Sweet Soul be­hind bars

A Chicago-based la­bel is reis­su­ing Edge of Day­break’s ‘Eyes of Love,’ a 1979 al­bum recorded by a band of in­mates in­side the Powhatan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Vir­ginia

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSIC - BY MAR­CIS J. MOORE style@wash­post.com Moore is a free­lance writer.

roanoke — Ja­mal Ja­hal Nubi and Cor­nelius Cade are sit­ting at a din­ing room ta­ble and re­mem­ber­ing the old days. The soul mu­sic they used to cre­ate. The friends they once knew. The al­bum they recorded as in­mates in pri­son.

Some might ig­nore that his­tory, but Nubi and Cade don’t mind walk­ing back through it. They were in a 10-mem­ber group named the Edge of Day­break, which com­posed an al­bum while they were con­victs at the Powhatan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in State Farm, Va. The mu­si­cians were all serv­ing sen­tences of six to 60 years on charges in­clud­ing armed rob­bery and as­sault.

Orig­i­nally re­leased in 1979, “Eyes of Love” achieved mod­er­ate suc­cess at the time: A few lo­cal me­dia out­lets cov­ered it, and the now-de­funct TV news se­ries “PM Mag­a­zine” pro­duced a seg­ment about the band called “Cell­block Rock.” The band was a nov­elty: Sure, other mu­si­cians have recorded live al­bums from pri­son, but how many groups had recorded full stu­dio al­bums from be­hind bars?

For more than 35 years, “Eyes of Love” toiled in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity. But now the Chicago-based Numero Group, which spe­cial­izes in resur­fac­ing no­table and over­looked pieces of his­tory, is reis­su­ing “Eyes of Love” to a new gen­er­a­tion of lis­ten­ers, shed­ding a bright light on a group of guys who wanted to make the best of bad times.

Ge­n­e­sis of the band

Be­fore his time at Powhatan, Nubi was con­victed of armed rob­bery and served 18 months at the Southamp­ton Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter. There, he sang har­monies with a group he knew from Vir­ginia Beach. Upon his re­lease, he was a vo­cal­ist with the Love Men, which cov­ered stan­dards by the Man­hat­tans, Temp­ta­tions and Chi-Lites. Then in 1975, Nubi let a pair of ac­quain­tances bor­row his Buick Sky­lark to pick up some drinks from a nearby store. Hours passed, then days, and his car hadn’t been re­turned.

Nu bi even­tu­ally called the po­lice and re­ported his car stolen. But the po­lice served him with an ar­rest war­rant for armed rob­bery, say­ing that his car was con­nected to a re­cent con­ve­nience-store holdup.

“I got locked up right then and didn’t hit the street again un­til 1982,” said Nubi, who is now 64.

The singer en­tered the Powhatan pri­son in 1976 and faced a 35-year term. (He served 71/2 years.) One day on the yard, Nubi kept hear­ing what sounded like live in­stru­ments com­ing from a nearby prac­tice room. There, he bumped into mu­si­cians Ed­ward Tucker and Wil­liam Craw­ley, who, along with Cade, formed the group Cos­mic Con­cep­tion. They cov­ered the Is­ley Broth­ers, Slave and Earth, Wind & Fire.

“Guys used to flock in there to hear us,” re­called Cade, a gui­tarist and song­writer. “Ev­ery time we cranked up, man. We just loved the stuff that we played, and we played it well.”

Cade en­tered Powhatan in 1976 for his role in a ho­tel rob­bery. A friend asked him for a ride north in ex­change for gas money. The friend con­fessed when they got to Vir­ginia that he didn’t have the cash. In­stead, he had a bag of guns they could sell. As night­time fell, the friend robbed a ho­tel at gun­point with Cade as his get­away driver.

“Cops were right be­hind me just like that,” said Cade, now 69. “I had to go to jail be­cause of him.”

Both men re­ceived six-year sen­tences. (Cade served his full term.) In re­mem­ber­ing the in­ci­dent, Cade seems con­trite, es­pe­cially be­cause he ig­nored the ad­vice of his then-girl­friend: “She said, ‘No, don’t go, ’cause I don’t be­lieve you’re com­ing back.’ ”

Once in­side, Cade bought a gui­tar from the pri­son-ap­proved Mu­sic Em­po­rium in Bethesda, Md. James Car­ring­ton, con­victed on as­sault charges, joined Cade, Nubi and the oth­ers, bring­ing a Fender Rhodes elec­tric pi­ano and a syn­the­sizer to the setup. Car­ring­ton had a mail-or­der con­nec­tion with Bo­han­non’s Records in Rich­mond and es­tab­lished a friend­ship with shop owner Mil­ton Hogue.

