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DEEP # 2/2020 (February)

  I’ve been in touch with two of my friends from the past to talk about their new projects, Messrs Chazz Dixon and Lavel Jackson. Actually there are three friends, as you can see below.

Additionally there are reviews of two new Southern Soul CDs, one classic soul compilation and a recently released book by Syl Johnson.

New CD release reviews & interviews:

Chazz Dixon: Anachronism
Lavel Jackson: 2020
David Brinston: I’m an O.G.
Ricky White: Southern Soul Nation
Various: Spring NYC Soul

Book reviews:

Syl Johnson: It’s Because They Were Black


  Recently Chazz has delivered a new CD every four years, and the latest one – released on February the 28th – is interestingly titled Anachronism, which means “a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned.” Chazz: “This album, it’s feel, is from a different time. I wasn’t interested in competing with what’s current. I wanted to make an album that was consistent with a romantic feel we don’t hear much of anymore.” Furthermore, Chazz writes in the album notes that “this album is a collection of snapshots from another time(s) when love was still romantic, when a lyric could conjure dreams, and a record was your magic carpet ride to a world of fantasy we all remember as real.”

  You can go back on Chazz’s career in my interview with him at, and now Anachronism is the 12th album in his career. “There’s actually another 8/9 completed CDs in the can; two that I’m still interested in releasing. One is a CD of covers from the 60s, stuff that was originally done by the Beatles, Tom Jones and the Zombies. The second one is an instrumental CD and of course I’m playing all the instruments as I’m doing on Anachronism.”

  On this set Chazz is in charge of all the vocals, playing, engineering, mixing and recording. “My son, Barope “DJ Payday” Dixon, encouraged me to create and release this project to let my audience hear what I really hear, feel. I don’t really consider myself to be a musician... a singer/writer yes, but musician no. I usually write it down or record a demo, convey my ideas to cats that make a living playing and get them to lay the hot tracks. Regrettably, no one has ever quite done what I really feel but a few have come close. I don’t try to micromanage the arrangements. On this CD you hear it the way I meant it, so I have to take the blame for every mistake because it’s all me.”

  In my reviews of Chazz’s previous CDs I’ve written that the instrumentation is quite sparse, but it leaves room for vocalizing and lets the melody breathe freely. That’s exactly the case on this new CD as well. Not only digital, there’s going to be a limited number of physical CDs also available, and they are released on Soul Klub Music. “It’s my parent company. Timeboy is an offshoot of SKM. I named it Soul Klub, because that’s where my head is at. I’d like to produce some stellar tracks on some of my good friends.”

  Kicking off with Chazz’s own six favourite tracks, the opener Take Me is a mid-tempo pulsator with a touch of Caribbean feel to it, whereas the following track, Baby You Got Me, is a dancer with a clip-clop beat. I Think I’m Falling is a smooth, mid-tempo song with a memorable melody as well as Nothing I Can Do about It, a mellow and pleading mid-pacer. Don’t Wait brings the tempo down to a soft and almost whispery ballad.

  Who’s It Gonna Be is a slow and gentle song with a strong melody line. “I tried to get Smoke to cut it a million years ago. I discussed it with Earl Bryant, his road manager, but there was a thing with a lyric that didn’t work for him. I then produced and later co-produced this track in 1982 for a deal with ABC Records. Movie and music man Aki Aleong and Emmy winner Bobby Jay were my managers, and the long-short of it is that the deal fell through, but in the process we completed some great tracks that I penned: Are You Lonely with Jimmy Castor on sax and the Laddins on vocals, Let Me in Your Life, Come Look My Way, which I re-recorded and released on the Message CD (in 2016) and Who’s It Gonna Be, which I’ve redone for Anachronism.”

