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DEEP # 3/2009 (July)

  In addition to over a dozen recent Southern soul and beach-slanted releases and a couple of compilations, my focus this time is on Detroit.  As an opening feature act I have the Stubbs Girls, the sister and nieces of the late Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops.  Two members of the Dramatics, Ron Banks and L.J. Reynolds, discuss their new DVD and other topical issues.  Ralph Terrana also hails from Detroit, and now he has co-produced an upcoming CD on his new protégé out of Pebble Beach, California, Abraham Wilson.  My seventh interviewee is an impressive CD debutante out of Alabama, Stephanie Pickett, and from the vaults we searched out a gentle soul crooner by the name of Charlie Jones.

Content and quick links:

The Stubbs Girls
The Dramatics
Ralph Terrana and his protégé Abraham Wilson
Stephanie Pickett

New CD release reviews:
The Stubbs Girls: Here We Are
William Bell: Live in NYC
Roy C.: LIVE
Charlie Jones: Ultimate Charlie Jones
Chairmen of the Board: Soul Tapestry
Lenny Williams: Unfinished Business
Luther Lackey: Jody’s Got My Problems
O.B. Buchana: Back up Lover
Sweet Angel: Bold Bitch!
Betty Padgett: The Real Deal
Stephanie Pickett: Finally Made It
Stan Mosley: I’m Comin’ Back
Bobby Stringer: I’m Not to Blame
Vick Allen: Truth Be Told…
Chuck Strong: Sneakin’ out
Abraham Wilson: Smooth
Bettye LaVette: Change Is Gonna Come
Ruby Turner: I’m Travelling On

Reissue/compilation CD reviews:
George & Gwen McCrae: Together
Randy Brown: Welcome To My Room/Midnight Desire
Lattimore Brown: Nobody Has To Tell Me

DVD review:
The Dramatics: Biggest Hits Live

Book review:
John Broven: Record Makers and Breakers


  There’s one well-kept secret in the Metro Detroit Area, but soon everybody’s going to find out about the Stubbs Girls as soon as their new CD, Here We Are, hits the streets next month.  One common factor to the five ladies is that they are all related to the late and great Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops - a sister and four nieces.

  Thelma Stubbs-Mitchell is Levi’s baby sister, “Baby Thelma.”  Thelma: “In a way I’m the mother figure in the group, because I know the history of Motown, the singing and all of that, but we’re like sisters also.”

  Sheila Stubbs-Taylor is the daughter of Evelyn Stubbs, Levi’s second oldest sister.  Sheila: “My mom is not in this business, she doesn’t do anything in music.”

  Pamela Pierce-Fuller, Robin Pierce and Rhonda Pierce are all daughters of Sarah Pierce, Levi’s oldest sister, who helped Levi get his start.  Thelma: “Sarah took him to the Paradise Theater downtown Detroit on Woodward Avenue, when he was just a little boy, and he and our cousin Jackie Wilson and Little Willie John all competed against each other.  Sometimes Willie would win, and sometimes Jackie and then Levi would win.  Levi had four sisters – Sarah, Evelyn, myself and Phyllis, who lives in Ohio.  She’s not involved in music.  And there are four boys, too.”

  In connection with the group, another familiar name pops up in the role of “senior advisor”, Larry “Squirrel” Demps, an ex-member of the Dramatics.  Sheila: “Larry is our choreographer and our advisor.  Larry is a wonderful person.”

From left to right: Robin Pierce, Sheila Stubbs-Taylor, Rhonda Pierce, Pam Fuller, Thelma Stubbs-Mitchell

  The Stubbs Girls have been together for about five years, but they’ve all been performing already long before that.  Sheila: “Thelma, Pam and myself, we used to have a group called Phase III.  That was about five years prior to forming the Stubbs Girls.  Phase III recorded a song entitled One Wish and also a song with my uncle Levi for the city of Detroit entitled the Detroit Song.  The other two – Robin and Rhonda – had a group called the Guest Stars.  Pam was bouncing forth and back between the two groups.”

  “As kids we all used to go to my grandmother’s house and use the walls for drums and sing.  We were just thirteen.  As we got older and sang in separate groups more than five years ago, my cousin Barbara said ‘it’s not going to work out, if you all don’t start singing together’, and that’s when we came up with the idea for this concept.  We nieces are between 35 and 43 now.  We all lead, but Robin and I are the two main leads.”

  “We work our jobs during the day, but at night we do entertainment.  We perform every weekend and sometimes during the week.  We do Motor City Casino, the Walled Lake Dinner Train, Rib and Soul Festivals, African American Festivals… and we do a lot of private functions, private parties and affairs just about everywhere.  We even do weddings in other states.  We rehearse three days a week.”

  The Stubbs Girls’ song list today is almost 150 pieces long.  “All five of us have five different vocal styles, and we all like five different kinds of music.  One does jazz, one does old school, one is doing R&B… so we mix it up from a little bit of everything.  Motown is our base because of our heritage.”

  The group has signed a contract with Crew Records out of Atlanta, Georgia.  The label was formed in 1994 for blues and jazz releases by William Guest and Edward Patten of (Gladys Knight and) the Pips and Alfred “Butch” Birch.  Edward passed away in 2005 and his wife Renee has taken over.  “William Guest used to live two blocks away from my grandmother’s house.  When we were kids, we would pass his house.  He was always polite and very sweet to us.  Then one day one of the cousins went by his house five years ago and said ‘you know, we have a singing group now.  We’d love you to hear us’.  And he agreed to come and he brought Butch Birch with him, because that’s his partner.  They heard us and decided to sign us.”

  After five years of singing and performing, finally their official debut CD, Here We Are, sees a release.  There existed a home-made promo CD already prior to that.  “That promo was cover songs, and we recorded that for work purposes.  We sent them out, so we could get work.  This new CD we started recording two years ago.  The hardest part was finding material for the CD.”

  The spoken introductory Intro is by Duke Fakir, the only original member left in the Four Tops.  Baby Come to Me, a jazzy mid-tempo beater with a nice sax solo in the middle, has an “Anita Baker” feel to it.  Pam wrote the song, Rhonda is leading and Randy Scott produced it. Sheila: “Rhonda is actually not a jazz singer.  She’s more of a blues type, but that particular song works for her.  Randy Scott is a saxophone player and jazz musician that has his own CD out that’s pretty hot actually.  He produced and helped to write a lot of our songs on the CD.”

  A slow “farewell” jam with a heavy beat called All Is Well features some strong singing from Robin.  The song was written and produced by Richard Gibbs and co-produced by Marc McCoy.  “Richard is Aretha Franklin’s keyboard player.  Marc is a guitar player, who’s a part of Crew Records’ entourage.”

  A local producer by the name of David M. Artist wrote and produced a restrained and quite catchy jogger titled Let’s Go Back, on which Rhonda, Robin and Sheila all share the lead.  It is followed by I’ll Be There, a sweet and soulful beat ballad, which was produced by one of its co-writers, Carlos Gunn.  Sheila is leading on this one.  Sheila: “Carlos is an engineer.  He has his own studio, where such great talent as the Four Tops, the Temptations and many others have recorded.  He wrote that particular song for us.  Each one of us tried the song and it seems to suit my voice best.  A lot of people tell me that I sound like Phyllis Hyman.  I feel as if Phyllis and I have a connection vocally.  I would love to record some of her songs that were written for her, but never heard.  I am told that when doing her songs, you feel as if she is really present.”

