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DEEP # 2/2015 (April)

It really is annoying, how malicious flu bugs can stop you on your tracks for a long period.  That’s the reason why this March column has turned into an April column, and consequently some of the CDs reviewed here have been released already a while ago.

The feature artist this time is the likeable Mr. Vel Omarr, and with him I had a chance to talk about such acts as Sam Cooke, H.B. Barnum and the Robins, the Olympics and Brenton Wood - not to mention Vel’s own six solo albums, of course.

After two more Southern soul indie releases, there are as many as nine recent compilations from Ace/Kent reviewed, and at least four of them should really excite the fans of deeper 60s soul sounds.    

Finally, I had a chance to meet the ever-delightful Ruby Turner and have a short chat with her.

Content and quick links:

Vel Omarr
Ruby Turner

New CD release reviews:
Vel Omarr: Ain't No Telling
Billy Soul Bonds: Cat Daddy
Mel Waiters: True Love

CD reissue & compilation reviews:
The Valentinos: Lookin’ for a Love/The Complete Sar Records Recordings
The Soul Stirrers: Joy in My Soul/The Complete Sar Recordings
Johnny Adams: I Won’t Cry/The Complete Ric & Ron Singles 1959-1964
Roy Brown: Pay Day Jump/Later Sessions
Various Artists: Rhythm ‘n’ Bluesin’ by the Bayou
Various: Los Angeles Soul/Kent-Modern’s Black Music Legacy 1962-1971
George Jackson and Dan Greer at Goldwax
Jimmy Holiday: Spread Your Love/The Complete Minit Singles 1966-1970
Sam Dees: It’s Over/70s Songwriter Demos & Masters


There are numerous singers, who have been influenced by the late Sam Cooke, and then there are those, who even sound remarkably like him.  Some do deliberate impersonations, but for a small number of artists “Sam Cooke sound-alike” comes naturally.  Mr. Vel Omarr belongs to that group.

He was born the 3rd of January in 1950 as Roosevelt Trass jr.  Vel: “For religious, and family reasons, I changed my name to Vel Omarr Syed.  For the entertainment industry, I use only ‘Vel Omarr’, because it sounds better.”  Vel was born in Mayersville, Mississippi, which is located on the east bank of the Mississippi river, about 100 km/65 miles northeast from Jackson.  “It’s very small.  When I was born there, I think the population was about 350 or more, so they describe it as a hamlet.”  Today the population of Mayersville is close to 795 according to the 2000 census.

“I was born in a small shotgun house, where if you can stand on the front porch, you open the front door, and you could see straight through to the back, where the kitchen was.  I was born with the help of a midwife in a small bedroom that had been added by my grandfather.  It was right on the edge of the cotton-field.”

“Before he passed last year, my father told me he used to sing in a gospel group in Mayersville, Mississippi.  They would go around to churches, and my mother says that he was pretty good.  I also grew up with gospel music, because my grandfather didn’t allow us to play any other music on the radio.”

“My early influence from the time, when I was eight years old, was Sam Cooke.  That’s when he had his first big hit, You Send Me.  When I was coming with my aunt to Chicago from Mississippi to be with my mother, someone on the train had a transistor radio, and they were playing You Send Me.  I really loved that sound and, of course, the other music that was going on at the time.  There was a lot of doowop.  I also liked another singer, Lloyd Price, who had a song around that time called Stagger Lee, and later Personality.  Those were the singers that really influenced me, and Brook Benton, as well.”

“In high school in Chicago I was really interested in acting, so I joined the drama club.  I also loved singing, so I joined the boys chorus and the a cappella choir.  I really wanted to get into all the cultural things that were happening in high school, and I was really fortunate that they had so many things going on.”  Vel graduated from Hyde Park High School, now called Hyde Park Career Academy High School, in Chicago in 1968 and then went to Kennedy King College until 1971.


“I moved to L.A. in 1973.  I was married at the time, and I had intended to go to New York to pursue my theatre career.  My wife became pregnant with our son and I had heard a lot about New York and how fast it was, and I decided then that maybe New York was not a good idea.  I had been in New York a couple of times before, while I was in college, to see Broadway plays and even had the opportunity to meet some well-known actors.”

“Once I got here (L.A.), I became deeply involved in theatre and musical theatre, as well.  When I was doing a musical play, a guy I knew came up to me after the show and said ‘I love your singing in that play.  I think you missed your calling.  You should be a singer’ (laughing).  I decided that I would follow his advice, went out and started singing at different restaurants, and strangely enough the songs that I decided to sing were not Sam Cooke’s songs.  I did songs like Van Morrison’s Moondance and Frank Sinatra’s My Way.”

