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DEEP # 3/2011 (November)

  I have some interesting guests this time telling about their new product, and I’d like to emphasize that in each case the music is really, really good.  Ronnie McNeir has released a new solo album, and inevitably we had a few words about Ronnie’s past career and the Four Tops, too.  Wendell B out of St. Louis surprised me with his thoroughly soulful and deep Southern soul CD.

  Our recent acquaintance, Abraham “Smooth” Wilson, has dropped his “New York CD”, and interestingly hot on the heels of his “West Coast CD.”  On top of that, there are as many as nineteen new Southern soul albums – some quite disappointing, but some remarkably impressive - nine recommended classic soul compilations, including the magnificent Fame box,  and three books reviewed;

plus as a bonus my earlier interview with Larry Hamilton.

Content and quick links:

Ronnie McNeir
Abraham Wilson
Wendell B.

New CD reviews:
Ronnie McNeir: Living My Life
Ms. Jody: Ms. Jody’s in the House
Sonny Mack: Going for Gold
Sheba Potts-Wright: Let Your Mind Go Back
Luther Lackey: Married
Barbara Carr: Best of
Mystery Man: My Ship Is Coming In
Various Artists: Soul Blues Party
Donnie Ray: Who’s Rockin’ You?
Abraham Wilson: The Many Facets of...Abraham
Jim Bennett: Taking It to the Next Level
Stephanie Pickett: A Woman’s Soul
Bobby Conerly: Take What’s Left of Me
Chuck Roberson: I’ll Take Care of You
Omar Cunningham: Growing Pains
Willie Clayton: The Tribute: One Man, One Voice
Willie Clayton: Sings the Number Ones
Lee Fields: Treacherous
Archie Love: All about Love
Clarence Carter: Sing Along With Clarence Carter
Wendell B: In Touch with My...Southern Soul

CD soul reissue albums or compilations:
Michael Wycoff: Love Conquers All
The Joneses: The Joneses
Keith Barrow: Keith Barrow
Ashford & Simpson: High-Rise
Deniece Williams: Let's Hear It for the Boy
Etta James: Call My Name
Jackie Day: The Complete Jackie Day/Dig It the Most
Various Artists: The Flash Records Story (2-CD)
Various Artists: The Fame Studios Story 1961-1973/Home of the Muscle Shoals Sound (3-CD)

Book Reviews:
Al Abrams: Hype &Soul!/Behind the Scenes at Motown
Carl Davis: The Man Behind the Music
Susan Whitall & Kevin John: FEVER/Little Willie John, a Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul


  Ronnie Mac’s quiet fire sound leaves you with the impression of an old-school music gentleman exploring in a high-class, cultivated style of his own new ground both in smooth jazz, and in after-hours, sophisticated r&b.  He’s no power vocalist, but his high tenor suits perfectly his mostly intimate and elegant sound.  Ronnie: “I guess I would be more of a smooth jazz type, because the piano does that to me.  I’ve played piano, since I was ten years old.  I took the piano lessons for only six months.  I learned a few chords, and then I went on and started playing by ear after that.  I didn’t want to play that classical stuff they were teaching me, so I told my mom and dad that I want to play what I hear on the radio.  My teacher said ‘well, for you to play that, you have to learn this first’.  I said ‘if I have to learn this first, I don’t want to play anymore’.  Already at young age I started getting my own sound.”


  Living My Life is the title of Ronnie’s brand new CD, and it kicks off with a hypnotic slow jam named Don’t U Stop It, which is peppered by a hooky never-ending piano riff and a sax solo by Darryl Wakefield.  “The way I was putting this CD together, I did it in a different way this time.  I did it by beat.  I was putting different beats together.  On this one I had kind of an island or reggae type of groove.  Then I got this girl out of the Bahamas, Malaya Milan, and she did a little rap for me.”

  Ronnie co-wrote all eleven new songs for this set and on Don’t You Stop It . Herb “Palou” Houston is one of his co-writers, as well as one of his co-producers on the whole CD.  “He is a friend of mine, like a big brother.  He left Pontiac, Michigan, in 1961, went to Oakland, California, became a fund-raiser, but he always did music.  He minored in music in college, and he played saxophone.  When I went to California for the first time, after I got out of the high school, I visited him and we started doing music together there.  We’d write songs together, and now we’ve been doing music for years.”

