Galaxy Records reissues look back at a critical intersection of Bay Area R&B and rock 'n' roll and "Foxy Girls in Oakland."
By Lee Hildebrand
'SKINNY LEG GIRLS in Oakland pumpin' and struttin' down East 14th / Big pretty legs in Oakland really knock you off of your feet if you don't watch yourself," Rodger Collins excitedly wails on "Foxy Girls in Oakland." "All the guys in Frisco don't do nothin' all day but think about the girls in Oakland," the R&B singer adds later in the song, before John Rewind of the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils rips into a slide guitar solo worthy of Duane Allman over a syncopated soul groove.
Considered a Bay Area classic by aficionados of both R&B and rock 'n' roll as much for its geocentric subject matter as for a rootsy fusion of black and white styles that's far funkier than local Sly Stone's more polished mix of similar elements "Foxy Girls in Oakland" was cut at a makeshift studio in West Oakland that then housed Fantasy Records and was originally released in 1970 on Galaxy Records, Fantasy's R&B subsidiary. It's just been reissued not by Fantasy (now housed in a seven-story Berkeley complex) but by Ace Records in England as the lead track on Get Your Lie Straight: A Galaxy of Funky Soul, one of three new Ace CDs that compile rare R&B singles, many recorded in the Bay Area, that originally came out on Galaxy and associated labels between 1962 and '72.
The funk and rock elements that helped make "Foxy Girls in Oakland" a favorite on pioneering San Francisco "free-form" rock station KSAN-FM are atypical of Galaxy's output, which tended to reflect the old-school blues and jazz sensibilities of Galaxy staff producer-arranger Ray Shanklin. But the song (like Lenny Williams's fuzz guitar-fueled cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Feeling Blue" from the same year) does exemplify the cross-racial currents that marked much of Bay Area R&B in the immediate post-civil rights era not so much with audiences, which remained largely separate, but with open-eared musicians.
"There was a rock element creeping into some of the soul productions, but you already had that in the Bay Area with people like Sly and the Family Stone and Leon's Creation," says Alec Palao, the London-born, El Cerrito-based producer of the CD and concurrently issued Ace volumes Diggin' Gold: A Galaxy of West Coast Blues and Moaning, Groaning, Crying: A Galaxy of Soul and R&B. "It was a very organic crossover; it wasn't forced in any way. The black population in this area, especially among musicians, was far hipper than many other comparable areas."
"Foxy Girls in Oakland," which also got heavy play on powerhouse Oakland R&B station KDIA, was typical of most Galaxy releases in that few people in other regions of the country heard it. In its 11 years as an R&B label, Galaxy had only one major national hit, blues singer Little Johnny Taylor's "Part Time Love," a number-one R&B charter in 1963. Other releases, such as Collins's "She's Looking Good" from 1967, may have been big in San Francisco and Shreveport, La., but failed to penetrate most markets. Considering the consistently high quality of the six dozen tracks compiled on the three CDs, it's hard to fathom why.
Some former Galaxy artists feel the label's inability to become a national R&B force stemmed from the parent company's refusal to pay radio stations for airplay. Indeed, Fantasy at the time publicly touted its abstinence from the widespread practice of payola. "We never paid anyone any cash," insists Saul Zaentz, then Fantasy's sales director and now its chair of Fantasy. Fantasy did, however, give free records to stores that sponsored radio programs. "We would give them an extra 25, 50, or 100 records," he says. "Whether it's a rationalization or not, I'm sure is debatable. But we didn't pay anybody."
Zaentz purchased Fantasy from its eccentric founders, Max Weiss and Sol Weiss, in 1967. The company hit it really big the next year with Zaentz's first signing, Creedence Clearwater Revival. The fortune Creedence generated for Fantasy enabled Galaxy to pick up masters from Memphis and Chicago, of which Bill Coday's "Get Your Lie Straight" and Bobby Rush's "Chicken Heads" had middling national success in 1971. Within two years, however, Galaxy ceased to exist, and the 45s it had released became highly coveted by collectors, especially in England.
Since he moved to the Bay Area 13 years ago, Palao has been at the forefront of digging up long-forgotten American music for Ace, as well as for Rhino and other U.S. companies. He's also a working bassist and recently has been playing live with two legendary Bay Area rock bands whose archival material he's produced: the Chocolate Watch Band and the Flaming Groovies.
Palao sees himself as part of a European tradition of rescuing American culture. "Black music has been a very strong current in Britain since the early days of jazz, and it's just gotten stronger and stronger," he says. He's particularly fascinated with regional styles that thrived in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Such subgenres, he notes, don't "really exist anymore, at least not to the same depth. The Galaxy stuff is a case in point."