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THE SOUL CHILDREN



The Soul Children Discography


The Soul Children Page in our CD shop


  J. Blackfoot: “No one at Stax had ever heard me sing.  I was a big hit in every neighbourhood, standing on the corner singing, drawing people… draw the police, too.  They were wondering what was happening, when the crowd was gathering around me.   I sang for them and the policeman said ‘he can stay’.”

  “I knew of David Porter.  There was a liquor store on McLemore.  We were behind it.  We were drinking wine, and everybody was listening to me sing.  We all tried to harmonize.  David walked from Stax, across the street.  He was getting some liquor to take back to Stax.  The guys stopped him and said ‘you got to hear this guy’.  So we went to a café across the street – they were calling it ‘the juke joint café’ – and I put a quarter in a juke-box for two records, I’m in Love and Shout Bamalama, a song written by Otis Redding.  David said ‘hey man, I want you to come by Stax.  I want people to hear you’.  That’s what I did.  I went by there.  Allen Jones played piano and tried to see could I follow him.”

  “Soul Man hadn’t been released.  They just had cut it.  Otis Redding was in the studio.  They were listening to The Dock of the Bay and another song.  Booker and the whole band were inside the studio.  So David wanted everybody to hear me.  They took me in, and I did A Change Is Gonna Come and Wilson Pickett’s I’m in Love, because I could really get into the songs by those guys.  They said ‘Otis, we would like you to take him on a trip with you to let him get a little experience’.  If there had been room, I would have been on that plane.”

  By this J. Blackfoot (further Jay) is referring to the plane that crashed in December 1967 and claimed the lives of Otis and most of the Bar-Kays members.  Before that Jay tells about his entrance into the Stax company in 1967.  You can read about Jay Blackfoot’s early days and other points of his career at a general level here, but in this article we’ll have a closer look at his Soul Children and solo days.

CONGRATULATIONS

  Like Jay says in the interview above, as a young man he ran into trouble with law and he spent some time in Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville.  Jay: “You had to be tough in the neighbourhood I grew up in.  You had to fight.  The only guys I knew were crooks, and we did petty crime.  As a matter of fact, some people were about to make a movie of my life at Stax before it folded.”

  Jay got locked up in 1964.  “We had a group there in the penitentiary.  They called themselves the Prisonaires, and Johnny Bragg was a pretty big guy.  He had this record, Just Walkin’ in the Rain.  He sang his way out.”  The lead singer of the Prisonaires, Johnny Bragg (1925 – 2004), had cut Walking… for Sun already in 1953.  He was sentenced to prison as many as three times, and his second period (1960-66) coincided partially with Jay’s.

  “They came to interview Johnny Bragg.  Then they wanted to interview people, who could sing in the prison, and everybody told them about me.  We talked about it, and they said they wanted to record something on me.  I was writing at that time, and I wrote these two songs, Congratulations and Surfside Slide, because everybody was into surfing thing.  They took us outside the prison, and I recorded that.  As a matter of fact, we only had three pieces.  There was a drum, a bass guitar and a keyboard.  That was it.”

  Jay’s debut single was released under his real name, John Colbert.  It came out in 1965 on Sur-Speed 222, a label out of Nashville.  “I bought it and some of my friends bought it (laughing).  It could have been, but it wasn’t.  It just wasn’t.  I did a great job on it, but that was it.  It just wasn’t there.  That was my second time recording in a studio.  Years ago I did a thing with my group, when I was about twelve-thirteen, and we did background behind some people.  But this was my first time in the studio really recording.”  The John Colbert singles on Bee and Big City labels in 1966 are not by our John.

  The Bar-Kays re-grouped after the plane crash and chose John to be their lead singer.  By this time he was already known as J. Blackfoot.  “When I was real young, I didn’t like to wear shoes.  When I walked, the pavement was tarred and my feet would get black on the bottom.  A young man – his name was Spookie – started calling me ‘Blackfoot’, and the name stuck with me.  I just took ‘J’ from my real name John and put with the Blackfoot.” 

  John didn’t record anything with the Bar-Kays during the half-year plus period with them.  “David Porter recorded me on I’ll Understand, but we never put it out.  Then we re-recorded it as the Soul Children and put Anita Louis on it, too.”

  In 1968 Stax had lost Sam & Dave to Atlantic, and (the late) Jerry Wexler took them soon to Muscle Shoals to record, so David porter and (the late) Isaac Hayes started looking for a new act - this time two ladies with two men, in order to avoid the obvious copy.

NORMAN WEST

  Norman Richard West, Jr. was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana, on October 40 in 1940.  Norman: “My father, Norman Richard West, Sr., was a minister, and that’s how I got my start in early childhood – playing piano and organ and singing before my father’s sermon.  My aunts all sang in church and my mother, Evelina, sang.  She persisted that I would take piano lessons and she wanted me to go to college.”

  “I had started doing talent shows in Monroe, and the principal of my school was the local entertainment promoter and he had me to open shows.  My first show was with Wilbert Harrison, and Little Sonny (Warner) was on the same show – There Is Something on Your Mind (singing).  Not far from my house the Little Melvin band was doing its thing locally, and I would sneak in there and do a song or two with them.  This is how I got my first experience in doing night club performances.”

