Talking to Numero Group co-founder Tom Lunt

At a time when some of Chicago’s best independent record labels are struggling for survival–witness the recent layoffs of 23 employees at Touch and Go Records–the Numero Group stands out as a surprising success.

“Who Knows” by Marion Black. From Eccentric Soul, Vol. 1: The Capsoul Label (2005).

Devoted to lavishly packaged and extensively-annotated reissues of worthy but little-heard sounds from the past, the label was founded in 2003 by Tom Lunt, a former ad exec, and Ken Shipley, who’d been working as a talent scout for Rykodisc Records. Rob Sevier, a DJ and musical archivist, soon became the third partner. All were dedicated collectors or “crate diggers,” scouring dusty record-store bins for obscure vinyl.

“I met Ken at a record store, which is where people like us would meet,” Lunt recalls. “We hung out a bit and found that we had a lot in common in terms of our interests and ambitions. I was about to go to work in Warsaw for a year”–he oversaw marketing for McDonald’s in Poland–“but I said, ‘Well, if I ever get back, let’s keep talking.’

“Well, I got back from Warsaw and we ran into each other again at Whole Foods. I said that I wanted to get something going: ‘I’ve got something new that I want to do and I’m tired of the advertising industry; it’s just a drag.’ I left when I was 49, and I’m 56 now, the same age as rock ‘n’ roll. So we got together and had a lot of meetings at this Arabic place on North Avenue [Sultan’s Market], and that was our office from the beginning. We knew Rob, and we knew we wanted to do a re-issue label, and this whole idea of eccentric soul was something we talked about early on because Rob is a big fan and this huge source of professorial information.”

The Numero Group’s first release was “Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label,” a compilation of tracks from the would-be Motown of Columbus, Ohio, in the early ’70s. Since then the Eccentric Soul series also has issued discs focusing on Chicago’s Bandit label, Miami’s Deep City label and Detroit’s Big Mack label, among others. What exactly is eccentric soul?

“It’s left-of-center soul, and it literally means ‘eccentric,'” Lunt says. “It’s the stuff that wasn’t on everybody’s radar at the time: local-culture soul, small-label soul. It may not have had the hit potential that Stax and Motown did, but it might have had some hit potential had it been developed. In some cases, it was just overlooked.”

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