Back in the day there were many artists whose music never made it to the mainstream but deserve to be noted. These groups produced some of the best music of the day, however, they were never able to sign with a major record label. Everyone knows about the major groups who climbed the charts from Motown, Stax, Buddha, and other major labels. There were quite a few whose music was played on “local” R&B radio stations but never reached the national scene. Many of these artists received more recognition in Europe than was afforded them here in the USA. Although a couple were signed with the major labels, they were never “marketed”. In fact, there were even a few from right here in Boston, Massachusetts…… Those I will get to later.
The 21st Century – Full Circle – Part 3
The Fabulous Performers members were: Roy Walker, Danny Todd, James Marshall, Timothy Jenkins, Bernard Henderson. They were also known as the Informers, a Philadelphia soul group that put out two mid-’60s singles on the small J-Rude label. The Informers were put on hold in mid-1967 when Marshall and Jenkins were drafted into the Army. When they re-formed after those two got out of the Army a couple of years later in 1969, they changed their name to the Fabulous Performers, after being told another group was using the name the Informers. The Fabulous Performers broke up after a serious car accident in the summer of 1971.
The Superbs members were Bobby Swain [aka Bobby Swayne] Art Sibrie, Charlie Davis, Frank Monroe. They were a Sweet Soul harmony group, who hailed from Los Angeles. The group was all male, apart from the female soprano Eleanor ‘Punkin’ Green, who was also the lead singer on several occasions. Bobby Swain later left the group for another Dore act, Entertainers IV.
The 2nd Verse is a rare soul group who recorded on IX Chains records, with the legendary and sadly underrated Pearl McKinnon (from The Kodaks) on lead vocals. They issued just two singles, both in 1974. Both of them had the same A-side, the beautiful modern soul ballad ‘Be Here in the Morning’, and ‘Gonna Have A Good Time’. It is unclear as to what happened to the group but we’ll stay on the hunt for you.
The V Wagers aka The 5 Wagers – Not much is known about this group, out of Chicago, Illinois, who recorded several songs on the Salem and Nation Time Records labels around 1969. One of their songs that did get airplay for a while was “Until I Found You” which was released on both labels. The members were Lee Brown, Larry Dotson, Larry Maxwell, Davd Robinson, James Westbrook, Jr.
Andrews made her reputation around 1967 with one crossover hit ‘Casanova’, which featured a Chicago-style mid-tempo lope and went to #9 on the R’n’B charts and #51 in the pop charts. Successful follow-ups on the Zodiac label included ‘You Made a Believer (Out of Me)’ in 1969, which gained quite a bit of airplay and ‘Everybody Saw You the next year. She later cut some bluesy material for the Ichiban label.
Brothers of Soul was a soul trio with members Fred Bridges, Richard Knight, and Robert Eaton. They were also a songwriting team and were involved with writing around 50 singles. Based in Detroit in the 60’s and 70’s, they recorded a number of songs, mainly with producer Ric Williams for the Zodiac and Boo labels. Fred met up with Richard Knight at the Dodge Assembly Plant where they worked and found that they both got along well together and complemented each other’s writing styles. Two tracks they co-wrote were “I Am Nothing” and “Brand New Love”, the A-side being an up tempo number which gained huge popularity on the Northern Soul scene in England. “Brand New Love” was a re-release on another label in North West Detroit. The next release, on La Beat Records was by James Shorter who possessed a big baritone voice. This time the tunes were more laid back but carried a lot of quality and innovation. The flip side “Modern Day Woman” was also significant because a new songwriter was in the mix, Robert Eaton.
Roz Ryan..This song came out in 1970 on Volt records and was co-written with R. Wylie by Tony Hester who would later write big hits for The Dramatics who are the background voices on this great song. Roz is from Detroit and she later became an actress. She is better known for her role as Amelia Hetebrink on the 80’s TV show “Amen”.