  “In Monroe there were several gospel groups.  One gospel group that I worked with was called the Kingdom Travelers.  One of my cousins sang in the group with me.  His name was William Herbert.”

  “The Del-Rios came to Monroe to be managed by a guy, whose paper boy I was.  When I finished my job, I would stop by this hotel they were staying at and I’d put in a quarter and play five records at the time.  I was playing some Sam Cooke songs, and these guys were sitting over in the corner.  I didn’t know them.  I was singing along with Sam Cooke, because I loved Sam Cooke.  Harrison Austin (tenor in the Del-Rios) told me that if I ever decided to leave Monroe I can come over and stay with him.  ‘You got a job, if you just show up’.  Against my father’s rejection, I left town and I moved to Memphis.”

  The Del-Rios was a group out of Memphis that cut singles for Meteor, Bet…T and Stax in the late 50s and early 60s.  The group was fronted by William Bell, and his 2-part feature with an interview – also on the Del-Rios – will appear on this site later this year.  “In Memphis I was also a paper boy for one single artist in Memphis that I idolized, Ivory Joe Hunter.  He was considering managing the Del-Rios after William Bell had put his first solo single out” (You Don’t Miss Your Water in 1961).

  William Bell left the Del-Rios soon after the group had cut their final single for Stax (Just across the Street/There Is Love) in 1962, and Norman West stepped in.  Those days he also cut his first solo single for Christy Records out of Memphis.  The label belonged to Clifford Miller, who owned a local club called the Flamingo Room, but today Norman isn’t able to recall even the titles of the single.  “At the time I didn’t know anything about the music business.  These guys would ask me to sing, and I would sing.  That was when I was still with the Del-Rios.”

DAY DREAMIN’

  Norman worked with the Del-Rios for about one year, but by 1964 the group had practically dispersed with members trying their luck elsewhere.  Norman went on to cut five more solo singles during the next four years.  “The Del-Rios was performing at the Flamingo Room in Memphis on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and on Monday nights Willie Mitchell and his ensemble would perform.  I would just be there, and he kept telling me ‘I’m gonna record you’.  I said ‘whenever you’re ready, I’m ready’.  So one day he just came to my rooming house that I was staying in and said ‘come on down, everybody’s waiting down at the studio.  The track has already been done’.  I worked with Willie for about a year, a year and a half.”

  Norman cut two singles for Hi Records in 1964, Day Dreamin’/Angel of My Dream (Hi 2073; as Norm West) and Burning Bridges/Five Pages of Heartache (Hi 2082; as Norman this time) and one single for the M.O.C. subsidiary, Hey Little Girl/Baby Please (M.O.C. 664; as Norm West again).  The slowly swaying and soulful A-side (Hey Little Girl) bears a slight resemblance to what Garnet Mimms used to record those days.  “It was written by Don Bryant, who was one of the staff writers at Hi Records.  After he wrote it for me, he was singing it for me to show how it went.  I didn’t learn it.  I sang it from the paper” (laughing).

  In 1967 Norman had two singles released on Smash, Let Them Talk/Miss Personality (Smash 2100) and What Kind of Spell (Is This I’m under)/Words Won’t Say (How Much You Mean to me) (Smash 2123).  “Smash Records was one of Mercury’s subsidiary labels.  They sent some people down.  We recorded at Hi, because it was either at Stax Records, or at Hi.  Those records sold some, enough for me to get to do some things out of Memphis and the Tri-State area, like in Louisiana and Texas.”

  Norman was recruited to the Soul Children as the fourth wheel.  “I was the last member of the group.  Before that Colors Incorporated, which was Jerry Lee Lewis’ rhythm section, asked me to become their vocalist.  After the Jerry Lee Lewis thing they had been working in the San Francisco area, and they were a rock-orientated band.  We became very popular in the Memphis area.  We worked in the bottom lounge of the Chisca Plaza Hotel on Main Street.  Isaac Hayes and David Porter came to the hotel and asked me, if I wanted to be a member of this group.  Steve Cropper was with them.  They all knew me from singing at different clubs around town.”

ANITA LOUIS AND SHELBRA BENNETT

  Two Memphis ladies rounded up the Soul Children.  David was introduced to Anita Louis (soprano), who had sung in WDIA’s Teen Town Singers earlier, and she became one of the background vocalists on his and Isaac’s recordings.  Shelbra (alto) made a timely entrance into the Stax building and simply announced her wish to become a singer.

  The first single David and Isaac produced and wrote for the group was an uptempo scorcher titled Give ‘Em Love (Stax 0008; # 40-r&b; ’68), and it was backed with a soul slowie called Move Over.  Norman: “My favourite song was Move Over.  It’s a very beautiful tune and not recognized for its beauty.”  Jay: “one of my favourites of all the songs we did is Move Over, but I love all the hit songs, the money songs” (laughing).