  The second track, Tell Me You’re Not Fooling Me, is a more intense mid-tempo, melodic song, which has a lot of hit potential to it.  “Today it’s hard to get on radio.  I’m an older artist.  If you’re not twenty-five years old or younger, they don’t even want to talk to you.  It’s ridiculous.  On the internet the CD is moving and selling.  People are downloading and ordering physical copies.”

  “Tell Me You’re Not Fooling Me was our single pick, but now we’re just letting the people do what they like.  But Tell Me along with Forever My Love has been one of the favourites that have gotten most of the feedback.”  The song was co-written by Kathy Lamar, who sings background on this set.  “She’s one of the greatest vocalists I’ve heard in a long time.  I met her in Las Vegas.  She used to do a lot of jazz stuff, in a Sarah Vaughan style.  She’s a great writer, too.  She wrote the lyrics with me on Tell Me You’re Not Fooling Me and I Just Wanna Be.”

  Ronnie’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s number one soul hit in 1976, I Want You, is quite true to the original one.  “I’ve always loved Marvin.  I was going to do a tribute to Marvin on the album, like four Marvin songs on there, but they were charging me so much for using them, so I said ‘okay, I’ll just do this one’ and that was the one that had a better beat... and I’ve always liked I Want You.”


  A jazzy mid-tempo number called Pontiac is loaded with nostalgia.  “I was raised in Pontiac, Michigan.  I was in Las Vegas, when I wrote that, and once again I was looking for a beat.  The syllables of Pontiac just fit the rhythm, so I started writing on my childhood in Pontiac at the time.  A lot of people like that, too... even people, who are not from Pontiac, like it because of its groove.”

  The beat is the dominating element also on a busy shuffle called I Just Wanna Be, and it’s followed by Forever My Love, a finger-snapping, jazzy mid-pacer, co-written by Renaldo “Obie” Benson.  “Obie was one of the Four Tops.  He and I hooked up, and he took me on like the little brother he never had, and I’m the oldest one in my family, so he was like the big brother I never had.  Obie wrote What’s Going On with Marvin Gaye and some other songs.  Obie and I started writing songs.  We became a great team together.  He passed six years ago, and I still miss him every day.”

  “We wrote Forever My Love for Billy Ecstine, before Billy passed (in 1993).  We wrote two songs for him, but he got sick.  We were trying to help him do a little comeback CD.  We wrote it way back then, and now I finally decided to do it on this CD.”

  A romantic mid-tempo song with a strong beat called I Just Want to Dance with You has a significant Marvin Gaye feel to it.  “I started it as a take-off of After the Dance. I was using just ‘I want you and you want me’ and then I was using ‘dance with me, come on dance pretty baby’, but for the rest of it I wrote the whole melody and whole different words.”  Then I told the publishing company ‘let’s split half, because I’ve written over half of the song again’.  EMI told me ‘we’ll charge you 5,000 dollars to use it and we want 100 % of the publishing’.  I said ‘you’re out of your mind.  I won’t use After the Dance, but put my own thing out, my whole song’.  I put a new melody on top of those chord changes.  I said ‘since you don’t want to be fair with me, you’ll get none of it’.”  

  In a way you can describe I Just Want to Dance with You as After the Dance, part II with new lyrics and a new melody.  Initially Ronnie would have wanted to use only 1 ½ minutes of Marvin’s song, but now only the feel is there.


  Be with Me is a slow and soft, pleading song, whereas a beat-ballad titled Letter from a Fool is more melodic and closer to the old-school type of soul sound.  “Herb Houston wrote the words to that.  I had done another version of it a few years back, but it didn’t come out like I wanted to.  I listened to it again, put a different background and it helped the song.  It’s another of the favourite tunes on the CD.”

  Said I Do is a mellow, jazzy ballad.  “My fingers are jazzy and my mind is r&b, because I played that piano.  Les McCann and Ramsey Lewis are my favourite piano players.  So I’m a little bit of that, a little bit of this, I’m a little all of it.”

  The second outside tune besides I Want You is the Impressions’ 1961 hit, Gypsy Woman.  “When I was a teenager, I used to have a group and we would sing Gypsy Woman.  I’ve always loved that Curtis Mayfield’s melody.  Through the years I tried to do different arrangements of it, and finally I decided to get into an uptempo groove here.”

