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DEEP # 3/2016 (May)

  Once again I had the pleasure of meeting the ever-wonderful Bettye LaVette, and we had a nice conversation after her show here in Helsinki.  Please read more about it below.  There’s also a portrait of a new Houston-based singer called Greg Watson, and - alongside listening to both new music and retro compilations - I read a fascinating book about vinyl soul albums.  As a bonus there’s even a photo of the author presenting his book at the end of this column.

Content and quick links:

Interviews:
An Interview with Bettye LaVette

New CD release reviews:
Charles Bradley: Changes
Charles Wright: Something to Make You Feel Good
The Original Tymes: Lovers Never Say Goodbye (CD Single)
Greg Watson’s Pieces of Me 2

Reissue/Compilation CD reviews:
The Independents: Just As Long / The Complete Wand Recordings 1972-74
Various Artists: Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976
Various Artists: One Track Mind! More Motown Guys
Jack Ashford: Jack Ashford / Just Productions

Book Review:
John Lias: Spinning Around / A History of Soul LP, volume 1: A-K



BETTYE LaVETTE

  Bettye’s concert in Helsinki on April the 24th was a very emotional and intense event, at times even spine-tingling.  This was her third performance in Finland in twelve years, and at www.savoyteatteri.fi she was backed by her regular 4-piece rhythm section of Alan Hill (keyboards), Brett Lucas (guitar), James Simonson (bass) and Darryl Pierce (drums).  The night was nicely balanced between up-tempo and funky songs like Unbelievable and Joy, mid-tempo numbers of the calibre of Worthy and Close As I’ll get to Heaven and those tremendous show-stopping ballads.  As a soul stylist and interpreter of highest order she dramatized such pop songs as Isn’t It a Pity and Nights in White Satin into impressive down-tempo miniature plays - not to mention a big personal favourite, Souvenirs.

  However, no Let Me down Easy and Your Turn to Cry this time.  Bettye: “These kind of songs are difficult to sing.  They take a tremendous amount of energy.  People are always amazed, when I’m saying it, but I’m so small.  I’m singing as loud as James Brown, but I’m smaller, so it takes my whole body – my stomach, my back – and I stomp my feet very hard.  My feet feel like they don’t belong to you.  If you could put your hand on my stomach and on my back, when I sing Let Me down Easy, it would frighten you.  I have to pull my body together, so that I can push these words out.  Occasionally I’ve been doing Let Me down Easy because of the conditions of the world right now, the bombings and whatever...”

  After forty something more or less lean years Bettye’s career took an upward turn after the release of A Woman like Me in 2003 and even more so after the I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise CD two years later (www.soulexpress.net/bettyelavette_story.htm).  How does that affect an artist’s career?  What were the main changes in Bettye’s case?  Bettye: “...that I sing so hard, and it’s such a hard show, and I’m old (laughing).  Those are the main changes.  Compared to doing little gigs around Detroit, here and there... or maybe I’d be called to England to sing Let Me down Easy and Your Turn to Cry and some other things – but to suddenly throw this in the lap of a 70-year old woman, it’s such a great change.  Everybody, who’s known my whole repertoire for these 55 years, wants to hear all 55 years from one little woman at one time.  I haven’t had a chance to do all these shows those years, and now it’s like ‘here’s your whole 55 years, sing it!” (laughing).

  In spite of reaching the next level in her career, there’s still something Bettye is striving for.  “If I can win one of those Grammys, if we can push my money up a little bit so that I could be on a bus and sleep from city to city, but I’m travelling from and to the airport, with these same feet that are dancing, with the same voice I’m singing and pulling my bags with the same hands that has to hold the microphone for 90 minutes.  When Mick Jagger comes off the stage, somebody massages him.  My feet are hurting so bad, and no-one’s going to rub them.”

  After an extensive tour in Europe and the U.S., Bettye now takes a small break and rests for a few days but is back on the road in early June.  “Right now I’m known from city to city.  I need to be known from town to town by a lot of people, because a few people who know me in towns they’re coming to the cities to see me, but there’s so few of them.  I can’t come to their town.  And I need to sleep between gigs.  I just need rest.  The travelling is extremely stressful.  People ask me ‘do you still love it’, and I say ‘I hate every day, when I have to get up exhausted.  I want to do this until I die, but I can’t do it at this level.  I just need to have space in-between gigs.  But as it stands right now, I can’t turn down the gigs, because this is the first time I’m making money in my life.  During the lean period I was just working for no money.”


Bettye with Heikki

STILL THE SAME OLD BETTYE

  As a person Bettye hasn’t changed after the newly-found interest in her art, at least not much anyway.  “I think the only time it changes you is when you’re developing.  They let me develop.  If this would have happened forty years ago, then maybe that would have changed me, but in 2003 or whatever, I was already who I’m going to die being.  Just like B.B. King was.  B.B. had five careers, when they finally did The Thrill Is Gone.  He’s exactly who he was going to be at that point.  I also appreciate everything more now.  You appreciate your abilities, your family and everything more now than you did, when you’re seventeen.”

  Bettye however wishes that the music business executives and promoters would pay more attention to female artists and appreciate their work more.  “I want them to let an artist to come to their business conferences.  I’d say that I’ll be wearing high heels, so you don’t need any holes in the floor so that they have to pick me up and carry me to the stage.  There are so many little things for a woman, especially for an older woman.  None of those festivals are designed for me.  They are for guys with guitars.  We have to come and adapt to them.  We have to take whatever it is they have simply because it’s not designed for Lena Horne, and that’s the appearance I’ve cared about and wanted to be.  I’ve always wanted to be someone fabulous looking.”

  Besides Lena, Bettye thinks highly of Etta James, Koko Taylor and... Tina Turnerl.  “Tina Turner, Smokey Robinson’s ex-wife Claudette and Freda Payne are the three nicest women I’ve ever met in my life.”  Already in her book, A Woman like Me, Bettye touched the Ike & Tina history and now we briefly returned to that issue.  “He made her who she is.  In my book I said that she could have left anytime she wanted to.  I don’t know a man that I’ve ever talked to, who didn’t think she was gorgeous.  They would have beat Ike up and took her, if she wanted to leave.  That’s all I said, and I’ve told her that.  I didn’t accuse her or anything.”

  Bettye doesn’t think very highly of the direction the contemporary R&B is going in.  “I’m not an R&B singer, because I’m black.  I’m an R&B singer, because I am an R&B singer.  Beyoncé and everyone of her ilk are pop singers, just like Diana Ross was.  I could holler right now in this room and drown their whole verses out.  They’re not R&B singers, they’re just black people who sing, and it’s wrong to take the whole R&B genre and just give it to them.  Etta James was an R&B singer, I’m an R&B singer, Bobby Bland was an R&B singer.  Then they have blues singers.  That would be B.B. King, Z.Z. Hill, Koko Taylor...”

  Etta and Bobby have gone on, as well as B.B., Z.Z. and Koko and recently from the country genre Merle Haggard, who was a big favourite of Kevin Kiley, Bettye’s husband.  “Now the only person that’s left that I want to sing with is Willie Nelson.”  Talking still about touring, Bettye’s favourite place or country isn’t one of the seven wonders of the earth, nor any other exotic spot.  “West Orange, New Jersey!  That’s my favourite city, my favourite country.  There’s nothing to fascinate me anymore.  Now that I have gone all over the world, I’ve seen it!”  Right at this moment Bettye is resting at home in her favourite city with her husband and four cats - Otis, Smokey, Jeremy and Peety.

(www.bettyelavette.com; acknowledgements to Bettye LaVette, Kevin Kiley, Robert Hodge and www.livenation.fi).


CHARLES BRADLEY

  Despair, anxiety, oppression, pain – that’s Charles Bradley.  Correct?  Not exactly, because there are also some positive and even romantic songs in his repertoire, but his style of delivery often draws from all the trials and tribulations in his earlier life.  Changes (DUN-1005/DAP-041; http://daptonerecords.com) is the third CD from “the Screaming Eagle of Soul”, and once again the album is produced by Thomas Brenneck.  Charles is backed by the 7-piece Menahan Street band on all but two tracks, where the Budos Band provides the music.  Still there are as many as three choirs on background vocals on different tracks, so the sound is authentic and full.

  The music doesn’t veer away too much from Charles’ two preceding albums.  Apart from one funky number (Good to Be Back Home) and one routine party dancer (Ain’t It a Sin), the rest of the songs are either ballads or mid-pacers.  Things We Do for Love may bring back memories of the 60s pop & soul group sound, and You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know) takes you to an almost identical nostalgic trip.  Change for the World is a social commentary, and you can watch a psychedelic video of it at www.thecharlesbradley.com.

  Charles’ forte lies in delivering intense, pleading ballads, and with his throaty and half-weeping voice he turns Black Sabbath’s 1972 ballad Changes into a highly emotional number.  Crazy for Your Love and Slow Love are similar and almost as impressive.  If you liked his first two albums, you’ll no doubt go for this one, too.


CHARLES WRIGHT

  When the name Charles Wright pops up, the first thing many of us remember is his 1970 hit, Express Yourself, with the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.  Some may even recall such other charted songs as Do Your Thing, Love Land and Your Love (Means Everything to Me) on WB, but Charles has actually been active on the scene since doo-wop days from the 50s and – besides five albums with his Watts band and four solo albums since the late 60s through to 1975 – allegedly he has released ten solo CDs on his own label, which was founded in the 90s.  Even more, earlier this year he has published the first of his 3-part series of autobiographies titled Up from Where We’ve Come.


  Something to Make You Feel Good (A Million $ Worth of Memories Records, 200332-10LP; www.expressyourself.net) was produced by Charles and he also arranged the twelve self-written songs alongside Tom Tom Washington, Hense Powell and Gary Davis.  Among the background vocalists you can spot Brenda Lee Eager and among the musicians, besides Hense, Melvin Dunlap, Land Richards and Rudy Copeland.

  Charles has never been a very expressive (pun intended) singer, and his voice is rather thin.  He’s struggling in reaching higher notes these days, and sometimes his voice breaks down.  Recognizing this, on some tracks he has chosen an almost whispery approach in his delivery.  Nevertheless, his on-going popularity lies more in hooky, poppy melodies, tight and live instrumentation and the overall positive feel of his music.  His current hit is a humorous, mid-tempo number called Looking for an Ugly Woman, and  there’s a video of it on his website.  The preceding single was the funkier She Don’t Believe in Love.  The tuneful Happiness is equally punchy and backed by real horns, whereas Throwing in the Towel is a fast-tempo party song.

  Of the six ballads on display my picks are the mellow and tuneful Thank God for Tonight and the melancholic Made in the Shade.  If you prefer powerful and big-voiced singing, then this CD is not for you.  As a competent writer, arranger and producer, perhaps Charles could think about using also outside vocalists on his records in the future.  I also wasn’t too crazy about the mixing, as for me the rhythm section was way too back.  However, full points for Charles’ slogan put into practice – “music played by human beings not by machines.”  In his liner notes he even proves, how drum machine beats are bad for your heart.  On this CD only strings are synthesized.  The rest is organic.  (Acknowledgements to www.mileshighproductions.com).


THE ORIGINAL TYMES

  I’m afraid that once again I don’t follow my own rules but review a single CD and not a full-length physical album as it’s supposed to be.  This is due to the fact that I have a soft spot for the Tymes (http://www.soulexpress.net/tymes.htm), and furthermore I really like their two new recorded songs.

  In the line-up of two original members - Al “Ceasar” Berry and Norman Burnett - reinforced with James Wells and Russell Gore Jr. the group sings a pretty, subtle and timeless ballad called I’m in Love Again, written, produced and arranged by Albert Berry III and Leroy Schuler.  According to Al, who sings lead on the song, it’s “a love story of Ceasar and his wife.”

  Written by Terry Johnson and Paul Williams, Lovers Never Say Goodbye (the Tymes Version) is another romantic and smooth, doowopish ballad, and this time it’s a duet between Al and Norman Burnett.  Al: “It’s a story of a young lady, who didn’t want to leave her love.”  Some of you may remember the song as a small hit for the Flamingos in 1959 and now the Original Tymes revive it by keeping up the high standard of traditional group harmony singing (http://theoriginaltymes.com).

BRYAN AUSTIN

  While at it, let me add one more “against the rules” record: a clip of Bryan Austin’s new single What Would Marvin Say, written by Janie Bradford and Marilyn McLeod, at http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B01FVELGIY/ref=mp_s_a_1_fkmr0_1?qid=1464015893&sr=1-1-fkmr0&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=What+Would+Marvin+Say-+Bryan+Auatin.

You can expect an EP in the near future.


INTRODUCING... GREG WATSON

  I was kindly sent a review copy of Greg Watson’s Pieces of Me 2 CD (www.GregAWatson.net), but then I took a glance at the label, and it reads ‘2013’ on it.  Greg: “Being an independent artist, songwriter and all that stuff, new to the music and entertainment business, it’s just taking me awhile to get my product out there.  Some of my friends say it’s just hard for me to let it go.”

  Greg “Mr. Seasoning” Watson was born in Arkansas in 1965 and moved to his current home town of Houston, TX, in 1989.  “I grew up singing in African Methodist Episcopal Church and school choirs through college.  I was briefly in a band called Virtual Image.  Our only gig was the national anthem at the Houston Aro’s soccer game.  Another more recent attempt was with the Epic Band, also in Houston TX, and it contained former musicians from the late Mel Waiters’ band.  Shows included ‘Live after 5’ at Jones Plaza for Radio 1, Majic 102.1 FM, and several small club venues.”

  When growing up, Greg has briefly played piano, trumpet, French horn and baritone.  Among his favourites in music today there are Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Peabo Bryson, Donny Hathaway, Jeffrey Osborne, Glenn Jones, Anthony Hamilton and Prince.  “I released earlier a CD called Pieces of Me.  It only contained about 3 to 4 songs.  As I’m learning more from the people working with me, I wanted to improve the songs.”

  On Pieces of Me 2 there are a lot of names credited as producers, and one of them is Lonicko Harden, who’s not only a producer but a songwriter and musician as well.  Among other things he has earlier released some contemporary gospel on himself.  “Horace Ates is a producer, songwriter and musician and an engineer, who produced with me all songs except Illusions and Prove My Love.  He plays the live instruments you hear in the background – bass guitar, keyboards – and does some background vocals.”

  Ronald Hearn is another producer, songwriter and musician.  “Ron aka ‘Bam’ is a production engineer, who composed the track for Prove My Love.”  Prove My Love is both a dramatic and tender ballad at the same time, with even classical music elements to it.  “Jerrile Wilcox wrote the track to Roll Over.”  The song could be best described as a bedroom ballad.

  “David Donaldson co-produced by adding live horns to the song called Move Your Body, and I was fortunate enough that Stephanie Wilson was in the studio to lay some additional background to Move Your Body.”  As the title indicates, it’s a vibrant dancer and it has a rap passage inserted in it.  “Still Russell Taylor engineered some of the songs.”

  Besides the tracks above, there’s one jolly party song in a Louisiana style aptly named Zydeco Move Mix and three mellow mid-tempo numbers – actually quite full in instrumentation – Want for Nothing, Lies and This Time.  The last one was picked up for the single release.  On the ballad front there are still Illusions, a dreamy number where Greg softly talks his way through almost till the end, and another mating call entitled Craving Your Body.

  Pieces of Me 2 is partly innovative, partly relies on tested and safe, even clichéd elements.  Vocally Greg has been compared to Jeffrey Osborne, but I’d add still the late Al Wilson to the list of sound-alikes.  His latest single release, Can You Feel Me, is a busy ballad and “supposed to be the first single from upcoming CD.”


COMP-ART-ment

THE INDEPENDENTS *

  I don’t think there’s a classic soul music fan out there who doesn’t like the Independents.  This sweet harmony soul group was among the best Chicago could offer, and – although their career was way, way too short - now all the material from their two albums and eight singles culled from those Wand LPs has been compiled on Just As Long / The Complete Wand Recordings 1972-74 (CDKEND 448; www.acerecords.com; 22 tracks, 79 min.; notes by Tony Rounce).

  Equipped with highly melodic and memorable songs from the pens of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, the group was also produced by the very same twosome and furthermore they provided vocals alongside Helen Curry, Maurice Jackson... plus Eric Thomas a bit later.  Indeed, the sound on those either romantic or wistful ballads was smooth and sweet, and every now and then you can listen to intense interplay between lead singers.  On these string-laden slow songs there were also a lot of softly spoken monologues.

  However, it’s wrong to assume that the music was just a big parade of ballads.  On this CD there are as many as eight mid-pacers or up-tempo tracks, all the way up to disco beats (Arise and Shine, I Found Love on a Rainy Day).  They are all tuneful toe-tappers, either mellow (Can’t Understand It, Lucky Fellow) or closer to funk (Show Me How).

  Just as Long as You Need Me, Leaving Me, Baby I’ve been missing You, It’s All Over, The First Time We Met and Let This Be a Lesson to You – they are the unforgettable, beautiful songs and hits that we remember best from this quartet.  It’s a pity that Chuck and Marvin became so busy with other projects that they put an end to this group.  Nevertheless, it’s truly heart-warming to listen to these gems again.


70s MAINSTREAM

  Mainstream Modern Soul 1969-1976 (CDKEND 449; 24 tracks – 3 prev. unreleased – 76 min.; notes by Ady Croasdell) features music from Bob Shad’s Mainstream Records and such affiliate labels as IX Chains, New Moon and Brown Dog.

  Part of the music is aggressively up-tempo – stretching out to gritty funk (by Linda Perry mostly) and punchy disco – but there are also pulsating, lighter dancers among them, namely The Fantastic PuzzlesCome Back, The Words of Wisdom’s You’re a Friend of Mine and Lenny Welch’s A Hundred Pounds of Pain, a northern favourite.  The driving Let the People Talk by the Steptones is most likely influenced by the Temptations sound of the mid-70s, whereas Randolph Brown’s – better known as Randy Brown It Ain’t like It Used to Be is vocally as convincing as can be expected.

  The splinter Dramatics had a small hit with a Philly type of a dancer called No Rebate on Love in 1975, while New Orleans’ Lee Bates never hit the national charts in spite of his vocal prowess.  True, on the mid-tempo (What Am I Gonna Do) What Am I Gonna Say his distinctively gruff voice doesn’t come off properly.  Quite the contrary, on I’m the One Who Loves You J.G. Lewis displays strong singing, and his voice is as close as you can get to that of Jerry Butler

  A couple of ladies still worth mentioning are Almeta Lattimore on the smooth, mid-tempo These Memories and Alice Clark on the more powerful and big-voiced Don’t You CareSarah Vaughan closes the CD in a laid-back style on I Need You More (Than Ever Now).

  I saved the three fine ballads last.  Charles Beverly’s Stop and Think a Minute is an intense slowie, and McArthur’s It’s so Real is equally powerful.  Finally Jackey Beavers of the Johnny & Jackey fame digs deep and comes up with another albeit convincing cover of When Something Is Wrong with My Baby


MOTOWN MALES UNLEASHED *

  Hot on the heels of another Motown girls compilation a few months ago we are now catered to One Track Mind! More Motown Guys (CDTOP 446; 24 tracks – 16 prev. unissued – 64 min.; notes by Keith Hughes), which features equally inspiring and uplifting 60s tracks mainly from the vaults.

  The most exhilarating songs include Frank Wilson’s I’ll Be Satisfied, Marv Johnson’s One Track Mind and two stompers from Edwin Starr, The Girl from Crosstown and Head over Heels in Love with You Baby.  I also liked the two Temptations tracks – I’d Rather Forget (actually Eddie alone) and I Got Heaven Right Here on Earth - and Wish I Didn’t Love You So by the Monitors and Can’t Stop This Feelin’ by the Four Tops are as driving and vibrant as majority of the tracks on this CD.  There’s even some boogie-woogie and rhythm & blues on display on Sammy Ward’s That Won’t Do and Popcorn Wylie’s Goose Wobbling Time.

  Personal favourite artists won’t let me down this time, either.  The Spinners keep the tempo up on the irresistible Tell Me How to Forget a True Love and Imagination Is Running Wild, while James Epps is the only vocalist on the Fantastic Four’s I’m Here Now that You Need MeThink It over (Before You Break My Heart) by Earl Van Dyke & the Soul Brothers is a sweeping instrumental, whereas their Heart to Heart is a jazzy beater from 1964, and Choker Campbell’s Big Band’s swinging cover of It’s All Right was cut the same year.  Other featured artists on this compilation are Ivy Jo, Jimmy Ruffin, the Miracles, Marvin Gaye and Johnny Bristol.  Every Motown music fan has already purchased this CD, right?


JACK ASHFORD

  Jack Ashford / Just Productions (CDKEND 447; 24 tracks – 6 prev. unissued – 75 min.) features a non-stop cavalcade of dancers and stompers all the way to the track # 13, and among them there are two northern favourites by Eddie Parker I’m Gone and Love You Baby – and still further on (on track # 19) you can listen to I Need Your Love (to Satisfy My Soul) by Lee Rogers.  In that first section personal favourites include the light and melodic There Can Be a Better Way by the Smith Brothers and Stay Here with Me by Sandra Richardson, later better known as Feva.

  Jack Ashford and Lorraine Chandler are the main writers, producers and arrangers on these songs and you can read more about their history and about these tracks in Ady Croasdell’s informative and detailed liner notes.

  There’s an impressive 5-track ballad block in the middle of this CD, including the sweet Don’t Take Your Love by the Magnificents, the pleading Don’t Leave Me Baby by Ray Gant & Arabian Knights and one of the greatest deep soul sides ever - But If You Must Go by Eddie Parker.  On first listening I played this track three times in a row.  Another intriguing block can be found at the tail end with such noteworthy tracks as the big-voiced, mid-tempo The Ring by Sandra Richardson again and her rendition of a mellow ballad called Deserted Garden.


John Lias (pic by Debbie Lias)

BLACK BOOKCASE

LONG-PLAYING SOUL *

  John Lias is a devoted, long-term soul music fan and collector of records specializing in LPs.  A few years ago he came up with the idea of writing a book about every American vinyl soul album that he either had or was aware about.  It took him three years to complete the first volume, but now we can enjoy a fine publication entitled Spinning Around / A History of Soul LP, volume 1: A-K (ISBN 978-1-5262-0072-3; 406 pages, 12 with coloured photos; A4-size).

  Reasonably excluding compilations almost completely, the span between release dates of the LPs reviewed in this book is about 35 years from the late 50s almost to the mid-90s.  On each act and artist the main information consists of the name, the known members of the group, title of the LP, the release year and #, producers and Billboard placings.

  You can use this tome also as a reference book, because John gives us a short history of each artist, background information on the record and he also describes the music.  His analyses are well-grounded and I found out that in most cases I agree with John’s opinions; not 100 %, of course (smile).  I didn’t agree 100 % with some career facts, either, but that’s only a minor point.

  There are many obscure and rare artists and records featured, such as Backlash, Gloria Barnes, Dynamic Five, Fillmotions, Eddie Gross and Aura, soul from Hawaii.  The amount of information is vast and I learned a lot from these pages, and it was refreshing to read side-by-side, say, about Gene Allison (1959) and All Spice (1977).  I recommend this book to all classic soul music fans.  While reading, I even pulled out some albums for a nostalgic aural trip.  It’s a highly enjoyable read and makes you wait impatiently for the second volume.  You can approach John at john.lias@googlemail.com for a really reasonably priced copy.

© Heikki Suosalo


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