  Another Jay’s favourite is the second single, an intense deepie called I’ll Understand (Stax 0018; # 29-r&b; ’69), and the third one is again a slow and terrific deep soul song named The Sweeter He Is, which became the first real hit for the group (Stax 0050; # 7-r&b / # 52-pop).  In-between they released Tighten up My Thang (Stax 0030; # 49-r&b), an energetic mid-tempo song.  Norman: “One of my favourites, of course, is The Sweeter He Is, because I got to do the lead on part 2.”

  Isaac and David produced the impressive debut album, Soul Children (Stax 2018; # 9-soul / # 154-pop; ’69), which featured downtempo, gospel-infused material on the A-side – including When Tomorrow Comes - and fast tracks on the B-side.  Jay: “David and Isaac just had some great songs.  At that time everybody was just recording great songs, and I was happy being with Stax.  You woke up in the morning and you wanted to go to Stax, just to be in the building.  It was just a family thing.  It’s hard to explain.”

  Norman: “It was a very enjoyable adventure, and it was new to all of us.  It was an honour to work with the guys, who had put together the Sam & Dave situation.”  Jay: “David and Isaac were one of the best producers at Stax at that time.  They were working with us, Sam & Dave and the Emotions.  Professionally they knew what they wanted, what they wanted out of us, and that’s what they got.”  Soul Children goes down in history as one the most magnificent albums in the history of soul music.  Among the musicians you can spot such names as Booker T. Jones on keyboards,  Isaac Hayes on piano, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald “Duck” Dunn and James Alexander on bass and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums.

HOLD ON, I’M COMING

  The group cut a strong, slowed-down version of Sam & Dave’s gold hit four years earlier, Hold On, I’m Coming (Stax 0062; # 48-soul; ’70), which didn’t appear on any album.  Norman: “That was David Porter’s idea.”  Jay: “We were just trying to do something different.”

  The next three singles in ’70 and ‘71, however, didn’t chart.  Put Your World in My World was a fast and infectious dancer, Let’s Make a Sweet Thing Sweeter and Finish Me Off, back-to-back, were both marvellous downtempo songs and Got to Get Away From It All (remember Mitty Collier?) was a big-production ballad with a strings sweetening.

  All four songs were placed on the next album titled Best of Two Worlds (Stax 2043; # 20-soul / # 203-pop; ’71), produced and mainly written by David Porter and Ronnie Williams, a former session musician at Stax.  Norman: “Ronnie Williams and David decided to work together after Isaac had decided to do his first album.  Ronnie Williams was a musician that David had chosen to work with, and he was a very good musician.”  Jay: “It was a great thing working with Ronnie.  I had a great respect for him, and I knew Ronnie for quite a while before that.  When he came to Stax, we got to know each other a little better.”

  In contrast to the debut album, Best of Two Worlds didn’t produce any hits.  Norman: “This is just my opinion.  We were put on the back burner, because at the time a lot of things were not recognized.  They had other ideas.  Isaac was the thing at the time, and a lot of ideas were overlooked because of the excitement of the Hayes situation.”  Jay: “David and Isaac had been such a close knit thing, and when Isaac went to a solo career he forgot about David.  During that period David wasn’t on his craft as well as he should have been, and we just didn’t get much out of that album.  The company didn’t believe in the album and they did not promote it.  That’s the real deal.”    

  There were some nice songs hidden on the album, such as a ballad called Thanks for a Precious Nothing and The Hangs Ups of Holding On (8:22), an experimental, multi-tempo jam, and even two poppy ditties, the fast Give Me One Good Reason Why and the mid-tempo Wrap It Up Tonight.  The set was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, so quite naturally Barry Beckett (organ), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums) were among the players.

HEARSAY

  The third album was titled Genesis (Stax 3003; # 36-soul / # 159-pop; ’72), and this time it was produced by Jim Stewart and Al Jackson, Jr.  Norman: “That was Jim Stewart’s idea.  He was the president of the company, so of course we’d do what he wanted us to do” (laughing).  Jay: “Jim saw what was happening with David.  We talked about a lot of things with David, and I knew what was happening with his mind.  I was with him through his ups and downs.  That’s why we’re so close right today.”

  On the album the strings were arranged by Dale Warren, and the rhythm section consisted of the MG’s boys with some help from Raymond Jackson, Bobby Manuel (guitars), John Keister and Marvell Thomas (piano and organ).  On the final track, the funky and rousing Get up about Yourself, the Bar-Kays were in charge.

  This time there’s a number of cover songs on display.  Deep soul fans remember Lorraine Ellison’s gorgeous reading of I Want to Be Loved, and the Soul Children come up with a stirring version, too, and really let loose towards the end of this eight-and-a-half-minute rendition.  Johnnie Taylor had cut earlier two fine songs, the haunting Don’t Take My Sunshine and the irresistible Just the One I’ve Been Looking For, whereas Eddie Floyd’s Never Get Enough of Your Love gets a slowed-down treatment from the group.  Jay: “That was all Jim’s ideas.  You know how that goes.  The main guy in the company asks you to something, and you do it” (laughing).