The 21st Century – Part 2
Maxayn was an American soul group in the 1970s. The band took its name from the lead singer Maxayn Lewis (Paulette Parker), who was also a former Ikette and wife of band keyboardist Andre Lewis. Members also included Marlo Henderson (guitar) and Emry Thomas (drums). Andre and Henderson had previously played on the 1970 Buddy Miles Express albums A Message To The People and Them Changes. Maxayn released three albums on Capricorn Records between 1972 and 1974, which were distributed by Warner Bros Records. They signed to Manticore Records in 1975. A new single titled “Spirit Groove” was expected from their fourth album, but contractual issues derailed the project. Andre signed to Motown and recorded disco funk albums under the name Mandré. Two songs were played quite a bit on FM-Radio during this time; Moan To The Music and Stone Crazy.
MR. Danny Pearson
Born in Stonewall, Mississippi and also hails from Racine, Wisconsin. In 1974 he moved to California. His sole release was the 1978 album Barry White Presents Mr. Danny Pearson, which was produced by Barry White. The lead single from the album, “What’s Your Sign Girl?” peaked at #16 on the U.S. R&B charts and at #106 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hits. Barry White picked him as one of the first signings of his Unlimited Gold label imprint, distributed by CBS Records. Barry White produced the -still then- teenager’s top 20 R&B mid-tempo ballad single “What’s Your Sign Girl” as well as his sole album.
An original member of the R&B vocal group from Los Angeles, California, the Younghearts. Original members were Ronald Preyer, Charles Ingersoll, Earl Carter, and James Moore. The Young Hearts were typical of the falsetto-lead stand-up vocal groups that populated the R&B scene of the late 60s and early 70s. Their impact was purely on the R&B charts, getting moderate hits with ‘I’ve Got Love For My Baby’ (number 19 R&B) in 1968 for the Minit subsidiary of Imperial Records, and ‘Wake Up And Start Standing’ (number 48 R&B) in 1974 for 20th Century. A stay at ABC Records in 1977 produced an album and several singles that did nothing, and the group faded after that. Ron released “If You Don’t Want My Love” on Shock Records in 1978 that some pretty good airplay around the country.
Billy Jones & the Stars
Billy Jones was from Texas and a big fan of Archie Bell & the Drells. He ended up living in Amsterdam and sang in Oscar Harris’ Twinke Stars. As Billy Jones & The Stars they made this spectacular album which is wholly in the Archie Bell style. The production on this LP is fantastic, just as on Billy’s other LP “Birds of the sea”. Billy’s version of “Love Is Gonna Rain On You”, the self-penned ballad “Change Your Mind” and “My Baby’s Gone” are all classics.
Greg Perry is a singer, songwriter and record producer. He has worked with artists such as Freda Payne. He has written and produced many hits for soul artists in the 1970s. He is also the brother of singer Jeff Perry and he is married to Edna Wright who sang in the group Honey Cone. One of his songs that received a good amount of airplay was entitled “I’ll Always Be In Love With Love” from his “Greg Perry, Smokin’ album.
The 21st Century – Part 1
As time passes one thing that has become evident is the lasting affect R&B and Soul still has on music lovers around the world. Many of the songs from “back in the day” have now become popular ‘background music’ for mainstream commercials. The popularity of this music, some may say, stems from the arrangements, lyrics, vocals, etc. all of which make it easy to remember and to appreciate. The same way vinyl records are making a “come-back: so too is this music.
Over the past five years, in particular, this genre’ of music has grown exponentially across the globe. Not only because of the younger generation finally discovering it but because of what I previously mentioned. “Real music” from back in the day is coming full circle. There’s just something about this music!
Many music lovers have been discovering more of the “obscure” and little known music that never ‘hit big’ but deserve to be recognized and have a place in the annals of Soul, Jazz, and R&B. I will be introducing some of these songs and the artists behind the music. Even if you may be familiar with some of the music and / or artists, it is well worth mentioning again. Lest we forget!