  On Pamela’s I’m Dreamin’ both Robin and Sheila lead, but on this more contemporary, hard-hitting and aggressive track machines tend to distract your attention.  “We wanted something more contemporary, and that’s how that one came about.”  David produced the track, while Emanuel Johnson wrote and produced a melodic and hooky mid-beater called Oh No, Not Tonight, on which Robin, the “Stephanie Mills” in the group, takes the lead.  Here you can’t avoid the machines, either.  “Emanuel is the lead singer of Enchantment.  The guy that’s singing with Robin is one of the Chi-Lites, Frank Reed.”  Robin and Frank do a duet and burst into a strong vocal interplay also on an energetic dancer named Love Finds Love, written by Frank.

  Thelma wrote and leads a slow, melancholy and jazzy song called Should’ve Known Better, which she also co-produced with Orenthal Harper and Eric Parks.  Thelma: “I’m jazzy, but I’m also a bluesy type of singer in the group.  Orenthal and Eric are good friends of mine, great musicians.  They’ve been around for awhile.  Eric Parks is a keyboard player.”

  Sheila leads on an easy, sax-driven midtempo floater titled Hey There Love, which was produced by Randy Scott and written by April Stubbs.  Sheila: “April is the daughter of Joseph Stubbs of the Contours and 100 Proof.  She’s writing and she’s an excellent vocalist, although she’s not singing on this CD.”

  The slow You and I is the kind of a melody that could come from a musical.  Pamela wrote it and she sings it together with Ryan Onweller.  Sheila: “Ryan is a young man that just got a new record out.  As a matter of fact, he is Caucasian and he has an interesting story, because he’s an adopted child.  We liked his voice and put him on our CD.”

  Thelma co-wrote and leads another urban type of a vehicle, Let Go.  Thelma: “We had a different producer on that one, Randy Scott, and he has a horn background.  It’s just a different flavour… more contemporary.”  Sheila takes over on a jazz-tinged groover called Someone to Love, written and produced by Kim Margerum and Rufus Harris.  Sheila: “Rufus is a local guitar engineer and Kim is a local writer and producer.”

  Sheila’s last lead on the set deviates drastically from the rest of the program.  You Can’t Change is a fast and loud rock number produced and co-written by – surprise, surprise! – Clay McMurray.  It’s close to something the fusion-inclined LaBELLE could have cut in the 70s with some famous rock guitarist.  Sheila: “Butch and William know Clay for a long time.  They told him ‘we need a song for the girls, and we need something a little edgy’, and so he pulled that one out.”  The CD eases off out with an instrumental version of Baby Come to Me with Randy Scott on sax.

  Sheila: “We’re hoping the CD will change our lives.  What we mainly want more than anything else is the world to hear what we do.  We’ve been doing this for a long time, since we were children.”  Thelma: “It’s a very good CD.  It has a lot of versatility on it.”  Indeed, the Stubbs Girls are all great singers.  They have strong, soulful voices and they create impeccable harmonies.  With proper promotion this 15-tracker should evolve into a hit (

(Interviews conducted on July 8 in 2009.  Acknowledgements also to Mr. Anthony Farris).


  Two icons, who started out already in the 50s, have both released their first live albums only this year.  William Bell gave three outstanding concerts here in Finland last summer, and now his Live in NYC (Wilbe, Wil2015-2; serves as a good reminder of the excitement and emotionally charged atmosphere of those performances.

  Some of the songs on the CD are the same he did here, such as the fast and vivid opener Easy Comin’ Out – now welded together with Can I Change My Mind – the ever-beautiful I Forgot to Be Your Lover (with You Send Me), the powerful Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday and a ripping reading of You Don’t Miss Your Water.  (In last year’s event we also enjoyed Any Other Way, Private Number, Tryin’ to Love two, I Don’t Want to Wake Up Feelin’ Guilty and Never like This Before).

  I don’t know is it because of being in New York, but for some reason in this particular concert William concentrates on Otis Redding a lot.  He mentions, however, that this is a deviation from the regular show.  On Dock of the Bay & Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa William invites Eddie Floyd to share the stage with him, and much of Hard to Handle is spent on presenting the musicians of the backing, the four + four strong Uptown Horns & Rhythm Section.

  This is a genuine live set in terms of repeated improvisation passages, pauses, quiet moments flaming up in crescendos and unlimited running times.  On July 16 William turns 70, and you can read about his over 50-year-long career and have a look at the discography at


  Recorded in Columbia, Missouri, on October 3rd last year with a 7-piece band, ROY C. LIVE (Hammond/Thompson, HT 001 CD) was produced by Chase Thompson (

  Roy sings his predictable string of crowd pleasers – be it upbeat Rock Me, Got to Get Enough, Paradise, or the more gentle If I Could Stop Loving You and She’s Gone – but the real show-stoppers are his laugh-raising, close to x-rated opuses, Infidelity Georgia (Saved by the Bell) and Peeping Through the Window.  This time Roy includes in his song-list also a couple of not-so-obvious choices – the slow I’m Gonna Love Somebody Else’s Woman, the funky Impeach the President and the concluding Morning Train.

  Roy’s delivery on stage doesn’t differ that much from his recorded material, so this CD should sell mostly either for devoted fans, or those that have attended Roy’s concerts and want a memento.  Roy is about to drop a live DVD and a new studio CD (Don’t Let Our Love Die) soon.  Roy’s complete discography is available at


  I found an indisputable transition here: Charlie Jones recorded for Roy C way back in 1985!  If you wish to read more about this gentleman, you’ll find the Charlie Jones bio with an interview here.  It was conducted already in 1997 after the release of his KonKord CD, Choking Kind of Love.  In ’98 this Joe Simon sound-alike recorded an album entitled Power of Love for Ambush, and - if I’m not mistaken - only now, after eleven years, we get the follow-up.

  Ultimate Charlie Jones (Ambush, AMB-2021) is not a “best of” compilation but a collection of ten new songs written 50/50 by Charlie and Rex Johnson.  Charlie produced and arranged the music, which was recorded at Ambush studios in Sumter, South Carolina.  Arrangements are elegant and background with a female chorus is quite full, and although string and horn sections don’t consist of live players the sound is anyway skilfully created.

  Charlie has always favoured good melodies, which both please you immediately and have a staying power, too.  On this set, with the exception of one bluesy rocker, all the songs are pleasant and composed to please old-schoolers.  There are soothing and laid-back mid-tempo movers (Don’t You Feel You Owe Me Some Lovin’ and Keeping You Forever) that can keep you hooked for over seven minutes (Can’t Stop Lovin’ You), if needed.  Also I’m Just Watching You, the fastest track on the set, grabs you with its never-ending beat.

  Among the country-tinged ballads there are the pretty It’s How Love Should Be, the more sensitive Reach down Inside and two very slow and pleading songs, When You Love Somebody So and See What You Do To Me.  On only Believe in Yourself the “horns” let you down a bit.  Other than that, this CD made me feel good.  It filled the room with simple and basic, yet so soulful and beautiful music (


  Sometimes it can get frustrating to count all the songs on a new CD that have been released earlier.  Off the top of my head I can say that on Soul Tapestry (Surfside, SR 1027; at least Bittersweet, You Gotta Crawl Before You Walk, Three Women and All in the Family have been available before, but that still leaves us with ten equally elevating tracks.