  There was only one single release off the album, but it evolved into a hit.  The funky and powerful Hearsay (Stax 0119; # 5-soul / # 44-pop; ’72) was written by Norman and John.  Jay: “In my neighbourhood people are always talking about this person and talking about that person, and people are saying ‘somebody said this’, and it’s only hearsay.”  Norman: “’Foot’ came to my house one day and he had the idea of ‘he said, she said’, and together we just came up with the song.”

LOVE IS A HURTIN’ THING

  The next three A-sides of singles didn’t appear on any album, and they were all mid-to-up-tempo cuts.  The brisk Don’t Take My Kindness for Weakness (Stax 0132; # 14-soul / # 102-pop; ’72) was written by the group itself, while the tight It Ain’t Always What You Do (It’s Who You Let See You Do It) (Stax 0152; # 11 / # 105-pop; ’73) was composed by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Raymond Jackson.  The familiar Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing (Stax 0170; # 59-soul; ’73) is arranged to an almost funky and gloomy item.  Jay: “That was John Gary Williams of the Mad Lads.  That was his idea.  John Gary and Al Jackson produced that one.”

  The Soul Children performed at the Wattstax concert in August 1972, and two songs – Hearsay and the rousing I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To – appeared on the Wattstax: The Living World soundtrack (Stax 3010).  Norman: “When Rufus Thomas left the stage, we had to cut some of our performance down, so we did what we were allowed to do.  We had about fifteen minutes, so that’s why we had to cut our show down.  We didn’t do what we had originally planned to do.”

I’LL BE THE OTHER WOMAN

  The last album on Stax, Friction (Stax 5507; # 38-soul; ’74), was now produced by Homer Banks and Carl Hampton, who also wrote all the songs.  Jay: “I felt that they would be the best producers for us, because I knew that Homer was a great writer and he could produce.  But this album got caught in the Stax closing.  If it wasn’t for the Stax fall-out, I believe we would have gold on this album.”  Norman: “Homer Banks was always a friend and at the same time he was a good writer.  We had done some things with him before.  It was a joy and something we had always wanted to do.”

  Already before the album they released a powerful ballad, which became the biggest hit for the group.  I’ll Be the Other Woman (Stax 0182; # 3-soul / # 36-pop; ’73) was co-written by Raymond Jackson and co-produced by Al Jackson.  Norman: “That is Shelbra doing the lead.  They cut her one night, and I heard it the next morning.  It blew the top off my head, because she did such a wonderful job on it.”

  Shelbra is also leading on a melodic beat-ballad named It’s Out of My Hands and on an equally emotional slowie as the hit song with an equally long opening monologue titled Love Makes It Right, which was put out as the next single (Stax 0218; # 47-soul; ’74).  The final single, What’s Happening Baby (Stax 0230), didn’t appear on the charts anymore.  This time J. Blackfoot is leading on this very slow song, which – surprise, surprise! – opens with a long monologue.

  Just One Moment is a haunting and pleading soul ballad led by J. Blackfoot, and at about the same time Johnnie Taylor cut it for his Super Taylor album, too.  Jay: “Me and Homer were kids together, and Homer knew my voice.  A lot of songs that he wrote, he wrote in my style.  As a matter of fact, it was a rivalry on Just One Moment, and they say that my version was better.  I don’t know.  I just go by what they say.  Both versions were great versions.”

  The energetic We’re Getting’ Too Close is actually the only uptempo song on the album, which makes this an essential record for deep soul fans; almost a non-stop fiesta of highly emotional, heartfelt music.  The only album to rival it is the debut set, Soul Children.  Jay: “Certain album - you just know!  We had to really fight for them even to record that album, to produce it.  When Jim and Al were producing us, we got two or three great songs out of those albums, but they wouldn’t listen to us.  There are some songs that I really didn’t want to record, but I went on recording them anyway.  If it ain’t in the pocket, don’t give it to me.  After that we went in and said ‘we want Homer and Carl’.  They could write.  I knew we were going to have some hits.”

FINDERS KEEPERS

  Soon after Friction and after Stax, Shelbra Bennett left and the group became a trio.  Norman: “We weren’t doing very much then, and when we were contacted by CBS she had already left the group.”  Jay: “I guess she figured she could make it on her own.  I haven’t seen her for a long time.  When we were re-grouping this new Soul Children, we had a conversation, and it wasn’t a great conversation.  But she’s a sweet girl.”

  After about one year Epic approached the group, and the next album, Finders Keepers (Epic 33902; # 54-soul; ’76), was produced by Don Davis and cut in Detroit, at United Sound.  Norman: “It was really a pleasure working with him, because he had a history of hits with Johnnie Taylor and he had a unique way that he produced.  I also liked the way his arrangements came out.”  Jay: “Mr. Don Davis is another professional.  We worked with a lot of professional people.  It was great working with him.”

  The title tune became also the first single (Epic 50178; # 49-soul; ’76), and this uptempo, boisterous song was written by Jay and Norman.  Norman: “I have always appreciated Blackfoot for his creativity.  When we worked together, it just came together.”