  In terms of Chazz’s voice, we can’t avoid the inevitable comparison to Smokey Robinson, who incidentally just turned 80. The two used to work together in the 1970s. “Last time I ran into Smoke was in Montreal, Canada. It’s been a few years. His bassist Gary Foote was my old bassist in the early 80s. Gary played bass on the original recording of Who’s It Gonna Be in 1982. I’m forever grateful to Smoke, Marv Tarplin and Harvey Fuqua - Marv and Harvey especially, because they were always a phone call away with encouragement. And Smoke always left the door open for me to learn on the road. What a blessing! It was like having a pass to meet anyone and everyone you ever wanted to meet in our business.”

  Among the rest six songs, other than Chazz’s own biggest favourites, there are dancers like the hypnotic That’s Why I Like Her, which remotely may bring Prince to your mind, the quick-tempo I Wanna Get with You, the rocky Money and the feel-good Havana, again with a Caribbean touch. There are still two smooth ballads: Dizzy with a spiral “yoyo” beat and the laid back and at the same time pleading Think It Over.

  Chazz was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1955. “I returned to Milwaukee to take care of my dad the last few years of his life. Currently I still have a home in Wisconsin.” In the notes to the CD, Chazz writes that this album is perhaps his last. “I’ve been at this, entertaining, for over 60 years now. I still love it but I’m tired. The idea of taking a break, breathing, is real, especially with the passing of my Dad on New Years at 93.”

  “I love what I do, please continue to follow me on social media. As an active member of the Screen Actors Guild, I can still be seen in film and television as projects present themselves. I’m currently producing a CD on Ricardo Kelly, formerly with Da’ Soul Recordings Group, that’s nearly finished. I’m also finishing a single on Sonny Garr, formerly with Brunswick and Da’ Soul. It’s a tribute I penned to my dad, who was such a prominent figure in the lives of so many.”

(Interview conducted on February 19, 2020).


  I believe that 2020 ( is Lavel Jackson’s 10th solo album in this millennium. Before that this high-tenor singer out of Saginaw, Michigan, had worked with many groups - such as B.A.D., the Crowd Pleasers, Valentine and Seville - ever since the 1980s. You can read about those days more in detail at That interview was conducted four years ago, when Lavel joined the Dramatics featuring L.J. Reynolds, and today he’s still an active member of that group along with L.J., Winzell Kelly, Leon Franklin and Andre Jones, who joined the group in April 2018. However, Lavel does local shows also with his other group, Soul Xpress, and as a solo artist.

  One group that Lavel thanks in his notes is the Detroit Emeralds. Lavel: “I met James Mitchell Jr., who is the last surviving member of the group, while doing demo work for a producer in the Detroit area. It turned out that I sang a song that James had written and he liked what I had done and asked me if I would be interested in doing a show and possibly joining the Detroit Emeralds. I was intrigued at the thought of joining a group, where I would be out front, unlike my position with the Dramatics, whereas I’m just a backup singer. So I went for it, and accepted the position. But as a Dramatic, I can’t be in two groups at the same time, which is understandable.”

  Besides Lavel, on this 9-song set other musicians include Larry Johnson and James Owens on guitar. “Ron Sheppard played keys on Turn Around, and Mario Turner played guitar and Deshawn Weatherspoon played bass on that song. I wrote the lyrics for a track that George Pierce let me hear. I re-recorded the track at my studio, and the great Simeo mastered it.” Turn Around is a soft and haunting, urban type of a ballad, credited to George - known also as “Gee” - and Lavel.  “Simeo mixed and mastered Turn Around, Step with Me Tonight and One Two Step Step. The songs were recorded at my personal studio.” One Two Step Step is a simple, mid-tempo “stepper” and quite similar to another nice and effortless dancer, Step with Me Tonight, which includes samples of the Spinners’ 1970 hit, It’s a Shame. “I used It’s a Shame, because I wrote the song for the Spinners, but I was told that they were not recording new material at the time. I even sent it to the Whispers, but nothing happened. Then I decided to record it myself.”

