Deep Soul Column issue 3/2004, Part 2
It’s taken six years for Bishop Joe Simon
to come up with a new CD, but it was worth the wait. Produced and written by the 61-year-old Joe, Wisdom
& Understanding was recently released on Chicago Plus
Records (www.chicagoplusrecords.com), it offers nine songs (plus two remixes)
and features some surprise guests.
Although the instrumental backing – due to partial programming – sounds
scarce at times, in this case it really doesn’t matter that much, since Joe’s
powerful singing and strong background vocals steal the show.
Lester Snell is the main
arranger. ”Lester Snell was one of the
geniuses behind the Stax company, and he worked with Isaac
Hayes on Shaft. During the 70s we
did some work together, so I contacted him and he agreed to work with me.
He’s also playing keyboards and synthesizers
on this CD. We recorded most of these
songs in Memphis, Tennessee, and some in California.”
The set opens with a catchy spiritual mover
called Time To Change, where Joe is accompanied
by none other than the Temptations – Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Barrington
Scott Henderson, Harry McGilberry Jr.
and Terry Weeks. ”With the
Temptations we’ve been friends for many years, when I was singing rhythm &
blues. We were all on tours during those
years, and we remained friends. So I
contacted them and thought it would be very nice, if they would sing background
for me on my CD, because I have a song that I thought at that time really would
fit their life. We agreed to get
together and we worked out the plans and the details and we went to the studio
in California, and that’s where we recorded Time To
The next song, Number 23, has a smooth
and easy melody line adapted to an intense old-time disco beat, which actually
is a surprisingly captivating combination.
”I’m affiliated with the Lutheran Church and I told them that I have a
wonderful song. Se we chat a little bit,
and we finally came with the idea that they wouldn’t mind singing the song,
which is really the 23rd psalm.
We call it Number 23. We did
that, because when you’re trying to collect your royalties there are a lot of
folks that have out records and songs concerning the 23rd
psalm. We use the term Number 23. That’s in order to get our royalties, because
we didn’t want to have the same title as someone else.”
”The choir on the background is the Lutheran
Church Choir, and the Lutheran headquarters is in Germany and they have five
million members. We’re praying that each
of them is buying this CD” (laughing).
Again backed by the Temptations, It’s On
World Order It’s Strong, is once more built on an early 80s disco beat and
Joe’s son, Joshua Simon, has a small rap part in the middle.
”We didn’t really want to have that modern
rap sound, or we wanted to use it in a nice way, so Mr. Snell came up with the
idea that we should do it in this form.
Joshua is fourteen years old. He
is a keyboard player and he’s studying music.”
A deep beat ballad titled I Will Never
Forget offers some impressive singing from both Joe and the background
choir. ”That song is sung by a studio
group that we put together. They all
came in, sang one song and left. I think
that was in Chicago.”
As a tune a melodic mid-pacer – relaxed at
first, but growing more and more intense towards the end – named There’s A
God Somewhere reminds you a bit of a song called No Relief In Sight,
which Joe recorded for his underrated ‘81 Posse album.
”Sometimes things just come to us.
I’ve always loved that melody, so I guess
that’s why it happened like that.” Joe
is backed by the Lutheran Church Choir.
A chugging, almost funky mid-pacer titled I’m
Not Making This Up is the most contemporary sounding track on the set.
It was released as a single a year ago (b/w There’s
A God Somewhere), and again Joshua is featured in
a short rap. ”We were trying to hit the
young audience at that particular time, and that’s why we got it in a way of contemporary
sound and contemporary beat.”
A mid-paced ditty with a reggae beat,
Lay My Burden Down (Glory Glory
Hallelujah), evolves from a light Caribbean song into a gospelly
declamation. ”That’s kind of unique,
ain’t it? We came up
with that, because I wanted to do something different.
We didn’t suggest that it was going to be that
reggae sound. It just happened that
way. It’s something that I thought about
for a long time, and I wanted to do a song like that.
That was an old standard song that I used to
sing in church, when I was a child.”
