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Deep Soul Column issue 3/2004, Part 2


It’s taken six years for Bishop Joe Simon to come up with a new CD, but it was worth the wait.  Produced and written by the 61-year-old Joe, Wisdom & Understanding was recently released on Chicago Plus Records (, it offers nine songs (plus two remixes) and features some surprise guests.  Although the instrumental backing – due to partial programming – sounds scarce at times, in this case it really doesn’t matter that much, since Joe’s powerful singing and strong background vocals steal the show.

Lester Snell is the main arranger.  ”Lester Snell was one of the geniuses behind the Stax company, and he worked with Isaac Hayes on Shaft.  During the 70s we did some work together, so I contacted him and he agreed to work with me.   He’s also playing keyboards and synthesizers on this CD.  We recorded most of these songs in Memphis, Tennessee, and some in California.”

  The set opens with a catchy spiritual mover called Time To Change, where Joe is accompanied by none other than the Temptations – Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Barrington Scott Henderson, Harry McGilberry Jr. and Terry Weeks.  ”With the Temptations we’ve been friends for many years, when I was singing rhythm & blues.  We were all on tours during those years, and we remained friends.  So I contacted them and thought it would be very nice, if they would sing background for me on my CD, because I have a song that I thought at that time really would fit their life.  We agreed to get together and we worked out the plans and the details and we went to the studio in California, and that’s where we recorded Time To Change.”

The next song, Number 23, has a smooth and easy melody line adapted to an intense old-time disco beat, which actually is a surprisingly captivating combination.  ”I’m affiliated with the Lutheran Church and I told them that I have a wonderful song.  Se we chat a little bit, and we finally came with the idea that they wouldn’t mind singing the song, which is really the 23rd psalm.  We call it Number 23.  We did that, because when you’re trying to collect your royalties there are a lot of folks that have out records and songs concerning the 23rd psalm.  We use the term Number 23. That’s in order to get our royalties, because we didn’t want to have the same title as someone else.”

”The choir on the background is the Lutheran Church Choir, and the Lutheran headquarters is in Germany and they have five million members.  We’re praying that each of them is buying this CD”  (laughing).

Again backed by the Temptations, It’s On World Order It’s Strong, is once more built on an early 80s disco beat and Joe’s son, Joshua Simon, has a small rap part in the middle.   ”We didn’t really want to have that modern rap sound, or we wanted to use it in a nice way, so Mr. Snell came up with the idea that we should do it in this form.  Joshua is fourteen years old.  He is a keyboard player and he’s studying music.”

A deep beat ballad titled I Will Never Forget offers some impressive singing from both Joe and the background choir.  ”That song is sung by a studio group that we put together.  They all came in, sang one song and left.  I think that was in Chicago.”

  As a tune a melodic mid-pacer – relaxed at first, but growing more and more intense towards the end – named There’s A God Somewhere reminds you a bit of a song called No Relief In Sight, which Joe recorded for his underrated ‘81 Posse album.   ”Sometimes things just come to us.   I’ve always loved that melody, so I guess that’s why it happened like that.”   Joe is backed by the Lutheran Church Choir.

  A chugging, almost funky mid-pacer titled I’m Not Making This Up is the most contemporary sounding track on the set.   It was released as a single a year ago (b/w There’s A God Somewhere), and again Joshua is featured in a short rap.  ”We were trying to hit the young audience at that particular time, and that’s why we got it in a way of contemporary sound and contemporary beat.”

  A mid-paced ditty with a reggae beat, Lay My Burden Down (Glory Glory Hallelujah), evolves from a light Caribbean song into a gospelly declamation.  ”That’s kind of unique, ain’t it?  We came up with that, because I wanted to do something different.   We didn’t suggest that it was going to be that reggae sound.  It just happened that way.  It’s something that I thought about for a long time, and I wanted to do a song like that.   That was an old standard song that I used to sing in church, when I was a child.”