  Produced and all songs written by General Johnson, the rhythm section consists of live musicians and as always the background is rich and arrangement-wise supports melodies in a delicate way.  In the line-up of General, Danny Woods and Ken Knox (, the boys bring the heat up on a melodic dancer called I Go Crazy, a tough beater titled Beatin’ the Bushes and What’s Up, a funky chugger with social comments.

  Mid-tempo songs include Keep on Foolin’ Me and two quite infectious tunes, Can’t Get over You and What a Woman Wants.  The opening bars of the foot-tapping That’s My Story (and I’m Stickin’ to it) may remind you of Rock Your Baby, and with Danny on lead this song has evolved into a Southern & shag hit.

  Chances Are is a nostalgic, melodic beat ballad, and For Old Times’ Sake is an even more heart-breaking sobber.  Please Give Some Love Today is another touching social plea.  Overall, this whole CD just radiates the joy of creating back-to-basics music.  With story-telling, melodic songs and emotional deliveries - be it a jolly dancer or a tear-jerker - it certainly is one of the top albums this year. 

  My own in-depth interview with General dates back already fifteen years (in our printed issue # 1/94), but in case you’re interested in the history of the group the members do some reminiscing on their recent DVD, Under the Radar (


  Unfinished Business is Lenny’s second collaboration with Tom Frye on their LenTom Records.  Main producer and arranger here is Dereck “DOA” Allen, and he also co-wrote three songs with Lenny, while Lenny co-wrote with other partners still three more on this 12-tracker.  When it reads “all instruments by DOA” or “all instruments by BOOYA” or “all instruments by Kenyan ‘K-Maxx’ Hopkins” or “all instruments by D MAN”, it puts you on your guard.  And true, after listening to the first half of the CD I was ready to throw in the towel.  Only the laid-back Sunday Afternoon and a poppy ditty named Six in the Morning pass, but the rest of the tracks were slow or mid-tempo beaters that were unattractively programmed and arranged to a contemporary, soporific beat… and on top of that they’ve partially used my hate toy, the voice-box.  And all this has happened on a record by an artist I highly value!  I started thinking that Unfinished Business is after all an apt title for this CD.

  After such a numbing experience come track # 7, That’s the Way It Is, and here we finally meet Lenny Williams, the singer.  Here he is in the main role with his torrential, speedy vocal style, which at times bears a remote resemblance to that of Curtis Mayfield.  The successor, I Can’t Stop Loving You, is a nice, melodic ballad, but on track # 9 (Tonight) we go back to the crap with rap, voice-box and such.  Two impressive ballads at the end raise the level again, but it doesn’t come as a surprise, since Lenny has cut them earlier.  Somebody Else appeared already on his previous CD, whereas Cause I Love you in all its 7’06” glory derives from his ’78 Spark of Love album with Frank Wilson.

  As I’ve written earlier, in trying to attract younger generation by making musical compromises these dignified veteran artists both lose their own fan base and fail to conquer new ground (


  On Jody’s Got My Problems (ECD 1114;, which is Luther’s second Ecko CD, you actually have two artists, Luther and Mama Southern Soul.  Mama does the intro, visits on some songs and cuts in three times between the tracks.  John Ward, the co-producer, explains: “Luther Lackey is of course ‘Mama Southern Soul’.  She came about from the song I Can’t Get Back into the House, where she first appeared.  It is a song, where Luther gets caught cheating and he can’t get back in the house and he calls his mama for some advice.  From there she sort of grew to where we included her on another song, and then we got the idea to do the little skits.”

  I Can’t Get Back into the House is a fast dancer - similar to its successor on the CD, Get out of My Bed – but even more gripping are two smooth and melodic movers, Jody’s Got My Problems and Talking on the Telephone.  Of the three slowies on the set, the poppy Get out of My Bed hits instantly and the swaying Let Me Get in It a while later.  Please Mr. Bootleg deals perhaps with the biggest problem on the Southern soul record market today.  With some good stories and humour, this is a nice SS vaudeville album (


  Aubles is actually Luther Lackey’s brother, and Back up Lover (ECD 1113) is his 6th Ecko album.  I didn’t notice it first, but it also says “All the Best” on the cover, which means that this is a ten-track compilation from O.B.’s earlier Susie Q and Ecko albums.  But wait!  There’s one fast song titled I’ll Bump a Big Fat Woman, which hasn’t appeared on any of those seven previous CDs.  John Ward: “It is actually a new song.  It was recorded when we did the (preceding) Southern Soul Country Boy CD but left off, because we had enough material.”

  There’s also a funkier version of You’re Just Playin’ with It from the same Southern Soul Country Boy CD, but this time Ann Hines is the other voice on it.  “Ann Hines just did the Playin’ with It remix as a guest artist.  It was O.B.’s idea, so we asked her to do it and she agreed.”

  Back up Lover, I’m Goin’ Back Home, Let’s Get Drunk and I’m about to Lose My Woman to My Wife make you want to dance, while the slow and intense I Can’t Choose, Just Be a Man about it, I’m In Love and Back Door Tipper move you in another way.  This is a good compilation for those, who are not acquainted with O.B.’s earlier work (


  Cliffetta Dobbins’ ( third CD, Bold Bitch! (ECD 1115), first sounds like a conveyor belt product with standard songs and machines on the background, but a closer listen actually reveals some versatility and flexibility.

  Two strong mid-tempo sawyers – I’m Movin’ up and Outside Tail – and one effective dancer, Butt Up!, tend to rise above others, but a Clean Up Woman type of a beater called Don’t Let the Clean Up Woman Pick up Your Man and a slowie presumably meant for older gentlemen titled The Tongue Don’t Need No Viagra are bound to get your attention, too.  On the fast Blow That Thang Sweet Angel she actually plays the saxophone… and plays very well indeed!  The CD release party takes place in Gay Hawk Restaurant in Memphis on July 25 at 9:00 p.m.  Free food and drinks!


  Betty has been on the scene for almost forty years, and The Real Deal on the Brimstone label out of Huntsville, Alabama (, is actually her 6th album.  The producers are Betty, Ricky White, another recording artist in his own right, and John Dixon, who also plays guitar, keyboards and bass on this set.  In fact, those are the only instruments that are listed, so you can pretty much guess the rest.  Betty co-wrote seven songs out of the ten on display, and as a vocalist she is one powerful lady, a true “modern shoutress.”  She follows in Denise LaSalle’s, Etta James’ and Koko Taylor’s footsteps, and with such thunderous vocals blasting from the disc it’s all the more contradictory to hear weak programming on the background - especially those lousy “horns.”

  Although the opener, I Made It, is arranged to an easy dancer, Betty’s singing is tough and gruff.  Paying Bills and Poppin’ Bills and Let Your Mine Go Back are in the same bag, whereas the fast Shook It Off takes it a couple of gears higher, still.

  Betty brings softer elements to her music on Got to Make a Change, Ricky White’s country-soul ballad, which gets bluesier and grows towards the end, as well as I Love You, another gentle slowie.  I’m For Real is a downtempo swayer, while Come on over, the most beautiful serenade on the set, already appeared on Betty’s previous CD, Never Coming Home (, along with a jump blues titled Perfect Man.  But I repeat that such uninhibited and professional singing really requires decent and skilled accompaniment (


  In the still ongoing surge of talented Southern soul ladies, Stephanie Pickett stands out as one of the most promising vocalists.  Although some sectors of her debut solo CD, Finally Made It ( 001), leave a lot to be desired, Stephanie’s own contribution is praiseworthy.