  Another replay that Lavel uses is the Isley Brothers’ 1979 recording of Let’s Fall in Love, which is part of a gentle and sentimental ballad titled Fall Back in Love. “I used Let’s Fall in Love, because I love the Isley Brothers, especially Ron’s voice, so it’s my tribute to them.” My Babies House is another sweet and romantic ballad, which has some familiar melody lines on the background. “I got the idea from Come Go with Me by Teddy Pendergrass (in 1979). I thought instead of her coming to my place, I would go to her place. A little twist...”

  Besides Turn Around, the rest of the songs were written either by Lavel alone or co-written with James Owens, Jr. Their collaborations include a melodic, old-school toe-tapper named Thang on Me, a Marvin or even Prince type of a heavy plodder called I’m so crazy, another Marvin type of an enigmatic slowie titled I Think I Need You and for me the highlight of the CD, an energetic and captivating dancer called Thank You. “I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the Temptations for all the years of great music. They are arguably the greatest vocal group of all time; definitely one of my favourites.” Lavel’s second personal favourite on the set is I’m so crazy. “If I had to answer why, it would be, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye are two of my favourite artists of all time... and just the thought of them singing one of my songs is really awesome.”

  “2020 is basically a tribute from me to some of my favourite artists; songs I wish I could have written for them or performed with them.”  Prior to this full-length CD, Lavel released at the end of 2019 a single called All I Want for Christmas Is You, a tender and intimate ballad. “I received a lot of positive feed-back and I’ll be looking forward to it being a song that will be played for many years. Now my future plans are doing shows as a solo artist, writing new songs and going back in the studio. I’m always writing, so a new gospel CD is possible. But I would love to write for other artists.” (Interview conducted on February 24, 2020).


  Although I normally don’t review singles, I just couldn’t bypass the new release by my third friend, Mr. Bryan Austin. Here are the notes to a beautiful and smooth song called Songwriter:

Legendary Motown Hall Of Fame Songwriter Janie Bradford Reached Out To Bryan To Record Another One Of Her Gems: “Songwriter”. Bryan Had Previously Recorded Her Lyrical Tribute To Her Friend The Late Great Marvin Gaye Which Is Still Being Well Received. But This Time She Wanted To Bryan In Another Direction, So Instead Of Having Him Use His Falsetto Which She Loves, She Requested He Sing It Full Voice & Save The Falsetto (The Sweetener) For The End. So To Really Make This Work, Bryan Joined Forces With The Gifted Maestro/Producer Adrian Bowers Sr. (Adrian SR) & Now “Songwriter” Is A Listeners Delight. Or As One Fan Calls It “Ear Candy”



  I’m an O.G. (ECD 1181; is David’s third CD after this prodigal son returned to Ecko. Produced by John Ward and songs also co-written by him along with John Cummings, Gerod Rayborn and James Jackson, repertoire mostly consists of pumping mid-tempo toe-tappers like I’m Hot in Mississippi, I Got Love and the self-written Diamond in the Middle, which was first released six years ago. The bouncy, old-school type of a number called I’m Getting You Ready tells about foreplay, and I was really delighted to see that our good old friend Freak has come back after all these years on I Didn’t Know You Was a Freak Like That.

  David’s voice has become more seasoned, more raspy, which is just fine with me – especially on the three ballads on this set. Can You Do It Again? is smooth and misty, whereas the title track remotely reminds you of some of those great Joe Tex’s story-telling songs back in the day. I’m an O.G. is another enjoyable, solid set from David.


  Some of you may remember that one of my biggest dislikes in music is when they use devices and filters to distort human voice, and that’s why on Southern Soul Nation (CDC 1085; there are four tracks that I listened to only once and won’t play them again. But all you lovers of these “urban audio robots”, now you know that here’s a treat for you.

  Produced and all songs written by Ricky White, other musicians are not credited in the notes. I believe that for the 56-year-old Ricky out of Monroe, Louisiana, Southern Soul Nation is his 11th CD. He first recorded for Brimstone and then CDS Records. Other than those four spoiled party tracks, I quite liked the music on this set. Facebook is a light mid-tempo dancer and in a similar style Take Care of Your Woman is an effortless floater. A hooky toe-tapper titled Grown & Sexy was already the title track of Ricky’s second to last CD.