  Keep Loving Me is the type of a slow, jazzy jam you could picture yourself listening to in a late-night club.  “When I was in Las Vegas, I would do some of the lounges.  When you play the lounges, they call you ‘lounge lizard’ (laughing).  The guy that works with me on the road and with the Four Tops now, Robie Nichols, wrote the lyric on that together with Gorman Bannister.  Once again, it’s the beat.  That’s my formula.  I want to get different grooves going on, so I picked different beats and wrote to those beats.”

  The concluding song is a soft and pretty ballad named Sweet Grandmother of Mine.  “My grandmother passed in 1990.  Before she passed, she had a stroke.  I went to see her in the hospital and looked at her.  She was always close to me.  I sat there, thought about her and started writing those words, put them on her bed and left.  She passed two weeks after that.  I thought that I got to make that a song.  As a matter of fact, I wrote the song and sang it at her funeral.”

  Being the synth-instrumentation wizard Ronnie is, he created most of the music on Living My Life along with a few players on sax, percussion, drums and bass.  The CD was released on Ronnie’s Sunset Island Records, which is a new name to his earlier Jupiter Island label, and the music was cut at Ronnie’s studio in Bloomfield, Michigan, and at A.J. Sparks’ Pro Studio in Detroit.  A.J. Sparks – a musician, producer and writer - is also an associate producer on Ronnie’s set.  “We go a long way back.  He used to play with the Detroit Emeralds years ago and then he worked as an engineer in many studios.  He had his own place, and he always offered his place, gave great advices and sometimes he didn’t charge me at all.”


  Lewis Ronald McNeir was born in Camden, Alabama, on December 14 in 1949, but he moved to Pontiac, Michigan, when only six months old.  “Every summer till I got seventeen my dad would take us down and we stayed at the farm with my grandparents in Alabama for a week or two, and I remember those mules and wagons.  My grandfather was a farmer.”

  Ronnie’s debut single, a Detroit dancer called Sitting in My Class, was released on Doc Kyle’s De-To Records in 1967.  “It was my first record, and I was still experimenting.  They never pushed the record, but somebody over in the U.K. came over, got it and took it back overseas and it became a classic.  If you could find an original copy still two years ago, it sold for 2,000 dollars.”

  As with some of my interviewees earlier, I also gave Ronnie a list of names from his past career for him to comment on.

  René Moore – “René was in a gospel group that came to Pontiac from Los Angeles in 1969.  They performed at my mom’s church.  Joe Westmoreland was one of the singers, and René played piano.  He was about sixteen years old at the time.”  Later René became one half of the duo René and Angela with Angela Winbush, and they scored in the 80s with such hits as Save Your Love (For # 1), I’ll be Good, Your Smile and You Don’t Have To Cry.

  “The group came back again the next year and Joe said ‘if you come to L.A. to help me with my choir, I’ll let you stay in my house’.  I took that offer, and that’s when I met Kim Weston, She was a member of Joe’s church.  I did an album at her studio (Ronnie McNeir on RCA in 1972).  She and her husband, Mickey Stevenson, signed me up.  My single, In Summertime, came from that album and made noise for me.”

  Barney Ales – “he had been Executive vice president for Motown for many years and he had left Motown, but he still had the fever for the record business, so he got back in.  Mine was one of the first masters he bought for his own company called Prodigal Records.  I had my own label then (Setting Sun Records) and, as a matter of fact, I sold almost 10,000 copies of Wendy Is Gone on 45.  Then we turned it over to Barney, because he promised me he could get me national airplay.  Then one night he sold the company to Motown with my second record that came off the album, Saggittarian Affair.  Then I had to go to Motown, renegotiate – and I already had a hit record – but they just let me fall to the side.”  Ronnie’s second self-titled album was released on Prodigal in 1975 (# 56-soul in Billboard), and it spawned two charted singles, Wendy Is Gone (# 51-soul) and Saggitarian Affair (# 63-soul).

In the pic above: the new Four Tops

  Obie Benson – “we did a concert in one of the high schools in Pontiac and Darlynn John came with Obie to the concert.  She was the mother of Keith and Kevin John and the wife of Little Willie John, and a friend of Kim Weston.  She came to bring her son, Keith, to let me hear him, because she knew I could write and arrange songs.  After we met with Obie, we just hit it off, and we started writing… and became great friends for over 34 years.”