  The CD gets off to a good start with a self-penned, big-voiced and very soulful downtempo song, Still Want You Baby, which is perfected by real instruments on the background.  Stephanie: “It was recorded at MGS Studio in Montgomery, Alabama.  Melvin Spencer arranged the music.  I wrote all the lyrics and I’m doing all the singing and background vocals.”

  Equally impressive is another big ballad from Stephanie’s pen, Run’n, which comes from the same studio with the same musicians.  “I write a lot of stuff.  Most of everything I write about things that have happened to me at some point or another, and I write based on what I was feeling.  I was given a tape with only the bass line on it from Melvin Spencer.  I then put the lyrics and entitled it Run’n.”

  Carl Marshall wrote and produced Family Man, which is a more contemporary beater and has a quite off-putting machine backing – a glaring contrast to the tracks above.  This was cut at Carl’s studio in Katy, Texas.  Another computerized item is the mid-tempo Let’s Get It Together, which was arranged by Melvin together with Terrence Baldwin and Richard Spencer, but Stephanie’s melody is nice, though.  It was cut at Terrence’s studio in Montgomery, Alabama, where most of the “sessions” for this CD were held.

  Urban contemporary continues on Terrence’s downtempo track, Love Me Right.  “Melvin, Richard and Terrence – they all used to be in a band with me, but I have left the band long ago, because sometimes in these bands you have problems with musicians.  I started all over again and set up the N-Style band the first of the year.”

  Roosevelt Bradley wrote and produced three songs for Stephanie, a modern mid-tempo beater called Money Talk, the funky In the Right Mood and a melancholy ballad named Can’t Get You off My Mind.  “He was just someone I knew and he got a song out called I Got a Woman with a Messed up Mind.  He told me he had some songs for me.”

  Stay with Me, the concluding and almost spiritual big ballad was arranged by Charles Harmon and cut at the Paradise Studio in Atlanta, Georgia.  “Charles is a young man, who was also in the band with me.  I haven’t seen him for many years, but it was such a pretty ballad.  To me it sounded kind of sad, and that’s why I wrote those lyrics.”  It’s also Stephanie’s personal favourite on the CD along with Still Want You Baby and Run’n.

  Stephanie is also referred to as “Da Queen of Soul.”  “That was my son.  He did my MySpace pages ( He put that on me, because he knows I love ‘the Queen of Soul’, Aretha Franklin.  I guess for him I’m his queen of soul.  I have a pair of twin boys, 17 years old.”

  Stephanie Hill was born on March 19 in 1967 in Montgomery, Alabama, and lives now in the county of Montgomery, in Hope Hull.  “My husband is from Prattville, Alabama.  His name is Willie Pickett, and he is related to Wilson Pickett.  That is his uncle.  He is not musically inclined, not in the music business.”  Naming Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight her two favourite female artists of all times, Stephanie sang in numerous school choirs as well as in Alabama State University, where she majored in music, vocals.  “I was in most of the choirs on campus.  I just discovered I really like this, and I couldn’t get enough of it.  The church choirs I then sang in were not nationally known.  It was in my church, in my community.”

  “Then I met Ronnie Lovejoy and he was looking for a female background singer.  I just started following him, and the more I started doing it, being involved in it, the more I loved it and it pushed me to want more.  It was back in 1992 – ’93, when I started singing with Ronnie Lovejoy.  I sang with him maybe about two years.”

  “My next step in music was, when a band needed a female singer, and I decided to become a member of the Style Band, because I thought this way I could get more exposure.  I could be more on the front than singing in the background.”  The members of the 7-piece Style Band were Melvin Spencer (bass, guitar), Richard Spencer (lead guitar), Perry Spencer (drums), Reginald Phillips (sax), Kent Hill (lead guitar), Antonio Goldson (keys) and Stephanie as the female vocalist.  “We had a good chemistry music-wise, and I just kind of stayed with them for fourteen years until the first of the year.  I got most of my experience in rhythm & blues and Southern soul really being with the Style Band.”

  The members of Stephanie’s current 8-piece N-Style Band are Jeffrey Singleton (male vocalist), Kent Hill (lead guitar), Jesse Knight (lead guitar), Charlie Porter (keys), Arnold Henderson (sax), Michael Johnson (bass guitar), Durrell Ellis (drums) and Stephanie.

  “Finally Made It is my first CD.  A good friend of mine, Robert Moody, took me under his wings and started kind of managing me.  He was talking to Dylann DeAnna (CDS Records/Aviara Music) about getting some material for Lee Shot Williams… and told about me, too.  I sent some of my demos, and it started from there.”

  “I want to be able to go as far as I can.  I would love to go overseas, and I would love to do some duets with some big-time artists.  I would love to meet Aretha Franklin, too.  I would like to add still my appreciation to my husband, children, Robert Moody of Big Moody Productions and two close friends by the name of Sybil Gordon and Mary Stallings that kept the faith and wouldn’t let me give up.”

(Interview conducted on June 11, 2009).


  Most of the songs on I’m Comin’ Back (CDC 1017; were written by Carl Marshall and Stan Mosley, and Carl produced the set.  Stan is a great singer.  He’s one of the most soulful vocalists on the current soul scene, but the power of his recorded music is diminished by substandard arrangements and mechanized backing.  Those awful “horns” are the pits again.  They just make you squirm with embarrassment.

  There are three up- and three mid-tempo tracks on display, and of the latter ones the opener, Change (Family Reunion), is a very smooth and pleasant melody with a social plea.  Don’t Give More Than You Feel is a light, Caribbean-infused ditty.

  On the downtempo front, the dreamy I Can’t Live without You is “inspired by Bobby Womack’s That’s the Way I Feel about You” and is nicely peppered by Gary Brown’s saxophone playing.  On Curtis Mayfield’s So in Love Stan even succeeds in sounding like Curtis.  The sound is beautiful and ethereal, until those horrible horns creep in again and ruin the whole atmosphere.

  Stan’s singing is especially intense on the ominous Why You Won’t Leave and the crawling-paced I Need You to Fight you for me, whereas on So-Called Friends he mostly by talking gives vent to some unpleasant episode he must have experienced recently.  I Don’t Know How You’re Gonna Move, but You Will is a slow and bluesy spiritual song and Stan’s honest account of his heart attack not long ago.


  The Miami-based Bobby has been in the business for over forty years.  He has been a member of the International Platters and now he’s performing with his own Special Touch Band.  His first single, Before You, was released on Swar in 1976, and of his earlier albums, Reggae Love Songs was aimed at the European market mainly and My Sweet Thing was released on Roy C’s Three Gems in 2000.

  I’m Not to Blame (Aviara Music 002) has as many as six tracks lifted from Bobby’s preceding Brand New Me CD - but four of them are new recordings - which leaves us with four completely new songs.  Bobby wrote or co-wrote eight of the tunes, and the CD features mostly live players.

  Among the three uptempo songs an easy dancer titled Before You tends to suit Bobby best, while I’m not to Blame, Call Me and Prove My Love are all pleading slowies and in his delivery Bobby little by little increases intensity towards the end.  Also the over 6-minute long country-soul ballad Brand New Me just keeps on growing.  Harvey Scales cut first a soul floater named Somebody Else’s Somebody as well as Blues is in the House, where the title says it all.

  Although not a very big name on the circuit, Bobby has a distinctive and quite gruff Southern soul voice.  He belongs to the club of classy senior soul singers.  Add to that good melodies and live musicians and you get a very worthwhile CD.  Please give it a listen.


