Soul Time

(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.

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

19 thoughts on “Soul Time

      1. I’ve never covered Hall and Oates, actually. I have been listening to Abandoned Luncheonette, and it’s pretty good. I like pop, so I’ll probably get to them sometime, even if they’re kind of on the cheesy side.

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        1. Huh! I would have sworn you did at least that tune. Yeah, their early stuff (if memory serves) is more rocky, less cheesy. But I think they’re on the OK side of cheesy. I like some of their tunes but like I said, it wouldn’t interest me much to see them.

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  1. This stuff was never my bad. I warmed up to some later on. The Brook Benton cut I’ve always liked. He sings it with conviction. Listening to it as I type. Maybe it was the Tony Joe connection. Benton has a voice. I do like some of the 4 Tops and Temptation cuts. Dusty’s cut sounds good. I didnt listen to a lot of am radio but as a kid you couldnt get away from it. So I’m familiar with a couple of these.
    Next time you sing that song to get out of the dog house, tape it please.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have the double whammy of not only growing up in Philly but also of listening to nothing but AM radio from early on. With two older sisters, the fucking thing was on constantly and boy I absorbed a lot. Zero blues but a lot of soul, tons of doo-wop, Motown, rock and roll, pop – you name it.
      “Rainy Night” may well be the pick of the lot. When I sing “If you don’t know me by now,” I think my wife’s typical answer is “Hit the road, Jack.”

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      1. Hey it’s all about the enviroment. I got a little of that sister thing and heard some of my favoite tunes that have stuck with me (Guitarzan). But once i discovered FM (remember those early days) I locked into that.
        Falda got me a Hall and Oates thing ‘Our Kind Of Soul’ (No idea why) a few years ago. I listened to it because of where it came from. I actually like it. I guess it’s old tunes that inspired them. I recognize a few.
        The Benton tune is the one.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Sure. If had grown up in, say, West Virginia I’d be playing that shit-kicking stuff and would have probably turned out like CB. Guitarzan! What the fuck?
          FM. Yeah, No static at all. It’s rainin’ all over the world. Just ask Jeff Lynne.

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        2. No comercials, whole albums, secret shit, music that was hiding from us, great DJs … I really do miss that experience. My Spotify is close to experience minus the DJs falling asleep at the controls and having records skip for a half hour.

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  2. I don’t really know much here other than the Dusty in Memphis album. I tried listening to some Hall & Oates recently, but it wasn’t for me… however, I do like the web show thing Hall does at his house (basically gets pals over to Jam).

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    1. Yeah, this is some old school shit. But this is some – not all – of what I grew up on. .There’s a soul station on Sirius that I dig and that inspired this stuff. I like Hall and Oates but I’d say it’s mostly their radio hits these days. I’ve seen Hall’s show. Back when I did my Todd Rundgren (another Philly guy) post, I did one of Todd and Daryl (if memory serves) playing together on that show. Anyway, soul is one of those genres that pulls me out of my rock/blues thing. Did you ever sing any shit like this or are you a straight-up rock guy?

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      1. I have a few bits and pieces in the digital and CD collections.

        I’ve sung some stuff like this when I’ve done some covers stuff. I never tried to write like that though (doesn’t come naturally). I wouldn’t consider myself a straight-up rock guy, though… I find straight-up rock a bit too tough.

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        1. Ok, so if I say I’m a guitarist who plays different style but is at heart, a blues guitarist, what is your equivalent statement? What’s your sweet spot?

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        2. Well, that’s a tough one. I guess I’d started as a rock guy (the alternative kind), but drifted into a very slow rock guy with serious country leanings. It was once suggested I was a ‘purveyor of dry gulch rock’. So I guess you’re kinda right.

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