  This time there are as many as three songs that Don Davis had cut on the Dells a few years earlier.  We can enjoy a rather light version of We Got to Get Our Thing Together, a funky arrangement of A Little Understanding and a deep, 6-minute rendition of a truly beautiful tune titled If You Move I’ll Fall (Epic 50236; # 99-soul).  Norman: “We went in to cut the songs that were originals, and then we just followed suite on everything that he came up with, and he came up with some wonderful ideas on the cover songs, different arrangements.”

  The high quality of the album becomes apparent still on such tracks as Good-bye Is Not the Only Way, a pretty and gentle ballad written by Harvey Scales, and I’m Just a Shoulder to Cry On, a saddish slowie, on which Norman leads this time and which Johnnie Taylor was to record for his Rated Extraordinaire album a year later.  Midnight Sunshine is a pleasant beat-ballad, while Anita is leading on a string-heavy, 6/8-time soulful slowie called One Broken Home for Sale, written by Charles Richard Cason.

  Jay: “When we went with Epic, they would be saying they’d do this and they’d do that, but they didn’t do anything.  They did not promote us at all.  When I say ‘at all’, that’s what I mean.  I hate that I went with them.”

WHERE IS YOUR WOMAN TONIGHT?



  A year later another Epic album followed, Where Is Your Woman Tonight (Epic 34455; ’77), and it was produced and written by an old friend, David Porter.  Norman: “We had never lost contact with David.  We were always friends.”  Jay: “I went and got him, and asked him to produce it.  He produced a good album, but – like I said – if they don’t promote it, you got nothing.”

  The title tune, a swaying slowie, scraped the bottom of the Billboard charts (Epic 50345; # 96-soul; ’77), but the follow-up, a pleading and beautiful soul ballad called You Don’t Need a Ring (Epic 50405), performed a no-show.

  Once again, there are a couple of thrilling and intense soul gems on display, such as If You Want a Woman Like this (led by Anita) and You Got Me Over.  The rest of the program consists of three funky items, one fast disco number and the b-sides to the two singles above - Merry-Go-Round is a melodic, mid-tempo toe-tapper, whereas There Always is a catchy dancer.  Also this Soul Children album deserved better.  Norman: “We were not promoted as an act at that time.”

CAN’T GIVE UP A GOOD THING

  Fantasy Records out of California decided to revive the Stax label in 1977 and asked David Porter to not only run the new Stax office in Memphis and issue old material, but also sign new artists.  One of the first ones David signed and recorded was the Soul Children.  The ensuing album, Open Door Policy (Stax 4105; ’78), was produced by David Porter and Lester Snell and arranged by Lester.  Norman: “Sessions were very good, and it was good again working with David, because David was our beginning.  He used Lester as the musical consultant.  In the past Lester had worked with Isaac as an arranger, so he was perfect.”

  The most significant difference in music is the number of disco cuts.  There are actually only three ballads this time and they are more simple and straightforward than deep and inspirational.  Believing is the prettiest of them.  Can’t Give up a Good Thing – written by Joe Shamwell - is one of the disco dancers, and this particular track became quite popular as a single (Stax 3206; # 19-soul; ’78).  Interestingly, the b-side was a slowed-down, swaying version of Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m yours (not on the album).  Jay: “We did it part 1 and part 2.  We did it slow, and then we picked it up and did it fast.  That version is somewhere in the catalogue.”

  The follow-ups – Summer in the Shade and Who You Used to Be – follow the same disco pattern but missed the charts.  On the opening track, Stir up the Boogie (penned by Henderson Thigpen, James Banks and David Witherspoon), the title says all.  Norman: “the disco type of songs were the songs of that era.” 

  Jay: “That’s what was going on at the time.  They didn’t put the company together to really make money.  I think that the company was put together just to have a write-off.  They didn’t care if it happened or not.  So there you go again… Can’t Give up a Good Thing wasn’t a hit for us, as far as I’m concerned, because they didn’t want it to be a hit.  If they’d wanted it to be a hit, they would have got behind it all across the country.  They did not do that.  They really didn’t want the company to happen any way, for some reason or another.  Only they know the reason.”

  After eleven years and some of the best music of the era, the group decided to call it a day.  Jay: “Anita became a pretty big wheel at Federal Express.  She’s retired from there and went to Time-Warner.  She doesn’t want this any more, and I can understand that” (laughing).  These days Anita is also engaged in professional business training and coaching.

  Norman: “The things were not very strong for us, and everybody kind of wanted to go their own way and catch on economically to something.  We all went our separate ways.  I continued working in night clubs, and then I eventually moved back to Louisiana and from there to California and then back to Louisiana, and back to Memphis a few years ago.  I was working night clubs, and then I worked some in church.  Still I would play as a side musician, organist and pianist.”  By invitation Norman sang on Ann Hines’ and J. Blackfoot’s CDs in the 90s.  “I recently talked to my brother Joe.  We have a gospel group called the West Brothers, and I’m going to go down and record a song with them down in Louisiana” (www.myspace.com/normanwestjr).

  All of the Soul Children albums are readily available on CDs, except Where Is Your Woman Tonight and Open Door Policy, and for hard-core soul music fans they come highly recommended.  There are also two worthwhile compilations from the Stax period – Chronicle (12 tracks) and Hold On, I’m Coming (14 tracks), which features mainly non-album single sides.

J. BLACKFOOT

  Jay kept on recording, and between 1983 and 2006 he released as many as ten solo albums.  During the next five years after the Soul Children broke up in 1978, Jay worked mostly with Ben Cauley’s band in the Memphis area.  The melodic and haunting I Don’t Remember Loving you (b/w If I Don’t Love you) was his first solo effort since 1965 and it appeared on Prime Cut 10001 in 1983.  Jay: “I sang real high, because I was doing a demo for a lady to sing the song, but I did it so well they just wanted to put it out.  That’s a country & western song.  Prime Cut is a Memphis label.  The owner was from New York.  We just stuck it out there, just in Memphis.  It started picking up, but he didn’t have any money to promote it.”

TAXI

  Jay’s actual come-back song and still today his biggest hit was produced by Homer Banks and Chuck Brooks.  “I remember Homer from going to school together.  We lived in the same neighbourhood.  He wrote a lot of songs for us at Stax.  He was in California, but then he moved back to Memphis.  A friend of mine told me he was back.  I went over to his house and told him I wasn’t doing anything.  I was open.  That was it!  We went to studio that week and recorded quite a few songs, and one of them was Taxi.  We recorded the song to give to Johnnie Taylor.  He was supposed to cut that song, but he was a little slow on it.  I put the whistle on it, and I told Homer ‘if you’re gonna send that to Johnnie, don’t send my whistle.  I don’t want to give him that good idea’.  We sent it and Johnnie was slow, and we recorded it.  Later he said ‘hey, I’m glad you got that song, because I’ve had so many hits’, and actually I needed that.  It was the first time by myself, and I needed that one.”

  Hot on the heels of Taxi (Sound Town 0004; # 4-black; ’83) they released Jay’s debut solo album, City Slicker (Sound Town 8002; # 16-black; ’83), which included another magnificent soul ballad, I Stood on the Sidewalk and Cried (Sound Town 0006; # 63-black; ’84).  “I took it out of my show for awhile, because it’s long.  In clubs I can do it, but if I do it with a lot of artists they only give me a certain amount of time.  But in clubs I can’t take it out.  They won’t let me.”  On the album another fine ballad, Can You Hang, deserves a mention, but other than that the music is very much on the funky and uptempo side.  Homer and Chuck wrote all nine songs, except Bettye Cruther’s All Because of What You Did to Me.

DON’T YOU FEEL IT LIKE I FEEL IT

  For the second set, Physical Attraction (ST 8013; ’84), Homer and Chuck wrote only three songs out of eight.  It spawned two charted ballads, Don’t You Feel it Like I Feel it (ST 0011; # 62-black; ’85) and Hiding Place (ST 0015; # 77-black; ’85).  Jay also remade I Don’t Remember Loving You, and, by still adding the mid-tempo The Girl Next Door to the group of high-class tracks this time, we’re talking about a more enjoyable album than City Slicker, which suffered a bit about the “Living for the City” concept.

  “Homer was just a great writer and a great producer.  If you listen to his stories, they are so strong.  That was a good album.  I really never cut a bad album.  It’s just that I never had that promotion that you really need.  They were small labels and you don’t get that promotion across the board.  If those albums had been with a major label, they would have been great albums.”

U-TURN

  Sound Town didn’t last long, so next Jay hooked up with Al Bell’s companyHomer Banks and Lester Snell composed six songs out of ten on U-Turn (Edge 001; # 67-black; ’87), which presents mostly soft and pretty music.  As many as four songs were picked up as plug sides on the next singles - U-Turn (Edge 7-001; # 33-black; ’86), Bad Weather (Edge 7-006; # 78-black; ’87), Tear Jerker (Edge 7-007; # 28-black; ’87) and Respect Yourself (Edge 7-012; # 58-black; ’87).  On a ballad called Tear Jerker it reads “J. Blackfoot featuring Ann Hines”.  “Even though Ann Hines would sing Tear Jerker, disc jockeys would say J. Blackfoot.”

  For Jay’s ’91 album, Loveaholic (Platinum Blue 4101), Homer Banks and Lester Snell wrote all eight songs, and here the old pal, Norman West, is contributing on background vocals.  Besides the mellow and classy ballads – After the Tone, She’s only human and Just One Lifetime, a duet with Ann Hines – a melodic mover named Leading Lady, which Jay co-wrote, and a smooth mid-pacer titled Comebacks Don’t Come Easy draw your attention.

  Right after Jay’s next two albums hit the streets I talked to him, so you can read his own comments on Room Service (Platinum Blue 4103; ’93) and Reality (Platinum Blue 4105; ’95) immediately after their release.  Already prior to Reality, Platinum Plus released a seasonal album (Platinum Blue Christmas; Pltb 4104; ’95), on which Jay is joined by such artists as Mark Bynum, Ann Hines (Ave Maria), Charles Brown, Norman West and Denise LaSalle.