  Glad You Came My Way is the lovely title song of that ‘81 Posse album, but here Joe turns the delicate ballad into a more rousing spiritual.  ”When I wrote it twenty years ago, I really wrote it to be a gospel song, but I was not a gospel singer.  When I became a gospel singer, I went on and put the gospel lyrics on it.  There were some artists that had covered it in a gospel form.  Twenty years ago, when I was singing rhythm & blues, a lot of people wanted me to sing this song at their wedding.  At that particular time I was not telling people that I was going to be singing gospel music, so at that time we let it stay a secular song.”

  Certainly Lord I Love Everybody is a more traditional, camp meeting type of a gospel beater.   ”It is the most traditional one and that’s also a song that I sang, when I was a kid.”

  Joe hasn’t performed secular music for the last sixteen years.  ”I am a bishop at the Lutheran Church.  I’m affiliated with them, but I’m a bishop, because I was made bishop to the Bahamas.   These days I perform all over the country, in churches and auditoriums, places like that.”

  Soon after Joe’s long-time partner, John Richbourg, passed away in 1986, Joe forsake rhythm & blues for good.  His last secular album was for Compleat in ‘85 called Mr. Right.   Three years later he was already delivering a sermon and singing some on a Skull album titled Simon Preaches Prayer.   ”Then that company went out of business.”

  Ten years later, in 1998, on Ripete Gospel they released a musically inspiring CD named This Story Must Be Told.   ”When I did that CD it was only for the one CD for that company.  We didn’t have a contract to keep recording.”

  ”Now I have a TVprogram on Time-Warner cable television in New York City on channel thirty-five.   We just signed the contract.   The program is called ‘Earth Life and Heavenly Life’.  It contains preaching, singing, videos and interviews.”


  As a logical continuation we review three new inspirational sets by former soul songstresses.  MavisHave A Little Faith (Alligator; ‘04) is her first CD since Spirituals & Gospel on Verve in ‘96, which was a collaboration with Lucky Peterson and dedicated to Mahalia Jackson.  I wasn’t very fond of that CD – I guess, I’ve only listened to it three times by now – but musically this new one is more versatile, so, consequently, I’ve listened to it four times already.

  Produced by Jim Tullio and Mavis and recorded in Chicago, the CD features real instruments throughout.   All the songs are new ones, except a couple of traditionals – A Dying Man’s Plea and Will The Circle Be Unbroken – which the Staple Singers have cut earlier.

  Mavis’ music is a mixture of spirituals, Delta blues and ”folk-soul” , but unfortunately on many tracks she banalizes herself into singing insignificant pop & rock beaters (Pops Recipe, Ain’t No Better Than You, I Wanna Thank You, I Still Believe In You and There’s A Devil On The Loose).

  Of the better cuts the opener, Step Into The Light, is a mid-tempo bouncer with some slide guitar and even the Dixie Hummingbirds on the background.   At The End Of The Day is a mid-paced, poppy song, which melodically bears a slight resemblance to Joe South’s Games People Play, and the third mid-pacer is the melodic title song, which once again was inspired by the 9/11 incident.

  God Is Not Sleeping is a tender and soft slowie, but if you’re looking for genuine gospel then look no further than In Times Like These, a melodic and powerful ballad with a fifty-plus-piece Chicago Music Community Choir on background vocals.

  It’s good to hear Mavis’ voice again after all these years, but when listening to this CD most of the time you tend to have an uneasy feeling of walking on the edge and soon slipping into rock.   For soul fans Mavis’ two Volt albums (Mavis Staples in ‘69 and Only For The Lonely in ‘70) are still insurmountable.  For the fans of the Staple Singers Kent has just released a double-CD retrospective titled The Ultimate Staple Singers / A Family Affair with over two-and-a-half-hour’s worth of music covering the years from 1953 to 1984.