Glad You Came My Way is the lovely
title song of that ‘81 Posse album, but here Joe turns the delicate ballad into
a more rousing spiritual. ”When I wrote it twenty years ago, I really wrote it to be a gospel
song, but I was not a gospel singer.
When I became a gospel singer, I went on and put the gospel lyrics on
it. There were some artists that had
covered it in a gospel form. Twenty
years ago, when I was singing rhythm & blues, a lot of people wanted me to
sing this song at their wedding. At that
particular time I was not telling people that I was going to be singing gospel
music, so at that time we let it stay a secular song.”
Certainly Lord I Love Everybody is a
more traditional, camp meeting type of a gospel beater.
”It is the most traditional one and that’s
also a song that I sang, when I was a kid.”
Joe hasn’t performed secular music for the
last sixteen years. ”I am a bishop at
the Lutheran Church. I’m affiliated with
them, but I’m a bishop, because I was made bishop to the Bahamas.
These days I perform all over the country, in
churches and auditoriums, places like that.”
Soon after Joe’s long-time partner, John
Richbourg, passed away in 1986, Joe forsake rhythm
& blues for good. His last secular
album was for Compleat in ‘85 called Mr. Right.
Three years later he was already delivering a
sermon and singing some on a Skull album titled Simon Preaches Prayer.
”Then that company went out
Ten years later, in 1998, on
Ripete Gospel they released a musically inspiring CD named
This Story Must Be Told.
”When I did that CD it was only for the one CD
for that company. We didn’t have a
contract to keep recording.”
”Now I have a TVprogram
on Time-Warner cable television in New York City on channel thirty-five.
We just signed the contract.
The program is called ‘Earth Life and
Heavenly Life’. It contains preaching,
singing, videos and interviews.”
As a logical continuation we review three new
inspirational sets by former soul songstresses.
Mavis’ Have A Little Faith (Alligator; ‘04) is her first CD
since Spirituals & Gospel on Verve in ‘96, which was a collaboration with Lucky
Peterson and dedicated to Mahalia
Jackson. I wasn’t very fond of that CD
– I guess, I’ve only listened to it three times by now – but musically this new
one is more versatile, so, consequently, I’ve listened to it four times
Produced by Jim Tullio
and Mavis and recorded in Chicago, the CD features real instruments throughout.
All the songs are new ones, except a couple
of traditionals – A Dying Man’s Plea and Will
The Circle Be Unbroken – which the Staple Singers
have cut earlier.
Mavis’ music is a mixture of spirituals,
Delta blues and ”folk-soul” , but unfortunately on many tracks she
banalizes herself into singing insignificant pop & rock
beaters (Pops Recipe, Ain’t No Better Than You, I
Wanna Thank You, I Still Believe In You and There’s A Devil
On The Loose).
Of the better cuts the opener, Step
Into The Light, is a mid-tempo bouncer with some slide
guitar and even the Dixie Hummingbirds on the background.
At The End Of The Day is a mid-paced,
poppy song, which melodically bears a slight resemblance to Joe South’s
Games People Play, and the third mid-pacer is the melodic title song, which
once again was inspired by the 9/11 incident.
God Is Not Sleeping is a tender and
soft slowie, but if you’re looking for genuine gospel
then look no further than In Times Like These,
a melodic and powerful ballad with a fifty-plus-piece Chicago Music Community
Choir on background vocals.
It’s good to hear Mavis’ voice again after
all these years, but when listening to this CD most of the time you tend to
have an uneasy feeling of walking on the edge and soon slipping into rock.
For soul fans Mavis’ two Volt albums (Mavis
Staples in ‘69 and Only For The Lonely in ‘70)
are still insurmountable. For the fans
of the Staple Singers Kent has just released a double-CD retrospective titled The
Ultimate Staple Singers / A Family Affair with
over two-and-a-half-hour’s worth of music covering the years from 1953 to 1984.
If you have Melba’s previous CD, the
surprisingly impressive I’m Still Here (on Shout/Glory Music in 2002),
you really don’t need this new one – Nobody But Jesus…
(Believe Music Works; ‘04) – since the best five cuts
are lifted from that preceding album.