The Positive Sounds
Around the early 60’s five of the original members decided to continue rehearsing together under the name of, The Sounds. The group included James Carver, (alto saxophone), George Miller (trombone), Hugh Williamson (Tenor saxophone), Eric Turner (bass guitar), and Amos Hunter, (drums). They decided to change the genre of their music from Jazz and the group moved to the music of Motown and similar styles. Around 1967, while attending Norfolk State College, the group had increased their size to nine members. The new members included Sidney Buffalo (trumpet), Michael Harris (guitar), Michael Robinson (guitar), and Alex Boyd (lead vocals). Around 1967, while attending Norfolk State College, the group had increased their size to nine members. The new members included Sidney Buffalo (trumpet), Michael Harris (guitar), Michael Robinson (guitar), and Alex Boyd (lead vocals).
After several attempts over years to revive the group, the Positive Sounds disbanded after their last performance in March of 2007. The last version of The Positive Sounds included Clifford Clark (saxophone/flute), John Glass (bass guitar), and Stephanie Barnes (vocals). Only two original members, Amos Hunter and Hugh Williamson were a part of the final performance.
Nu-Sound Express / Rhyze
From New Jersey, the group’s history can be traced back to when they were known as Soul Unlimited. They were still at college when they met and became associated with Paul Kyser who was a record producer, song writer and arranger. He changed their name to The Nu-Sound Express, LTD. / Nu-Sound Express. They released a single (on the Silver Dollar Records label) and had a degree of success playing the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and music venues along the East coast. “Is It Good Enough” and (B-side) “I’ve Been Trying”. Later they changed their name to Rhyze. The members were: Roscoe Taylor – lead vocals, trumpet, Ellsworth ‘EI-T’ Anderson – bass, lead vocals, Vince Jackson – guitar, lead vocals, Charles Holmes – drums, Joseph “Jo Jo” McKnight – congas, percussion, Kevin Barbee – keyboards, Richard Menter – trumpet, Kenneth Hicks – sax
The Philly Devotions
One of the local Philadelphia vocal groups was the Philly Devotions, with members Morris Taylor, Ernest Gibson, Gregory Davis, George Peterson and lead vocalist Matt Covington. The group’s first two records were self- released, then they moved to local Philly label Don De before obtaining a licensing deal with Columbia Records. Their sound was often compared to that of The Stylistics. As good as any of the better known groups associated with the Philly sound, the Philly Devotions became quite frustrated when their label mates on Gamble & Huff’s PIR Records were scoring pop and R&B hits, while the Devotions’ singles were largely ignored by radio. The frustration became too much to bear and the group eventually disbanded. They were known for the strong male vocal harmonies perfectly matched with the combined influence of their producer John Davis. They were the first group in pop history that released a 12″ single (“I Just Can’t Make It”, on Columbia, in October 1975).
They were a vocal group from Durham, North Carolina consisting of singer-songwriters Larry Allen, Larry Duncan, Hoyle Saunders and Henry Chanel. The group had some success with the singles “I’m Hopelessly in Love” (1973) and “I Can’t Fight Your Love” (1974), both of which were included on the Modulations’ self-produced album, It’s Rough Out Here, released in ’75 and featuring arrangements by Vince Montana, Norman Harris, and Ronald Baker and instrumentation by members of MFSB.
The Billion Dollar Band
Their line-up included Roosevelt Demps (drums, vocals), Vernon Maddox (lead vocals, guitar), Winston Stubbs (trumpet, vocals), Reginald Showers (trombone, vocals), Charles N. Harris Jr. (bass, vocals). Their self-titled album, recorded at Criteria Recording Studios, and was released in 1977 on the Sounds Good Records label. Among the songs listed “Love’s Sweet Notion” was played on U.S.radio stations, mostly along the East coast. Not much is known about what happened to the group after their album release.
Front row: Carlton Savage-guitar / Renon J. Sumpter -Jr., tenor sax / Calvin Billups-alto sax
Daniel “Buddy” Slade- trumpet / Benjamin Crawford-bass
Back row: Alvin Paige-drums/Leo Davis-vocals/Frank Johnson- vocalist and manager
Not pictured Wayne Jones-organ
Though they definitely have a grown-up sound, The Equatics released their only album Doin It!!! while they were still in high school. Bassist Benjamin Crawford was the catalyst that brought the Equatics together. A group of young musicians in Hampton, Virginia formed the nucleus of the group. Once they got in the studio, the band’s manager (and Crawford’s football coach) Frank Johnson tried to move the band towards soul standards like Ain’t No Sunshine, in part because Johnson had always dreamed of being a soul singer.