  If you have Melba’s previous CD, the surprisingly impressive I’m Still Here (on Shout/Glory Music in 2002), you really don’t need this new one – Nobody But Jesus… (Believe Music Works; ‘04) – since the best five cuts are lifted from that preceding album.  Produced by Herb Middleton and Dale DeGrat, they include Master And Friend, a beautiful and gradually growing ballad, Call Me, an inspirational slowie with convincing singing from Melba and Shirley Murdock, the melodic and from-mellow-to-mighty The Other Side Of The Rainbow and finally two beat ballads, Rise My Sister and Praise Yeah!

  Mostly programmed but machines drowned by loud background singing, there are five public domains – There Is Power In The Blood, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, Precious Lord, Praise Him and Higher Ground – all performed either in a traditional uptempo ”camp”  spirit, or in an extra-slow melismatic way with minimum accompaniment.   What A Friend… is a mid-beater.

  The three new songs – produced and partly written by Dunn Pearson – are all down-tempo ones.   Nobody But Jesus is another melismatic slowie, I Believe In Principles melodically reminds you of the Four Tops’ I Believe In You And Me (‘82) and Right By My Side is a rather peppy inspirational.


  While interviewing Victor Allen for our previous issue, we were both guessing off-the-record on which label Peggy’s first gospel set is going to be released.  Neither he, nor I believed that late Jimmy Lewis, who died from cancer on September 11, would put it out on his Miss Butch imprint… but he did, after all.  Furthermore, Jimmy wrote in the liners that ”I have never heard Peggy Scott-Adams sing this great before!  She is a true gospel singer, and I know she has a sincere calling in her heart to do gospel music.”

  I agree that Peggy’s singing is great and her vocal prowess is the main reason why I keep listening to God Can…And He will (Miss Butch Rec., ‘04).  Otherwise, I’m not fascinated by poor programming and irritating background singing on some of the tracks.  Understandably, on the cover Peggy is not looking ”hot & sassy”  this time, but rather like a Sunday school teacher or a church choir member.

  Vick Allen produced four tracks, which I tend to like the most.  Of his own tunes the title track is a powerful slowie, while Lord Stand By Me is an even greater deepie.   This May Be The Last Time is a lilting beat ballad, whereas Be Like Jesus – both written by W. Witherspoon – is a more gentle one.

  The rest nine tracks were produced by Jimmy Lewis, and they include a powerful ballad – and a tribute to mother – called Did You Know?, and a slow song from Jimmy’s own recording past titled Still Wanna Be Black Again.  Other familiar tunes are the jogging Bad Water (Jackie DeShannon; the Raeletts, Doris Duke, Dorothy Morrison etc.) and the traditional His Eye Is On The Sparrow.


  We leave the church for a minute and descend from the higher ground to an earthly playground.   Sheba was introduced in our # 4/2001 issue and now she has come up with her third CD, I Need A Cowboy To Ride My Pony ( Ecko; ‘04).  Produced by John Ward, the sensual Sheba’s singing is as sweet as ever, but the biggest praise this time goes to the larger than usual amount of live instruments, which on some tracks certainly adds to the listening pleasure.

  Many of you are probably thinking that there must be a hidden meaning to the lyrics of the title song.   You really have a dirty mind, don’t you?   Actually this relaxed mid-bouncer tells about ordinary pony riding… you know, the thing kids love to do in parks.  Depending on how good you are you can either ride nice and slow, or get up and go, go, go.  That way you may eventually become another John Wayne, but you must do it as often as you can… obey Lee Dorsey, who already in 1965 ordered you to Ride Your Pony.

  Other mid-pacers include the swaying I Need Somebody’s Lovin’ Bad and a bluesy bouncer about Italian cuisine called I Can Hear Your Macaroni… (”but I don’t see no cheese” ).  Get Behind Me is an easy dancer.

  There are as many as five slowies on the set.  I Can Give It Like A Woman is a laid-back one, Take Your Time an even more serene one, The Other Woman Has Got Your Man (and its remix) a big-voiced and beaty one and finally We’re Gonna Miss You a poignant tribute to Quinn Golden.   The same song was earlier used as a farewell to Johnnie Taylor, and on this cover Sheba’s dad, Dr. ” Feelgood”  Potts, plays the weeping harmonica.  I’ve liked all of Sheba’s CD’s so far, and even after this new one still do.


