A great reissue can introduce you to a favourite record that you have yet to hear; can make your rare 'holy grails' something that you can finally afford to own, and can enhance the sound quality of the original source material. So, when an exciting new reissue label enters the Mr Bongo world and ticks all of the above boxes, it goes straight into the 'ones to watch' list.
Pressure Makes Diamonds (or PMD) is one such label, and is the brainchild of respected collector, selector and Mr Bongo family member, Gary Johnson. The label's first release is Azwon 'Paradise Island', an impossibly rare, private press, modern soul / boogie from 1980's Florida. We wanted to find out more about PMD from Gary, and as an unexpected bonus we also got an introduction to Reggie Jahn, an original founding member of Azwon.
Hi Gary, tell us about your musical background?
It all started back in the early 80's listening to DJ's such as Greg Edwards, Dave Brown, Robbie Vincent, and Chris Hill. Constantly staying up late, pressing the play & record buttons, making cassette tapes ready to play in the car for the journeys to all the different all-dayers; the old M-reg Ford Escort Estate (doubling up as a tent!) with its various "if it moves funk it" stickers, Funk Jazz Soul sun-visor in the windscreen covered a few miles, that's for sure!
DJ Chris Hill (who was one of the pioneers of the scene) used to run a few venues, but there was one in particular called 'Hillys'. It was in Sheffield Park, East Sussex, and about 20 mins from my home. Open Friday, Saturday, and Sundays, I would spend most weekends there along with my sister Amanda, who again, is a big music fan. One night they opened up a second room and in it was this guy called Gilles playing Jazz. On hearing tracks like Ivan Boogaloo & Joe Jones 'Black Whip’, and Don Wilkerson 'Dem Tambourines' for the first time I was hooked. So delving deeper into that style of music led me to DJ's such as Patrick Forge, Kev Beedle, Russ Dewberry, and many others. It was Russ that gave me my first break and asked if I'd like to join him to DJ at his Jazz Room sessions in Brighton. So that was when I really started to buy records on any sort of scale. Travelling to London regularly on a Saturday or Sunday to do the record shop circuit; Atlas, Mr Bongo, Soul Jazz, If Music, Vinyl Junkies, etc, trying to find the records that I'd heard these DJ's playing. Another hot spot for records was Camden market. There were quite a few stalls selling records and Gerald Short's Jazzman stall was a massive favourite of mine and the main reason for going to Camden. This then led to me traveling abroad on buying trips to find the records for myself. Even when going on family holidays to foreign countries, I would always try and get a day or two in record shopping. Only made possible due to the fact I have a very understanding wife, even to the point of looking for records in Castries St Lucia on our honeymoon. These trips over the years have enabled me to accumulate quite a few doubles of records and through selling / trading with friends and dealers I've managed to get a half decent collection together. Always on the look out for the next one though and it never takes long, it's a never ending education. After a good few years of DJing and collecting records I was lucky enough to become involved with the Mr Bongo record label that now have their offices / shop in Brighton. Who'd have thought it? As a customer and visiting their London shops nearly 30 years ago, I'd be helping them out today. Dave, Graham and everyone associated with the label has helped me no end over the last few years. I've had some amazing opportunities thanks to them, numerous DJ gigs, buying / selling trips to Europe, USA, Brazil, etc.
What made you want to start your own reissue label?
It's because of the Bongo guys I decided to go ahead with the Pressure Makes Diamonds label. I was a bit nervous to start with, but with the reassurance, help and advice from one of the best in the business it was a no brainer really. Also the fact that I believe I have two very strong releases lined up. The main reason for starting the label is that it's a way of sharing your passion for the music. Making the music more available means the more people get to hear it. Which is why an artist makes music in the first place. Many of these amazing sounding records were privately pressed back in the day and in very small numbers, so very hard to find and also very costly. It also gives the artists some renewed exposure and overdue recognition that they all deserve for making such incredible music.
How did you discover PMD's first release from Azwon?
A few years ago, through a friend of a friend, I was lucky enough to hear a song entitled 'Paradise Island' by a band called ‘Azwon’. It's an unknown B-side, taken from a promotional jukebox 7", manufactured in the USA in 1980. What an exciting moment that was! It's a bold statement too make, but for me it's one of the best tracks I'd ever heard. Being an extremely avid record collector I began asking around to find a copy. I knew I had a tough task ahead – there was evidence of just two copies ever being sold.
My passion to find a copy led me to search extensively for more details about the band and it's members. After over a year of searching and drawing blanks, I found a Reggie Jahn, keyboard player, vocalist… he turned out to be one of the main men behind Azwon, alongside Jamie Baker and John Finn. Reggie was still living in Tallahassee – where the record originated from – and was still making music with Jamie Baker. Thrilled to be in conversation with Reggie at last, I asked if he had a copy he would be willing to part with. He only had one personal copy and was reluctant to let it go as it had great sentimental value to him. He did manage to find another copy for me, but sadly it was in poor condition and almost unplayable. Luckily, shortly after speaking with Reggie, a copy came up for sale online and within a couple of days I had cut a deal with the seller to secure it.
What do you know about the band’s story?