Produced by Herb Middleton and Dale DeGrat,
they include Master And Friend, a beautiful and
gradually growing ballad, Call Me, an inspirational slowie
with convincing singing from Melba and Shirley Murdock, the melodic and
from-mellow-to-mighty The Other Side Of The Rainbow and finally two beat
ballads, Rise My Sister and Praise Yeah!
Mostly programmed but machines drowned by
loud background singing, there are five public domains – There Is Power In
The Blood, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, Precious Lord, Praise Him and
Higher Ground – all performed either in a traditional
spirit, or in an extra-slow
melismatic way with minimum accompaniment.
What A Friend…
is a mid-beater.
The three new songs – produced and partly
written by Dunn Pearson – are all down-tempo ones.
Nobody But Jesus is another
melismatic slowie, I Believe
In Principles melodically reminds you of the Four Tops’ I Believe
In You And Me (‘82) and Right By My Side is a rather peppy
While interviewing Victor Allen for
our previous issue, we were both guessing off-the-record on which label Peggy’s
first gospel set is going to be released.
Neither he, nor I believed that late Jimmy Lewis, who died from
cancer on September 11, would put it out on his Miss Butch imprint… but he did,
after all. Furthermore, Jimmy wrote in
the liners that ”I have never heard Peggy Scott-Adams
sing this great before! She is a true
gospel singer, and I know she has a sincere calling in her heart to do gospel
I agree that Peggy’s singing is great and her
vocal prowess is the main reason why I keep listening to God Can…And He will
(Miss Butch Rec., ‘04). Otherwise, I’m
not fascinated by poor programming and irritating background singing on some of
the tracks. Understandably, on the cover
Peggy is not looking ”hot & sassy”
this time, but rather like a Sunday school
teacher or a church choir member.
Vick Allen produced four tracks, which I tend
to like the most. Of his own tunes the
title track is a powerful slowie, while Lord Stand
By Me is an even greater deepie.
This May Be The Last
Time is a lilting beat ballad, whereas Be Like Jesus – both written
by W. Witherspoon – is a more gentle one.
The rest nine tracks were produced by Jimmy
Lewis, and they include a powerful ballad – and a tribute to mother – called Did
You Know?, and a slow song from Jimmy’s own recording past titled Still
Wanna Be Black Again.
Other familiar tunes are the jogging Bad Water (Jackie
DeShannon; the Raeletts, Doris
Duke, Dorothy Morrison etc.) and the traditional His Eye Is
On The Sparrow.
We leave the church for a minute and descend
from the higher ground to an earthly playground.
Sheba was introduced in our # 4/2001 issue and
now she has come up with her third CD, I Need A Cowboy To Ride My Pony (
Ecko; ‘04). Produced
by John Ward, the sensual Sheba’s singing is as sweet as ever, but the
biggest praise this time goes to the larger than usual amount of live
instruments, which on some tracks certainly adds to the listening pleasure.
Many of you are probably thinking that there
must be a hidden meaning to the lyrics of the title song.
You really have a dirty mind, don’t you?
Actually this relaxed mid-bouncer tells about
ordinary pony riding… you know, the thing kids love to
do in parks. Depending on how good you
are you can either ride nice and slow, or get up and
go, go, go. That way you may eventually become
another John Wayne, but you must do it as often as you can… obey Lee
Dorsey, who already in 1965 ordered you to Ride Your Pony.
Other mid-pacers include the swaying I
Need Somebody’s Lovin’ Bad and a bluesy bouncer
about Italian cuisine called I Can Hear Your Macaroni… (”but I don’t see
no cheese” ). Get
Behind Me is an easy dancer.
There are as many as five slowies
on the set. I Can Give It Like A
Woman is a laid-back one, Take Your Time an even more serene one, The
Other Woman Has Got Your Man (and its remix) a big-voiced and
beaty one and finally We’re Gonna
Miss You a poignant tribute to Quinn Golden.
