Music Out of the Mainstream: The Numero Group Label
When I started buying vinyl records again several years ago, I kept coming across sections of albums identified only as “Numero Group.” These albums were mysterious: the front covers featured no text whatsoever, just a single large photograph, usually black & white, sometimes an old blurry color photo. A photo, and a number. 001…026….005. No text on the back, just a number again, and a strange-sounding title, like : ‘Eccentric Soul – The Capsoul Label,’ or ‘Cult Cargo – Belize City Boil Up.’
I had no idea what this “Numero Group” was, other than obviously some type of boutiquey label. I didn’t recognize any of the labels mentioned; the albums didn’t list any artists or song titles. I was intrigued.
What started as a mild curiosity to me has blossomed into what you could politely call an obsession. What is Numero Group? And why am I giving them so much of my money???
Numero Group is a record label; I got that part right. They’re a label on a mission.
Founded in 2003 in Chicago, Numero Group was created by its owners to unearth lost musical treasures from the huge underground of forgotten dreams. Their Mission Statement is simple, yet profound: “Our mission is dirty and labor-intensive…and it’s urgent as all hell. Time kills off precious bits of passed-over sound, story, and ephemera every day, just as fast as we can haul out of exile our sprawling treasury of under-heard recordings—along with the musicians, writers, and entrepreneurs who created them.”
The good folks at Numero scour the country (and the world) for those recordings that have gone unheard (and NEVER heard) for decades, find the people responsible for creating them, clean them up, compile them, and give them the proper release they often never had. They do it right: taking the time to not just find the music itself, but making sure the artists are properly compensated for their work, and presenting it in super high-quality releases chock full of the stories, anecdotes, and photographs that tell the story of these long-lost gems.
The music Numero Group releases didn’t sell well, or sell at all, when it was originally recorded. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth hearing. For whatever reason, be it lack of funds, poor business acumen, or sometimes just horrible bad luck, this music just never connected with a larger audience. And that’s what makes what Numero does so important: They find this music that needs to be heard, and give it the proper stage it so richly deserves. And the music? The music is amazing.
Numero Group releases music in several different series. Eccentric Soul documents “lovingly mishandled” soul labels from Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Miami, and elsewhere. These little labels tried to be the next Motown or Stax, but failed. But the music is just as good.
The Wayfaring Strangers series examines the world of underground folk. Cult Cargo is dedicated to sounds from around the world. Good God! digs up the dusty tapes that praise the Almighty with soul and funk, while Local Customs devotes itself to the tiny Mom and Pop recording services that produced so much wonderful music over the decades, much of it never heard.
Along the way, Numero Group has turned its musical archaeology skills to all kinds of music genres: power pop, blaxploitation, disco, funk, blues, psych, proto-metal, private-press albums….on and on.
Since discovering the hidden worlds that Numero Group is shedding new light on, I’ve formed a bit of an addiction to their releases. While there is a wealth of music being produced today that goes unheard outside of the narrow, strangling confines of commercial radio and their restrictive 20 song playlists, Numero shows that this vein of deep, rewarding music outside of the mainstream goes back as far as the history of recorded media.
With their exhaustive research, detailed restoration and remastering, and extensive documentation and loving presentation, Numero Group is bringing new life to these lost artists and their craft. For those who love music, in whatever form it takes, the ever-expanding treasure trove from Numero is a gift: real, honest, authentic music. You won’t hear this music on the radio, or on TV, satellite or internet. You have to dig for it, and that makes finding it, and listening to it, all the more special.
What began, for me, as a mystery has become the focal point of my record store visits. Bringing home an album of music I’ve never heard by musicians I’ve never heard of, and falling in love with it is a special thing.
The music of Numero Group is now available on streaming services, which is a great way to introduce yourself to their extensive library. This music sounds best when spun on a turntable, but in any form it’s worth a listen. I keep a Spotify playlist updated with all of their available releases, and look! It’s right here. Check it out!
p.s. Numero’s latest release is Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles, a compilation devoted to the self-released Dungeons & Dragons-inspired heavy rock by the obscure bands that popped up everywhere in the wake of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath’s success. Themes of sorcery, Middle Earth, doom, mythology and the occult abound. As Numero describes it, “This music hails from an occluded realm, somewhere just beyond the pot-addled minds of its creators.” Not exactly the type of music I’d run right out to listen to, but like much of Numero’s catalog, after giving it a chance, and learning the history of its ‘pot-addled creators,’ it’s on heavy rotation around here.