The original band was formed in the late 1970's; a group of student friends that all attended Florida State University college in Tallahassee. The band members were Reggie Jahn (Keyboards/synthesizer and Vocals), Jamie Baker (Bass), John Finn (Guitar, Vocals), Dave Antonacci (Drums), Matt Pugliesi (Percussion), Penny Lang (Lead Vocals), and Steve Gambrell (Piano, Vocals). They would often perform on the campus Student Union and also at 'The Downunder' and 'Landis Green'. Off campus they would frequently play at nearby spot called ‘Tommy’s Night Club’. The amazing flute solo on 'Paradise Island' was played by Tommy Schmick and the owner of Tommy’s.
In late 1979, and again in the early 1980's, they got together at the Sweet Bay recording Studios in Tallahassee to record several tracks, most of which are unreleased to this day. However, they decided to release two tracks on their own private record label, ‘JBF’, a label name made up of the first letter of three of the original band members surnames; Reggie Jahn - Jamie Baker - John Finn. They pressed just 200 units of a 7” that featured a song called "When The Train Pulled Away" on the A-side and "Paradise Island" on the flip. The majority of copies were given away at gigs and to friends. They had some success with the A-side, which was often played on the radio, and several local bars had copies in their jukebox. The B-side was ignored on the whole.
How did you manage to secure the opportunity to reissue 'Paradise Island'?
Having managed to find a copy I was in a position to approach Reggie about the possibility of reissuing the record officially. For me, it's far too good for just a handful of record collectors to own – the more people that get to hear it and own it, the better. This all happened at the end of December 2018, just as Reggie was about to celebrate a poignant birthday. As fate would have it, as a gift, his family arranged a surprise trip to London for him. Even more luckily, Reggie was willing to meet during his vacation. We had a great time talking all things music, watching Youtube videos and drinking Guinness, and were very excited when the agreement was made to go ahead a reissue the record.
As I mentioned earlier, some of the original band members were still playing together in Florida. Bizarrely, without any knowledge of my interest, they had been working on a new version of 'Paradise Island' at newly recruited guitarist, Angelo Jannotti's, 'Soul Farm Studios' in Altamonte Springs, Florida. They were accompanied by other new members Yesenia Ruiz (vocals), Gary Moffat (drums) and Carlos Fernandez (percussion). We got to hear that version for the first time in London and what a bonus that was.
So for this release on Pressure Makes Diamonds we had a decision to make about which format to use; the original version of "Paradise Island" is over 5-minutes long and the new 2018 version is over 6-minutes. We decided to press a 12" cut at 45rpm to ensure it was as loud and clear as possible – in our opinion it sounds significantly clearer, louder and punchier than the original 7”.
Reggie was kind enough to send us some other files of unreleased tracks they recorded from the same 1979 and 1980 sessions. Many were rock orientated, but there was a track called "Fairweather Friend" which we chose for the the B-side of this release to accompany the new 2018 version of "Paradise Island".
What forthcoming releases can we expect from PMD?
At the moment I'm working on a couple of things for the future and I'm just waiting on the test pressings for the second PMD release. Again from the Florida region, well just off the coast. It's a 70's record released on a 7" from Nassau, we're very excited about that. Different style to the Azwon, in fact it's at the opposite end of the scale. Hoping to have that released in September all going well.
A few questions with Reggie Jahn of Azwon...
How do feel about the renewed interest in 'Paradise Island’ and Azwon?
That's a very interesting question! When we were in the band we thought there was magic there. Azwon was an all original band and we were dedicated to that idea. We felt like we wrote some interesting tunes and we had a good following in our area. So the feelings would be happy and proud that there is still interest in our music.
Did you know it was a sought after record?
Initially no. It was about a decade ago when I was contacted by phone out of the blue. It was a call from New York City. I was asked if I was Reggie Jahn from the group Azwon. I responded with “why do ask?” LOL. He said he was a record collector and a DJ and he was looking for a copy of the 45 of Paradise Island. I told him I had one copy that I had inscribed to my Mother who had passed and I wouldn’t be giving that one away. He understood and asked if I knew of any other copies and I told him I would ask around and at that time I didn’t find any copies. Move ahead decade the same DJ, I believe texted or emailed me again and I was unfortunately very busy with my current business, Real Estate and I was not able to connect again because I have not been able to find his contact information. At that point I was thinking that was it. Then several months later I was DM’d from Sacha Taïeb from France asking the same questions. I thought I’d try and find a copy. I am in a Facebook friend group of college friends and I asked if anyone had a copy and I had one friend respond that she had a copy, in not great shape, but she sent it to me and I sent it to Taïeb. I thought that would be the end of it. Then I was contact from this English chap, Gary Johnson! We spoke and Gary offered a large amount of money for my copy and I still could not let go of it. He told me that a copy was available on EBay but that he was not going to pay what they were asking, when I asked what they were asking he told me $2,400. At that point, I realised that it was a sought after record!
What do you think about it being reissued now?
We are all very excited about the reissue! So excited that we decided to record a new version. We hope everyone likes!
Many thanks to Gary and Reggie for taking the time to answer our questions.
You can buy the record from us here.