The same song was earlier used as a farewell
to Johnnie Taylor, and on this cover Sheba’s dad, Dr. ”
plays the weeping harmonica. I’ve liked
all of Sheba’s CD’s so far, and even after this new one still do.
, ”The Princess of Rockin’ Gospel
Blues” , pretty much describes her music.
Hailing from Saginaw, Michigan, her strong-voiced delivery is deeply
rooted in gospel (so we’re back on ”the higher ground”
). After a short transitional period in
jazz, she has landed in blues and is now actively performing mainly in
Europe. You can read more about her at www.sharriewilliams.com.
Woman (CrossCut Records; ‘04 – ”
www.crosscut.de” ) is Sharrie’s
third CD, and she is backed by her 4-piece band, the Wiseguys.
Recorded in Michigan and produced by Michael
Freeman, thirteen songs were written by Sharrie
and her band members. The only cover, a
passable but not earth-shattering version of I’d Rather Go Blind, is
because of Etta James being one of Sharrie’s
With the main emphasis on blues, fierce
gospel elements, however, are evident on three tracks (Travellin’,
The Glory Train and Gospel Blues), whereas I’ll
Give You Me is an acoustic-backed pop slowie and
Selfish a pretty pop ballad with some jazzy improvisation thrown in.
Sticking still to the blues,
has been active lately and released a CD per year.
Born in Mississippi in 1938, his first single
came out in 1968 and the first album in 1988, which was one of his five Ichiban
sets. Now, I think, this Ohio resident
has thirteen albums under his belt.
Company Is Coming (Wann-Sonn
Records; ‘02) was produced and written by Travis, and he is backed by his
seven-piece band (four in the rhythm, three in the horn section).
Travis himself handles vocals and solo
guitar. He offers mostly
uptempo blues songs – at times close to funk, actually – and
the only song soul fans might enjoy is a pleading and ripping beat ballad called
The Time Is Now.
Blues From Staghorn
Street (Wann-Sonn; ‘03) repeats the same formula –
many romps with occasional moans. At
times Travis’ sound resembles Mighty Sam McClain’s recent music, and at
least on one song, Andy’s, Bobby Bland’s
influence is evident, too. Three last
tracks are Travis’ new Christmas songs: a romp titled Rudolph’s Girlfriend,
a slow talking blues called Christmas 1911 and another romp, Surprise
From Santa, where vocally Travis trespasses the
late Rufus Thomas’ territory.
Two fine recent releases take us back to the
soulful sounds they made some thirty-five years ago.
The eponymous Bettye
Swann (Honest Jons Records; ‘04; 22 tracks, 64
min.) covers her 1968-70 Capitol period (after Money and prior to Atlantic
recordings), consisting of six singles and two albums (The Soul View Now and
Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me).
Having forsaken the music business and living
now happily in the Las Vegas area, the 60-year-old (on October 24)
Bettye belongs to the league of ladies, who at the time
didn’t convince soul fans with big-voiced, gospelly
delivery but with delicate, subtle and nuanced singing.
Her vulnerable, ”little
girl” tone had a certain ethereal charm,
which made her recordings ever so fascinating.
Together with her producer, Wayne Shuler,
Bettye cut four self-written uptempo
tunes (My Heart Is Closed For The Season, I’m Lonely For You, No Faith No
Love and Don’t Let It Happen To Us), but the main body of her work consisted
of cleverly arranged covers. Mostly there
were soulful interpretations of country songs - Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of
Hurting Me (George Jones, Willie Nelson, Ray Price), Don’t Touch
Me (Jeannie Seely), Sweet Dreams (Don
Gibson, Patty Cline), Today I Started Loving You Again (Eddy
Arnold), Stand By Your Man (Tammy Wynette),
Just Because You Can’t Be Mine and You’re Up To Your Same Old Tricks
Typical to those days, especially on albums recent
and even older pop and soul hits were covered, too – Little Things Mean A
Lot (Kitty Kallen), Cover Me (Percy
Sledge), Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye (the Casinos),
Ain’t That Peculiar (Marvin Gaye), Words
(the Bee Gees), These Arms Of Mine, Chained & Bound
(both by Otis Redding), Tell It Like It Is (Aaron Neville),
Angel Of The Morning (Merrilee Rush)
and Traces (Classics IV).