  Sharrie’s epithet , ”The Princess of Rockin’ Gospel Blues” , pretty much describes her music.  Hailing from Saginaw, Michigan, her strong-voiced delivery is deeply rooted in gospel (so we’re back on ”the higher ground” ).  After a short transitional period in jazz, she has landed in blues and is now actively performing mainly in Europe.  You can read more about her at

  Hard Drivin’ Woman (CrossCut Records; ‘04 – ”” ) is Sharrie’s third CD, and she is backed by her 4-piece band, the Wiseguys.   Recorded in Michigan and produced by Michael Freeman, thirteen songs were written by Sharrie and her band members.  The only cover, a passable but not earth-shattering version of I’d Rather Go Blind, is because of Etta James being one of Sharrie’s favourite artists.

  With the main emphasis on blues, fierce gospel elements, however, are evident on three tracks (Travellin’, The Glory Train and Gospel Blues), whereas I’ll Give You Me is an acoustic-backed pop slowie and Selfish a pretty pop ballad with some jazzy improvisation thrown in.


  Sticking still to the blues, Travis ”Moonchild”  Haddix ( has been active lately and released a CD per year.   Born in Mississippi in 1938, his first single came out in 1968 and the first album in 1988, which was one of his five Ichiban sets.  Now, I think, this Ohio resident has thirteen albums under his belt.

  Company Is Coming (Wann-Sonn Records; ‘02) was produced and written by Travis, and he is backed by his seven-piece band (four in the rhythm, three in the horn section).   Travis himself handles vocals and solo guitar.  He offers mostly uptempo blues songs – at times close to funk, actually – and the only song soul fans might enjoy is a pleading and ripping beat ballad called The Time Is Now.

  Blues From Staghorn Street (Wann-Sonn; ‘03) repeats the same formula – many romps with occasional moans.  At times Travis’ sound resembles Mighty Sam McClain’s recent music, and at least on one song, Andy’s, Bobby Bland’s influence is evident, too.  Three last tracks are Travis’ new Christmas songs: a romp titled Rudolph’s Girlfriend, a slow talking blues called Christmas 1911 and another romp, Surprise From Santa, where vocally Travis trespasses the late Rufus Thomas’ territory.


  Two fine recent releases take us back to the soulful sounds they made some thirty-five years ago.   The eponymous Bettye Swann (Honest Jons Records; ‘04; 22 tracks, 64 min.) covers her 1968-70 Capitol period (after Money and prior to Atlantic recordings), consisting of six singles and two albums (The Soul View Now and Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me).

  Having forsaken the music business and living now happily in the Las Vegas area, the 60-year-old (on October 24) Bettye belongs to the league of ladies, who at the time didn’t convince soul fans with big-voiced, gospelly delivery but with delicate, subtle and nuanced singing.   Her vulnerable, ”little girl”  tone had a certain ethereal charm, which made her recordings ever so fascinating.

  Together with her producer, Wayne Shuler, Bettye cut four self-written uptempo tunes (My Heart Is Closed For The Season, I’m Lonely For You, No Faith No Love and Don’t Let It Happen To Us), but the main body of her work consisted of cleverly arranged covers.  Mostly there were soulful interpretations of country songs - Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me (George Jones, Willie Nelson, Ray Price), Don’t Touch Me (Jeannie Seely), Sweet Dreams (Don Gibson, Patty Cline), Today I Started Loving You Again (Eddy Arnold), Stand By Your Man (Tammy Wynette), Just Because You Can’t Be Mine and You’re Up To Your Same Old Tricks Again.