  After three CDs on Malaco’s subsidiary, Waldoxy, Vick has now turned up on the Soul 1st Records out of Birmingham, Alabama (  Vick: “Malaco is slowly changing their focus musically.  They are shifting their attention to contemporary gospel, urban ac and even a little urban/hip hop because of its marketing potential, where Soul 1st is dedicated to producing pure soul music.  I still write and produce music for Malaco, but I record on the Soul 1st label.”

  For Truth Be Told… Vick produced or co-produced all the tracks and he wrote/co-wrote six songs out of the eleven on the set.  Among real instruments you can even hear live drums on some tracks, but you can’t avoid those irritating “horns” here either.

  Melodies are nice and memorable, though.  On the upbeat side I’m Hooked is an easy toe-tapper, If They Can Beat Me Rockin’ is a lighter groover, the familiar You Stay on My Mind is a respectful tribute to Tyrone Davis and Brand New Woman is a stirring and gripping, sax-driven stormer.  I Need Some Attention is more of a mid-tempo mover and again spiced with Ezra Brown’s sax playing.

  Among the downtempo material you’ll find another tribute, a delicate version of Sam Cooke’s That’s Heaven to Me.  There’s also the first single release, a lilting and story-telling ballad titled Forbidden Love Affair, and you can watch the video featuring also Omar Cunningham at Be Told… is a vibrant, cliché-avoiding and musically creative CD, and Vick’s singing, of course, is as qualified and emotional as always.


  Strangely, Chuck’s preceding Waldoxy CD ( came out only a few months before this follow-up.  My guess is that it was rush-released to hit the market prior to Chuck’s new record on a new label, which is Sneakin’ out (Laryan Records, LCD 1009; out of Pasadena, CA).

  Produced by Winston Williams and Chuck, among the arrangers you can spot such names as Hense Powell, Marshall Mcqueen Jr., and even the late Willie Hutch (!) on the funky Doin’ It, which we remember better by Gwen McCrae from her ’82 On My Way album.

  Chuck has a distinctive voice and style and I’ve liked some of his earlier albums, but I think I have to do some re-evaluating now.  What’s the purpose in covering such songs as Love and Happiness (Al Green), So Good to Be Home with You, Can I Change My Mind (Tyrone Davis), I Believe in You (Johnnie Taylor) and Slip Away (Clarence Carter), if you don’t add anything to them or have any new angle to offer?  Instead they’re once more using those machines in a most horrible way in trying to create a drum sound, a horn section etc.

  Smokin’ Crack (Talkin’ Whack) is a Who’s Making Love type of a funk about dangers of using crack, True Test of Love is an okay ballad – actually the best track on the set – and finally Any Fool Can Feel It is an average beater.  I’ve come to know Chuck as a specialist in sensitive love ballads, but this time he concentrates on remakes and party music.  This is the biggest disappointment of all the records reviewed in this column.

All of the new Southern soul CDs above can be purchased at


  It’s always a delight to witness the ascent of genuine talent.  Abraham Wilson has one of the most beautiful tenor voices I’ve heard in a long time, and there are more equally remarkable musical qualities to this likeable gentleman.  His debut solo CD is a positive surprise in many ways and hopefully it’ll soon be available for all the classic soul music fans to purchase.

  Abe: “In was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1950, September 15th.  Jersey City was a place, where a lot of people got their start, like Kool & the Gang.  There was a gentleman by the name of Dennis Thomas, who was an original Kool & the Gang member, a saxophone player – that’s my cousin.”

  “I think my musical upbringing comes from my mother.  She’s still alive.  She lives in Petersburg, Virginia, and she loves to sing.  I remember listening to her singing and wanting to sound like that.”  When asked about Abe’s early musical influences, there’s an immediate answer.  “That’s easy – Motown!  The Temptations, Jackson 5, Michael Jackson…  Every kid wanted to be like Michael, but we couldn’t dance and move like Michael moved.  I would listen to the vocalists at Motown, because they were so incredible.  Then there was the soul of the south – James Brown, Otis Redding… really great vocalists.  Later on came Teddy Pendergrass.  Today I still like Dennis Edwards.  He’s a tremendous talent, powerful.  And I was a very big fan of Luther Vandross.”

  “I was always interested in music, but I didn’t officially get involved in writing and studios until 1983.  I actually did my first recording back in 1983, when I was living still in Jersey City.  I did a couple of demos for CBS Records, but nothing much happened with them.  There was a gentleman at CBS, who was the vice president of A&R.  His name is Marvin Cohn.  Marvin had a son, who was trying to get into a culinary school upstate New York, and I was helpful in getting his son enrolled in a place called the Culinary Institute of America.  Marvin asked me to come over and basically he got me some studio time that was complimentary.  I wrote a song called Sweet Memory – a big orchestrated production with big vocals – but we didn’t get anybody interested in it.  As a matter of fact, it’s one of the songs we’re gonna work on again now.”

  “At the time I was trying to become more of a songwriter than a singer.  The closest we got was when my song was in consideration for Johnny Mathis’ album, but he turned the material down, so that was kinda the end of that.  Those days I was teaching upstate New York in a college.  I’m a food safety instructor and I teach food safety classes.  I was starting to get interested in music again, but I still needed to grow a little bit.  I took a little time off and I would always write little melodies.”

  “Then I moved to California in 1985, and since then I’ve done background work for local artists.  Most of these artists were very good, but they didn’t get the recording break that we obviously all wanted.  So we all would help each other.  For instance, Billy Washington (keyboards) probably helped me on 10-15 of my recordings, but a lot of those recordings most people have never heard, because we didn’t have a mean by which to get them out.”

  “I’ve also done something that’s associated with Al Jardine of the Beach Boys, and I do a lot of gospel recordings.  As a matter of fact, I’ve been involved in a very large gospel project called ‘The Bible in Song’.  It recreated the book of Genesis in a musical form.  But most what I’ve done as far as music is writing.  I have now an extended catalogue of songs that we just basically want to start exploring.”

From left to right: Ralph Terrana, Abraham Wilson, Russ Terrana

  “I met Ralph Terrana at about the early 90s, and he invited me to come over to his studio and do some background work for an artist that he had by the name of Teddie Morrow, who was also his writing partner.  Teddie had a song called Skit Skat, which is also on my new CD.  I did the background for Teddie on that.  Then I didn’t do any background for awhile.  But in the meantime I’m still writing songs and doing gospel things.”

  Ralph Terrana is the founder of Tera Shirma recording studios in Detroit, and you can read the whole history at (-> tours & archives -> Tera Shirma).  Ralph: “Skit Skat was originally done on Teddie on an 8-track, and we brought Abraham to do the background session.  We were introduced earlier.  Everything went fine and I liked it, but for whatever reason he sort of fell out of contact.  Teddie and I eventually split up a few years back, so I hadn’t heard from Abe since like ‘95.  I thought about him often, and Monterey is a small town where you run into everybody all the time, but I never ran into him, so I thought maybe he’s moved away.” 

  “The last thing I recorded that I had any kind of interest in was when we did a song called Is Anybody Out There with former Rare Earth singer, Peter Rivera.” A few years earlier Ralph had produced a Russian girl called Elina Raskin, but he wasn’t satisfied with her input, not to mention another young girl he still tried later on.  “One afternoon about eight months ago I’m coming back into town after a lunch with my wife and stop to wait for the pedestrians to cross in front of me.  Who crosses in front of me but Abe!”  Abe: “I’m walking down the street, getting some exercise, and I see Ralph Terrana and Ralph says ‘hey, let’s get together’, and I gave him my little business card, and by the time I’d literally got back to my office Ralph called.”  Ralph: “That evening I’m telling my wife Jesse about it, and she says ‘that’s the guy you’re supposed to be recording, not those teenage girls’, and after awhile I realized she might be right.  By that Saturday we were in the studio starting the first song.  I think this was meant to happen.”