Capitol years weren’t very successful ones.
The only single sides that charted were a pleading ballad called Don’t
Touch Me (# 14-r&b/38-pop), the beautiful Angel Of
The Morning (# 109-pop), the fragile Little Things Mean A Lot
(# 114-pop) and the mid-paced Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me (#
102-pop). However, don’t let that
mislead you, since this is classy music; sophisticated, before the term was
even in use. For me this was
Bettye’s peak period.
Some of those, who knew David, say
that he was anything but the capricious troublemaker or the tragic figure as
portrayed in the Temptations mini-series.
However, he had his demons, which was one of the reasons the
relationship between him and Motown’s decision-makers
grew tense soon after David had left the Temptations and launched his solo
career. This also caused the shelving of,
arguably, his best album ever, David, which was due to come out in the early summer
1971 as his third solo set. Now thanks
to the compilation producer Harry Weinger and the
remastering wizards, Suha
Gur and Ellen Fitton,
we finally get to hear that ”lost album”
plus as bonus tracks seven outtakes and plus
still mono mixes of the four songs that came out as two singles in the first
half of ‘71.
The limited edition of ”David”
Unreleased LP & More (23 tracks,
76 min.) was issued this June by Hip-O Select (www.hip-oselect.com).
The songs for the album were recorded between
the period of August ‘69 and July ‘71, and mostly David worked with such
producers as Clay McMurray, Henry Cosby, Johnny Bristol, Ivy Jo Hunter
and Smokey Robinson. The two
singles didn’t chart. Henry Cosby
produced a mid-paced pleader called Each Day Is A Lifetime (b/w an
ordinary beater, Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me, by Duke
Browner – this side actually bubbled under at # 112-pop) and for the
follow-up Smokey Robinson and Terry Johnson finished a driving
mover titled You Can Come Right Back To Me, with some strange noises in
instrumentation. It was backed with
Smokey’s and Al Cleveland’s powerful ballad, Dinah, which Gene
Page arranged and which was initially meant for the Miracles.
Clay’s input for the album still included a
cover of the Jackson 5’s first hit, I Want You Back, which was
turned from a teeny dancer into an adult uptempo
pleader. A sunny and melodic beat ballad
named Out In The Country is a cover of Bobby Taylor’s recording,
and on the version of Rainy Night In Georgia David forgets Brook
Benton’s delicate reading and instead ”ruffens”
That You Ask For is
a catchy and richly orchestrated Motown dancer.
Already in 1969 Johnny Bristol produced
a storming and energetic mover titled I’ve Got A Need For
You, and his second collaboration is also an uptempo
dancer, the catchy and melodic For The Shelter Of Your Love.
Henry Cosby produced an average
plodder called I Can’t Be Hurt Anymore and Ivy Jo Hunter cut a
beat ballad named Let Somebody Love Me, which was first recorded by Chuck
Also among the rejects there were many
gems. Clay produced a vibrant mover
called It’s Gonna Take A Whole Lot Of
Doin’, and Johnny Bristol produced a beater titled I
Want Her To Say It Again, which Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded
first for their ‘69 Nitty Gritty
album. Bristol is also responsible for a
catchy dancer named Your Heartaches I Can Surely Heal and a messy,
psychedelic beater called Get Away Heartbreak (Keep On
Moving). Henry Cosby produced
another beater, You Make Me Do Things I Don’t Want To
Do, which originally was meant for Marvin Gaye, and Martin Cohen
produced Mountain Of Memories, an impressive beat ballad with energetic
singing but which sounds slightly unfinished.
Personal favourite is a truly powerful and gospelly
rendition of Heaven Help Us All, which is still intensified with an
overwhelming orchestration and background singing.
Add the Funk Brothers, the Andantes,
the Originals and the Spinners, among others, to the mix and you
are into a real treat. A remarkable CD!