Johnson provides the vocals on this and another great track from the album Merry Go Round. Very few copies of the album were ever distributed, and most were limited to the Richmond, VA area until it became a favorite of crate-digging collectors. Disagreements between Crawford and Johnson eventually led the group to break up, leaving behind just this one record.
The Obscure / The Notable – The Boston Connection
In the late 60’s to the mid 70’s various solo artists and groups from the Boston area were signed with an assortment of record labels. Most of these labels did not have the ability to market these artists in the ways of Motown, Stax, and other “giants” of the industry. On the other-hand many had to deal with “somewhat shady” managers and agents who did nothing but stifle any progress these artists could have made.
A few made the choice to take their talents “overseas” and upon doing so were able to obtain some recognition and appreciation of their talents. Of all the artists above, The Endeavors did have some success (here in the states) with their song “Shattered Dreams” and the Indigos with their song “Magic”. Ralph Graham (who was my neighbor) and the rest of these artists were able to perform inside and outside of Boston (New York, Las Vegas, etc.) and a few, like Ralph Graham ultimately “made noise” over in Europe.
The Endeavors “Shattered Dreams” (Stop Records, Inc.)
The Indigos “Magic” (Neptune Records)
Ralph Graham “Let Me Love You” (Sussex Records)
The Energetics “Me And My Girl” (Top-Top Records)
Billy Thompson “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (Columbus Records)
The Synclairs “You Came Along” (Boss Town Records)
The Ambitions “When The Fuel Runs Out” (Firefly Records)
Frank Lynch “Young Girl” (My Records)
The Lords “Since I Fell For You” (Volt Records)
The Exotics “Fortune Hunter” (Coral Records)
Starbound “We Can Make It” (ARS Records) -Now known as The Pulse Of Boston
A shame, but worth mentioning again, that many of these artists never got the proper “push” for their music to enter the mainstream. That situation coupled with some of them having to deal with “unscrupulous” promoters, managers, and record executives kept them from achieving the recognition they so rightly deserved. The good news is that these recordings are still available to those of us who still hunger for, and collect, Soul and R&B from “back in the day”. On that note, I guess I do have a reason to smile for a bit longer.
Free Form Experience “Blowin’ My Mind”
A fantastic soul group from my hometown of Washington, DC, This group was very talented and motivated. They, unfortunately, never had the luck or connections to make it big. They temporary relocated to California and came up with the single 45, “Blowin’ My Mind”, but that resulted in not much more than a big disappointment.
Winfield Parker “I Wanna Be With You” (P&L)
From the Maryland / D.C. Area. Prior to launching a solo career, he also played behind Little Richard and led a band called the Imperial Thrillers. From the late ’60s through the ’70s, Parker recorded sides for an assortment of labels that included Arctic, Ru-Jac, Wand, Spring, and GSF. His peak was achieved in 1971 through his version of “S.O.S. (Stop Her on Sight),” a song popularized five years earlier by Edwin Starr; It went to number 48 on Billboard’s Soul Singles chart. Other songs, such as “Shake That Thing” and “Mr. Clean,” became favorites of England’s Northern Soul scene.
Carl Hall “What About You” (Columbia Records
A powerful vocalist whose talent was never truly recognized, Carl Hall made a name for himself as a gospel and soul singer as well as a performer on the legitimate stage. Carl Hall was born and raised in the West End of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1972, he landed a deal with Atlantic Records, and released a soulful cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” The single would prove to be his only release for Atlantic after failing to hit the charts, and he would meet a similar fate at Columbia Records, cutting “What About You” in 1973 before parting ways with the label.