  Don Davis – “I met Don Davis in the early 70s.  He heard me and liked what I was doing, so we negotiated.  We were negotiating a contract, but we didn’t work it out.  About five years later we ended up getting back together again and we still couldn’t work it out.  He did release something, but it didn’t do anything (Different Kind of Love/The Good Side of Your Love on Tortoise Int. in 1978, with Rena Scott).  Then he ended up selling years later something I had done for a cheap price to another company, About Time over in the U.K.” (Rare McNeir in’96).

  In the 70s Ronnie used to hop a lot between California and Michigan.  “I like California, but earthquake hit me, when I first got out there in 1971.  I didn’t like that.  I’m used to thunder storms, snow storms, ice storms… but I don’t want to wake up shaking in the middle of that.”

 Teena Marie – “I met her, when I first went to Motown, after Barney Ales sold the company.  In the Motown building I heard this girl singing and I asked her ‘do you have a project’?  She said ‘no, they just use me to show Diana Ross and Thelma Houston songs’.  I went to Berry Gordy ‘listen, you got a little white girl that sounds black, let me do something on her’.  I did eight songs on her.  We did a duet, too, My Baby Loves Me, but they took her away from me.  We actually did three duets (one was called We’ve Got to Stop Meeting Like This).  They said they wanted her to be a hard rock artist.  I said ‘this girl is an r&b singer’, but they took her and did something else with her, and then I left the company.” 

  Ronnie’s Motown album in 1976 was called Love’s Comin’ Down, but the follow-up LP was shelved.  Next Ronnie enjoyed some success with his Capitol album in 1984 called The Ronnie McNeir Experience and with a single from it, Come Be with Me (# 76-black).  His ensuing albums in the 80s and 90s – Love Suspect (first on Setting Sun), Life and Love, Down in the Neighbourhood – all came out on Expansion Records.

  Ed Wingate – “gentleman of all gentlemen.  He was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in my life.  I came way later after Golden World.  He had a fever to get back into the record business, and every so often he had a project with somebody.  We did a project together.  I just recently took one of the songs we did.  I got it on YouTube, A Shame People Have to Live This Way.  I did that song with Ed Wingate years ago.  I’m getting great reviews on that one.”

  Ian Levine – “he was a guy trying to recreate the Motown sound.  He was getting a lot of the Motown groups that were not doing too much at the time.  I wrote songs to his tracks, and I was supposed to be on a compilation with a couple of tunes.  But he took all those songs and put a CD together on me and called it Ronnie McNeir’s Greatest Hits and sold it to a company in Florida without even letting me know, without me signing any kind of agreement.”

  Levi Stubbs – “I met him, when I met Obie.  Obie introduced me to the group.  He’s one of the greatest vocalists that you could ever know.  You can pick singers that sound like David Ruffin or Eddie Kendricks, but Levi had a voice hard to match.  As a matter of fact, the only guy ever with a sound kind of like him was General Johnson of the Chairmen of the Board.”

  George Roundtree – “he was the Four Tops’ musical director (M.D.), and he just passed.  I was the piano player with the Four Tops in 1982 for about two years.  Obie came and told me they needed a piano player, because George was starting to have kidney problems.  I never was a M.D. for the Four Tops, but I played the piano.  When George came back from the hospital, they wanted me to stay.”

  “In 2000 one day in South Carolina we were opening up for the Beach Boys and Levi got sick and couldn’t do the show.  I became the fourth man on stage.  They moved Theo Peoples up to the lead singer, because he’s got that strong voice like Levi.  I’m like a Marvin Gaye type of singer.  So Theo and I, we did three nights.  After that the group saw that if anything happened I could step in.  Levi retired that year in December, and I’ve been a full member of the Four Tops since January 2001.”

  Theo Peoples – “the day I heard him standing next to him on the stage, I said ‘you are great at your worst and magnificent at your best’.  He’s just one of the greatest singers I’ve heard in a long time.  He plays piano, too.  Theo could sing all of the hits like Levi Stubbs and David Ruffin.  I miss Theo.” 

  Theo is actually playing acoustic piano on Said I Do on Ronnie’s latest Living My Life and he appeared also on Ronnie’s previous CD, Ronnie Mac & Company, in 2007.  In January 2011 in the Four Tops Theo was replaced by Harold “Spike” Bonhart, and you can read my interview with Spike conducted the moment he joined the Spinners in 2004 at  The current line-up of the Four Tops is Abdul “Duke Fakir, the only original member from the early 50s left in the group, Roquel Payton, Lawrence’s son (Lawrence passed in 1997), Ronnie and Spike.