  Abraham’s first solo CD is entitled Smooth.  Abe: “Ralph calls me Smooth.”  On the disc it says “Northern Soul Revived.”  Ralph: “It’s just something Abe wanted to put on there, because we think our basic audience for him is probably the northern soul crowd.  Actually my wife Jesse came up with the line.”

On the pic above: Abe and Russ Terrana

  The set was produced by the two brothers, Ralph and Russ Terrana, together with Abe (“A Terra Shirma Production”), and it was recorded at Ralph’s studio in Monterey, CA.  On guitar there is Tom Ayers.  Ralph: “I have used Tom for years and he is a producer’s dream to work with.  He recently had some success of his own with his Russian-born wife with the group Persephonies Bees.”  The saxophonist is Roger Eddy.  Ralph: “On one track, The Sad Clown, I actually used a bass player, but other than that it’s me playing keyboard bass parts.  Keyboards – it’s all me; same for drums, horns, strings and bass.”

  As much as I have criticized poor programming on many of the CDs above, Smooth goes down as a good example of how it’s possible to do in a skilful and credible way.  Ralph: “I try to make it as believable as possible, and I’ve always been a guy that has watched drummers.  I like to watch drummers work.  So when I’m making a drum track, I try to imagine, how a drummer would play that.  Believe me, I’d rather go into the studio with a bunch of musicians, to get it done all at once.  It’s a lot easier, but that costs a lot of money.  And I got to give my brother Russ his due, because he does things in the mix to make them more believable.  I did a couple of mixes and on some tracks the three of us made adjustments, but Russ is running in control.  I like to give him credit for the mixes, because he’s the guy that gets the right sound.  He’s very good at that.”

  “We spent seven months recording the CD, but a lot of those songs I had already done with my old partner, Teddie Morrow, who’s one of the writers on all of this stuff.  Some of these songs were taken from an 8-track and I put them into a 24-track system, changed things and kinda reworked all the tracks, but they were songs that had some sort of track beginning, so I didn’t have to start from scratch.”

  Of the ten songs on the set the first one they cut is a mid-tempo, almost ethereal floater, which could pass for a pretty tune in some musical.  Abe: “We did the first song, A Moment in Time, at the end of October.  I liked all the material, but I haven’t met Russ Terrana yet.  I knew of him because of his Motown days.  I was worried about what he’s going to think about my voice, because he’s worked with everyone from the Temptations, Jackson 5, the Supremes… and here I am, this guy that nobody practically knows.”

  The opening song, Mr. DJ, is a beautiful and (yes) smooth ballad with the Temptations kind of harmonies.  Ralph: “On one song Abe wanted three tracks and he made the three backgrounds, which we called ‘Eddie, Paul and Melvin’.  He did those three parts, and my brother was like ‘holy cow!  This is a whole different ballgame’.  Abe: “When you listen to the harmonies and things of that nature, a lot of those were not there (on the old tracks).  My job was to come in and come up with ideas.  For instance, on Mr. DJ there was no introduction of the deejay, and I just thought it would sound real interesting to have what would sound like an old 70s deejay – a smooth type of voice doing that little intro.”

  “When you listen to some of the parts in the 3-part and 4-part harmony, they didn’t exist.  I made a joke one time.  I said ‘next we bring the Temptations into the studio’.  After I did the lead I said ‘okay, now I wanna do Eddie’.  Then I said ‘I wanna do Melvin’.  Then I do the bass.  Then I went to do Otis, and I do the baritone.  Then I say ‘give me Paul’.  That’s how we started naming the tracks, so we’d know exactly what items have been done.”

  The female voice on Mr. DJ as well as Skit Skat is a lady called Eva Rasul.  Ralph:  “She was brought to me by Abe.  I’m gonna redo the song I tried with Elina on Eva, and Abe will be on it also.  It will feature more Eva than Abe.”

  Ooh Baby is a mid-tempo toe-tapper with a quite catchy melody.  Abe: “On the CD I like Ooh Baby, and I like A Moment in Time, too.  I get a real kick out of playing the deejay on Mr. DJ.  That reminds me of the deejay back in New York by the name of Frankie “Hollywood” Crocker.  He would come on every day at 4 o’clock, and we would come home from school and listen to the smooth Frankie talk.” 

  On Ooh Baby the background voice belongs to Nancy Jones.  Ralph: “I produced Nancy a few years back.  We have our differences, but when she comes into the studio she is all business.”  Nancy is singing also on a catchy dancer called Something So Wrong, which is a fascinating mix of neo-doowop and 60s pop music.  An old-school finger-snapper titled Waiting for You is similar in style.

  On a melancholy, dramatic and over 6-minute long slowie named The Sad Clown there’s one female line and that is by Sara McCardle.  The other background singers on the set are Teddie Morrow, Elina Raskin, Stephanie Mistretta and Trudy Swift.

  Right Now is a catchy mover with a message, and the only outside song is the familiar Rainy Night in Georgia.  Abe: “That was Ralph’s idea.  I was a little apprehensive, because it’s kinda like touching a song that was almost sacred.  We decided to try it a little bit different, so I opened up with a tenor part and then I switched from the tenor and went down into that bass register to give it that real Brook Benton quality.” 

  The final song is an infectious jogger called When I Feel the Way I Feel (Again Tonight).  Ralph: “That is the one we’re getting a lot of comments on.  I pretty much wrote that one on my own.  I’m really satisfied with the whole album.  I like the way everything came out.”  Abe: “We worked really hard on the album.  Ralph is tremendously talented, and his brother Russ is amazing, when it comes to mixing and engineering.”

  Presently Ralph is shopping for a deal for Smooth, which really is a magnificent CD and hasn’t got a single dud on it, which is very rare these days.  Ralph: “What I’m really trying to avoid is handling it all myself.  I don’t want to have to set up a website.  I just don’t have that kind of time and energy.  I would rather make a deal with somebody that handles all this.  We’ve already started on the second CD.  Just in case this thing happens to take off, I want to have something to back it up.”

  “Abe is a remarkable person.  If we pull this off and he becomes a star, he’s going to be very credible and worthy.  He’s very well spoken, he’s polite, he’s intelligent, he’s humble, he’s perfect.”

(Interviews conducted on June 26 and 29, 2009).


  Bettye’s latest release, Change Is Gonna Come, can be downloaded on iTunes only and hardcopies won’t appear in the future, either.  This 6-track EP finds Bettye in an intimate, jazz-inspired setting.  Backed only by a restrained rhythm section, Bettye kicks off with an emotive and heart-rending reading of the title song.  Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight finds her in a more late-night mood, while on God Bless the Child the minimal acoustic backing supports her in a most delicate and almost imperceptible way.