“After that I started getting involved in Open mike nights, where you’d go and you’d have a band to play, and you’d tell the band, which song you want them to play.  Sometimes that was good.  Sometimes it was not so good (laughing).  In the 80s I kept honing my craft, but I started mainly doing a tribute to Sam Cooke then, because I saw how much people liked Sam Cooke’s music.  However, I would sometimes do Marvin Gaye, the Drifters, the Temptations and songs like that.”

“When I was learning to sing, I used Sam Cooke’s or Brook Benton’s style.  They were similar, only Brook Benton was more of a baritone and Sam Cooke was a tenor.  I think we all came from the same area of the south and we were introduced to the same type of singing growing up in church.”

In the mid-80s Vel turns thirty-five, but so far his voice hasn’t been caught on a record yet.  “My first bona fide recording is The Ballad of Zebedee, which is a song that I used to introduce a character that I created as an actor, Zebedee.  I created a theme song for him.  The character is based on the life of my grandfather with a lot of fiction added on.  That single came out on my own label, which is VOS Records.  It stands for ‘Vel Omarr sings’.  It was released in 1987, but I started creating and writing it already in ’85.”  You can watch the video of this uptempo hillbilly song on YouTube.  Wali Ali plays guitar and Nolan Shaheed keys/synth on the single, and Vel is backed by the Bilalian Children Choir.   


The Robins is one of the groundbreaking doowop groups, which was formed in L.A. in the late 40s.  You can read the complete history of the group in Marv Goldberg’s excellent “R&B Notebooks” at The group first recorded with Johnny Otis in 1949 in the line-up of “Ty” Terrell Leonard (tenor), Billy Richard (tenor), Roy Richard (baritone) and Bobby Nunn (bass/baritone), and later they went on enjoying such hits as If It’s So Baby and Double Crossing Blues in 1950 – a duet with Little Esther (Phillips) Riot in Cell Block # 9 in 1954 and Smokey Joe’s Cafe a year later.  In late 1955 Carl Gardner, who had joined the group in 1954, and Bobby Nunn with two outside singers formed a spin-off group called the Coasters and scored many huge hits on Atco, including Down in Mexico, Searchin’, Young Blood, Yakety Yak, Along Came Jones, Charlie Brown and Poison Ivy – mostly Leiber & Stoller’s songs.

Vel joined the Robins in the early 90s.  “I was over in West Hollywood.  I had been invited to come over and sing by a lady, who is Sam Cooke’s daughter, Samona Cooke.  This restaurant, Ciros, was a place, where you had a lot of people in the industry to come in and have dinner.  Sometimes they would get up and sing, like Melvin Franklin from the Temptations.  I was performing in front of such people as Whoopi Goldberg, and Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson’s father.”

“A man came up to me afterwards and said ‘I got a group called the Robins, have you heard of them?’  I went ‘mmm...’  ‘Have you heard of the Coasters?  We were the original Coasters, before the Coasters were the Coasters.  We’re doing a reunion tour and I’d like you to come down and meet the guys’.  His name was Ty Terrell.”


“I came down and met - besides Ty - Billy Richard, Grady Chapman and also H.B. Barnum, who was the musical conductor for the group.  H.B. sang in the group, too.”  Grady Chapman joined the Robins for the first time in 1952, and Hidle Brown Barnum replaced Bobby Nunn in 1955.  H.B. had earlier sung in the Dootones, had solo singles releases as Pee Wee Barnum and later even produced the Robins in the late 50s and early 60s; now with Bobby Sheen in the line-up, too.  The original group disbanded in 1961, but the multi-talented H.B. created a remarkable career for himself in the capacity of an excellent arranger, a producer, a (so-so) singer, a record label owner, a composer, a musical director...

“H.B. is very hilarious.  He was always joking... and sleeping.  We were at a rehearsal at Billy’s house one evening.  When he’s not working, he was napping.  He was leaning over the piano, and Ty Terrell brought all of us into the room.  Ty said ‘okay, time to work’, and H.B. started playing before he even woke up (laughing).  Those days he was working also with Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls and other groups, as well.”

“In our shows we did all of the Robins songs that were popular – Riot in Cell Block # 9, Cherry Lips...  We were together, I think, about five years off and on, doing small tours.  The only recording that we did was, when we were performing at the Greek Theater in L.A. and someone videoed it.  I wish I could find that video.”

“The group doesn’t exist anymore.  Ty Terrell was the leader of the group.  In fact, he owned the name.  After we had run our time with the group, the Robins just pretty much stopped performing.”  Billy Richard passed away in 2007 and Grady Chapman in 2011.


In the mid-90s Vel hooked up with Brenton Wood (  “I went back to my solo performing, and I was performing in an Italian restaurant.  A lady came in.  She worked with H.B. Barnum’s choir, and she was also a background singer for Brenton Wood.  That’s how I met Brenton Wood.  They were putting together a doowop group for his opening act.  She told me that the guy’s name is Alfred Smith, but you might better know him as Brenton Wood.”

