Only three days after he had finished recording a new album, Wee Willie Walker passed. Now that last CD will soon be released and I talked with the co-producer, co-writer and leader of the Soul Orchestra behind Willie, Mr. Anthony Paule, about making that stimulating music.
If we don’t count Gerald Alston’s solo CDs, it’s been twenty years since the last real album by the Manhattans was released, but this year The Legacy Continues, so I talked with Gerald about that new CD.
The rest of the reviews cover Merry Clayton’s inspiring new CD on the Motown Gospel label, O.B. Buchana’s southern soul CD, Spinners vocalist Ronnie Moss’s sixth solo album and a new book on soul music magazines and fanzines.
It was quite a shock to find out about Willie Walker’s passing on November the 19th in 2019, at the age of 77. This likeable gentleman always seemed to be in a good mood, but according to Anthony Paule’s reminiscing in Dick Shurman’s liner notes – Willie just may have had a premonition about his fate. His last CD, Not in My Lifetime (Blue Dot Records, BDR CD 110; www.anthonypaule.com), was finished only three days earlier in Oakland, California, and it’s a follow-up to his acclaimed album called After a While in 2017 PORRETTA 2017 | Soul Express – please scroll down a bit).
The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestrabacks Willie on both CDs, so consequently you can spot a number of same musicians on both records. On this new CD, besides Anthony on guitar there’s Tony Lufrano on keys, Endre Tarczy on bass and Kevin Hayes on drums. Jon Otis is on percussion on four tracks. The horn section consists of Derek James on trombone, Bill Ortiz on trumpet, Charles McNeal on tenor and Rob Sudduth on baritone saxophone. The three background vocalists are Larry Batiste, Sandy Griffith and Omega Rae.
The CD will be officially released on July the 16th. Anthony: “We started writing material in November 2018 and worked throughout the year. The recording took four and a half days starting on November 12 in 2019.” Co-producers are Anthony, Larry and Christine Vitale, but the main producer and mix engineer is Jim Gaines, who started out as an audio engineer at Stax studios in 1969 and has since worked with numerous blues and rock artists, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Huey Lewis & the News, Tower of Power, Santana, Buddy Guy, Luther Allison, Neville Brothers, Albert Collins etc. Anthony: “Christine is the one who suggested working with Jim Gaines. She has known Jim for many years. She has promoted many of his productions and referred her artists to him.” Christine is a project and media manager and an outstanding songwriter... and Anthony’s wife as well.
On as many as eight songs the main writers are Christine, Anthony and Larry Batiste. Anthony: “All three of us work on the lyrics in a collaborative way. Larry and I write most of the music and arrangements with a little help from Christine on this part too. A lot of our songs start with things Christine and I say to each other around the house. For example, if Christine is cooking dinner and I come in and start doing something in the kitchen and she finds it annoying, she’s likely to say ‘don’t let me get in your way’.” Indeed, the opening song on the CD is a sharp mover called Don’t Let Me Get in Your Way.
OVER AND OVER
The first single release was a tender and haunting ballad named Over and Over. “We met Larry Batiste in the late 80s, when the Hula Sisters would open shows for a group he sang in called the Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra. The Pitts performed one of our original songs, You’re Somebody Else’s Baby Too, and Larry loved it. He suggested we get together to write songs and we talked about it for 30 years but never did it. In November 2018 Christine was recovering from a foot surgery and was unable to walk. I was in Europe for about five days for a festival and this seemed like a good time for Larry and her to get together. They did and Larry brought the chorus for Over and Over, which they began to work on. Christine was so excited after their session that she called me in Denmark. When I returned home, the three of us finished the song and continued to get together writing most of the material for this release. We actually wrote the whole song twice. The chorus remained the same, but the verses and the story changed entirely.” On this mellow and beautiful song Curt Ingram plays French horn.