  On the r&b side Ronnie names Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and David Ruffin his biggest favourites.  “When I had a chance to work with David, I learned a lot from him.  I learned a lot from Bobby Womack, too.  I’ve written songs for him.  On the jazz side, I actually played with the Ramsey Lewis Trio back in the 70s… and then I like George Duke, Lionel Liston Smith and Charles Earland, an organ player.”

  “Rance Allen is one of the greatest singers that I’ve ever worked with in my life.  He is magical.”  Ronnie was nominated8 for a Grammy in 1981 with Rance Allen in the Gospel Music category.  “Little Milton was a great blues artist.  Al Perkins, who is the executive producer on Age Ain’t Nothin’ but a Number (on MCA in 1983), died and I produced five songs on that album.”

  “I also did a movie score (Big Time) with Smokey Robinson, when I first got to Motown.  One guy, who was big in my life, was Clarence Paul.  I met him, when I first went to L.A. in 1971.  Clarence mentored Stevie Wonder, and he became also my mentor, before Obie or anybody.  He not only wrote and produced songs, but he was a great singer, too.  He sings on Blowing in the Wind with Stevie.  You can hear Clarence’s infection in young Stevie’s voice, because he had to hum the melody to Stevie.”

  A prolific songwriter, producer, arranger and musician, Ronnie has worked with numerous artists, including Johnnie Taylor, Carrie Lucas, the Dramatics, L.J. Reynolds, Billy Griffin in addition to all those mentioned earlier.  Now he’s planning to reactivate his own career.  “When I was with the Four Tops, I kind of got lazy with my recordings.  I was thinking that maybe sooner or later I can get some of my songs on the Four Tops, but it didn’t come out that way.  I said ‘okay, you can’t blame anybody.  You’re just lucky and blessed, you got a good job, but get yourself back into the music business’.  I’ve got a new jazz album coming out called The Jazz in Me.  I do a lot of cover tunes - jazzed up - like Sam Cooke’s You Send Me, A House Is Not a Home, Back For My Dreams and about four new songs I wrote for it… so I’m coming back!” (on Facebook “Ronnie McNeir / Band Page”; interview conducted on November 8 in 2011, acknowledgements to Millicent George).



  I start my Southern soul section with eight CDs that the newly-busy, Memphis-based Ecko Records has put out in recent months.

  Ms. Jody’s in the House (ECD 1136; is already her second CD this year, so the lady must be quite popular in Southern music circles these days.  You can read my short review of the preceding one, Keepin’ it Real, at  Again produced by John Ward, Ms. Jody - aka Joanne Delapaz - co-wrote with John six out of the twelve songs on display this time.

  Ms. Jody has lately carved niche in party and “Bop” music, so it’s only natural that also on this latest set she doesn’t let the beat drop down too often, and it’s alright with me as long as the music is as effortless and captivating as here.  Be it sweeping quick-tempo dancers (Come a Little Closer, I Just Wanna Love You, Just a Little Bit won’t get it – co-written by Sam Fallie), light mid-tempo bouncers (When Your Give a Damn Just Don’t Give a Damn Anymore), or a sing-along ditty (I Did It), the irresistible groove is bound to make you move.

  Another number to exceed the speed limit, Something I Want, is a duet with David Brinston, which appeared already on David’s Dirty Woman CD, and finally the fast Southern Soul Dip is in style so close to the recent hit, The Bop, that logically it was picked up as the first single from this CD.  That leaves us with three tuneful and emotional ballads, the bluesoulful I Never Knew Good Love Could Hurt So Bad, the big-voiced Let Me Be the Shoulder and the beautiful You Lost a Fortune.  Bravo!


  Born in Jackson, Mississippi, William Norris has been playing guitar with many luminaries and hopping between Chicago and Memphis during the last twenty years, but has now settled in Memphis and released his first CD on Ecko entitled Going for Gold (ECD 1135).  Produced by John Ward and all fourteen songs written or co-written by Sonny, the twosome is also in charge of rhythm tracks and sequencing plus guitar playing.