Alfred Jesse Smith was born in on July 26 in 1941 in Louisiana, and among his close to thirty single and seven album releases the best-known songs are The Oogum Boogum Song, Gimme Little Sign, Baby You Got It (all in 1967) and Come Softly to Me (in ’77).

“Once I got involved with Brenton Wood, that’s when I really started working... even more so than when I was with the Robins.  All through the year I’m performing and doing various casinos and other functions, opening for Brenton Wood and doing Sam Cooke.  Brenton was a big Sam Cooke fan.” 

“Brenton Wood’s Sweet Old School Revue also worked with Brenda Holloway and Al Wilson.  I learned a lot from him, not only as a singer, but also how to work the band on stage.  Once he even had me booked in his place, and I made some very good money – bigger than I had been paid before” (laughing).  We also worked with the Delfonics and Barbara Lynn.”

“Then Brenton Wood got a chance to open for Little Richard and James BrownHank Ballard was on the show as well.  That way I got a chance to meet almost everyone in my world of legends.  Brenton is still working today, but not as much as he used to.  I still keep up with him.”


The Olympics was formed in L.A. in 1954 as the Challengers by Walter Ward, his cousin Eddie Lewis and three other members.  Here again I’d like to direct you to Marv’s exhaustive article at  The group is best known for many novelty type of dance hits, such as Western Movies (in 1958), (Baby) Hully Gully (’59), Big Boy Pete (’60), Shimmy like Kate, Dance by the Light of the Moon, The Bounce (all in ’63), the original Good Lovin’ (’65), Mine Exclusively and Baby, Do the Philly Dog (’66).

Vel knew the group, and they had opened for Brenton, as well.  “In 2003 the manager of the group approached me.  Her husband, Kenny Sinclair, one of the lead singers of the Olympics, became sick with cancer and he passed.”  Kenny had joined the group in 1971.  At that point, in 2003, the line-up was Walter Ward, Eddie Lewis, William DeVase and Vel.  Walter and Eddie were the two original members from the mid-50s and William had joined in 1981.

“We did the Christmas album, and it’s the only Christmas album by the Olympics.  I did most of the leads, and William did some of the leads and some of the rapping.”  There are nine new holiday songs on Big City Christmas, which was released in 2005 on Lacoriha Records.  The Olympics also back Vel up on two tracks on his third solo CD in 2007.

Walter passed in 2006 and William three years later.  “After William DeVase had passed, Eddie is the only surviving original member.  We went back to the studio, and we have re-recorded Western Movies, Hully Gully, Big Boy Pete and a song that I wrote, That’s Alright with Me.  We haven’t released it yet, but I do that song solo on my very first CD.”

Alongside Eddie and Vel, the third member of the Olympics today is Alphonso Boyd.  “He’s one of the writers of Shakey Ground (# 1 soul hit for the Temptations in 1975).  He worked a lot with Motown acts.  He had his own groups, Truth and Imperial Wonders.  When our members pass, we would always try to recruit someone to carry on.  Al is the last person that Eddie and I recruited, so that we can continue doing shows as long as Eddie wants to do them.”

“We have a show coming up on April 19 in Long Island, New York.  Based on the number of hits that the Olympics had throughout the years, we should be constantly busy as any other doowop or r&b group.  But no!  We might work three times a year, if we’re lucky.  Walter was like the main player in the group, and after he passed many people don’t know that the Olympics are still performing.”  Besides his solo gigs, Vel still performs with the Olympics as well.


Vel’s very first solo album, Rhythms & the Blues, was released in late 1998 on his VOS label, and it was re-released with a different look two years later.  “I got together with Bradley Austin Bobo.  He used to be with Joe Sample and the Crusaders.  Brad is a very fine musician, a bass player.  I started feeding him with the music, and we would go into the studio.  I said ‘Brad, I want to use a band’, and he said ‘you can’t afford a band’ (laughing).  He was realistic about this project.  ‘I’m going to do it on my keyboard.  It’s going to sound good no matter what, but don’t expect to make a hit.  Just get the music out there, get your voice out there and people will get used to your voice.  As you go on, things will happen bigger for you’.”

The thirteen tracks on display mostly consist of easy and melodic mid-pacers or uptempo dancers, such as the swinging Back to the Rhythm and the Blues, the laid-back It’s Got to Be Love and a toe-tapper called Dance with Me, Honey, which could come out of the Drifters songbook.  “I’m always looking to bring songs like that back and redo them with a live band.”  The midtempo Morality has a Caribbean touch to it.  “I really like the Latin and Caribbean feel in music.”

