Al-teen Records: Bill Meeks’ little ships of soul

Bill Meeks was, in the late sixties, a jingle writer here in Chicago who started a record label called Al-teen. The label was based at 82nd and Stony Island, and put out records by Sunday (Williams), Drake and the En-Solids, Earl Duff, The Supurbs (sic), and Johnny McCall. Many of the tunes were composed by D. McGilberry. None of them were hits in their day.

Many small labels existed in this town, and most of them were born out of someone’s dream. They sent out little ships into the murky waters of the Industry hoping to reach that unknown shore of stardom. So many of those ships, those records, are still floating out there (testaments to those dreams).

Below, a couple of my favorite cuts from the label. Both are now worth a pretty penny. “Ain’t Got No Problems/Where Did He Come From” by Sunday was a hot enough platter here in Chicago that it got picked up for national distribution by Chess (which makes it Alteen’s most successful production).  To my ears, “Where Did He Come From” (the original B-Side) is the star of the story.

“I Need You” By Johnny McGill is a bit of a grittier record with sparser production, but has that particular leanness of a “little ship” sort-of-record that I love. You can feel that the record is a love child: created of of passion rather than obligation.

Female background on all of the Al-Teen cuts was by a group called The Voices. This is them singing along to Sunday’s “Ain’t Got No Problems” in 2009 (forty years after the fact) on a local radio show called “Sitting in the Park”. Wow. All of the talents of a whole bunch of people (and a whole bunch of hopes) rode on these little ships. I respect that. Jive on.

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About ayanacontreras

i love the transportive powers of sound. i am a radio host/producer, DJ, Sound designer, 45rpm collector, and art lover living in the city of wind. View all posts by ayanacontreras

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