  The moaning and more big-voiced Ain’t No Sunshine is followed by Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, another wee-wee-hour jazzy rendition, until Jimmy Reed’s swinging mover Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby – the only uptempo number on the set – closes the EP.  You can wrap yourself up in this music and picture a small, smoke-filled club, where everybody sits quietly enjoying the power of human voice and classy music (



  Produced by Ruby Turner and Bob Lamb, I’m Travelling On (RTR 003) contains fifteen inspirational songs.  Five of them are traditional ones, but most of the other church hymns go a long way back, too.  Ruby interprets them in an old-fashioned style with a minimal, 4-piece acoustic accompaniment.  Three of them (Live So God Can Use You, Jesus on the Mainline & Atomic Telephone and Stand by Me) are even stripped down to a cappella.  Although the opener, All aboard & This Train, is a fast song, there never comes a moment of ecstatic shout-out on this CD.  On the contrary, the music is mostly downtempo and devout.

  The three personal favourites are the slow I’m Travelling On, the mid-tempo Oh Mary Don’t You Weep and a toe-tapper called Strength, Power and Love.  This set is a throwback to the music you forgot even existed (



  Perhaps not a pioneer, but George McCrae and his huge hit, Rock Your Baby, blasted the disco phenomenon wide open in 1974.  His wife at the time, Gwen McCrae, scored a year later with Rockin’ Chair, another # 1 soul hit.  Rock Your Baby was meant for Gwen in the first place, but at Steve Alaimo’s suggestion the song was given to George.  Since both shared the same record company, it was only logical that they were paired up for a duet album entitled Together in late 1975 on a T.K. subsidiary called Cat, and now that album is re-released with bonus tracks on the U.K. Shout! Records (Shout 55; 15 tracks, 49 min.; liners by Clive Richardson;

  Produced by Steve Alaimo and Clarence Reid and almost each song composed by the latter, the album peaked at # 33 on the Billboard Soul charts.  I just read my review of the album for a local Finnish music paper way back in 1976, and noticed that I wasn’t very impressed with the record right after its release.  Maybe nostalgia has crept in, but now this CD doesn’t sound that bad at all.  There’s nothing startling on it, but it’s easy on the ear.  Both singers have made compromises in terms of George changing his mechanical style into slightly more expressive and Gwen toning down her raw and soulful vocalizing.

  Avoiding torch songs, the album is crammed with only mid-tempo and upbeat tracks and the amount of string sweetening exceeds the mean on Miami tracks those days.  I’ll Do the Rockin’, You and I Were Made for Each other and Mechanical Body are soft and easy dancers, whereas I’m Comin’ at you and Let’s Dance Dance Dance are more funky and fast ones.  Of the two singles that were released, only Winners Together or Losers Apart charted (# 44-soul).  In the same vein, Let Your Love Do the Talkin’ is another mid-pacer with a nice melody.

  The six extra tracks are George’s solo recordings from four different decades.  I Ain’t Lyin’/You Got to Know is his smooth ’75 disco hit single.  Both sides of that single appeared on his second T.K. album and the similar Take This Love of Mind comes from that LP, too Every Time You Say Goodbye is a tender ’84 mid-pacer, Do Something is an airy ‘95 dance-beat floater and finally How I Feel is a mellow midtempo 2001 song, which finds George already in quite a weak voice.  For Gwen today, please visit


  Randy released two albums on Parachute in the late 70s and two on Chocolate City in the early 80s, and now Shout! has combined the first albums from both labels into a CD titled Welcome To My Room/Midnight Desire (Shout 54; 17 tracks, 79 min.!; liners by Clive Richardson).  Welcome was produced and almost completely written by Homer Banks and Carl Hampton and cut in California in ‘78, whereas Homer and Chuck Brooks are responsible for Desire, recorded in Muscle Shoals in ‘80.  Only Welcome has been available in a CD format before.

  The 57-year-old Randy first recorded in the late 60s.  This Memphis-based singer is a sort of an underground hero and I remember how highly he was appreciated in the hard soul circles thirty years ago.  However, I personally never counted him as a heavyweight; a very good singer – yes, but a supreme Southern soul hero – no.

  Randy was at his peak during the time these two LPs were released.  He first charted (# 89-soul) with an atmospheric, moody soul ballad called I’d Rather Hurt Myself (Than Hurt you), which is right down Teddy Pendergrass’ alley.  Too Little in Common is a more desperate, very slow song (6:22), while a mating call named I Love You Baby already exceeds 7 minutes in running time.

  The second single off Welcome is a soft disco type of a groover called I Wanna Make Love to You (# 22-soul), and Sweet Sweet Darling and Do It Baby are equally catchy mid-pacers, whereas the opener on this CD, I’m Always in the Mood, and the smooth Love Is All We Need are faster tracks.

  The Midnight Desire album is centred more on disco music with such tracks as Things That I Couldn’t Do to you, With Your Love, Love Formula, the more funky Without You (I Can’t Make It Through the Night) and Do You Love Me? and the most loose one, Love Be With You.  The mid-beat We Ought To Be Doin’ It was chosen for the single release (# 16-soul).  Again in the aftermath of the disco heat Randy looked for romantics with two very long and emotive ballads, You’re So Good and The Next Best Thing to Being There.


  Nobody Has To Tell Me (Soulscape, SSCD 7018;; 21 tracks, 56 min.) is the latest addition to the Soulscape series of Sound Stage 7 gems.  This time there are as many as three liners writers, John Ridley (, Paul Mooney and Red Kelly (, and especially Red, our “Soul detective”, reveals some of the many trials and tribulations the 77-year-old Lattimore has gone through in his chequered life.

  The CD covers Lattimore’s seven SS7 singles in 1965-‘68, four album tracks and two singles on Renegade in 1970.  They were cut in Muscle Shoals, Memphis and Nashville and most of the SS7 songs were written by Allen Orange.  In 1987 Charly had released a compilation called Everyday I Have to Cry, which also includes all the seventeen SS7 tracks that are here, but, of course, that LP has been deleted a long time ago.

  Slow songs beat uptempo dancers and stompers by one, eleven to ten.  I don’t think Lattimore is a very dynamic or original artist for dance floor purposes – not on vinyl, anyway – and none of his fast material was very stirring; with the possible exception of the frantic Cruise On, Fannie (Cruise On).  But he really excels on those gospelly, Southern soul deepies like I’m not Through Lovin’ You, I Know I’m Gonna Miss You, It’s Such a Sad Sad World, I Wish I Felt This Way at Home and I WillNobody Has to Tell Me and It’s Gonna Take a Little Time are strong country-soul ballads.  Perhaps his best-known single is the ’68 two-part Otis Is Gone.  He also does creditable covers of Please, Please, Please and Every Day I Have to Cry

  Some last-minute arrivals will be reviewed alongside other matters in a sequence to this column, coming up in a couple of weeks.



  Produced by Darryl Payne and the Dramatics themselves, The Dramatics/Biggest Hits Live (Soul Concerts DVD 1053; 27 songs, 2 h 12 min.) is the first-ever concert DVD by the group.  Ron Banks: “It was shot late last year in the Poconos in Pennsylvania.  We gave them more than our usual program.  They have more songs on there than they would get on stage.  We extended to it, because we knew we were filming.”