Among the three ballads there’s a pretty love song named That’s Alright with Me, which Vel already mentioned above in conjunction with the Olympics, and the tender If I Should Get to Heaven, which has a strong Sam Cooke feel to it.  “I’m very proud of that song and I still do it.”


The second album, Vel Omarr Sings Sam Cooke & More, was released in early 2001 on VOS, but today it’s very difficult to find a copy, even though in 2008 it was reissued with If I Should Get to Heaven added to it.  “It’s rare, because I released it as a demo so that I could get work.”

Besides numerous Sam’s songs – A Change Is Gonna Come, Chain Gang, Nothing Can Change This Love, Sugar Dumpling, Frankie and Johnny, You Send Me, Cupid and Twistin’ the Night Away – in the “More” section you can find such familiar tunes as Pride and Joy, Under the Boardwalk, My Girl and Harry Hippie.  “I wanted to represent with my vocals other styles, even though they are close to the Sam Cooke style that I had been doing.  I wanted to do Marvin Gaye and I wanted to do people that Sam had influenced.  I got close, especially with Harry Hippie, which was written by Jim Ford and recorded by Bobby Womack.  It became a Bobby Womack song, because it became a truth song about his brother.”

Today A Change Is Gonna Come is a very meaningful song to Vel.  “It is.  When I first recorded it, I didn’t mind so much that it was almost like my signature song, but I’m beginning to want people to think more of who I am as a singer.  That’s why I’m trying to create my other signatures, like If I Should Get to Heaven – even though it still sounds so much like what Sam might do.  People sometimes say to me that ‘I don’t remember Sam doing this song’, and I say ‘well, he didn’t do it’ (laughing).”

Once again the background music is skilfully created.  “Everything’s programmed, but Brad Bobo is very efficient in using whatever program he was using.  A guy, who has a music store out here, uses this CD to demonstrate how great a program can sound.  Of course, I always like real saxophones and real trumpets.”


In 2004 Vel released a CD single called There’s Only One Life to Live, an easy, bouncy uptempo number with a jazzy flavour.  The two other songs on the CD – Feels like Love and If I Should Get to Heaven – derive from Vel’s debut album but they are digitally remastered to give similar soft jazz feeling.

“The ladies, who wrote that song – Betty and Beverly Prudhomme, – sang also the backup vocals.  They wrote songs for Sam Cooke, like Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, recorded also by Johnnie Taylor, and I Ain’t Gonna Cheat on You No More.  Then they wrote some songs for Fats Domino.  I was introduced to them by their daughter and niece.  When they heard that I do Sam Cooke’s music, they were just overdone.  They had this song left over and they wanted me to do that song.  The noted musicians, who played on There’s Only One Life to Live, are Carl Protho on keyboard (synth) and Wali Ali on guitar.”


Vel’s albums only keep getting better.  Released on VOS in late 2007, How Can I Make you mine, features a live rhythm section.  Danny Torres is on keys, Chino Rodriguez on guitar, Alfred Chacon on bass, Jay Pacheco on drums and still Shawn Constantine on saxophone.  “I met my lead musician, Danny Torres, because he played keyboard for Brenton Wood.  Danny put this band together, and he came up with the P’zazz Band.  First they were called In the Pocket, but when they started working with me they became the P’zazz Band.”  Vel and P’zazz work together still today.

Vel is singing with the Olympics on two tracks, a pretty ballad called Lover’s Deja Vu and a slow doowop number entitled Stay Where You Are.  The latter song was first cut by the original Olympics in 1961.  “We rerecorded Stay Where You Are, and we did another tune that originally was a Christmas tune by William DeVase, Christmas Dejavu.  I told William ‘that song is so beautiful that I’d like to be able to sing it all year round.  Do you mind, if I change the lyrics into a secular type of a song?’  ‘Go for it’.  William always called me ‘the hitmaker’, and I’m so waiting to making that come true.”  The third slow song on the CD is an intimate ballad called Hurry Back Home.

Here we also have Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day and a mid-tempo serenade named How Can I Make You Mine.  The gentle Feels like Love appeared already on Vel’s first CD and the preceding single release.  “I wanted to give a live band flavour to certain songs.”  I Believe I’m Falling in Love is a jazzy finger-snapper.  “It just came out as a jazz tune.  I didn’t intend for it to be jazz, but when I sang it, it sounded more jazzy than r&b.”


After the very entertaining How Can I Make You Mine CD, we had to wait for over four years for the follow-up, but it was well worth it.  The Greatest Song I Ever Sang (SPSO 2) was released on Special Soul Music, a subsidiary to Dylann DeAnna’s CDS Records, in early 2012.  You can read my review on that CD at

“I was working with a lady, who was my promotion person and she heard about Dylann’s record company.  She contacted him, and he just loved Sam Cooke, so he called me and said ‘I want to do a CD and I know you have a great Sam Cooke flavour, because I love what you did on How Can I Make You Mine.  I’d like to record you doing some original tunes, but we want to keep a certain Sam flavour in those songs’.”