  Sonny’s blues background calls for four blues tracks, but the rest of the music doesn’t step too far away from the accustomed Ecko sound.  There’s the usual dose of quick-tempo dancers - Playing Catch Up, Midnight Man and the beautifully titled Bang That Thang, which appeared on the earlier Soul Blues Party compilation.  More mellow movers include Let Me Change My Mind, La La La and a track with another interesting title, I Only Get Laid When I Get Paid.

  All those uptempo cuts no doubt go down well in clubs or holes-in-the-wall, but to ease you down for a minute there are also two nice mid-tempo songs – the laid-back It’s Saturday Night and the plaintive I Forgot to Say I Love You – and two ballads, the soulful Her Heart Belongs to Only You and the poignant, country-tinged Moon over Memphis.  I expect good things from Sonny in the future.  This is a promising start.


  I’ve always been fascinated by Sheba’s sensual voice, and after a three-year break she has now finally come up with her 6th Ecko CD, Let Your Mind Go Back (ECD 1134).  I first talked to Sheba about her early days in music ten years ago, and, if interested, you can find that interview at

  John Ward is the producer, guitarist and co-writer on nine songs and on some tracks the instrumentation is praiseworthy strong, including even horns, or at least Jim Spake’s saxophone.  There are numerous easy and effortless movers on display, and Sam Fallie, aka Mr. Sam, co-wrote two of them, the tempting opening mid-pacer called Lay Hands on Me and a lilting beater titled Put Your Hands Up, and here Sam even shares the vocals with Sheba.

  Spare Me and The Real Deal are equally fascinating and smooth numbers, whereas You Bring out the Best in Me is a quick-tempo ditty.  Boy Toy - written by Sheba’s father, Robert “Dr. Feelgood” Potts - fulfils the obligatory blues quota, while the title tune is a horn-heavy and catchy modern swing tune, sort of a “swing stepper.”

  Among the slower material there’s I’ve done all I Can Do Now the Rest Is up to you, which Sheba herself co-wrote with John, and Mr. Jody You Did Your Job is a beautiful and poignant tribute to the late Marvin SeaseDo Me like You Did Last Night, a nice mid-tempo floater, and My Kind of Man, a slow swayer, round up this very enjoyable CD, which I rate as Sheba’s best so far and overall one of the best Southern soul CDs this year.


  Music created by Luther Lackey and John Ward, Married Lyin’ Cheatin’ Man (ECD 1133) is Luther’s 4th Ecko CD, and out of the fifteen tracks on display at least five songs have been available on his earlier records (Talkin’ on the Telephone, If She’s Cheatin’ on Me I Don’t Wanna Know, The Blues Is Alright Because of You, Get out of My Bed and I Don’t Care Who’s Getting It).

  Admittedly Luther’s voice is of acquired taste, and on many of his story-telling and often amusing tracks he’s on the verge of a novelty song.  At least real live guitar, organ and harmonica are audible, whereas the drums and horns are synthetic.  Music-wise this CD is a mixed bag, without any real consistency or concept.  It probably goes down well in clubs, but on record it doesn’t have the same impact.  Among blues, rock and “vaudeville” sounds there were two tracks that called for repeated listening, a catchy dancer titled Rebound Love Affair and a smooth beat-ballad named I Ain’t Scared No More.  This CD isn’t one of Luther’s better efforts.  His previous releases are more intriguing.


  In ten years Barbara cut as many as seven new albums for Ecko, and for The Best of Barbara Carr, vol. 2 (ECD 1132) they have culled tracks from six of them.  Among the 14 songs here, there are three previously unreleased tracks.  The to-the-point titled Good Looks Can Get Him but It Takes Good Lovin’ to Keep Him Home is a remix, Slow Down, Lowdown Kind of Love is a slow blues number and Private Fishing Hole, a downtempo blues belter, is better known as one of Sheba Potts-Wright’s hits.

  Rest of the songs are mostly raunchy and sassy, big-voiced uptempo numbers, not unlike what Etta James is renowned for.  Personal highlights include I’m Not Going down without a Fight, a steady mid-pacer, Scat Cat Here Kitty Kitty, Billy Soul Bonds’ downtempo hit, and Ya’ll Know How to Party, a fast and light dancer.  If you fancy modern blues & soul shoutresses, then this compilation is for you.