  L.J. Reynolds: “I think it’s a great DVD.  It was something that needed to be done.  At this point of the Dramatics’ career, we’re almost at the end of basically what we want to be in our lives, so we put it in one big baggage and we called it Biggest Hits Live.  We had a CD called Greatest Hits Live, and it was greater than the greatest.  It was the biggest.  So we picked up the biggest, and I’m just glad that it came out real good.” (The Dramatics discography is available at

  In the Introduction Medley the opening words are recited by Joseph “Hotdog” Williams, then Maurice Watts walks in as the announcer, after which the 7-piece orchestra (3 horns) sets the groove for the five guys to hit Hey You! Get off My Mountain.  After that it’s one hit after another: Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, I Can’t Get Over You, Shake It Well, The Stars in Your Eyes, And I Panicked, Welcome Back Home, In the Rain, Fell for You, Me and Mrs. Jones, Be My Girl

  Besides those big sellers they’ve decided to include some other favourites, too.  Door to Your Heart, Stop Your Weeping and Key to the World are L.J.’s showcases, whereas on Just Shopping he’s joined by Ron and on Thankful for Your Love by Winzell KellyMichael Brock joins in on I Cried All the Way Home and Fall in Love, Lady Love, Willie Ford is best featured on Ocean of Thoughts & Drams, and all five harmonize on Treat Me Like a Man, “the Dramatics’ Theme Song”.  Some lively action takes place during such numbers as Doggy Dogg World, James Brown Medley and the finale, Get up and Get down.

  My copy of the DVD didn’t contain any booklet and there was no information whatsoever besides the song list and a list of the bonus features on the cover, so I had to pick up the musicians’ names from the film itself.  Dewayne Lomax is on drums, Wendell Lucas is on bass (my short interview with him appeared in our # 4/2002 printed issue), Raymond Johnson is on keys and Aaron Willis, Jr. is on lead guitar.  Aaron is the son of “Little Sonny” Willis, a blues singer and harmonica player out of Detroit.  Marvin Weatherspoon did the keyboard string overdubs.  The listed horn players are John Douglas, Bunny Clyde, Marty Montgomery and Charles Jones, which actually makes more than I saw on stage.

  The very concert runs for over an hour, and the bonuses double the total running time.  First we have a chance to attend the sound check (25 minutes) and then we can watch Darryl Payne’s interviews with not only the five current members of the group but also with an honorary ex-member, Larry “Squirrel” Demps (40 minutes).

  Ron: “It’s a good DVD and the response to this has been amazing.  They love it.  They love the production of it.  We did a great job producing it, to make sure we gave them ‘A1’ quality.  That’s the bottom line – how the public feels about it.  We’re selling the DVDs at our live performances and we autograph them.”

  On this DVD one cannot, however, sense the interplay between the audience and the group.  L.J.: “I made the decision to tone the audience down, so people can hear the DVD, because not only is it the DVD, it’s also a CD as well.  A lot of times, when you listen to a live album and you hear a lot of the audience yelling through, you don’t get the opportunity to really hear everything that’s on a record.  So you know that the audience is there, but you’re going to hear more music, you’re going to hear more track, you’re going to hear more vocals what you would hear, if you had the crowd yelling a lot.”

  Ron: “The energy and total performance probably in our earlier years definitely would have been greater.  Now I’ve got a DVD of a live performance of the Dramatics back in 1976–’77 that is really unbelievable.  I’m looking forward to releasing it.  Also before the year is out, we are going to release a classic Dramatics song that was actually a remake that’s never been released.”

  There’s a new fresh CD in the pipeline, too.  L.J.: “It’s really a great CD.  We got a song called Bad Girl, and you can listen to it at (only don’t believe the Dramatics bio on there – HS).  We’re going in a not totally different direction for the Dramatics, but we’re going in a new direction.  If you try to sing the way you did in the 1970s, it’s not going to work.  We’re just reaching out at a broader audience in a sense, and still maintain our sound and what we’re known for, which is ballads and love songs.  We have an audience now thirty on up.  We’re not making a major change in our music.  We’re still singing about love and we’re singing about passion – and we’re SINGING.”

  L.J.’s latest gospel album, The Message, was released last year.  L.J.: “It’s been doing very good.  I’ve got a great response in the gospel industry and in the record industry.  The album has reached out even to the unbelievers, and the record has been a blessing for me.  I didn’t record the gospel album to make a million dollars.  I recorded it, because it was a message from God.  Every song on the CD has a message.  I’m very proud of it.”

  Earlier there’s also been talk about a book and a movie of the career of the group.  Ron: “They are coming close to coming to fruition.  It’s just a matter of financing and coming to the agreement of who’s going to do the production and all that.  We’re maybe 65 % in with that right now.  We still got a way to go with it.”

  Ron: “I’m working with many of our educators around the country here in the United States.  We’re trying to implement a learning program in urban school districts.  Our children are the future of tomorrow.  Technology is proving to be a viable way to upgrade and educate our future.  I do believe that due to proper education our children will make better decisions and stop some of this killing, and we start respecting one another.”

  L.J.: “We’re still out there trying to be a part of the music industry.  We know that there’s a big change in the industry.  Things are not the same anymore.  There are no more record shops.  Record companies are struggling to stay afloat.  A lot of these companies are making changes, and we’re learning how to adapt to the industry, learn how to make money and to make friends in a lot of different ways.  We call it intellectual property.”

  Ron: “The last few years have been exceptional years for us.  We truly enjoy still performing all over the world.  As long as God gives us the strength, we have the desire to make certain that you all enjoy the night of music with us.” (

(Interviews conducted on May 26 and 31 in 2009.  Acknowledgements also to Iris Smith).


  Record Makers and Breakers (ISBN 978-0-252-03290-5; 2009) is a densely printed, heavy, 600-page book - plus 32 more pages with pictures - so it’s not a light, one-night read.  For his book John Broven has interviewed 100 persons in the music industry and based on these interviews and facts from numerous other sources he has written a book, which will be widely used as a reference book in the future.

  Covering mainly the period from mid-40s till mid-60s, John writes about the record men, which means label owners, financers, distributors, promoters, disc jockeys, booking agents, managers etc.  He presents such tycoons and figures as Joe Bihari, Bobby Robinson, Art Rupe, Jerry Wexler, Ahmet Ertegun, Henry Stone, Doc Pomus, Bill “Hoss” Allen, Seymour Stein, Sam Phillips, Stan Lewis, Hugo & Luigi, Morris Levy, Shelby Singleton and many others.  As we know, there are quite a few characters among them.

  The genres that are featured include for the most part rhythm & blues, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, country, gospel, Cajun and even teen pop and polka music.  Some of the labels John concentrates on are Mercury, Excelsior/Exclusive, Modern, RPM, Specialty (West coast); Apollo, Savoy, Atlantic, Fire & Fury, Old Town (New York); Sound Stage 7 (Nashville); Chess (Chicago); King (Cincinnati); Sun, Meteor, Duke (South); Jamie-Guyden, Cameo-Parkway, Chancellor (Philly)… not forgetting Detroit, New Orleans and other record cities, either.

  John highlights some vital components and important places in record industry in previous decades like jukeboxes, one-stops, record shops, pressing plants and indie radio stations.  He also deals with such topics as the invention of 33 & 45 RPM records, EPs, budget LPs, the value of publishing, charts and song covers in different genres.  Also negative aspect are raised – payola, bootlegging, intriguing, stealing, hustling and the mob.

  In this fact-crammed book there are many interesting stories and some new arguments.  For instance, Morty Craft claims that Johnny and the Hurricanes’ hit in 1959, Red River Rock, was performed by a studio orchestra.  Billy Davis says that the Four Tops never called themselves the Four Aims but the Four Ames.  This really is an essential book for musicologists and for those among you, who are interested in the roots of soul music (  Add to that still the essential index, bibliography, notes and appendixes on U.S, record sales, pressing plants, record labels and more, and you have an excellent tome.

Heikki Suosalo

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