I exchanged a few e-mails with soul historian and record collector Bob Abrahamian, but we never met. He committed suicide on June 4, 2014, when depression, anxiety, and insomnia conspired against him and left him unable to fight back. A few days later his friend Jake Austen wrote a touching, revealing remembrance for the Reader, paying special attention to Abrahamian's genius and generosity. He'd turned himself into the authority on soul records by Chicago vocal groups, and for many years he shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with a weekly radio show called Sitting in the Park. It aired on WHPK, the station of the University of Chicago, where Abrahamian had gone to school—his interest in hip-hop had led him to hunt for sample-worthy records, and eventually he fell in love with those primary sources. The name of the show came from the ubiquitous soul classic by singer Billy Stewart—while Abrahamian's knowledge was encyclopedic and his thirst for information unquenchable, he didn't fetishize the obscure for its own sake.
Last month the local Numero Group label released the latest installment of its great Eccentric Soul series. Sitting in the Park collects 16 tracks that were part of Abrahamian's world—he'd played all of them on his program. But as anyone who heard the show knows, he did much more than play records. He conducted 121 extensive on-air interviews with singers from Chicago, many of them overlooked, and the 16 cuts on the compilation are all by artists he talked to—they're annotated with information he uncovered, including brief transcriptions from the relevant episode of the show. The liner notes were written by Numero cofounder Rob Sevier, who has the same kind of obsessive mind as Abrahamian, and his admiration, respect, and love for his departed comrade is palpable. Record collectors can be a tricky bunch—sometimes manipulative, conniving, or selfish. From every account, though, Abrahamian was none of these things—he shared his enthusiasm and his efforts as a historian does, and he helped his subjects in any way he could—he might track down and give them copies of records they'd made but no longer owned, or even (as Austen noted in his Reader piece) help them move.
Sitting in the Park isn't the strongest entry in the Eccentric Soul series. Some of the tracks were never released, such as a demo of "Let Love Come In" by Notations singer Cliff Curry—throughout the track, he either flubs the lyrics or gets thrown off, but the quality of the tune and his excited croon are worth the price of admission. But this is definitely the most moving Eccentric Soul release. Not only does it illuminate darkened corners of Chicago soul history, but it also posthumously honors one of the label's good-hearted brethren. For today's 12 O'Clock Track, you can check out the closing track, 1966's "Southside Chicago" by Otis Brown & the Delights, which Abrahamian used as theme music.