  Jimmie Warren, Sr., aka Mystery Man, wrote and arranged all the songs for his second Ecko CD, My Ship Is Coming In (ECD 1131), and although they’re machine-backed and Jimmie isn’t one of the best singers in the world, he has an uncommon and original tinge to his voice that some may find fascinating... in some sort of a twisted way.

  I can’t discover any notable musical values on this set.  Music is formulaic, lyrics are trivial and only on two tracks I spotted a dim flash of innovativeness and emotion.  The uptempo Baby Dance has a Mel Waiters type of sharpness to it and on a mid-tempo song titled Fool for You the background vocals reach out for gospelly heights.  With only one mediocre ballad on display, party people may find this CD useful.


  In Ecko’s Blues Mix series, volume 4 is entitled Soul Blues Party (ECD 2007; 12 tracks, 51 min.) and it offers four tracks that were previously unissued at the point of release.  With no slowies in the program, personal favourites are Sheba Potts-Wright’s You Bring out the Best in Me (now on her latest CD), Zydeco remix of Ms. Jody’s Thang (also on her latest CD), Quinn Golden’s Dance Party, David Brinston’s Located and the ever-wonderful, haunting I Never Take a Day Off by Ms. Jody again.  A useful party vehicle!


  I must admit right away that I’ve never really liked Donnie Ray Aldredge’s voice and singing style, and – much like with Luther Lackey and Mystery Man above – that inevitably draws a curtain between me and Donnie’s music.  No doubt, he’s talented and quite popular in the SS genre and on the Who’s Rockin’ You? (ECD 1129) CD he wrote as many as seven songs out of ten for the set that was actually released already early this year.  Incidentally it’s also the 7th CD on Ecko Records for this 52-year-old artist.

  In many songs Donnie puts emphasis on hooky choruses.  A smooth loper called A Good Woman, a driving dancer titled Who’s Rockin’ You? and the swinging Truly Love You Baby serve as good examples.  Slow blues aside, on the ballad front there’s the big-voiced Straighten Up, the romantic Three Stars for a Lady and the peaceful Lover’s Paradise that deserve to be mentioned.


  In the middle of our Southern excursion, let’s make a short hop to the West Coast, and, to be precise, to the East Coast, too.  Earlier this year Abraham Wilson and the Terrana brothers, Ralph and Russ, released an impressive double-CD called Smooth, and you can read our chat with Abraham about his earlier career and about the making of Smooth at

  Now almost out of the blue arrives a new CD from Abe, The Many Facets of...Abraham (New Rising Sun Music, NRS 2; 18 tracks, 80 min.).  Abraham: “We didn’t want the little momentum that we had started to kind of fade.  We weren’t quite getting as much of the airplay that we wanted.  I wanted to be able to keep our ideas and our image in the public eye and I didn’t want us to drop off the map just because there’s so much material over there.”

  The main melody and the first single on the set is the beautiful and romantic Sweet Memories, which appears here in four different mixes.  The opening version of the song, “Orchestral Seduction” is an instrumental and brings many of those fascinating, lush Barry White orchestral tracks to your mind.  Here the music is created by a live rhythm section – as actually throughout the whole CD – and a 7-piece string section.  “Lyrical Pleasure” is an a cappella interpretation by Abe and five other singers, “Love Symphony” is the two above combined and finally “Rhythmic Romance” is again an instrumental, this time stripped down.

  “The intention was to be able to give people the ability to see not only how the song is constructed but also to give them a very large orchestration look at it.  I have been listening to and enjoyed a lot of Barry White and I wanted to try some of those techniques.  When it comes to orchestrations, Barry White is my kind of man.”

Abraham together with Mary Wilson

  Produced, arranged and almost completely composed by Abraham, Facets was cut in New York this time.  “New York is right next to my former home town of Jersey City, New Jersey, and I have a lot of good contacts in New York still, so it was easy for me to get studio time.  Also at the same time I have family in New Jersey, so it’s like a combination of family and contacts.”

  Abraham introduces fourteen new tunes.  “Those songs literally range from 1983, after original writing, up to 2011.  None of them have been released earlier.”  After the opening track, the next three songs add a new dimension to Abe’s accustomed style.  Built is a light funk with a rap by Armando, Love Is Cool is an uptempo mover with a sax solo by Roger Eddy and Doorknob is a heavy funk with even rock elements to it.  “The purpose was just to be a little more contemporary.  I’m a soul guy.  I’m kind of a ballad guy, and I’m a Motown guy.  But new generation lives a little funky as well, so I wanted to get them something they can enjoy.”