Darrell Banks “I’m The One Who Loves You” (Revilot)
Born in Mansfield, Ohio, Banks grew up in Buffalo, New York. He signed with Solid Hitbound Productions/Revilot Records, who released his single “Open the Door to Your Heart” in 1966. When the single came out, he was credited as the songwriter and the tune scaled the US charts, peaking at #2 R&B and #27 on the Billboard Hot 100. A second single, “Somebody (Somewhere) Needs You”, hit #34 R&B and #55 Pop later that year. He moved to Atco Records, where he released the singles “Here Come the Tears”/”I’ve Got That Feelin” and “Angel Baby (Don’t Ever Leave Me)”/”Look into the Eyes of a Fool” in 1967, neither of which charted. Atco also released a full-length album of his which included his Revilot singles. Atco subsidiary Cotillion Records released his last single under the Atlantic Records umbrella, “I Wanna Go Home”/”The Love of My Woman”. Later Banks was signed to Stax Records, who released another full-length album of his in 1969 material and two more non-charting singles. They would be his last recordings.
Positive Sounds – “You’re The One I Love” – Shiptown Records
In 1962 in Norfolk, Virginia when a former high school jazz group folded, five of the members decided to continue rehearsing together under the name of, The Sounds. The group included James Carver, (alto saxophone), George Miller (trombone), Hugh Williamson (Tenor saxophone), Eric Turner (bass guitar), and Amos Hunter, (drums). They decided to change the genre of their music and the group moved to the music of Motown and similar styles. In 1967 the group increased size to nine members. New members included Sidney Buffalow (trumpet), Michael Harris (guitar), Michael Robinson (guitar), and Alex Boyd (lead vocals). In 1972 they were the house band for the summer at the Apollo Theatre in New York. The first recording for the group was done with collaboration of vocalist Wilson Williams on tunes titled, “I Almost Blew My Mind,” and, “You’re The One I Need.” After several attempts over the years to revive the group, the Positive Sounds disbanded after their last performance in March of 2007.
The Masqueraders – “I Ain’t Got To Love Nobody Else” – Bell Records
The Masqueraders were one of the longest-lived yet little-known groups in soul music history. The three singles that resulted in the minor hits “I Ain’t Got Nobody Else,” “How Big Is Big,” and “Steamroller”) represent the height of the group’s career, boasting a deep soul sound gilded by an experienced session crew. During this time, the Masqueraders also contributed backing vocals to sessions by blue-eyed soul combo the Box Tops. Their next single as headliners, 1968’s “I’m Just an Average Guy,” was their first true national hit — released via Moman’s AGP label, the record reached the number 24 spot on the national R&B charts.
Soul and R&B
In the mid-1950s the term rhythm and blues, R&B, was adopted by the music industry for music intended for the African American audience; with the gradual disappearance of racial barriers, the Chicago blues style began to seem less a vital form than a folk tradition, while the gospel style was transformed into the soul music of vast appeal. Soul music is a combination of R&B and gospel, and began in the late 1950s in the United States. Soul differentiates from R&B because of Soul’s use of gospel-music devices, its greater emphasis on vocalists and its merging of religious and secular themes. Soul traces its roots to four different sources: racial, geographical, historical and economical factors. Generally speaking, Soul comes from a mixture of the sacred (i.e. gospel) and the profane (blues). Blues mainly praised fleshly desires, whereas gospel was more oriented toward spiritual inspiration. Soul music exploded in the 1960s and ruled the black music charts throughout the decade, and inspired many other music styles. Although Soul’s popularity has declined over the years, its impact and influence still lives on.