  Among the five down-tempo songs the mood changes from the smooth and tender Try Me, the “dreamy” Girl of My Dreams and a bedroom ballad named Make Love All Night Long to the Casino Blues, which we also know from Ricky’s earlier output. The slowly swaying Life’s Too Short is the personal favourite.



  When you’re dealing with such fountain of plenty as the Spring label and its subsidiaries, Posse and Event, you’re bound to find a bunch of releasable tracks still after numerous compilations concentrating on their output. Practically all of the music here appears on a Kent CD for the first time. Spring NYC Soul (CDKEND 487; 24 tracks, 7 prev. unreleased; 79 min.; notes by Ady Croasdell; features recordings stretching from 1967 till 1983, and on this set two thirds of the tracks are uptempo ones.

  The opener, Save the Best for Me by the Determinations, sounds like an easy Philly dancer and another track from the mid-70s, Garland Green’s Since You’ve Been Gone, is a richly orchestrated, driving number. We’re on the disco trail with Ronnie Walker’s Magic’s in the Air – co-written and co-produced by Vince Montana, Jr. – and on the funky trail with Flower Shoppe’s Kill the Monster, as well as on Phillip Mitchell’s If We Get Caught, I Don’t Know You. The song was written by Phillip, Billy Clements and K. Sterling. Phillip: “That’s Brad Shapiro. He didn’t write anything on it. He might have a line or something that he had me put in it so that he’d get a part of it.”

  Little Eva is as lively as always on her 1968 recording of Sugar Plum (Give Me Some), and Joe Simon co-wrote and co-produced I Ride Alone for the Internationals, which could easily be mistaken for one of his own irresistible dance hits. We can enjoy Joe also on his own 1970 hit ballad, Your Time to Cry (# 3-soul in Billboard), and in 1983 he co-wrote and co-arranged for Jackie Verdell a strong inspirational song titled The Storm Is Passing over. Other noteworthy and soulful ballads on this CD include Maxine Weldon’s I’m the Other Half of You and the powerful Forever by Clara Bathé. (I Have Fallen into) The Tender Trap by Leroy Raldolph is a delightful neo-doowop number.



  Syl Johnson has written a book, but the main subject isn’t music. Syl writes about the ongoing unfairness in dealing with the property of non-white people, both material and immaterial. It’s Because They Were Black, subtitled “100 Years of Fraud and Forgery” (84 pages, 11 with photos; ISBN: 978-1-951530-07-5) has two main threads, which are interwoven. First Syl tells how his ancestors’ land in Holly Springs, Mississippi, was stolen by white people with lies and forgery and with even bankers and politicians involved. This took place close to one hundred years ago, but there’s a paper trail to prove the injustice, and all 14 documents are printed in one chapter of the book.

  Syl: “I found my family’s history aligned with my personal experience with musical artists today.” By this Syl refers to repeated samplings of his music without his permission or any financial compensation. His music has been sampled over 350 times and moreover record companies have tried to steal his masters. Today he owns his music and has won these battles in court. One concrete outcome of all this is that last year Syl has founded The Reclaim Foundation in Chicago to set these matters straight.

  Syl’s iron-willed determination shines through in his text, and we may even see a follow-up to this book being published soon. Foreword to this book was written by his daughter, a well-known artist in her own right too, Syleena Johnson, aka Dr. Syleecia Thompson. Before or after reading this book, if you’d like to delve more into Syl’s career and his music, there’s a documentary titled Any Way the Wind Blows (2015), or you can read my in-depth interview in our printed paper # 3/1997. If you’re looking for music in a big way, there’s a comprehensive box set with a book called Complete Mythology (on Numero Group in 2010) covering the years 1959-72, and a 44-track compilation titled The Complete Syl Johnson on Hi Records (on U.K. Hi Records in 2000) covering the next six years

  This May Syl is one of the inductees into the Blues Foundation in Memphis, along with Bettye LaVette and Eddie Boyd, among others. (

© Heikki Suosalo

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