Two mid-pacers follow: Real Good Lie is almost an aggressive number, whereas What Is It We’re Not Talking About? is a more laid-back swayer. Darling Mine is a slow and atmospheric love song, written by Christine and K. Falkner. “In the late 80s and early 90s Christine and I had a group called the Hula Sisters. No Hawaiian music, just blues, r&b and soul. The group consisted of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and three female singers. Karen Falkner was one of the singers and a songwriting partner. We wrote many tunes, which we performed with the Hula Sisters and many never got recorded. So we’ve used some of them in more recent records: You’re Somebody Else’s Baby Too and Good to Have Your Company on Soul for Your Blues with Frank Bey. Darling Mine is one of those songs too. The Hula Sisters is the band in which I first met and played with Tony Lufrano – a LONG time ago!”
I’M JUST LIKE YOU
Willie first met the spiritual trio of James, Dwayne and Walter Morgan – better known as the Sons of the Soul Revivers – in 2018, and consequently they ended up backing Willie on the jump rhythm & blues number called I’m Just like You.
Make Your Own Good News is a smooth and easily flowing, an almost inspirational slow song, and here in writer credits besides Vitale-Batiste-Paule it reads also Derrick Martin (better known as a mobile drummer) and Willie himself. “Derrick and Willie contributed to the lyric writing on the tunes they get credit. Willie had some contribution on the melodies too.”
One of Willie’s most cherished singles on Checker in 1968 is his emotive reading of Warm to Cool to Cold, and here this deep soul ballad is turned into a swinging mid-tempo toe-tapper. “We re-recorded I Don’t Want to Take a Chance with Willie on the last record and wanted to do a new version of one of his old songs on this release too. I’ve always loved Willie’s old recording of Warm to Cool to Cold. When I mentioned it to our keyboard player Tony, he brought it to my attention we already had a lot of ballads, and it was he who suggested a shuffle version. The funny thing is, at the time I wasn’t familiar with the original country version of the song by Roy Drusky, which is also a shuffle.”
LET THE LADY DANCE
A story-telling and country-tinged soul ballad called Let the Lady Dance is the highlight for me. “Christine had been working with the idea for Let the Lady Dance for a few years. She just about wrote a short story about the woman and then edited it down to a song. In order to get in the mood and make up the story about this woman she had a photo she referred to and put it on the table before each time she wrote the lyrics for the song. She wrote 100 percent of the lyrics and Larry and I helped with the music.”
Next two songs are best known as recordings by Little Willie John. He had a small hit with a rhythm & blues jump called Heartbreak on King Records in 1960 (#11 r&b / #38 pop) and released the slow moaning Suffering with the Blues in October 1956. Both were covers, though. Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me)came first out by its co-writer, Jon Thomas, on his own Cincinnati label Jurny (501) and was then leased to ABC-Paramount. Joe Medlin had released Suffering with the Blues already in February 1956. “I suggested the two Little Willie John covers, because they were already in Willie’s repertoire. We had performed Heartbreak a number of times but never Suffering with the Blues. We both LOVE Little Willie John.”
After Endre Tarczy’s snappy instrumental with jazzy solos called Almost Memphis, there’s the concluding song, a jazzy mid-tempo toe-tapper named ‘Til You’ve Walked in My Shoes. “That was my idea. Bobby Bland sang a song called Ask Me ‘Bout Nothing (but the Blues), and I thought it might be interesting to flip it around to Don’t Tell Me ‘Bout the Blues. In the end we changed the title, but that’s how the idea came from.” Bobby Bland’s song was released in 1969.
I’m certain that this fine CD sits either at the top or very close to the top of lists of the best releases in 2021, but still there’s a paradox of arenas and forums gradually opening after the pandemic, but we don’t have Willie to promote this music anymore. Nevertheless, the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra starts gigging soon. “We are just now starting to book a few performances in the SF Bay Area with our new singer Marcel Smith. The first of these will be on July 1. We are coming to Porretta to play a limited version of the Soul Festival in December. From there we’ll go to the Umbria Jazz Festival in Orvieto, Italy.”
In the line-up of Gerald Alston, Winfred “Blue” Lovett, Troy May and Dave Tyson, the Manhattans released an album entitled ...Even Now...in 2001. Still seven years later they put out an album called Men Cry Too, which only adds the title song and a couple of other tracks to that preceding CD (if you wish, you can look into the complete Manhattans discography at https://www.soulexpress.net/manhattans_discography.htm). Furthermore, Gerald had two solo album releases, Sings Sam Cooke in 2008 and True Gospel in 2015, but we had to wait for twenty years before we can enjoy a completely new Manhattans album... or perhaps not completely new, but please read further.