Back in the 60’s, in Boston, the social climate was tense, at best, due to the atmosphere of segregation, prejudice, integration, etc. The call from many corners was for us, as a people, to “reclaim our true heritage” and our rights; socially and politically. However, there were also small sections who were calling for the right to showcase the musical talents of many of the groups from that period. Music, Soul and R&B in particular, was utilized as “an escape” from the negativity of the time. This “atmosphere” was carried over to the radio stations as well and, from what I personally recall, there was only one radio station here in Boston that even played or featured Soul or R&B. The station was only licensed to broadcast until 6:00 p.m. or “from sun up to sunset”. That was 1090AM WILD radio. As a teenager I recall the DJ at the time, Wildman Steve (Steve Gallon) doing his thing and I remember hearing those melodies, harmonies, and lyrics. I also remember a “feeling” and being able to relate to it all in one way or another (at least until sundown). Of course the “mainstream” artist’s records were played most of the time but every now and then you would hear a song that immediately grabbed your attention. For example; although they were originally ‘connected’ with Motown, a group named The Monitors (aka “The Majestics”) recorded a song entitled “Say You”, between 1962 and 1964, which was later ‘given’ to the Temptations (around 1965). Then there was a slow song that was played at every house party; where the inside was dark, the light bulbs were red, and you knew who you were talking only because you recognized the voice; “Sad Girl” originally recorded by The Midnighters (Hank Ballard was a member) and by a few other groups during the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Of course the artists from Motown were always heard but other artist like The Impressions, Ruby & The Romantics, The Miracles, Barbara Lewis, Fontella Bass, The Four Tops, Hank Ballard, The Marvelettes, and others were also played and left a lasting impression (no pun intended). The music reflected every emotion experienced during that time, from “sadness to gladness”. A close friend of mine and I were recently discussing this topic and we both agree that, although some of today’s music is not bad; the majority of these songs today are not defining nor romantic. And they seem to deny us the message of beauty, tenderness, respect and warmth.
I can recall sitting in my room on a hot summer day and listening to the music on the radio. I can still here the intro’s, the arrangements, and probably the best ‘musical sound’ in the universe; the Hammond B3 and Leslie speaker combo. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved all of the instrumentation but there was just something special about that sound; it was haunting, alluring, mystical, and magical. A couple of songs where the B3 and Leslie stood out. One was Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger”. The instant it started your ears perked up and you knew.
That’s how it would normally happen; but persistence paid off.The artists names in bold print are a few of those the station played but who never got the “respect” they deserved.
Carol Hughes “Let’s Get Together Again” (Corby Records)
Ruby & The Romantics “Our Day Will Come” (Kapp)
Fontella Bass “Rescue Me” (Checker)
The Marvelettes “When You’re Young And In Love” (Tamla)
The Lovelites “How Can I Tell My Mom & Dad?” (Uni)
The Monitors “Say You” (V.I.P.)
Maxine Brown “Oh No, Not My Baby (Wand)
Brenda & The Tabulations “Dry Your Eyes” (Dionn)
The Rolitas – “Mythical Lover – (Unknown label)
Candy & The Kisses “After I Cry” (R&L Records
(formerly The Symphonettes)
The Elgins “Darling Baby” (VIP)
The Formations “At The Top Of The Stairs” (Mojo)
Carla Thomas “ Baby” (Atco)
The Precisions “Why Girl” (Drew)
Positive Change “Blind Over You” (Fortress)
These and many other songs could solicit an assortment of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and ideas through the music and lyrics. All during a time of growing social concerns and mistrust; especially during the middle to late 60’s. “This music was a way for us to escape….”.
True Or Falsetto?
From the mid-60’s to the 70’s Soul music seemed to start focusing on the male groups of the time. From the mainstream groups to the “not so mainstream” groups there was an emphasis on the lead singer utilizing a falsetto. For some reason it seemed to get over big (here in the states) especially where the lyrics were directed to the female listeners. Songs like The Temprees’ “Love Maze” where the delivery was slow, smooth, and melodic; and the lyrics seemed to express a deep feeling of love were the order of the day. It became somewhat of a phenomenon and almost every time a new group emerged you could count on the use of the falsetto. Well known groups and songs such as; Smokey Robinson And The Miracles (Ooh, Baby Baby), The Moments (Not On The Outside), Black Ivory (Don’t Turn Around), Enchantment (Gloria), The Chi-Lites (Have You Seen Her?), and others, all utilized it and paved the way. Some would begin singing in natural voice and then switch.The songs became mainstream hits and received a huge amount of Black radio airplay. It was said “back in the day the falsetto was akin to the “crooning” that was done by people like Bing Crosby”. For me, it was about the musical composition and arranging, the lyrics, the delivery, and the audience reaction I personally witnessed during performances by these groups.
