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How a small Philadelphia record company gave an Oscar contender its sound

Jamie Records gave Green Book low music cost options so it could get made.

Frank Lipsius and his son Charlie, owners of Jamie Record Co. helped get all of the music for Green Book, the Oscar contender about pianist Don Shirley's trip through the South, Monday November 19, 2018.
Frank Lipsius and his son Charlie, owners of Jamie Record Co. helped get all of the music for Green Book, the Oscar contender about pianist Don Shirley's trip through the South, Monday November 19, 2018.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia music label proprietor Frank Lipsius has been waiting decades for a high-profile, musically focused picture like Green Book to dig out some of the lost relics buried in the vaults of his family biz, Jamie Record Co.

We’re talking two-minute-and-twenty second wonders, like the soul-rocking “Letter from My Baby” (Timmy Shaw) and big-beat jam “What’cha Gonna Do” (by Bill Massey with Lea Lendon and the Rite Timers). Songs you’ve likely never heard but might think you had if you could flash back to the hits that labels were chasing in 1962, the year in which the “reluctant buddy” film is set.

“It’s like these soundtrack songs are enjoying their first life 50-plus years after being recorded,” Lipsius said after an enthusiastically received screening of the dramedy at the Philadelphia Film Festival in October. And even though most tunes are playing as sonic wallpaper in the film -- rumbling on a restaurant jukebox or car radio -- their proud guardian has no problem picking them out from the din. “Didn’t you notice your child‘s voice in the chorus at the elementary school recital?” he said.

Three of the tracks do earn full-volume, full-length hearings on the movie soundtrack album (released on the Milan label), out Nov. 21.

Green Book music supervisor Tom Wolfe (born in Kutztown, Pa., but long based in L.A.) of Aperture Music is equally pleased with the collaboration. The five made-in-Philly-tunes his team opted to use in director Peter Farrelly’s film weren’t just artistically on the money and authentic to the era, he says. The tracks arguably helped get the film made by not going over its relatively modest $25 million budget.

Green Book retells the tale of esteemed African American jazz and classical-fusing pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) being chauffeured around the segregated South by an Italian American New York tough guy (Viggo Mortensen) who has a typical tinge of racist attitude. Shall we overcome? The title refers to a guide that African American travelers were compelled to carry to find accommodations in the Jim Crow South where they wouldn’t be shunned, cursed, or beaten to a pulp.

Of course, there’s plenty of dynamic Shirley keyboard styling (rerecorded for higher fidelity’s sake by film scorer Kris Bowers) to be relished on concert tour stops, as well as pop tunes like the songs that came from Jamie Records speeding the journey.

“From our perspective, everything in the film had to be true to the time,” said Wolfe. “And in this internet-searchable age, no one will ever let you off the hook if you anachronistically misplace a piece of material.”

They did splurge in acquiring a few Billboard Top 100 hits by Aretha Franklin, Chubby Checker, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole. But the movie’s music pickers couldn’t go crazy with chart busters “the way a Martin Scorsese does,” said Wolfe, whose first taste of the business was as a bar band rocker and Kutztown College student/part-time projectionist working at the Strand theater. Later, after a four-year stint managing an L.A. art cinema, he broke into film scoring work on Farrelly’s Kingpin.

“When we got on Green Book, the project hadn’t secured financing or major studio distribution. So we proposed a relatively modest music budget to help win it backing -- nothing like the $4 million that many films allocate just for music licensing and scoring. That’s what led us to Frank and Jamie.”

Wolfe’s colleague Alison Rosenfeld found this Philly music archive while hunting in March 2017 for a Hall and Oates sound-alike song to use on Fox’s New Girl. She came up with a Jamie-label track by the Temptones, Daryl Hall’s first group. A song far less pricey to license for publishing and recording performance rights, especially with Lipsius managing both essentials. “So then we went back to Frank and pulled the thread, and all these other songs started coming out,” Wolfe said.

Aperture has also worked Jamie songs into USA’s Mr. Robot (Honey and the Bees’ “These Old Memories”) and the ABC show Speechless -- using “Ain’t Got the Love (of One Girl on My Mind),” written by Barbara Mason and performed by the Ambassadors.

Founded by Frank’s late dad, Harold Lipsius, in the Bob Horn and Dick Clark Philly American Bandstand era as an offshoot of his Universal Record Distributing business, Jamie amassed a catalog of 3,000 mostly cut-in-Philly R&B, funk, pop, rock, and country tracks from 1956 to the mid ‘70s, “when the major labels made it almost impossible for indies to get their songs played on the radio,” said Lipsius.

Frank and his son Charles have kept the lights on with CD/vinyl reissue sets and occasional song placements in commercials, TV shows, and films. Their catalog contains a sprinkling of nationally known talent, most notably twang guitar innovator Duane Eddy (whose “Rebel Rouser” was used in Forrest Gump), and regional successes like the Soul Brothers Six, Cliff Nobles, the Kit Kats, the Fantastic Johnny C, Barbara Mason, and Barbara Lynn, and early productions helmed by Phil Spector and Gamble and Huff. “But less than 5 percent of our songs were hits,“ Frank Lipsius said. “And many have never been heard on the radio outside of Britain,” where obscure R&B -- Philly and otherwise -- has achieved cult status as part of the “Northern Soul” revival scene.

Tellingly, the most lucrative commercial placement they’ve scored to date was with “a B-side by Brenda and the Tabulations I never even knew we had,” Frank said. “It’s a knock-off ‘dance sensation’ song called ‘The Wash’ that a UK advertising agency found and asked to use for an Axe Body Wash spot set on a beach.

"It was a studio goof, a parody of hits. The thing’s run on TV in Europe, the U.S, all over the world.“