In 1979, the music world was hip on the soul and funk music, with the popular television show “Soul Train” being watched across the nation by people who made this genre of music popular. Since music is a universal language that transcends racial and ethnic barriers, it is no surprise that blue-eyed soul became just as popular with the likes of Boz Scaggs, Steve Winwood, and Wild Cherry. In one tiny corner of the nation, specifically, Washington state, two teen brothers got together and recorded their own soul/funk disc, only to fade into obscurity until 2012 when Light in the Attic Records re-released their only LP, “Dreamin’ Wild”, on compact disc.
What originally was it about these two young and talented dark-haired boys that led to their obscurity? It could be the lack of proper music promotion, their location (the Emersons lived in Fruitland, a farming community located 70 miles northwest of Spokane), even the album cover design, which has made its way into that privileged status of “weird LP cover art”, the type usually found in thrift stores. The bright blue background, serif font print in red, and white jumpsuits that Elvis himself would envy, is not exactly unique unto itself. Seventeen year-old Donnie is leaning sideways holding a guitar, while his nineteen year-old brother Joe is behind him, positioned as if he was Donnie’s conjoined twin. But what about the actual music behind this unique cover design?
The word prodigy comes to mind in describing the musical talents of Donnie and Joe Emerson. To start with, Donnie studied music under Gary Tollefson, who is probably best known for bugling at the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Tollefson played 17 different instruments to proficiency and saw the musical potential that Donnie and Joe had. Second, Donnie clearly has a natural born talent for making and writing music, despite the fact he had twelve years of musical training, something he admits in the liner notes of “Dreamin’ Wild.” Two years before “Dreamin’ Wild,” the brothers recorded a single in Spokane, “Take It”, a country song, with “Thoughts In My Mind”, a ballad, on the B-side. It was quite an experience for the brothers, who believed they could do much better if they had full creative control over the recording process. Coming from a wealthy farming background, and a highly supportive father who thought nothing of spending $100,000 in cash on their own property to build a recording studio for his sons, this granted their wishes to record their songs the way they wanted. It was right in this studio where “Dreamin’ Wild” was recorded, with Donnie and Joe playing the majority of the instruments, also purchased by their father. The instruments didn’t stop there, though; Donnie wrote all of the songs on the disc, with Joe pitching in his own songwriting talents on “Good Time”, “Feels Like the Sun”, and “Don’t Go Lovin’ Nobody Else.”
Donnie is the lead singer here on these songs, and with good reason; for a seventeen year-old, his voice is surprisingly smooth and velvety, and to the listener who is unfamiliar with these boys, can easily mistake him for a black singer. “Give Me the Chance” is funk at its finest, with a number of synaptic oscillations made on a synthesizer that was the trademark sound of the early Commodores, particularly their song “Machine Gun” back in 1974. “Dream Full of Dreams” is a mellow love song, while “Feels Like the Sun” evokes an image of driving along the winding roads of Big Sur. “My Heart” really gets into the groove, with its bump and grind rhythm. It was “Baby”, though, which put Donnie and Joe Emerson on the map of the music world when the song was covered by Ariel Pink. Finally released by Light in the Attic Records in 2012, “Dreamin’ Wild” is no longer unattainable in terms of acquisition; if anything, this is one disc that deserves a spot in any listener’s collection of soul/funk music.