Grooving for a good cause: Gary Bailey and Barth Strempek release album for Haiti relief
For as long as Gary Bailey can remember, music has played an integral role in his life. Infused with passion for soul music from an early age, Bailey, a counselor in the R.N. Ellington Health & Counseling Center, and his brothers, Montie, Velmar and Tony, grew up listening, singing and playing rhythm and blues.
Their passion for music was such that in the 1970s the brothers began performing and recording with some friends and became a band known as Brief Encounter.
The band released two albums and eight singles during its heyday, but despite relative success, it disbanded in 1983 when the members decided to pursue other career paths. The brothers went their separate ways too. Gary Bailey attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and eventually opened a private practice.
For nearly 30 years, the band remained a memory for Bailey. Then, one day, he received a phone call from one of his brothers.
"Montie called and said, 'they're selling our first album on eBay,'" Bailey recalls. His brother also told him their songs were on YouTube together with PowerPoint presentations calling them "the baddest group out of North Carolina."
After one of the band's first records sold on eBay for more than $2,000, the brothers realized various collectors groups in the U.S., Japan and Europe, including Italy, Spain, France and Sweden, were "dying" to get their hands on their albums. Their original single, "Where Will I Go," was selling on iTunes and had generated 19,000 hits.
In light of this unexpected popularity, Bailey and brother Montie Bailey decided to team up with Barth Strempek, an Elon University business professor and jazz pianist, to revive the R&B group. With limited quantities available—there were only 1,000 copies of the albums released by the group—the brothers decided to record a new album.
"We figured there's an appetite for this music," Gary Bailey says.
But instead of profiting themselves, the group decided to donate the proceeds to aid Haitians affected by the January earthquake.
"I said, 'let's do this for a charitable cause,'" says Bailey. "When I heard about the earthquake in Haiti, I knew this was what we needed to do [the recording] for. We felt passionate about it."
Bailey enlisted Strempek to join the group as the organist. Strempek has helped produce several records at Elon and began playing R&B with Bailey after discovering they shared a mutual love for the genre.
"Velmar Bailey died five years ago," says Strempek, "so there was no keyboard player. Gary wanted organ screeching in the background and I came up with improv on the spot. It was exciting to be recorded. I've produced, but had never been recorded before."
The recording was the first one produced by members of Brief Encounter since the 1983 disbandment. The copies are numbered, signed and produced as 45rpm vinyl records. The #1 copy was put up for auction on eBay on Sept. 3. It sold for $87 and now resides in Edinburg, Scotland. Only 500 copies were made and are available through other venues.
"We had been working for three years [on this project]," Strempek says. "Gary decided we should produce a single instead of a whole album. We included an old and new tune to see what the market is and raise money for Haiti."
The A-side of the record has the classic Brief Encounter original "Shake and Move," which was recorded 30 years ago but never released. The B-side contains a new, jazzier version of an old song, "I Want You so Much."
Since first discovering the albums selling on eBay, Brief Encounter has been featured in magazine and newspaper articles, from the Burlington, N.C. Times-News to the music magazine Wax Poetics. Auction sales have also been successful, with record collectors in Scotland, Japan and France among those who have purchased records.
"We are fascinated that persons from other countries were eager to assist with this effort," says Bailey, adding that so far they've raised approximately $4,000 for Stand Ministries, a Wilkesboro, N.C.-based nonprofit the brothers selected to funnel their donations. Once the organization raises $15,000, the funds will be turned over to the Bush/Clinton Haiti Fund.
Now that they've discovered Brief Encounter has a strong following, Bailey says there's a good possibility for another recording in the near future.
"We have enough music now for an LP of both unreleased and new material," he says. "We have some live performance material from the 1970s and 1980s that we will include on the album."
To find out how to donate or to buy an album, click here.
By Sarah Beth Costello