the contenders cd
The Contenders had several near misses with record companies and album deals. The one that came through was offered by David Robert, who owned the Cat’s Cradle, a music club in Chapel Hill, NC, which has since grown to become a prominent East Coast showcase. The band was so popular there that Robert decided to start his own Moonlight Records just to get the Contenders in the studio.
Arrangements were made for the band to record in September of 1977 at LSI Sound Studio, which was housed in a repurposed bungalow on Nashville’s music row. At the time of the Contenders sessions, The Kendalls were enjoying country chart success with “Heaven’s Just A Sin Away,” also recorded at LSI. Sessions for the Contenders covered about two weeks’ time and were essentially self- produced, as Dave Robert did not attend. Each band member contributed three songs and pretty much handled the production of their own. According to Tommy Goldsmith, much of the album was recorded live with little overdubbing, which would not be the case today. The album was released in 1978, a few months after the band parted ways. Since then is has become something of a collector’s item among devotees of good but obscure music. There was a release on CD by the Gadfly label of Burlington, VT in 2002, which served to renew interest in the group but was dubbed from a copy of the LP and sounded just the same, sadly burdened with heavy reverb and compression, which obscured much of the detail and subtlety of the music.
The impetus for the current re-release was the acquiring of the 16-track original studio master tapes from David Robert. With his generosity and blessing, they were restored and transferred into the digital realm by Sonicraft A2DX Lab in Red Bank, NJ, which is also known as the boyhood home of Count Basie. Their efforts yielded a stunning transfer completely free of the offending reverb and compression and enabled mixing engineer Dick Hodgjn to create a wonderful modern mix that shows a lot more of what the band was doing than before. Ben Runkle, brother of Steve Runkle, formed Southern Moon Records (named after a Delmore Bros. song) to put out the refreshed album with previously unseen photos courtesy of San Francisco photographer Jackson DeParis. The disc photo is the same one used on the original LP and the Gadfly CD. It was taken by South Carolinian Allen Stoddard and shows all the Contenders’ feet on a stage, standing around a set list containing the titles on the record.
Among the songs recorded was “Getaway,” which was featured often on Contenders shows and was a strong number for Uncle Walt’s Band. In fact, it’s the only song co-written by all three members of UWB. The group members were not happy with the recording and the song was ultimately scrapped from the original LP. In listening to the restored master tapes, though, it was plain that the cut could be rescued with a little help from some friends. Marcia Ball, Warren Hood, Willis Alan Ramsey, Jeff Barnes (saxophones) and the Lunsfords, three singing sisters from Nashville, were all recruited by Tommy Goldsmith, who also contributed an acoustic guitar solo to round it out. There’s a little studio chatter between Champ and Walter at the beginning of the cut that provides a bit of atmosphere, while the fade out evokes an image of all the Contenders, their fans, families, and friends gathered around a tropical beach bar and singing, ”Someday, someday, all of the children of the Heavenly King are gonna ride away and make our Getaway.”