“He arranged for me to go to Houston, Texas, to work with his production man, Carl Marshall.  I’ve never had anybody as fantastic and easy to work with in my whole music career.  I look forward to doing it again.  I didn’t know any of those songs on the CD, until I got to Texas.  We did the whole thing in five days.”

This time Vel even has a live horn section backing him up.  “Dylann wanted to make sure that Carl used live horns.  I really wanted to get away from any kind of keyboard sound.  Maybe they can do it on strings and get away with it, but I don’t want any major instruments to be programmed.  I want everything to be real, so that it can be authentic.”


The second CD on Special Soul Music in late 2013, Cookin’ with Vel Omarr (SPSO 4), was for the most part a live set and consisted of mostly Sam’s songs, and many of them had appeared already on Vel’s second CD, Vel Omarr Sings Sam Cooke & More.  Please read my review at

“I called Dylann and said that one of the songs on the previous CD, Everybody’s Dancin’, is getting a lot of airplay and I want to do a video with that song.  He said ‘let’s do an entire show’, and he sent a guy to record the show at the Savoy Entertainment Center in Inglewood.”

“Now I’m getting much more airplay than I was, when we first wanted to do that CD with Dylann.  Now would be a very good time to come in and do something else, and I would love to work with either the musicians on my last CD, Ain’t No Telling, or Carl Marshall.  Either one of them would be great.”


In the meantime, Vel has kept his name and voice out there by cutting his sixth solo CD called Ain’t No Telling, and it was released last year on George H. Cooke’s Double Beat Records out of Pasadena, California.  “George is a performer and a recording artist.  He had released a CD called Living in the Ghetto, and I guess he wasn’t totally satisfied with the way he did it.  He wanted to work with me and have me redo some of the songs on the CD.  I got the CD from him, listened to it and said ‘George, I’m not going to be able to sing them the way you have them written here, but let me rewrite these songs for me’.  That’s what I did.  I took the songs and I took just the music and got most of the words, but then I rewrote them and put my own structure on them.  I really like what we produced on that CD.  We did the entire CD within a week.”

Again Vel is backed by a live rhythm section with Darryl Crook on guitar, Bobby Pierce on keys, Robert Russell on bass, Quinton Dinard on drums and a familiar sax player from Vel’s days with H.B. Barnum, Rickey Woodard.  The biggest musical difference, however, with Vel’s earlier records is that this time he concentrates on blues.  There are such blues numbers - romps and laments - as Ain’t No Telling, Livin’ in the Ghetto, It’s my Pleasure and a novelty type of a jam called Big Leg Lady.  There’s even a holiday blues song entitled Soulful Christmas, and both the quick-tempo Al’s Sugar Shack and the fast That’s All That Matters (to Me) – with a Caribbean beat - appeared already on Vel’s How Can I Make You Mine CD in 2007.

“Once George decided to do the CD with me, he said ‘man, I want it to be completely away from the Sam Cooke style’.  I don’t know, how much we succeeded in that, but it did bring me into another things and I’ve always loved the blues anyway.”  Actually, My Telephone Keeps on Ringing may remotely bring Sam’s interpretation of Little Red Rooster to your mind, and a pleasant pop & soul song named The Power of Your Love is like a throwback to Sam’s heartfelt sound.  “That’s what came out, because of my training.  A lot of times people think I’m impersonating Sam, but that’s just the tone of my voice, and it comes out naturally for me.”

The delightful The Power of Your Love is also one of Vel’s own favourites among his own songs.  “I had a chance to write that from the scratch.  I like the ballads a lot.  If I Should Get to Heaven will always be the one that I like the most.”  In the future Vel would like to stick to the blues.  “I’m focusing in something that would be close to the Kansas City blues feel, or Louis Jordan blues feel... but updated.  Blues really has a longer life.  It doesn’t have tendency to age.  For the world it’s always relevant and new.”

(; interview conducted on March 18 in 2015).


Billy really loves his cats.  Although almost ten years have passed since his first hit CD on Waldoxy, Here Kitty Kitty, the concept of his recent follow-up CD again strongly leans on those furry creatures.  Produced by Billy and Tommy Couch Jr. and co-arranged by Harrison Calloway, with the exception of two songs Billy composed all the material on Cat Daddy (WCD 2851;, which I believe is his 8th album altogether.

Those two songs were written by the late George Jackson.  The first one is the funky mid-tempo title tune and an airplay favourite, and the second one is a swaying toe-tapper called I Owe You One.  Billy: “The company chose one, and I chose one.  I only wish George and I could have hooked up long before his passing, but I am grateful for the two songs that I have.  Maybe I can go back and cover some more of his songs.”

