Michael Who?

Category: By the bug


The Jackson Five had lunchboxes with their faces plastered on both sides. There were coloring books, and TV shows;they were a brand. Altyrone Deno Brown and Jack & The Mods would have nothing like any of that—a couple of poorly produced 45's is the only merchandise of theirs you can find. Theirs would be the never told stories of the Kid Soul explosion, a genre of bubblegum soul and bubblegum voices, a collection of unsuccessful attempts to copy the Jackson formula.

The Numero Group and their landmark Eccentric Soul series have yet another classic—a flashlight pointed back in time, to family bands and elementary school talent shows, to a genre with one big-time headliner, and dozens trying to follow in their footsteps. Numero 016 : Home Schooled: The ABC's of Kid Soul is the story of the kids that never became the next Michael.

The second Eccentric release captured the story of Chicago's Bandit label, and its hustler-through-and-through owner, Arrow Brown. Arrow was out for cash—he used his prostitution ring to fund Bandit—and by four, his son Deno was being groomed as the next meal ticket. Deno appears on Home Schooled with "Sweet Pea," a sweet soul ballad, where he asks "can you come out and play?" The song never lit up the phones at the radio station, Deno would never live up to being called Chicago's answer to Michael, and Arrow would squander whatever money the song, and his son's career would produce. Deno's story is little different than those of the other kids that fill Home Schooled—pipe dream careers, attempts to cash-in, and sweet sweet soul delivered by the most honest, sincere voices: those of a child.

There is "One Is Enough for One" by Jack & The Mods, a showcase not for Jack, but for his little brother Jake. Outside of Michael, he may be Kid Soul's greatest talent—the vocal prowess and control he displays at age nine is stunning. The song is Home Schooled's finest gem. Milwaukee's Step by Step appears with "Time After Time," a moody song, highlighted by Johnnie Gee, the 13-year-old frontman. The song would make some noise in Chicago, but the band would sit on the shelf as the Kid Soul window was closing. Ultimately, the window would close on the Jacksons, too.

The Numero Group is brilliant at capturing stories that share a common, forgotten-by-time legacy. Michael Jackson is the only surviving member of Kid Soul, a genre that exploded, and imploded soon after. Tito and Jermaine serve as the butt of jokes, and much of the music on Home Schooled serves as the only proof that careers even happened. But Numero has brought them back, and told us their story, and placed their contribution—as amateur, as youthful, as forced by adults as it might have been—back on the map. Deno Brown, we have not forgotten about you. No soul child left behind. | Sam Levy



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