After their fourth member, Dwight Fields, passed in August 2016, today the trio of Gerald, Troy and David carries on. The title of the new CD by the Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston is The Legacy Continues (www.letsjustkissandsaygoodbye.com). Gerald Alston: “We wanted to let our fans know that we are still carrying the torch. That is the promise I made to Blue before he passed away that I will continue the legacy of the group, because I’m the only remaining member. Everybody else is deceased.” Blue passed in December 2014.
Curtis Dukes is the producer and also co-writer of three songs together with Gerald. “Curtis Dukes is our keyboard player. He has a studio and we did everything in his studio called Strictly Business Entertainment. We actually started out writing together and since everything was working we just said ‘go ahead and produce it.’ All those new songs are produced by Curtis.”
The first song they wrote was a smooth mid-tempo dancer called Get It Ready, which was released as a single in 2018. “It did very well. On an independent company it doesn’t sell as well as with a major company and also with the streaming and downloading it’s a little different now, but we did well with Get It Ready.” Their second collaboration was a romantic and tender ballad named Love Ride, and it opens this set. “We wanted to keep this consistency about love... but in our way, the way the Manhattans would do it in the past. Love Ride, Get It Ready and She’s Coming Home are classy songs.” She’s Coming Home is the closing song, a mid-tempo dancer. “We’re getting ready to put a big push behind She’s Coming Home.”
On this CD the song number two is another beautiful ballad, like from the golden Manhattans days in the 1970 and early 80s. Called What About You, the song is composed by Gerald, Troy May and Colt Younger. “Colt Younger is our keyboard player. We have two keyboard players. Colt and I actually wrote a song together back when Blue passed. We didn’t get a chance to finish it, so we continued to write and wrote What About You.”
We know the beautiful ballad, Forever by Your Side, from 1983, when the Manhattans first recorded it, but now they have tampered with it a bit and added “live response.” The original was done so very well, so we just added the fans.”
Another familiar tune is a beautiful serenade called Right by My Side, which first appeared on Stanley Clarke’s and George Duke’s project titled “3” in 1990, and Gerald was the guest vocalist. “It was never released as a single. It was only on the album. Many people responded to me liking it, so I decided to put it on this CD.”
Probably two best-known Manhattans songs follow – Shining Star and Kiss and Say Goodbye – but they are performed live this time and derive from the Live from South Africa CD in 1999. The running time of the latter track is almost 12 minutes. “I re-released those, because the South Africa album did not sell very well here in the United States. I thought it’d be good to do something live and more or less as a tribute to the original members of the Manhattans.”
To increase the emotional level, there’s still Anything Goes, a touching country-soul ballad. “The first time I heard this song was by our former guitar player on his independent album. I fell in love with it and I called him, because I thought he had written it. He said ‘no, that’s by Randy Houser, a country & western artist. Then I looked up Randy Houser, and he is awesome with this song. He sings it with so much feeling, and then I realised that that’s the song I could do my way and I could identify with the story. So I decided to do it and Curtis did a wonderful job with it, and a former member of our organization, Gary Mancinelli, did the strings. He was in our organization before Blue passed.” Randy Houser’s original recording of Anything Goes hit #92 on Billboard’s Hot charts and #16 on the country side in 2008.
“We are going back on the road. In fact we already worked two days. We were in Huntsville, Alabama, back on the Memorial Day and we just played Columbia, South Carolina, on the 19th of June. Our actual tour probably starts in August. We’re going to do a bit of rehearsing in July and go out in August-September-October-November. We got dates through to February.”
“I’d like to thank my organization, East Coast Connection, for being a part of this, because the musicians on this CD were East Coast Connection, our band (Colt Younger, Mark Bowers, Howard Robbins, Jason Simons and Charles Butler). And I’d like to thank our sound engineers, Andre DeBourg and Tom Seley.”
“Also I want to thank all our fans around the world for the many years of support, and the album is true to its word: we’re going to keep the legacy alive and continue to bring good music to all our fans around the world.”