Not only did the falsetto play a role where lead singing was concerned, it also played a major role with background harmony as well. Quite a few “non-mainstream” groups utilized this “technique” in their songs; The Hypnotics (Music To Make Love To), The Decisions (You Look Like An Angel), The Youngbloods (Hey Love), The Endeavors (Shattered Dreams), The Three Reasons (Take Me Back), Chocolate Syrup (Stop Your Crying – 1970), Ace Spectrum (Just Like In The Movies), and a myriad of other artists. There were also mixed groups, female lead with male background vocals, where the background utilized a three or four part harmonic vocal arrangement; complete with the falsetto; Gladys Knight & The Pips and Brenda & The Tabulations were two of the ‘mainstream’ groups back then.
A Myriad Of Feelings…..Inspiration
Music is a universal influence; not only for those who practice it but for all who listen as well. The current music, or the vast majority of it, uses “samples” from that which was created years ago. One important, and overlooked, difference is the lyrics. Nowadays most the lyrics focus on disrespect, fear, bad intentions, and just plain negativity.
During the turmoil of the 60’s and 70’s there was always one way to escape…..the music. You could sit back, relax, put on a 45 or album, sing along, and just plain feel good. It allowed you to actually relate to the situation expressed by the lyrics of the song. If you felt ‘down’ you could think about the girl (or guy) who lived down the street. You know, the one you saw every day but never approached. Or you could listen to one whose lyrics reflected the way you felt about that special someone and then pick up the telephone and call him (or her). Most of the Soul and R&B lyrics from the 60’s to middle 70’s focused on feelings, emotions, wants, needs, social issues, and love. From the titles alone you immediately knew what the song was about and what feeling or emotion was involved.
“Let’s Get Together Again” Carol Hughes – Reflection
“Our Day Will Come” Ruby And The Romantics – Hope
“Baby It’s You” The Shirelles – Love
“Sad Girl” The Midnighters – Redemption
“Does Your Mama Know About Me? The Vancouver’s – Social
These songs, these lyrics, and many like them have a way of “hanging on” because, though the times were rough, the messages they sent were easy to relate to. And it was at a time when “most” young hearts were true and free. Music is a universal influence; not only for those who practice it but for all who listen as well. And back-in-the-day I was encouraged to do more than just “watch and listen”. One afternoon (around 1971 or 72) a friend of mine and I were talking as we walked around downtown. He mentioned to me that there was a concert, around 7:00 p.m., on the Boston Common and there was a band called “Earth, Wind & Fire” performing. That was at a time when, though there was still some tension, people who did not know one another could come together and simply “enjoy”.
Well I had heard some of their music on the radio and figured what the hell. As we approached the area I saw the big sign that read “Concerts On The Common – Earth, Wind & Fire”. I walked up to the turnstile, gave the person five dollars and entered where I immediately saw a few hundred folding chairs, a grassy area behind them with people who had already spread their blankets, and a huge stage. As we took our seats (somewhere about the sixth row) I remember looking at all of the speakers, lighting, and instruments. The musicians walked onto the stage and took their places.
Then the MC announced over the PA; “Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Concerts On The Common. Tonight we present for your entertainment….Earth, Wind and Fire”. As the intro was played I recognized it as their song “Power”. I saw one of the musicians (Maurice White) holding what looked like a square box in his hands (the Kalimba) and as his fingers moved over it on of the most beautiful sounds I have heard came through the huge speakers. You could feel the energy building along with the intro and as they broke into it I watched this guy playing bass guitar suddenly run across the stage. All the while smiling and constantly moving, playing, and simply “energized”. He was the reason, right then and there; I decided my instrument of choice was the bass guitar. That man was Verdine White and to this day he displays that same enthusiasm. The energy, charisma, and sheer talent I was watching were nothing less than an inspiration for me. and after going through several people finally formed our band. It was named “Blood, Earth, and Man”. It was during the time of social and musical awareness for Black people in the U.S. and the named reflected the colors of the time; Red, Green and Black. After almost a year I was finally able to buy my first “real” bass guitar. We played at all of the local neighborhood clubs and one club that, at the time, catered mostly to “other bands”. That was Katy’s, where such acts as Dr. John, Carol King, etc., played. We had a couple of personnel changes during this time and even came up with a few originals of our own. One I wrote was entitled “Funkin’ Right”. We were also invited to perform “live” on one of the local college radio stations and received excellent feedback. I rewrote “Funkin’ Right” and after the demise of the band I found out that it was “claimed” by others. Rather than get angry I allowed it to inspire me more and to educate myself about the “business
Why???? And Where Did Soul Go?
