I first was alerted to Cleveland Robinson's material via his version of the Oscar Brown classic, "The Work Song", when it was played at the legendary Stafford all-nighters during the mid-80's. After locating a copy of that nugget, I soon picked up a second disc on the Nosnibor (Robinson backwards) label and was delighted to find it equally soulfully strong...both sides, "My Place In The World / Woman In Motion".
That did it for me…I was now on the search for all of his recordings and indeed information on the man himself.
~ Cleveland Robinson ~
Cleveland Robinson Jr. was born in Macon Georgia but was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his singing career started within a Quartet at his local church. His next move was to Cleveland, Ohio where he started to pursue a career as a singer. His first professional recording was at Schneider Recording Studio in downtown Cleveland Ohio, which led to local entrepreneur Redda Robins taking the tapes to Murray Deutch at United Artists. Cleveland was awarded a contract on the UA subsidiary, Ascot Records. At this point he had to put his fledgling career on temporary hold due to personal problems, but he'd already started another business in order to provide a steady income for his family which by now had grown to seven!
However, Cleveland would still sing whenever and wherever he could, including club work and a few appearances on "The Big 5 TV Show." He tried to capitalise on this by forming his own record label to release his own material on, naming it "Nosnibor", which is simply "Robinson" spelt backwards! During its early days the family garage was utilised as a receiving and distribution base. He also promoted the releases himself and even with limited distribution and exposure he experienced success. According to Cleveland's own web-site, "Wishing Well" sold 7200 in one week, whilst "Love is a Trap" sold a quite unbelievable 9000 in just twelve days yet this disc is still very much a rarity to find and commands a £600 price tag within the Northern Soul scene. Unfortunately, even though he scored some success locally, his lack of effective National distribution meant his tracks were never ever gonna break through to the big time.
Cleveland's next break was a recording contract with the Brown Bag label, which was owned by Terry Knight who was the manager of super group, the Grand Funk Railroad. He received an advance but the deal fell through before the material could actually gain a release with them. The material was produced by the mighty talented Gene Page and was too good to leave in the can, so Cleveland released it on his own label. Once again he suffered from the lack of national distribution behind him, hence his LP like his "Love is a trap" 45, is a super rarity! The responsibilities of a successful business and a large family eventually diminished Cleveland's singing career, although he did continue to record every now and then.
There is a happy ending though as although his material didn't dent the charts at the point of their initial release, several of his sides were picked up by the UK's definitive soul underground scene, known as Northern Soul. This scene with its passion for little known US 1960's soul/R'n'B recordings started featuring his version of "The work song" in the mid-80's, which led to the insatiable collectors searching out all his material. In the late '80's, some fifteen years after its initial release, "Love is a trap" become one of the biggest and most indemand sounds on the scene and still packs a dancefloor today! In fact, the Northern Soul scene is now a World-wide one with regular clubs in Spain, Italy, Germany, Australia and Japan!
DEBRA63 THESE ARE THE HANDS / COME CHANGE YOUR NAME ASCOT2132 THESE ARE THE HANDS / COME CHANGE YOUR NAME NOSNIBOR 1001A MAN GOES OUT / INSPIRATION NOSNIBOR 1002LOVE IS A TRAP / A LOAF OF BREAD NOSNIBOR 1003MY PLACE IN THE WORLD / WOMAN IN MOTION NOSNIBOR 1003BOY / WOMAN IN MOTION NOSNIBOR 1004WORK SONG / A MAN GETS TIRED NOSNIBOR 1005THIS IS AMERICA / IF I HAD A HAMMER NOSNIBOR 1006BOY / LET IT BE ME NOSNIBOR 1007MR.WISHING WELL / TAKE A FOOLS ADVICE NOSNIBOR 1008LOCH LOMOND / A LOAF OF BREAD NOSNIBOR 1009JUNGLE DOLLAR / UNDERSTANDING NOSNIBOR 1010LOVING TIME / LET IT BE ME NOSNIBOR 1011BOY / SOMEBODY TO LOVE(DeCOTEAUX) NOSNIBOR 1012BOY / SOMEBODY TO LOVE (G.PAGE)
The song called simply, "Boy" was released four times in all on Nosnibor:
#1003 - Performed as a ballad with male group backing vocals, plus organ and sax work throughout.
#1006 - The solid 60's typical Bert DeCoteaux production, c/up as "Bud Harper - Lonely boy".
#1011 - Same backing track as #1006, but with added bongos and harmonica parts.
#1012 - An altogether funkier approach, courtesy of Gene Page on production.
"Woman In Motion" was also released twice both under the catalogue number #1003 – the initial release is on the purple coloured Rite Sound press (scan below), is uptempo (not in a Northern Soul style) and features organ, sax and a male chorus, whilst the second release is a solid Northern Soul mover similar to its flipside, “My Place In The World”.
Without a doubt it is release #1002 "Love Is A Trap" that attracts the full attention of collectors and dancers alike - there are two different presses emanating from two plants (labels have a different layout/font).
I GOT YOURS YOU GOT MINE, JUNGLE DOLLAR, NO ONE CAN TAKE YOUR PLACE, I GIVE TO YOU &
YOU GIVE TO ME, DON'T STOP THE FEELIN'.
24 HOURS A DAY, LOVIN' TIME, CHANGE YOUR NAME TO MINE, RIGHT ON, (PEOPLE WITH THEIR) HANG UPS
(Recorded at Cleveland recording Studios & Way Out Studios.)