Most of the articles on Merry Clayton start by listing some of those big pop and rock names she has worked with and don’t forget to mention the 20 Feet from Stardom documentary (in 2013), but let me remind you of some of the other significant moments in her career. She recorded the first version of It’s in His Kiss – also known as The Shoop Shoop Song – in 1963, and after being a Raelet for over two years she co-founded in 1968 a group called Sisters Love with Gwen Berry, Lillie Fort and Odia Coates, and their first singles were released on Man-Child and A&M. In 1969 Merry left for a solo career, which resulted in three albums between 1970 and ’75 on Lou Adler’sOde Records. One of Merry’s less-known projects later in gospel music was to be a part of Della Reese and Brilliance along with Della, Vermettya Royster, O.C. Smith and Eric Strom and sing on their 1986 album on Atlanta International Records.
Beautiful Scars (Motown Gospel/Ode Sounds, B005551802; https://www.motowngospel.com) is Merry’s sixth solo album and it was released in April this year. Recorded in Hollywood, it was co-produced by none other than Lou Adler, which means that Merry and Lou are back together again after a break of only a few decades. Another prominent figure on this CD is Terry Young, who not only co-produced the set but also plays piano and organ on it and wrote five new songs for it. Besides Terry, the list of musicians is quite impressive. Among others, there’s Charles Fearing on guitar, Paulinho Da Costa on percussion, Nathan East on bass and Harvey Mason on drums.
Terry has written mostly slow and emotional inspirational songs, such as God’s Love, Deliverance and Room at the Altar, but there’s also one arousing uptempo number titled He Made a Way. His most melodic and enchanting song here is Oh What a Friend, and on this particular track Gerald Albright plays a saxophone and Herb Albert a trumpet solo.
Merry also revives Sam Cooke’s song, Touch the Hem of His Garment, which the Soul Stirrers recorded in 1956, and on this track – as well as on many others – she is backed by LA’s Finest Choir, and indeed among the 16 members you can spot such names as the Waters, Jim Gilstrap, Alex Brown, Alfie Silas and Charlene. One of the visitors on the closing medley is Jackie DeShannon, and probably it’s because Put a Little Love in Your Heart is one of the songs in the medley.
Besides Oh What a Friend, other personal highlights include Merry’s impassioned reading of Leon Russell’s A Song for You, which she had recorded for the first time fifty years ago and from that track they lifted Curtis Amy’s sax solo. Curtis and Merry got married, but Curtis passed away already in 2002. Chris Martin of Coldplay is one of the co-writers of a strong inspirational ballad called Love Is a Mighty River, and in a way this means returning a favour, since Merry visited on Coldplay’s 2015 album and sang on Adventure of a Lifetime. The brightest gem for me, however, is the title track, Diane Warren ’s beautiful big ballad.
Merry’s singing is strong and her voice is intact, which is remarkable considering that her both legs were amputated from knees down after an automobile crash seven years ago. It in a way gives an extra depth to Beautiful Scars, which is an impressive and truly gratifying comeback work of art.
O.B. functions like clockwork. Ever since his first Ecko album in 2004 he has released at a steady pace one CD per year, except in 2011 and 2016, but he balanced it out with two releases both in 2009 and 2015. If you do your math, you’ll find out that this is O.B.’s 17th Ecko year, and – lo and behold! – Southern Soul Brother (ECD 1186; www.eckorecords.com) is O.B.’s 17th Ecko CD. Produced by John Ward, this time it’s a draw between slow and more up-tempo tracks.
The opening song, Bet U Got a Good Un, is a mid-tempo number with a slightly Caribbean-flavoured beat and the similarly paced Southern Soul Brothers
is a quite grabbing name-dropping song. Among five down-tempo numbers there’s the slowly swaying You Might Have to Hurt. Written by Henderson Thigpen and John Ward, this emotive southern soul ballad appeared already on The Best of CD in 2015. Two Different People is a beautiful duet between Aubles (aka O.B.) and Lacee, and this cover was released exactly 20 years after J. Blackfoot’s original duet with Ann Hines on the same tune. Just Cruzin’ is a remix of O.B.’s mellow summer song from his Face Down CD two years earlier, and to increase sentimentality towards the end there’s the soft Mama You’ve Been Good. O.B. usually doesn’t let you down and he didn’t do it this time either.