The band, now known as the Edge of Day­break, with bassist McEvoy Robin­son, per­cus­sion­ist Wil­lie Wil­liams and vo­cal­ist Harry Cole­man in the lineup, be­gan writ­ing orig­i­nal songs. Car­ring­ton con­tacted Hogue about the idea of fi­nanc­ing an al­bum. He agreed to do so af­ter see­ing the band re­hearse.

‘This was their thing’

On a bud­get of $3,000, the Edge of Day­break had lim­ited time and resources to get an al­bum recorded. Of course, the in­mates couldn’t go to the stu­dio like reg­u­lar mu­si­cians; ex­tra pre­cau­tions had to be taken to make “Eyes of Love” a re­al­ity. Pri­son per­son­nel in­spected Al­pha Au­dio in Rich­mond and deemed it too risky to se­cure. Eight pri­son guards would have had to travel with the band.

On Sept. 14, 1979, Al­pha Au­dio of­fi­cials brought a mix­ing con­sole and tape ma­chine to the Powhatan pri­son. The Edge of Day­break had five hours to record the al­bum’s eight songs in a va­cant recre­ation room. With­out over­dub equip­ment and no time to pol­ish, the band had to get every­thing right the first time.

“It was a lit­tle hec­tic, but the guys had it to­gether,” said Al­pha Au­dio owner Eric John­son. “They were highly mo­ti­vated. They were locked up in pri­son, and this was their thing.”

John­son said pri­son per­son­nel weren’t help­ful. The al­bum’s last song, the sen­sual “Our Love,” was recorded as pri­son guards hur­ried the band to fin­ish. The mu­si­cians were rushed back to their re­spec­tive cells as soon as the track con­cluded.

Sound of an ear­lier time

“Eyes of Love” was re­leased to a pub­lic that had largely moved on from the mu­sic that Edge of Day­break cre­ated. The al­bum is full of sweet bal­lads and saun­ter­ing melodies. Two hours up I-95 in the D.C. area, Choco­late City mu­si­cian Chuck Brown was push­ing his own sound, called go-go, a con­tin­u­ous blend of funk and soul de­signed to keep hips mov­ing long into the night. “Eyes of Love” reached back to an ear­lier part of the decade, to Isaac Hayes and the like, just as hip-hop and other elec­tronic-based gen­res were born.

By the fall of 1980, Vir­ginia out­lets be­gan to run sto­ries about the Edge of Day­break and at­ten­tion quickly turned to a pos­si­ble sopho­more al­bum. But Car­ring­ton was trans­ferred to the nearby Deep Meadow Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter, and Cade was moved to the Powhatan cen­ter’s North Hous­ing Unit. With band mem­bers now in sep­a­rate fa­cil­i­ties, Edge of Day­break dis­banded.

Upon his re­lease, Nubi re­turned home to Roanoke and formed a new col­lec­tive — the Busi­ness of Sweet Suc­cess, or B.O.S.S. for short. Car­ring­ton and Cade also formed a group, called Rise, and re­leased a funk sin­gle. Yet it wasn’t quite like the Edge of Day­break, which, for a brief mo­ment in time, rose above those pri­son walls and tran­scended its dark cir­cum­stances.

“I take it back to like Mama used to say, ‘Every­thing that’s done in the dark is gonna come to light even­tu­ally,’ ” said Nubi, with an orig­i­nal copy of the “Eyes of Love” vinyl in front of him at the ta­ble. “It’s shin­ing like the light out­side now.”

COUR­TESY OF THE NUMERO GROUP

Ja­mal Ja­hal Nubi, bot­tom left, and Cor­nelius Cade, cen­ter, were mem­bers of Edge of Day­break, a band of in­mates that recorded “Eyes of Love,” above, in 1979 in­side Powhatan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in State Farm, Va. Chicagob­ased Numero Group, which spe­cial­izes in resur­fac­ing no­table and over­looked pieces of his­tory, is reis­su­ing the al­bum to a new gen­er­a­tion of lis­ten­ers.

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