Way Out Records should have been what Clevelanders grew up with in the Motown-era 1960s. But when pitted against Berry Gordy Jr.'s famed recording company, the East 55th Street label's financial and promotional assets just couldn't compete. So its elusive, cutting-edge records rarely landed on local turntables.
Now, decades after closing its doors in 1973, the release of a Way Out Records anthology, Eccentric Soul: The Way Out Label ($32, numerogroup.com), marks a renaissance for its 35-album catalog.
"When I listen, it brings back the joy," says Bill Branch, a former police officer who ran the label in its heyday with late band manager Lester Johnson.
Numero Group, a Chicago archival label, spent two years assembling the three LP or two CD set. "Way Out just seemed like a piece of the puzzle that was missing," says Jon Kirby an A and R at Numero. "It was explosive, sophisticated and well-dressed."
The collection explores more than 15 artists and more than 40 songs, including "Why" by the Springers and "Never Let Me Go" by Lou Ragland.
Way Out's full-bodied tracks were marked by their meticulous attention to orchestration, notably partnering with high-energy trumpeter Tom Baker and Motown collaborator Willie Smith. "We tried to be integral in the changing of doo-wop to a more progressive and innovative sound," explains Branch.
In 1966, the financial support of Cleveland Browns star player Jim Brown garnered new recording equipment to flesh out the big band sound and marketing for acts such as Bobby Wade and the Occasions.
Now in his 80s, Branch pauses for a moment, speechless about a renewed interest in soul with local bands and disc jockeys playing the genre and Way Out vinyls thanks to the release of the anthology. "Hearing about all these people finding our music for the first time, I'm beside myself," says Branch.