Now Ronnie has released his sixth solo album, Baby Lay Back, produced by John Carey. John produced also Ronnie’s previous album last year, Keep on Stepping. Ronnie: “John Carey is a great guitarist from Chicago and Palm Springs, California. He has been compared to legendary guitarists Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix. John and I met actually on Facebook about four years ago, and we just stayed in touch. John produced the album, for which he wrote seven songs and I wrote two, Let It Flow and There You Go. We got together during the beginning of the pandemic. When the Spinners came off the road, we decided to make this, so - like most artists, including the Spinners, - we all followed suit. We actually did two albums. The second album will be released in August 2021. John lives in Atlanta, the same as I, and we were able to record without actually seeing each other. He has a studio and I have a studio.”
The title song, a slow, “laid-back” and atmospheric ballad opens the set. “On Baby Lay Back I wanted to go a little old school and kind of give the Isleys & Marvin Gaye feel. The sax player is Dave Thompson and on drums there’s Nat Scott out of California. I played percussion on most of the songs.” Ronnie’s other own favourite on the album is the self-written ethereal jam called Let It Flow. Between those two there’s Baby It’s You, a downtempo song with a jazzy and experimental groove.
Most of the nine songs here are romantic ballads – “we decided to make this album romantic” – like the doowoppy You Can’t Have Two, the easily flowing There You Go and the serene and beautiful Can I with only a guitar accompaniment. All Night Long features a rock guitar solo. Tempo is increased only on two tracks, Steppers Roll Call, where the title says it all, and the closing mid-tempo mover titled Say What You Mean. Besides that one upcoming album in August, what else can we expect? “With the Spinners we go back on tour in June.”
(Interview conducted on May 28, 2021.)
SOUL MUSIC MAGAZINES AND FANZINES
I just checked out and realised that since the early 1970s I’ve subscribed more or less regularly to at least 25 printed soul music publications. That’s why I was interested in reading Iain McCartney’s new book Soul in Print, subtitled A History of Soul Music Fanzines and Magazines (ISBN: 978-1-912587-50-6; New Haven Publishing; 184 pages). Foreword by Sharon Davis, in size the book is almost A4 and it has a lot of photos, mostly magazine cover illustrations.
Starting from 1963 up to this year, Iain features 142 magazines and fanzines and mentions numerous more obscure ones. The very first one is Rhythm and Blues Gazette from June 1963. Iain introduces each periodical by briefly telling about the history of that particular paper, describes the contents and conducts interviews with the editors, who reveal either their road to success, or more probably reasons for failure, including penniless diehard customers, lack of advertising, distribution and – besides money – lack of time. He also often quotes editorials, and sometimes even at unnecessary length.
The focus is on the UK's northern soul scene, but alongside those dozens and dozens of northern soul fanzines with venue reports, record reviews, artist features, letters from the readers and interviews with DJs there are also papers concentrating on other matters and issues in music such as specific sounds and regions, record labels, artists and particular UK northern clubs. There were numerous fanzines on Motown, but also on southern sounds like Fame and Goldwax labels, artists like Otis Redding and King Curtis and other masters in music like Phil Spector.
Some of them lasted only for one issue, while others exist still today. John Abbey’s Home of the Blues came into existence in May 1966 and is today still known as Blues and Soul. Issue # 1100 was just published. Clive Richardson’s Shout lived ten years till the issue #112, as well as Black Music, which merged with Blues and Soul in 1984.
Personal favourites during these past fifty years include David Cole’s In the Basement, Rod Dearlove’s Voices from the Shadows, Pete Nickols’ Vintage Soul, Marc Taylor’s USA publication of A Touch of Classic Soul, the Canadian Soul Survivor, Chris Savory’s Hot Buttered Soul and Dave Moore’s and Jason Thornton’s There’s That Beat! And for Iain’s information: I have thirteen issues of Ladies of Soul, till February 1998.
Iain features our own Soul Express on three pages, and most of it consists of a very good interview with our editor, Ismo Tenkanen, who unfortunately passed away this May. On Iain’s personal list Soul Express appears in the category of “The Best of the Rest”, but I think that’s because Iain is a huge football fan and doesn’t know about real sports like ice hockey (smile).