  Typical to those days, especially on albums recent and even older pop and soul hits were covered, too – Little Things Mean A Lot (Kitty Kallen), Cover Me (Percy Sledge), Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye (the Casinos), Ain’t That Peculiar (Marvin Gaye), Words (the Bee Gees), These Arms Of Mine, Chained & Bound (both by Otis Redding), Tell It Like It Is (Aaron Neville), Angel Of The Morning (Merrilee Rush) and Traces (Classics IV). 

  Sales-wise Bettye’s Capitol years weren’t very successful ones.  The only single sides that charted were a pleading ballad called Don’t Touch Me (# 14-r&b/38-pop), the beautiful Angel Of The Morning (# 109-pop), the fragile Little Things Mean A Lot (# 114-pop) and the mid-paced Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me (# 102-pop).  However, don’t let that mislead you, since this is classy music; sophisticated, before the term was even in use.  For me this was Bettye’s peak period.


  Some of those, who knew David, say that he was anything but the capricious troublemaker or the tragic figure as portrayed in the Temptations mini-series.  However, he had his demons, which was one of the reasons the relationship between him and Motown’s decision-makers grew tense soon after David had left the Temptations and launched his solo career.  This also caused the shelving of, arguably, his best album ever, David, which was due to come out in the early summer 1971 as his third solo set.  Now thanks to the compilation producer Harry Weinger and the remastering wizards, Suha Gur and Ellen Fitton, we finally get to hear that ”lost album”  plus as bonus tracks seven outtakes and plus still mono mixes of the four songs that came out as two singles in the first half of  ‘71.   The limited edition of David”  Unreleased LP & More (23 tracks, 76 min.) was issued this June by Hip-O Select (

  The songs for the album were recorded between the period of August ‘69 and July ‘71, and mostly David worked with such producers as Clay McMurray, Henry Cosby, Johnny Bristol, Ivy Jo Hunter and Smokey Robinson.  The two singles didn’t chart.  Henry Cosby produced a mid-paced pleader called Each Day Is A Lifetime (b/w an ordinary beater, Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me, by Duke Browner – this side actually bubbled under at # 112-pop) and for the follow-up Smokey Robinson and Terry Johnson finished a driving mover titled You Can Come Right Back To Me, with some strange noises in instrumentation.  It was backed with Smokey’s and Al Cleveland’s powerful ballad, Dinah, which Gene Page arranged and which was initially meant for the Miracles.

  Clay’s input for the album still included a cover of the Jackson 5’s first hit, I Want You Back, which was turned from a teeny dancer into an adult uptempo pleader.  A sunny and melodic beat ballad named Out In The Country is a cover of Bobby Taylor’s recording, and on the version of Rainy Night In Georgia David forgets Brook Benton’s delicate reading and instead ”ruffens”  it up.

Anything That You Ask For is a catchy and richly orchestrated Motown dancer.

  Already in 1969 Johnny Bristol produced a storming and energetic mover titled I’ve Got A Need For You, and his second collaboration is also an uptempo dancer, the catchy and melodic For The Shelter Of Your Love.   Henry Cosby produced an average plodder called I Can’t Be Hurt Anymore and Ivy Jo Hunter cut a beat ballad named Let Somebody Love Me, which was first recorded by Chuck Jackson.

  Also among the rejects there were many gems.  Clay produced a vibrant mover called It’s Gonna Take A Whole Lot Of Doin’, and Johnny Bristol produced a beater titled I Want Her To Say It Again, which Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded first for their ‘69 Nitty Gritty album.  Bristol is also responsible for a catchy dancer named Your Heartaches I Can Surely Heal and a messy, psychedelic beater called Get Away Heartbreak (Keep On Moving).  Henry Cosby produced another beater, You Make Me Do Things I Don’t Want To Do, which originally was meant for Marvin Gaye, and Martin Cohen produced Mountain Of Memories, an impressive beat ballad with energetic singing but which sounds slightly unfinished.  Personal favourite is a truly powerful and gospelly rendition of Heaven Help Us All, which is still intensified with an overwhelming orchestration and background singing.