Much Right Man and Get Her with My Twitter are both light and easy dancers, whereas the mid-tempo He Went to Bed with a Woman but Woke up with a Man has an interesting story to tell.  Among the five slow songs on the set, the melancholy Every Time My Neighbor Walks his Dog is again loyal to the main theme, as the next line goes “my wife have to walk the cat” (sic).  Here Puppy Wuppy is musically similar in structure, but the cream ballad for me is a melodic and mellow country-soul song named Cheaters.

A smooth dancer titled Whose Foolin’ Who (sic) appeared already on the I’m on My Way Back CD on Avanti in 1998 and a pumping mid-pacer named Use It (While You Got It) derives from the next Avanti album, Going Public Again, in 1999.  “The two songs were added, because we felt like they hadn’t gotten the attention they should have gotten because of stronger songs.”

There really isn’t a dud on Cat Daddy.  Music is melodic and easy, either good-time, or poignant, and the three background vocalists give it an extra boost.  I really hope that Billy has a winner here.


Although there are many familiar elements in Mel’s music on his latest CD, True Love (Brittney/Music Access, MUI-CD-10097;, such as masculine vocal approach, high energy, sharp beat and saxophone – actually, only on two tracks this time - the snake has entered this paradise, too.  All these autotunes, talk-boxes and other audio circus tricks may be popular in the U.S., but we long-term European soul music fans mostly hate them.  I understand that for southern soul our continent is just a marginal market, so I can only wish you good luck on your home turf with those toys.

Of the listenable tracks, True Love is an irresistible, slow toe-tapper, Not Supposed to Love You is an almost soft, downtempo number and Going out Tonight is a mellow, mid-tempo floater.  Overall, however, for me True Love is Mel’s weakest CD so far.  My copy doesn’t even credit anybody – no writers, players, producers, arrangers etc. 

I guess I just have to wait for this voice-distorting fad to pass.  On two tracks here the weird noise sounds like it was produced by an instrument we used to play in school in the 60s.  It was called ‘melodica’; a very soulful instrument, indeed.



Although best known for their original reading of It’s All over Now in 1964 and for their top-ten r&b hit, Lookin’ for a Love, two years earlier, the Valentinos had quite an impact on soul music aficionados already in the 60s.  It was not only because of Bobby Womack’s lead vocals, but also due to the overall driving gospel-infused sound of the group.  Lookin’ for a Love/The Complete Sar Records Recordings (Ace/ABKCO, CDCHM 1426;; 23 tracks, 60 min.) takes us back to that peak period on Sam Cooke’s label in 1961 – ’64.

The CD contains two gospel singles by the Womack Brothers from 1961 and five secular Valentinos singles after their rebirth..  Bill Dahl has written the informative liner notes with interviews, and on this CD there are as many as nine tracks that were not released at the time.  Seven appear here for the first time.  The songs were mostly written by Bobby and Friendly Womack, Sam Cooke and J.W. Alexander, and - besides Bobby - Curtis Womack leads on a couple of tracks, too.

Alongside those two hit songs, the ones to draw your attention include a swaying mid-pacer called Everybody Wants to Fall in Love, a few gospel-driven scorchers like I’ll Make it Alright, I’ve got a Girl and She’s So Good to Me.  Doowop sound dominates on Tired of Livin’ in the Country and Don’t Go Away.  There’s even one sing-along novelty track called Shakin’ this Way and that (Lassie).  Raw and penetrating!


  Joy in My Soul/The Complete Sar Recordings (Ace/ABKCO, CDCHM 1425; 2-CD, 33 tracks, 90 min.) is another delightful SAR compilation and again the Soul Stirrers story is told by Bill Dahl.  This two-CD comp contains two albums by this highly popular quartet, Jesus Be a Fence around Me (1961) and Encore!! With the Soul Stirrers (1963), and their eleven singles between 1959 and ’64.  There are four previously unreleased tracks.

The producers were Sam Cooke and J.W. Alexander.  After Sam went secular and signed his former gospel group to his new label, Johnnie Taylor took lead on two early songs – Stand by Me Father (SAR-101) and He Cares (SAR-103) - before Jimmy Outler and Paul Foster took over.  Still at the very end of their SAR stint in 1964, another later soul convert, James Phelps, leads on Mother Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me (SAR-154).

The songs are quite melodic and mellow –mostly slow or mid-tempo – and the music is restrained, even poppy at times.  Intensity grows on some tracks, like on the slow Don’t Leave Me Alone and His Love (SAR-1145) and the fiery Where Jesus Is.  There was also some hopping from spiritual to secular and back.  Jesus Be a Fence around Me (SAR-108) turned into No More Pain (by Sam & Dave) and God Is Standing by (SAR-124) into I’m Standing By (by Ben E. King), whereas Lead Me Jesus (SAR-120) derives from Soothe Me and Looking Back (SAR-150) had been a 50s pop hit.  A soothing and soulful inspirational set!


