One of my main projects the last couple years has been trying to write the most extensive and accurate biography of the equally legendary and controversially music entrepreneur Jacques Fred Petrus (check out the site). The sound his core staff of Italians like Mauro Malavasi and Davide Romani together with a few Americans produced in the late 70s to early and mid 80s is classic dance music. But did Mr Petrus have any other project going on besides those well-known creations of Change, B. B. & Q. band etc, perhaps an unknown secret? Whether that's true or not this biography of the Italian band Flowchart displays some interesting connections with Petrus sphere, not only from a musical point of view but in other ways as well!
Two almost identical releases in one year!
In 1983 an obscure Petrus/Malavasi style influenced band from Italy released the album "New Harlem funk" on the small Italian label "Maximus Records". The concept was simple and executed in the same way as Petrus did from the start by using Italian musicians and American vocalists. The music had strong similarities with the music Malavasi and Romani had written for Petrus empire but connections can also be heard with groups like Shalamar. The big canons from the album is the monster hit "Ask the boss" heavily influenced by other Petrus productions that year, especially Zinc and High fashion. Romani's distinct guitar play is easy recognizable here and he had most likely a few words to say during the creation process of the album. Other notable tracks are seductive "R. U. single" and my personal favorite, the slick and highly tasty dance gem "I saw him make atchoo" with a nice little break making it one of the best tracks that year.
Despite several really good dance tracks of the best Italian soul funk quality few copies were made though and even fewer were sold. It all could have ended there but the story of Flowchart wasn't over yet. A rich Italian wine maker, Giacobazzi (still around today), found out about the band. How he did that is unknown, but his musically interested son was most likely the reason to that. The wine producer wanted to finance a reissue of the album but he had three demands. First, he wanted to add one extra track to the original track list that his son got to produce. Secondly, he wanted a new title and thirdly he wanted a new album cover (see below). The track that the son produced (also released on 12") was cleverly given the name "A little love a little wine" (marketing trick #1) and was printed in two different versions on the new Flowchart LP (original and D.J. version). That song title also became the name of the album.
The cover design was totally changed featuring a much more simple layout than the original with the band name written in big blue letters with an opened and tilted wine can in the bottom right corner (marketing trick #2). This musically slightly moderated version of the original Flowchart album was released on City Records, yet another small Italian record label, in 1983. This meant that Flowchart came in two different shades within a year; a really rare incident when it comes to albums! The new title track had a nice groove and fitted well with the original string of tracks.
Two just slightly different versions of the same album released in the same year may be very unusual but the real intriguing mystery occurs when reading the credits on the back covers of the two releases. The first odd thing that you'll find is the strange name "Dave Mandingose". That is in fact one of Petrus' core Italians, Davide Romani, playing bass guitar under a pseudonym! But why did he? Most likely that happen because of the rules in the contract with Petrus saying that he wasn't allowed to play for any one else. That fact speaks of course strongly against any involvement of Petrus on the original Flowchart album. So, Romani played bass pretending to be somebody else, but you'll find more question marks on the covers. Take the former co-runner of the Little Macho office in NYC Mic Murphy (above) for example that was one of the lead singers. His name is spelled "Micael Merfi". Is that just a miss-spelling or something made on purpose? The fact is that both of Romani and Murphy did participate on the album. Murphy is even displayed on the cover (above) but he can't remember recording it and has not listen to the album(s)! But you'll also find other strange names like "Ullaw Jo", "Dany Jor" and "Mary Dan" among the vocalists. Who are these people? Is Ullaw Jo in fact the background singer Ullanda McCullough that Petrus used on many of his projects? Also, not a word about any producer either (just executive ones), something indeed unusual, at least when it comes to albums. Not confirmed information though says that the producer was one of Petrus' studio musician associates, Romano Trevisani, which only is credited as arranger. If he in fact was the brainchild behind Flowchart together with two executive producers they were all real copycats of Petrus way of producing a record as the whole process are so similar. The recordings took place in both Italy (Maison Blance UMBI studio) and the US (Blank tapes studios New York). When that part was over Murphy for example didn't hear anything more, much perhaps due to the fact that he was an American and that the release was made in very small numbers on an Italian label, but nonetheless, zero! He is even surprised to see the picture of himself on the back cover of the first released version of the album and discover the strange way of spelling his name. All that was totally unknown to him until recently. He has no idea when the photo actually was taken, besides from in a studio, and have no memory clearing that one to be published for the release. That way of dealing with the over all recording process was typically Petrus style!
There are still a few question marks around Flowchart to be answered though. Why were Romani, Murphy and maybe Ullanda McCullough presented under pseudonyms? Was Petrus aware of this somewhere in the background? Maybe we have to leave them unanswered for now and instead, despite all the mystery surrounding the albums, establish the fact that Flowchart is a much overlooked/sought after album presenting the very best of Italian music!
Both albums have
been reissued. First out was hardworking Italian label Fonte records
that has been specialized in reissuing Petrus productions when they
released the original album as a part of a box series of five boxes
in 2006 (three was dedicated to Petrus productions). The second album
was released by Vinyl masterpiece not long after. You can purchase the
first album as a part of a five CD box on Amazon
DE or www.goodymusic.it
and the second album is found on www.vinyl-masterpiece.com
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