"It's about 25 percent is stuff that's already been released, most of it legitimately," he says. "About 10 or 15 are masters of Clarence Johnson-produced recordings. The next 25 percent is stuff that is in a real gray area; we know how complicated it would be to license and release it, and it's not even worth it. Another 25 percent is indie stuff, our wheelhouse, that we have identified and in some cases people we already know and have worked with. Then the other 25 percent is stuff we have no idea what it is, and it runs from pretty awesome to totally awesome."
Sevier's favorite track among the pile of still unknowns is the strangest song they've found.
"It's mysterious in origin and in what the band was trying to achieve," he says with a laugh. "It was only labeled 'Cemetery Song,' and it's a 14-minute psychedelic soul opus that is maybe Halloween-themed. We have no idea. There are no clues, no hints."
The big finds among Lopez's tape stash include a very rare single by Chicago vocal group The Ivories, two unreleased Don Gardner songs from his most famous session and the odd album of German hard rock band Epitaph, which happened to record for a local label. There were three unreleased songs from Stax recording artists Sons of Slum and a reel containing "This Love For Real" by Hands of Time, which was produced by Leroy Hutson of The Impressions.
While it's exciting for Numero to be able to issue crucial singles from known artists, for Shipley and Sevier the most significant work that they have identified is a six-song session by long-dead soul singer Calvin Harris. How they did it makes it seem like these tapes were fated to fall into their hands.
About a year before Lopez's tape cache took over the Numero office, Sevier was talking to Earl Wiley, a local booking agent-turned-producer, for research on an unrelated project. Wiley told him a story about a group "stealing" a song from him. In 1972, Wiley was in Cody's Stereosonic studio producing a recording with an unknown but talented singer, Harris — a demo meant to showcase both Harris and Wiley's talents. Nothing ever came of it, and the tapes essentially disappear. The following year, Wiley hears a song from his Harris demo, "Love Won't Pay the Bills," but it's being performed by another group, Elevation, but has no idea how they got the song. Cody was the engineer on both sessions.
Forty years go by and then, one day, Numero engineer Haley Fohr cues up a tape at the Numero office, and Sevier and Shipley immediately recognize "Love Won't Pay The Bills" as it comes out of the speakers. And it's not the Elevation version; it's the original. This is the lost Calvin Harris session.
"We had to be there, at that house, at that moment, in order to identify what was on this tape," Shipley says.
From the 88 tapes, Shipley says, Numero will issue, tops, a handful of 45s. The rest they will archive for safekeeping.
"Someday, someone — a museum, another label, an archive — is going to want this," Shipley says. "We are interested in saving what are historically significant. If Lopez's widow just hadn't called Record Dugout, I can guarantee these tapes would be in some landfill right now."
Numero Group DJs
When: 9 p.m., Thursday
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.
Tickets: $15 (18+); metrochicago.com