You’re overcome with a solemn feeling when listening to the magnificent voice of the late Johnny AdamsI Won’t Cry/The Complete Ric & Ron Singles 1959-1964 (Ace, CDCHD 1424; 24 tracks, 60 min., notes by Tony Rounce) offers us in chronological order Johnny’s 11 singles – plus two demos – on Joe Ruffino’s labels.  The melodies are mostly slow and easy-going, the stories sad and Johnny’s delivery consequently often melancholic with occasional bursts into that distinctive falsetto.

The highlights among ballads include the original ’59 recording of I Won’t Cry, the powerful cover of Gene Allison’s You Can Make it If You Try, a big ballad called Closer to You, a “sob movie” type of a melody named Wedding Day and the bluesy A Losing Battle (# 27 – r&b in 1962).  Add to that still the powerful I Want to Do Everything for You and Hank Williams’ from-country-to-soul Cold Cold Heart.

On the more uptempo side there is a melodic, mid-tempo song titled Let the Wind Blow, a horn-heavy swaying mid-pacer called Life Is Just a Struggle and a dancer with a catchy hook named Tra-La-La.  This is sheer class!


In their “King & DeLuxe acetate series” Ace has released the second of their three Roy Brown CDs, entitled Pay Day Jump/Later Sessions (CDTOP 1423; 24 tracks, 68 min.; liners by Tony Rounce).  The focus is now on DeLuxe releases between 1949 and ’51, and there are eight previously unreleased tracks on display.

These horn-heavy rhythm & blues songs were for the most part written by the “shouter” master himself and many of them were inevitably influenced by Roy’s first big hit in 1948, Good Rocking Tonight.  The charted singles include Rockin’ at Midnight, Miss Fanny Brown, Boogie at Midnight, Hard Luck Blues (# 1 – rhythm & blues), Love Don’t Love Nobody and Cadillac Baby.  Predictably, there are as many as fifteen jump numbers – including the two-part Butcher Pete - but also six slow and three mid-tempo songs.  Roy’s strong and loud voice makes you enjoy the ride throughout this set.


We stick to 50s rhythm & blues, but now we visit Louisiana and more exactly Mr. J.D. Miller in Crowley, where he was running his studios and record labels and cut some most peculiar artists.  Rhythm ‘n’ Bluesin’ by the Bayou (Ace, CDCHD 1422; 28 tracks, 64 min., notes by Ian Saddler) presents some of his output, although many of these cuts were shelved right away.

Some of these artists are still known today – Katie Webster, Carol Fran, (the sax man) Lionel Torrence, Lazy Lester and Lester Robertson - but among the rest there are quite primitive and original characters.  The uptempo music, which is aimed at clubbing and juke-jointing, echoes in many cases the big hits of the day and styles vary from quick-tempo boogie-woogie, mambo, rock ‘n’ roll and blues to pop novelties.  Quite a hotchpotch, but quite fun, too!


Los Angeles Soul/Kent-Modern’s Black Music Legacy 1962-1971 (CDKEND 430; 24 tracks, 69 min.; notes by Ady Croasdell) features mostly uptempo dancers and funky items from obscure artists - Johnny Adams (not THAT Johnny), the Intentions, Lord Charles & the Prophets, Earl Wright, Larry Sanders – or less worthwhile recordings by some better-known names, such as Johnny Copeland, Felice Taylor, Tommy Youngblood and the Other Brothers.  The tracks derive mostly from the late 60s and early 70s, and there are nine cuts that remained in the can at the time.

There were a few goodies, too.  Venetta Fields’ (of the Ikettes) Give Me a Chance (Try Me) is a powerful soul ballad and Pat Hunt’s You Are My First Love from 1962 has a nice, early 60s uptown sound to it.  The WindjammersAll That Shines Is Not Gold is a melodic, Motownesque dancer, whereas Robert Ramsey’s Take a Look in Your Mind is a beautiful, soothing ballad.  Finally, Your Gonna Miss Your Chance by Maurine Williams & the Mount Olive 2nd B.C. Choir is a slow gospel number with a massive choir backing.  Incidentally, one artist here called Difosco (You Saved Me from Destruction from 1971) is actually Big Dee Irwin.  


George Jackson and Dan Greer at Goldwax (CDKEND 428; 23 tracks, 64 min.; notes by Dean Rudland) is filled with demos and masters that the two writers cut mostly on their own songs for Quinton Claunch’s and Doc Russell’s Goldwax label in 1966 and ’67.  Only one single was released, a fast dancer called You Don’t Know but You Had Me backed with Sam Cooke’s laid-back mid-tempo number titled Good Times.

