Just like vintage psych-rock, disco has its share of marginalized outsiders, regional indies, vanity press hopefuls, and talented nobodies. However, unlike psych, which has been exhaustively picked-over, reassessed, curated and reissued by generations of collectors, disco remains a relatively unspoiled frontier. Other than Arthur Russell, it’s hard to think of an obscure disco artist who has gotten posthumous due recently. And Russell had so many credentials beyond his disco sides that it almost feels as if he shouldn’t count.
So allow me to nominate producer Walter Whisenhunt and his wife, vocalist Gloria Taylor, for critical reassessment. Whisenhunt was a producer who worked with James Brown in the 1960s, and Taylor was an expressive soul singer whose voice was likened to Dolly Parton early in her career. They released a handful of tracks in the 60s and 70s, mostly Northern Soul 45s on imprints such as Silver Fox and SSS International (both owned and operated by mad genius Shelby S. Singleton), with just a few making it onto the majors. One such record was a gorgeous, haunting, deep-soul side entitled “World That’s Not Real,” released in 1973 on Columbia and failing to ignite any further major label interest. The track is serious goosebumps material:
Sensing that the majors were not going to foster their talent, Whisenhunt started his own label, calling it Selector Sound, and started getting serious about making disco music. This resulted in one of the most amazing slabs of vinyl you will never be able to afford, a limited promo pressing of a 12” entitled Deep Inside You, featuring a generic cover (with no year), credited to “Gloria Ann Taylor and Walter Whisenhunt’s Orchestra.” The disc features three stellar cuts, transposing the reverb-soaked, melismatic otherness of “World That’s Not Real” into the realm of hedonistic club music. The centerpiece is the seven-minute tour de force “Love Is A Hurting Thing.” I could talk for hours about the off-kilter, ravishing beauty of this track, but it’s best to just listen to it in its entirety and commence your own obsession.
Whisenhunt released another fantastically odd disco single with the long-winded title “I Am Saluting You For Your Love (And Understanding Ways)”, a track which does not feature Gloria, on an imprint bearing his own name. Again, the year of this release is unknown, so it’s hard to speculate whether this is evidence that the relationship ended. So much is unknown. I’ll leave it to a future archivist with greater resources at his disposal to locate the heirs to the Whisenhunt estate, sort out the mysteries, and release a 180 gram audiophile double-gatefold vinyl reissue of all the tracks plus more from the archives. Usually I would be worried that having answers to questions would somehow dispel the power of this kind of music, but “Love Is A Hurting Thing” is powerful beyond any enigmas which may surround it.