JILL

  Stealing Love (Basix 9328; ’98) was produced and mostly written by Jay and Thomas Bingham.  “He’s my band director.  Helen Washington was a young lady, who used to work for Isaac.  We were lovers at one time.  At that time she was about twenty, and I was about sixteen.  Anyway, she told me about this musician that could play guitar, keyboard, horns… so I started using him right after Taxi.”  Thomas is also known to be a member of the Hi Rhythm Section, and he has worked with Willie Mitchell for over twenty years.

  Reality was crammed with glorious ballads, but now on Stealing Love Jay is presenting his uptempo side.  In this case there are no complaints, as all the dancers are rather melodic, fluent and captivating.  Among the four ballads there’s one above others.  Jill is a terrific deep soul rendition of a song that’s just grows and grows (6:15).  This powerful performance by the gruff-voiced Jay is one of the best in his whole career, and hopefully this forgotten masterpiece has its renaissance one day.  The song, which was inspired by Peggy Scott-Adams’ Bill, was written by Thomas Bingham, Willie Mitchell and Jay himself.

  On Having an Affair (Basix 9335; ’99) the Bar-Kays boys step in, as the set is produced by Larry Dodson, E Z Rock and (the writer) Henderson Thigpen.  They also created most of the songs.  The highlights include a cover of Rich Cason’s thrilling cheating ballad, I’ve Been Having an Affair – with Toni Green helping on vocals – and a swaying beat-ballad titled Full Time, Part TimeSometimes and I’ll Be over When It’s Over are melodic floaters, whereas I’m Not Your Man and Show Me are “full-of-fire” dancers.

  I’ll Understand is a worthwhile cover of the ’69 hit, and this time Toni Green is filling in.  Ann Hines duets on another song from the past, a cover of Gregory Abbott’s ’86 platinum hit, Shake It Down.  “Larry Dodson wanted me to record that.”


SAME TIME, SAME PLACE

  Produced by Larry Dodson and for the most part written by him together with Messrs. Wilks and Clayton, Same Time, Same Place (Basix 9342; ’01) was recorded at Bobby Manuel’s Highstacks Studios in Memphis.  “Bobby was the engineer, and he played a lot of guitar on most of those songs.”

  This time there are no less than eight good and mostly smooth slowies to enjoy, and of them Two Different People is once again a duet with Ann Hines.  On the uptempo front there’s a cover of Tony Troutman’s ’82 splendid single, Your Man Is Home Tonight.  “Tony Troutman passed on about five years ago.”

  You’ll find the review of Jay’s latest CD, It Ain’t over Till It’s Over (JEA 0011; ’06) at www.soulexpress.net/deep106.htm (please, scroll down a bit).  Also, on a 2005 soundtrack called Forty Shades of Blue on Memphis Int. Records Jay covers in a touching way Dark End of the Street.  In recent years he has visited on albums by such artists as Lynn White, Zucchero, Kirk Whalum, the Bar-Kays, Archie Love and Stacey Merino.  “He’s a young guy that looked up to me and he sounded like me.  The Bar-Kays was recording him at the time, so I did songs on his album.”  Jay still visits the studio regularly.  “We’re working on a new album now, and probably it’s coming out next year” ( www.myspace.com/jblkfoot).

ANN HINES

  Ann is one of the ladies in the new Soul Children that visited the Pori Jazz Festival (www.porijazz.com) here in Finland in July this year and gave three magnificent shows (I’ll Understand, Hearsay, The Sweeter He Is, Don’t Take My Sunshine, I’ll Be the other Woman etc).  You can read Ann’s comments on her debut CD, Man Hunt (Platinum Blue 4102; ’93), and on her earlier career in an interview I conducted with Queen Ann Hines at that point.

  Queen?  Ann: “I got that name, when I lived and toured in Italy in 1998 through 2002.”  During the last twenty some years Ann has sung on CDs by such artists as Lynn White, Zucchero, Chris McDaniel, Three 6 Mafia, Kingpin Skinny Pimp, S.S.P. and Mass & Confusion.  “I’ve been with J. Blackfoot 27 years now, but also I’ve done recordings for a lot of different other artists… country & western, rap, whatever.  Lynn White is a female artist out of Memphis.  We did a lot of shows and concerts with Lynn White.”

  “Triple 6 Mafia (their early name in the early 90s) is the one that got the Academy Award for the song (It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp) in the movie ‘Hustle & Flow’.  They’re a rap group out of Memphis.  They made a lot of money, and they’re still making a lot of money.  Mafia is one of the biggest rap groups out there.  I was supposed to get some out of that, but I didn’t take care of my business like I should have.  Sometimes you do things just as a favour.  ‘If you do this for us and things start happening, we won’t forget you’.  Guess what?  They forgot!  But I still see them every now and then.”

