(Pictured – Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes)
Periodically I do a Shot of Blues post. What about, I sez to myself, a shot of Soul? This is that good old fashioned stuff you don’t hear anymore. Or maybe I’m just not clued in …
Wikipedia: David Ruffin was a soul singer and musician most famous for his work as one of the lead singers of The Temptations (1964–68). He was the lead voice on such songs as “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Marvin Gaye once said admiringly of Ruffin that, “I heard [in his voice] a strength my own voice lacked.”
Ruffin eventually clashed with the band as he wanted to have lead billing (like Diana Ross) and developed the scourge of musicians, a drug problem. He went solo and in 1975 – but I would have sworn it was the ’60s – had a pretty big hit with a song called “Walk Away From Love.” It’s kinda overproduced and a little kitschy. But when he sings “breaks my heart” in that falsetto, well, that gets me.
Daryl Hall is originally from Pottstown, Pennsylvania outside of my hometown of Philly; John Oates is from New York City but raised in a Philadelphia suburb. They met in Philly in the ’60s. “At the time they met, each was heading his own musical group, Hall with The Temptones and Oates with The Masters. They were there for a band competition when gunfire rang out between two rival gangs, and in trying to escape, they ran to the same service elevator.” (In the movies, that’s called “meeting cute.”)
The two young twenty-something guys realized they shared similar tastes in music and started sharing apartments. One of their mailboxes said “Hall and Oates.” A good band name they thought. The guys played around with different musical styles, (folk, rock, soul, etc.) before they landed on their own “blue-eyed soul” sound. (Blue-eyed soul, of course, is when white guys cover soul music. Soul is soul, no?)
In 1973 they released their second album, Abandoned Luncheonette with the song “She’s Gone.” I was living in Philly at the time and you couldn’t go three feet without hearing this song. It became a hit nationally a few years later. Oates came up with the chorus and they wrote the rest together. Both were going through breakup bullshit so it was, one supposes, very therapeutic:
Another Philly band, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, started life way back in the ’50s as the Charlemagnes and then became the Blue Notes. Despite never charting much more than a few regional hits and going through multiple personnel changes, they managed to stay active for a long time before they ever became well-known.
Their fortunes changed dramatically in 1970 when they brought on local drummer Teddy Pendergrass whose singing impressed Melvin enough to make him the lead vocalist. Not too long after that, they got signed to Philadelphia International Records which had been founded in 1971 by the writer-producer duo, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, along with their long-time collaborator Thom Bell. It was “famous for showcasing the Philadelphia soul music genre that was based on the gospel, doo-wop, and soul music of the time.”
With Pendergrass on lead vocals, they had a big hit with “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” which goes on to say “you will never, never know me.” (I like to sing this one to my wife after we’ve, um, disagreed on something.) Yes, I know Simply Red had a hit with this so we don’t need to mine that territory. This is the first one I heard, the original, and I’m sticking with it:
Singer/songwriter Tony Joe White explained that he was living in Marietta, Georgia after high school. “I went down there to get a job and I was playing guitar too at the house and stuff. I drove a dump truck for the highway department and when it would rain you didn’t have to go to work. You could stay home and play your guitar and hang out all night. So those thoughts came back to me when I moved on to Texas about three months later.
I heard “Ode to Billie Joe” on the radio,” he continues, “and I thought, man, how real, because I am Billie Joe, I know that life. I’ve been in the cotton fields. So I thought if I ever tried to write, I’m going to write about something I know about. I sat down and thought well, I know about polk (he wrote “Polk Salad Annie”) because I had ate a bunch of it and I knew about rainy nights because I spent a lot of rainy nights in Marietta.”
Brook Benton was a singer/songwriter from South Carolina who was doing pretty well writing songs for the likes of Nat King Cole and Clyde McPhatter. His take on “Rainy Night in Georgia,” for me just totally nails it. The song and his performance capture that – that feel. That kinda bluesy, kinda soulful, downright lonesome rainy night feel. Right from that first organ swirl and guitar lick:
When I was a kid, I always assumed Dusty Springfield was American. Nobody ever mentioned her nationality on the radio and there was no reason to think otherwise. But no, Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien (I’ll go out on a limb here and say she’s got Irish blood) was born in West Hampstead, London, England.
She was given the nickname “Dusty” for playing football with boys in the street. And so Dusty Springfield she became. She was such a good singer and was so popular and successful that she was given the Order of the British Empire. (Her brother Tom with whom she performed co-wrote the catchy tune “Georgy Girl.” It’s from a dated but still pretty funny ’60s film.)
While Springfield’s forte was pop she had always been a major soul fan. In the late Sixties, hoping to revive a then-stalled career, she went to Memphis to record and maybe get a little street cred. The resulting album, Dusty in Springfield, didn’t sell well despite including one of her most popular tunes, “Son of a Preacher Man.” It has since been lauded as a great album and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The album was produced by legends Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler. The back-up singers are the Sweet Inspirations who included Cissy Houston, later the mother of Whitney, and Lee Warwick, Dionne Warwick’s mother: