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J. Blackfoot Interview from 1993

From Soul Express 6/1993

Update: J. Blackfoot R.I.P. (Click this link)

John Colbert was born in 20.11.1946 in Greenville, Mississippi. "I left Greenville when I was about two years old, and I've been in Memphis ever since. This is my home."

John is the only one in the family who's in any way involved in music. "My influences were, when I was very young, Jackie Wilson, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Clyde McPhatter, Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King, all those guys. And I used to listen to James Brown, one of my favourites.

I used to be around a lot of gospel singers. I used to be around Ollie & The Nightingales. I got a lot of knowledge from them, and I used to listen to them in their rehearsals. Then I was going to a Sunday school and church, where I was listening to a lot of gospel. One of my favourite groups in gospel is The Mighty Clouds Of Joy. As a matter of fact, I was at the hospital the other day visiting a friend of mine, and one lady got me confused with Joe Ligon (the lead singer of The Clouds), but when I told her 'No, I'm J. Blackfoot´, she was just as happy."

There's also an incident in John's life, when he wasn't acting like a decent law-abiding citizen should and got locked away. "When you live in poverty in the ghetto, you tend to get into trouble when you're young. I don't know too many people that at the young age didn't get into trouble. I rehabilitated myself, and people have to look at me now."

Back to business

"I got into business in '67. I was the lead singer for The Bar-Kays after the plain crashed with Otis Redding. The Bar-Kays were re-grouping and they chose me as their lead singer, so I was with them for about six months to a year. While I was with them Isaac Hayes and David Porter were writing some songs for me.

I had met David and he invited me over to the studio and he wanted me to do an audition. He liked what he heard, and he and Isaac Hayes started writing some songs for me. Then they decided they would put together a group and wanted me to be a part of that group. We named the group Soul Children. That's when we got real serious. They included Shelbra Bennett, Anita Lewis and Norman West.

Norman is working with me, and Shelbra was on background on 'Loveaholic´. I just used her on that album. She is a house wife. Anita Lewis is working for Federal Express. She is doing real well there, one of the big wheels. She is also singing in church in choir, but otherwise she's not in business any more."

After five albums and many single hits (The Sweeter He Is, Hearsay, I'll Be The Other Woman) on Stax as the other lead of Soul Children, what's John's own opinion about that period ('68-'74).

"Those days were great days for me. It was a great experience. I loved those days, and I'll never forget them." H

After that the group moved over to Epic for two years ('76-'77).

"Well, they didn't do any promoting. I really didn't enjoy being with them. You got to concentrate on promotion, that's the only way you can make it. You can have a great record, but if you don't have promotion, you just got a record sitting on a shelf. They wouldn't promote Soul Children. If I can make things happen now, I could have made them happen then. I was younger then. They just mistreated us."

During his career John has worked extensively with Homer Banks and Lester Snell. When was the first time he met these gentlemen?

"I met Homer when me and Homer were kids, so we've known each other for years and years. We went to school together. Then we both got to The Stax Records. In fact, Homer Banks and Carl Hampton produced our last album at Stax, called Friction.

Lester Snell I've been knowing from back in the 70's when he was with Isaac Hayes as an arranger. As a matter of fact I put Homer and Lester together as writers and producers."

In the late 70's they tried to revive the corps, and Soul Children went back to Stax for one hit single, Can't Give Up A Good Thing.

"Well, I thought they really wanted to make the label happen, but I found out they didn't. We were the first act on the ('new') label, and they didn't even promote us. I don't know what they had in mind. Or, I know but I won't say it."

Next we have a blank five-year period ('78-'83).

"For two years I didn't do anything. Then I started singing around town doing shows in different clubs. Everybody still loved me, and they would give me great reviews on shows.

When Homer left California and came back to Memphis, we hooked back up, and they put together a label called Sound Town and recorded the song 'Taxi´ ('83).

Actually they wrote the song for Johnnie Taylor, but he was too slow on cutting the song, and since I was going to be on their label they thought 'let's put the song on Blackfoot´. I knew the song was a hit when I first heard it."

Before Room Service John has released four solo albums (City Slicker, Physical Attraction, U-Turn and Loveaholic - all nice albums, but U-Turn has been criticized as being too synthesized.

"U-Turn was a great album, but the people didn't have the money to promote the album. Had they had the money, the album would have been a gold album, or platinum. Just listen to that album. And they've been using synthesizers on all their records.

Loveaholic is a good album, and we used some mechanical stuff also on that."

What, then, would be the best album in John's whole career?

"The first album that we cut at Stax (Soul Children) is one, and 'Friction´ is another one.

Of the songs, that's hard to say, because we had great songs with Soul Children, and I had songs by myself like 'Taxi´ and 'Just One Lifetime´. It's kinda hard just pick one. I have to pick five or six tunes, even some that weren't hits. Like I said, promotion. It's tunes that wasn't a hit that's some of my favourites, was better than tunes that was a hit. 'Taxi´ was promoted."

How is this latest album being promoted?

"We are doing it. We're promoting it the best way we can with the money that we have to promote it with. Now we are not depending on other people to do it.

And we're getting airplay. People are playing it because they love the album. We are calling stations and asking for the chance for public to hear the album, and it's working, because we are promoting.

The album's selling. We can't keep them in here. They're selling a lot already, but we're just getting started."

There was a two year's time gap in Platinum Blue's releases after Loveaholic and before Ann Hines Man Hunt and John's Room Service.

"When 'Loveaholic´ first came out, they weren't playing it. The album was out for a year before they started really playing it."

Finally the usual concluding questions about favourite artists and future plans.

"Nowadays I like Johnny Gill, Luther and also many of the young artists that are coming up.

My plans are to win a Grammy and to go as far as I can go in the music business. I'm a die-hard, and seems the older I get the better I get. I'll be happy when I can be able to come with my own show to you and then you'll say - that can't be the same guy, he's some older guy', because I move all over the stage. I just love to entertain.

Now I'm touring a lot mainly in Southern and Eastern states. I've been abroad quite a few times, I've been to Japan - they love me there - I've been to Italy two or three times. So, I've been doing real well."

-Heikki Suosalo
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