On the rest of the tracks George is leading on eleven songs and Dan on ten.  George’s best shots are the slow Nothing Can Touch My Love I Have for You, A Road to Nowhere, I Can See Sadness ahead of Me, If I Thought I Could Ride My Troubles Away, I’m Still in Love with You and the dreamy Don’t Wake Me up.  Dan’s best ballads are the deep I Don’t Want to Be Hurt and the pleading Come Back and Help Me Save Our Romance


Spread Your Love/The Complete Minit Singles 1966-1970 (CDKEND 427; 26 tracks, 73 min.; notes by Tony Rounce) must be a dream-come-true for many 60s soul music fans.  Jimmy Holiday has long been one of biggest underground heroes in our genre, not only by his recordings but also by his soulful writing.  His first single was released in 1958, his last in 1974 and he passed away in 1987 at the age of 52.

This compilation offers his twelve Minit singles, plus two album-only tracks from his Turning Point LP (# 25 – hot rhythm & blues in 1966).  Among the producers you can spot such names as Calvin Carter, Buddy Killen, Jackie DeShannon and Jimmy himself, but with the exception of one country-tinged song (If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time) Jimmy composed or co-wrote all the songs on this set.

The ones that charted for him were Baby I Love You (# 21 – rhythm & blues / # 98 – pop), the soothing Everybody Needs Help (# 36 / # 116), the funky Spread Your Love (# 35 – r&b) and a melancholic ‘nam song, I Wanna Help Hurry My Brothers Home (# 132-pop).

Other highlights include the beautiful The Turning Point, the mid-tempo The Beauty of a Girl in Love, the soft I’m Gonna Use What I Got (to Get What I Need), the dramatic I Don’t Want to Hear It and Yesterday Died and the soulful I Found a New Love and A Man Ain’t Nothin’ Without a Woman.  There’s even one Motown-like, uptempo duet with Clydie King called Ready, Willing and Able.  An inspiring and most welcome compilation!


It’s Over/70s Songwriter Demos & Masters (CDKEND 426; 19 tracks, 65 min.; liners by Sean Hampsey) is the third set in Kent’s Sam Dees series, and this time it contains thirteen previously unreleased tracks.  All songs except a mid-tempo floater named Everybody’s Trying to Get Over were written or co-written by Sam.

There are some familiar melodies like the smooth I Know Where You’re Coming From (Loleatta Holloway), the danceable Gimme a Little Action (Sylvia), the disco-tempo A Case of the Boogie (Brainstorm) and alternate takes of Sam’s self-recorded Claim Jumping, What’s It Gonna Be and So Tied up.  Also Touch Me with Your Love, Anything is fair in Love and War and It’s Over, Nobody Wins we know from Sam’s preceding compilations.

Although uptempo tracks seem to prevail this time, the cream cut for me, however, can be found among the eight ballads on the set - the wistful and touching Married but I’m Still in Love.


Soon after my feature on Ruby Turner ( late last year I found out that she’s about to visit Finland.  Indeed, on February 28, 2015, she took the stage at Virgin Oil in Helsinki as part of the Jools Holland touring package.  Her 40-minute set, which finished the show, included ten songs and two encores. The strong and vibrant performance was built on driving uptempo movers and rhythm & blues toe-tappers... and gospel-infused hand-clappers.  One of the highlights was Ruby’s interpretation of We’re Gonna Make It.  Ruby: “When we toured in England with Jools, we used to do it with Gregory Porter, a jazz vocalist, so we decided to put it in this set, too.”

“It was really great to be back in Finland.  This is my second time.  The last time was at the Pori Jazz Festival in the summer of 2012.  Now I’m touring with Jools the Central Europe, and then I’ll tour in the U.K. with my own band.”

Ruby’s It’s Gonna Be Alright surprisingly hit the number one spot in the U.S., but that was over 25 years ago.  Could that achievement still be repeated today and - if so – what kind of a material would it take?  “Not a clue.  Anything goes in today’s world.  You never know what’s going to be a hit.  I just keep writing and hopefully make the contacts in America and then... who knows.  Everything goes through renaissance, everything changes.”

“I’m always working and I’m always hoping to improve every time I make a new record.  I’m exploring all the time.  I want to use my gift in the right way.  Everything I’ve done before, I’ve done to the best of my ability at the time.  I hope to keep striving.”

With eighteen albums under her belt so far, is there any special favourite among them?  “I love the gospel album (I’m Travelling in 2009), because that’s my roots.  That’s what keeps me grounded... and true and safe, safe to keep going.”  (

In the photo above: Heikki with Ruby Turner (the photo by Marjo Parjanen)

© Heikki Suosalo

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