate and preserve other rare music.
“We just want this to be another way to get music to people that they may not have heard,” he said.
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