THE LATIN COUNTS (aka
Staying still in Detroit, four blue-eyed
gentlemen known as the Latin Counts have come up with a mixture of old
and new songs called Now And Then.
Having performed together on the scene for over twenty
years by now, the history of individual members, however, goes way, way back.
Since the 60s Andy Alonzo has sung in
the line-up of the Martiniques, the Royal
Jokers and C.P.Spencer’s Originals.
was the lead singer on Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam) in 1961 – hence the
Sal Prado was a member of another 60s
group, the Seminoles/the Embers, and finally Don ReVels
comes from the Five Pearls fame.
Alongside numerous uptempo
dancers based loosely on the modernized Motown beat (No
Competition, What’s Wrong With Me Baby and You
Don’t Know It) and the Isley Brothers
covers (Painted Smile and I Guess I’ll Always Love You), there’s
also a catchy, speeded-up version of the Spinners’ Love Don’t Love Nobody.
The high singing skill of each member is
exposed to the full on three doowopish, a cappella
tracks (Peace Of Mind, This I Swear and Lovey
Dovey) as well as on a Four Freshmen type
of a cover of Route 66” style='font-style:normal'>
and a funky interpretation
of Fever. An enjoyable and
slightly nostalgic CD from the boys, who today work mainly with Nick
Marinelli under the name of the Shades
Of Blues… remember Oh How Happy in ‘66?
Andy Alonzo has also a solo CD released
recently, Death And Taxes (Boots Records),
which is closer to Latin fusion and pop-rock than retro soul.
DVD: ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE
You don’t have to seek out any serious social
messages when watching this DVD. There’s
a lot of reminiscing, true, and everything wasn’t pretty for soul artists back
in the old days, but the main purpose of this music documentary was for a
devoted fan in ‘99 to go and see, how some of those big names from the past are
Only The Strong Survive (Miramax; ‘03 –
1:36 – dir. by Chris Hegedus and D A
Pennebaker) visits Memphis, New York and Chicago and
also offers some old movie clips with Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Aretha
Franklin, the Supremes and Wilson Pickett starring in them.
In Memphis the late Rufus Thomas is in
the main role and besides co-deejaying at a radio
station he also sings Walking The Dog – at the Luther Ingram
benefit concert – and The Night Time Is The Right Time; the latter one
as a duet with his daughter Carla, who gets a solo spot, too, with Baby
and Gee Whiz.
Isaac Hayes does Shaft and Don’t
Let Go, while Sam Moore – in addition to remembering his drug
dealing days in New York – bursts into Soul Man and an intense delivery
of When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.
Ann Peebles sings Breaking Up Somebody’s Home, whereas Wilson
Pickett not only chats during his session for the recent album, It’s Harder
Now, but also performs on stage – yes, you guessed it! – In
The Midnight Hour.
Mary Wilson does so-so versions of Love
Child and Someday We’ll Be Together, the Chi-Lites
harmonize on Have You Seen Her and, as the highlight for this viewer, Jerry
Butler puts his heart and soul into Only The Strong Survive and For
Your Precious Love.
year there was Hell At The House (On
Top Records), and now Omar (www.omarcunningham.com)
has released his second, eponymous solo album.
Alongside Tyrone Davis and Willie Clayton, Omar is one of the
three artists on EndZone Records at the moment (www.endzonerecords.com), but
since he’s only 35 years old he tends to add some contemporary elements to
traditional Southern soul, but luckily not very much, so the biggest problem
here still lies in the omnipresent programming.
Produced by J. Courtney Garrard
and Omar and mainly written by Omar, this almost completely downtempo set has a
few quite pleasant moments, such as a catchy and jolly dancer called I Get By, a soft and mellow ballad
titled Sweet Sweet, a melodramatic
beat ballad with a big choir named Momma and
finally a slow duet with Willie Clayton, Shysters
And Wannabes. Tyrone Davis’ latest
CD on EndZone, The Legendary Hall Of
Famer, was released the last of September.
Back to part 1
Back to Deep Soul Main Page
Back to our