  “I also did Lost in Yesterday.  That was Homer Banks’ song.  As a matter of fact, that was the last one we went into the studio with, when Homer passed.  It’s on an album by a young man out of Memphis, J.T. Johnson.”  The album is titled Mantlepiece (JT Records) and you can listen to this beautiful and plain ballad at www.myspace.com/babromusic.

  Ever since the 80s Ann has done both local shows, and extensive tours with B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Denise LaSalle, Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Solomon Burke, Johnny Guitar Watson, James Brown and many others.  “Also I did background things on ‘Stax comes home’ with William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Mavis Staples, Isaac Hayes and Al Green.  Recently I worked with a lady called Cat Power out of New York, and I’m doing my own concerts, too.”

  “I’m now in the process of doing a new album.  I haven’t found the label I want to go with just yet.  I’m doing writing on it, and Thomas Bingham, who’s the musical director for the Soul Children, is helping me in this.”  The first taster is a strong Southern soul beat-ballad, My Body’s Hott, with some big-voiced vocalizing from Ann towards the end of the song.

CASSANDRA GRAHAM

  The latest recruit to the new Soul Children is Cassandra Graham, who was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on September 8 in 1970.  Cassandra: “I was born and reared in the church.  Before the Soul Children I sang gospel in the North Mississippi Acappella Chorus from Hernando, Mississippi, and we have done three different recordings.”  The latest is titled A Double Dose of Praise.

  “I was at Stax Museum.  J. Blackfoot was performing there and they had the audience to sing.  Miss Ann Hines heard me and she asked me ‘would you be interested in singing with us’, and I said ‘yes ma’am, I would’, and from that day forth I’ve been with the Soul Children.  That happened last year.”

  “I’ve loved J. Blackfoot for years.  My other idols are Otis Redding, Clarence Carter and Johnnie Taylor.”  Laughingly she adds Diana Ross, still.  “I’m just an everyday girl.  This is my first time getting into this kind of business.  I’ve always been a gospel singer, and this is just something new for me.  But it doesn’t take me away from God.  I don’t allow it to do that much.”


STILL STANDING

  The Soul Children reunited in late 2007 in the line-up of J. Blackfoot, Cassandra Graham, Ann Hines and Norman West.  Jay: “that happened almost a year ago and that came about through Larry Dodson and James Alexander”, both of the Bar-Kays fame.  Norman: “That was out of demand.  I had moved back this way, and Blackfoot was here.  The idea never left, because it was too strong an idea to get totally abolished.”

  Their recent CD, Still Standing (JEA Right Now Records, JEA 0020; ’08), is a strong contender for the number one album in 2008.  Produced by Larry Dodson and Archie Love and also mostly written by them (together with EZ Rock and Sam Fallie), the set was recorded in Memphis and it has Toni Green as a guest vocalist on it.

  The opening ballad, Long Ride Home, is a melodic and swaying deepie, in a vintage Soul Children style.  Norman: “It has that same flavour.  When I heard the Long Ride Home mix, it was like a message that we’re finally going back to the old idea.”

  Other similarly impressive slowies include the strongly gospel-flavoured Love You for Life, the vocally powerful The 3 of Us and the intense More Than a Woman (by Jay).  Lil House Big Party is a hooky mid-pacer, whereas both Window Shopping, and Too Hot to Hold are more in the Bar-Kays funk territory.

  The remake of I’ll Understand was lifted from J. Blackfoot’s ’99 CD, Having an Affair, while Norman takes lead on a nice, mid-tempo floater called Tell Me How to Please You, which was co-written by Bigg Robb.  Norman: “I learned it off a recording that had already been done.  I got it from a demo.”

  The 7-minute long The Sweeter He Is, with a few bars of Shining Star in it, still sounds heart-warming after all these years; in spite of the fake live effect.  Norman: “That’s the impression we wanted to give on it.”  Jay: “It is a false live.  That’s how we do it on stage, but they didn’t get it off stage.  As a matter of fact, it’s not even in the same key.  We had to drop the key, so the girl could sing it, because it was right way out of her range.”

  The final track, the pretty Goodbye Is Not the Only Word, was taken off the Don Davis-produced Finders Keepers album, but this time the song is credited to D. Jones and H. Harris instead of Harvey Scales.  Jay: “My favourites on the CD are Long Ride Home and More Than a Woman.  We’re getting great respond on this album already.”

  Whichever way you look at it, the Soul Children is a magnificent group and vocally one of the strongest there is and has been.  Their history of high-quality records is an impressive one.  Today they are still in top form, so should they come your way don’t miss them - and give a listen to their latest CD, too.


Heikki together with Norman West, William Bell and J. Blackfoot

(Acknowledgements to the Soul Children, Matti Laipio, Mikko Peltola, Juhani Laikkoja, Aarno Alen and Pertti Nurmi.  Photos by Pertti, Aarno and Juhani.

Sources: Rob Bowman’s excellent book, “Soulsville, U.S.A.”, and Bob McGrath’s “The R&B Indies”.  Please visit also http://staxrecords.free.fr)

Heikki Suosalo


The Soul Children Discography


The Soul Children Page in our CD shop


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