Out of the many reasons I believe (my personal opinion) may have contributed to the “obscurity” of so many talented R&B and Soul artists and Soul Music, a few are:
1. The music charts at the time reflected the “social climate” and therefore you had different charts based upon “who” the artist was and “what” (race) the artist was
2. With many artists back then the injustice was for their talents not to have been “pushed” by the record companies
3. Many songs that should have been on the Soul/R&B charts were categorized as “Doo-Wop” and were never played by Soul/R&B radio stations
4. Many Soul and R&B artists opted to go “overseas”
Throughout the 60’s and 70’s very few talented R&B and Soul artists made the music charts. Even though there was an “R&B/Soul Music” chart these artists never made it. During this time it was the record companies who actually controlled the industry (a topic for another day).
Soul music was enabled by the commercial boom of what was termed “race” music, that had led to the creation of channels and infrastructures run by Black entrepreneurs for Black artists. This class of Black entrepreneurs hired and trained a generation of session musicians, producers and arrangers (not to mention songwriters) who were specifically meant to serve the needs of Black music.
Soul music retained its vocal-drive image, typical of all pop music, but, like so much pop music, its hits became increasingly dependent on the skills of the arrangers and producers. Soul music began a transition from a “vocal” style into a “sound” style. This took place mainly in four cities: New York, Memphis, Detroit, and Philadelphia. And it corresponded with four independent labels: Atlantic (founded in 1947 by songwriter Ahmet Ertegun), Stax (founded in 1959 by Jim Stewart), Tamla – Motown (founded in 1959 by Berry Gordy), and, later on,International(founded in 1971 by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff).
With the music of Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul (1969), Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (1971), Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly (1972), and Stevie Wonder’s Music Of My Mind (1972), Soul music had recognized its crisis, and entered a new era. Instead of the assembly-line method and the song format of the early era, the new era valued an author-oriented approach. Meaningful lyrics, and the’ suite’ format. However, the 1970s were a decade of steady decline for Soul music.
First it was Funk music that reduced the market for Soul musicians (and, in fact, many of them simply adopted funk). Then it was Disco music that made Soul music sound antiquated as party music. Finally, Hip-Hop and Rap music introduced a completely new example (both vocal and rhythmic) for Black music.
Now there is a silent cry from all over for the type of music that does not degrade women, race, ethnicity, promote violence, and etc. People are at the point where they no longer want to listen to music whose lyrics “attack”. The rebirth of Soul is evident in today’s music where “the spoken words” of mainstream Hip-Hop and Rap are backed up by ‘samples’ from “back-in-the-day”.
I sit here smiling because, as obvious as it is to me, and to those of all ages (including a large number of younger people, from 15 to 25, I have personally spoken to) “real” Soul music is making a strong comeback. Many “unknowns” from the past are resurfacing and are dedicated to bringing back “Soul” as it should be. Also, many up-and-coming “unknowns” are adopting the true spirit of Soul and are now helping with its rebirth.
Although there is definitely a ‘silent demand’ for Soul music “as it should be” this world-wide ‘rebirth’ of Soul can easily come to fruition by;
- Having more airwave radio stations and internet radio stations concentrate on the true meaning of Soul by reintroducing the music, playing the music, and truthfully educating the listeners about the music.
- The “unknowns” (those unjustly ignored by record companies) have to reintroduce themselves and their music to the world.
- Up-and-coming “unknowns” should utilize the independent labels to push real Soul to radio stations and internet radio stations.
- Listeners and lovers of this music must get behind (and stay behind) programs we used to have or may still have, I.e. (Quiet Storm and The Time Tunnel) and have/had………….(Soul Discovery).
It’s entities like these we need and rely upon to pass on a tradition of a true musical ‘art’ form. Radio stations and record labels, like any other viable business, can only operate based upon the demand of its customers (listeners). Bring It Back!!!!!!