Max Ochester has a mission.
It isn’t small or easy: To preserve and celebrate Philadelphia music, particularly decades-old, forgotten treasures at risk of being lost to history.
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“Day by day, it gets harder to do,” says the owner of North Philly’s Brewerytown Beats record store. “You’re losing the stories. You’re losing the people. You’re losing the material. Tapes deteriorate. They have a shelf life of 30 to 40 years. It’s going to be gone.”
But not if Ochester can help it.
A 42-year-old record geek whose Girard Avenue shop is decorated with Herb Alpert Whipped Cream & Other Delights album covers, Ochester got started last year with Sounds of Liberation, the Germantown free jazz band whose two rare 1970s albums were issued by Brewerytown Beats on the group’s original Dogtown Records label.
The reunited band, featuring guitarist Monette Sudler, was in the studio this week with Ochester and coproducer Aaron Levinson recording a new album with guests including sax great David Murray.
Along with last year’s reissue of militant 1970s funk-soul band Nat Turner Rebellion by Drexel University’s Mad Dragon label, the Sound of Liberation LPs are part of a heartening trend: Philadelphians rediscovering recordings from the city’s storied musical past that never found a wide audience.
Now, Ochester has brought to light another 1970s recording, long coveted by in-the-know enthusiasts of classic Philadelphia soul.
I’ll Get Over It is a 1975 album by The Thompsons, the four-man vocal group consisting of brothers Cornelius, Sylvester, and William Thompson and close family friend Sandy Anderson.
The Thompsons came from the neighborhood. The brothers grew up on North 25th Street in Brewerytown, singing in the halls of Vaux Junior High and in after-school shows, part of a North Philly scene that produced more than its fair share of African American R&B groups in the 1960s. The Stylistics, The Intruders, and Honey & the Bees lived nearby.
“It’s this amazing four-part harmony,” says Ochester. “Three brothers and a guy from the neighborhood. So it’s blood harmony.”
Rhythm & Business, a Brewerytown Beats podcast, talks up I’ll Get Over It. The Thompsons, now in their 60s, speak about growing up in a musical family of seven brothers and three sisters, one of whom led the group when they were Pauline & the Genies.
“We would dress up in black and white turbans and capes,” Cornelius “Lefty” Thompson remembers with a laugh on the podcast.
By the early 1970s, the group was using the family name, projecting a classy image in white tuxedos, ruffled shirts, and bow ties on the I’ll Get Over It cover.
“They were smooth,” says Tyrone Broxton, the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who produced I’ll Get Over it and cowrote all eight songs with Eric Ward, who started managing the group when they were classmates at Vaux.
Broxton was getting work with busy Philly bands like The Intruders when Ward took him to see The Thompsons at the Big Dollar, a Brewerytown bar that is now an empty lot.
“It was packed,” Broxton recalls. “These guys really performed. Once you heard them sing, you didn‘t need to look at them. But they had the moves, the steps. I would compare them to The Whispers, or The Chi-Lites. Clean and smooth and reserved.”
Broxton and Ward recorded the group in Sayreville, N.J., emphasizing The Thompsons’ strengths as individual singers. “I had one song that had four leads on it,” he says of the vocal tour de force “I’ll Always Love You.”
I’ll Get Over It, originally issued on Broxton and Ward’s BCW Records, is being reissued on that label in conjunction with Brewerytown Beats. The LP is available for $20 at the store and online, and the music is on all streaming services.
But if the record was a musical success, a winning blend of soul harmony and funk, it was a commercial failure. The group got some local radio play — legendary WDAS DJ Georgie Woods was a fan. Still, in an era when promotional dollars, if not outright payola, were essential to gaining radio play, the independent venture was underfunded.
“You had a lot of great groups back then," Broxton says. "But everybody doesn’t get a break. ... Sometimes you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
I’ll Get Over It failed to sell, and The Thompsons ended their business relationship with Broxton and Ward shortly after its release. The group put out one other single, in 1980.
With time, though, The Thompsons’ reputation among record-collecting cognoscenti grew.
“I had known of it as a desirable Philly record,” says Ochester, who got his first taste of the music business in the 1990s, as a 14-year-old hip-hop fan accompanying a Mount Airy vinyl dealer neighbor to record conventions. (Early career highlight: selling records to A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip.)
Ochester opened Brewerytown Beats in 2014, having returned to Philadelphia after working music, art, and bartending jobs in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Seattle, and New Orleans. (He also was an art handler at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and helped the Barnes Foundation move its collection downtown in 2012.)
Working with Frank Lipsius of Jamie Records, Ochester put out such vintage 45s as The Ambassadors’ “Ain’t Got The Love Of One Girl (On My Mind).” He has acquired the catalog of 1970s Philly gospel label TCS Records. (While being interviewed, he got a text from a representative of a rapper in the market for gospel samples — one Kanye West.)
The collector first got his hands on The Thompsons’ album when Temple jazz station WRTI-FM (90.1) unloaded its vinyl library to the Philadelphia Record Exchange in 2018. He bought a used copy at the Fishtown store for $400. Later, he found a sealed one for $600.
The reissue process began when Ochester’s friend, DJ and record collector Joshua Kwedar, found Ward on Facebook. The three met in June.
“I was floored," Ward says, recalling listening to I’ll Get Over It for the first time in decades. "Now we get an opportunity to release this again, and let people hear it.”
Ochester hopes to record new music with The Thompsons, and is working with 1970s-style Philly funk-soul band York Street Hustle, aiming to follow the model of Brooklyn’s Daptone Records, with a young band backing up veteran singers.
Orchester has control of the website PhillySoundArchive.org, which proclaims an ambitious mission “to preserve, restore, celebrate & educate people about the the vast history of Philadelphia-made music.”
Philadelphia is “the city that sleeps on itself,” he says, meaning it ignores its own rich history and culture. He bemoans the loss of most of the city’s vintage recording studios.
“The only one that’s left is Sigma [Sound Studios, on North 12th St.]. I have an idea to get a hold of that building and try to save it. ... It should be a living history museum of Philadelphia music.”
Some of Ochester’s taste for history is in his blood: Since retiring, his father, Bill Ochester, works as an actor portraying Ben Franklin around town.
“Preserving legacy is big part of it,” he says. "But it’s about creating opportunity for these bands that weren’t given it in the first place. I’d like to see this music get the respect it deserves.”