  Add the Funk Brothers, the Andantes, the Originals and the Spinners, among others, to the mix and you are into a real treat.  A remarkable CD!

THE LATIN COUNTS (aka the Valadiers)

  Staying still in Detroit, four blue-eyed gentlemen known as the Latin Counts have come up with a mixture of old and new songs called Now And Then.  Having performed together on the scene for over twenty years by now, the history of individual members, however, goes way, way back.   Since the 60s Andy Alonzo has sung in the line-up of the Martiniques, the Royal Jokers and C.P.Spencer’s Originals.   Stuart Avig was the lead singer on Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam) in 1961 – hence the ValadiersSal Prado was a member of another 60s group, the Seminoles/the Embers, and finally Don ReVels comes from the Five Pearls fame.

  Alongside numerous uptempo dancers based loosely on the modernized Motown beat (No Competition, What’s Wrong With Me Baby and You Don’t Know It) and the Isley Brothers covers (Painted Smile and I Guess I’ll Always Love You), there’s also a catchy, speeded-up version of the Spinners’ Love Don’t Love Nobody.   The high singing skill of each member is exposed to the full on three doowopish, a cappella tracks (Peace Of Mind, This I Swear and Lovey Dovey) as well as on a Four Freshmen type of a cover of Route 66” style='font-style:normal'>  and a funky interpretation of Fever.  An enjoyable and slightly nostalgic CD from the boys, who today work mainly with Nick Marinelli under the name of the Shades Of Blues… remember Oh How Happy in ‘66?   Andy Alonzo has also a solo CD released recently, Death And Taxes (Boots Records), which is closer to Latin fusion and pop-rock than retro soul.


  You don’t have to seek out any serious social messages when watching this DVD.  There’s a lot of reminiscing, true, and everything wasn’t pretty for soul artists back in the old days, but the main purpose of this music documentary was for a devoted fan in ‘99 to go and see, how some of those big names from the past are doing today.

  Only The Strong Survive (Miramax; ‘03 – 1:36 – dir. by Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker) visits Memphis, New York and Chicago and also offers some old movie clips with Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, the Supremes and Wilson Pickett starring in them.   In Memphis the late Rufus Thomas is in the main role and besides co-deejaying at a radio station he also sings Walking The Dog – at the Luther Ingram benefit concert – and The Night Time Is The Right Time; the latter one as a duet with his daughter Carla, who gets a solo spot, too, with Baby and Gee Whiz. 

  Isaac Hayes does Shaft and Don’t Let Go, while Sam Moore – in addition to remembering his drug dealing days in New York – bursts into Soul Man and an intense delivery of When Something Is Wrong With My BabyAnn Peebles sings Breaking Up Somebody’s Home, whereas Wilson Pickett not only chats during his session for the recent album, It’s Harder Now, but also performs on stage – yes, you guessed it! – In The Midnight Hour

  Mary Wilson does so-so versions of Love Child and Someday We’ll Be Together, the Chi-Lites harmonize on Have You Seen Her and, as the highlight for this viewer, Jerry Butler puts his heart and soul into Only The Strong Survive and For Your Precious Love.


  Last year there was Hell At The House (On Top Records), and now Omar ( has released his second, eponymous solo album.  Alongside Tyrone Davis and Willie Clayton, Omar is one of the three artists on EndZone Records at the moment (, but since he’s only 35 years old he tends to add some contemporary elements to traditional Southern soul, but luckily not very much, so the biggest problem here still lies in the omnipresent programming.

Produced by J. Courtney Garrard and Omar and mainly written by Omar, this almost completely downtempo set has a few quite pleasant moments, such as a catchy and jolly dancer called I Get By, a soft and mellow ballad titled Sweet Sweet, a melodramatic beat ballad with a big choir named Momma and finally a slow duet with Willie Clayton, Shysters And Wannabes.  Tyrone Davis’ latest CD on EndZone, The Legendary Hall Of Famer, was released the last of September.

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