  20 – 20 on Jesus is a slowly swaying inspirational song with William Russ Jr. on lead.  “He is a very talented vocalist that I met in San Jose, California.  I heard him singing after the Monterey Bay Blues Festival and he had an amazingly good voice.  I told him I have a song that I thought he could do justice to.  So he came down to the studio... and he did justice to it.”

  Mr. Bojangles is the only outside song on the CD, written and originally recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in ’68 and later by, among others, Sammy Davis, Jr.  This track was cut at Tera Shirma in Monterey, California, Ralph Terrana plays on it and Russ Terrana engineered, mastered and sequenced it, as well as this whole set.  “That is one of the songs that did not make the original Smooth CD, and I always liked the fact that it told a different story.  Instead of doing the traditional Mr. Bojangles, I decided to talk about the great dancers that we had... having experienced Michael Jackson, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.  So I wrote the lyrics to it and Ralph and Russ literally changed the melody to be more accommodating to where I was trying to go.”

  The next three songs have a Biblical base.  Eve is a slow love serenade, whereas Serpent Blues is a down-to-earth blues item, sung by the rough-voiced Al James.  “Al is a vocalist I met in Seaside, California, and he loves the blues.  I had this interesting concept of letting the serpent tell his side of the story of how he had tricked Eve.  Al James did justice to it, because he has that real bluesy, Chicago type of sound.”  The title of the third song, Devil...God’s Rap, actually says it all.  “That’s more contemporary.  I wanted to show that if God was rapping what he would say to the devil for tricking Eve like that.”

  Christians is an old-time fast, jump gospel number, led by Tammi Brown.  “Tammi is a Grammy-nominated artist that has done recordings with Quincy Jones.  I met her at a church in Santa Cruz.  I called her and told her ‘I have a song that I’d like you to try’, she came down to Monterey, listened to the song and said she’d like to give it a shot.”

Abraham and his daughter Tiffany with the Temptations: (from left to right) Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Abraham, Tiffany, Otis Williams, Bruce Williamson and Joe Herndon.

  The co-writer with Abe on this song, as well as on 20 – 20 on Jesus, is John Wineglass.  “He is a three-time Emmy Award-winning song-composer ( He’s very talented gentleman and he has a perfect pitch, so if you’re singing around John you got to get the pitch right” (laughing).

  A beautiful country-soul ballad called Why Can’t We Fall In Love...All Over Again is a duet with Veeda Alexander.  “That song was intended to be kind of a Donny Hathaway/Roberta Flack or Peabo Bryson/Regina Belle type number.  I actually wrote that song after listening to Veeda Alexander sing.  I heard her singing at a church in Monterey, California.  She told me she had done some jingles, and she just had a lovely intonation.”

  Abe makes us calm down even more for the next few tracks.  Home on the Other Side is almost like a hymn, and Let Me Wake Up With You and I’m Amazed are both peaceful and soft, poppy songs.  “We’ve had you rocking and rolling, and a little funk there, so we just decided to mellow it out a little bit.”  Finally a mid-tempo ditty named Lively Up is almost like a novelty number.  “We were trying to get like a Jamaican carnival or Brazilian carnival slab... just basically saying that we thank you for listening, we enjoyed it, so let’s all ‘lively up and dance’.”

  For Email orders please go to, and for mail orders write to: Abraham Smooth Wilson, New Rising Sun Music, 716 Lighthouse Avenue, Suite G, Pacific Grove, California, U.S.A. 93950.  Over the phone, toll free U.S.A. orders: 1-800-953 3822, and international orders: (831) 375 2591.

  “This CD is like a diamond.  When you get a diamond the first time and it’s not polished, it doesn’t look very good.  We’re just trying to continue polishing things up and hopefully at some point of time people will see that we’re like a gem” (Interview conducted on October 20, 2011).


  Jim’s husky but sensuous voice and half-whispery singing style suit certain type of songs, and on Taking It to the Next Level (Aviara Music, AVI 10; he specifically concentrates on what he does best.  Melodies and arrangements are plain, sort of pop-flavoured Southern soul.  Stripped of gimmicks and any hidden musical values, the sound is simple, soothing and unwinding.  As expected, horns and strings are programmed.

  Hooky mid-pacers and intimate slow songs rule.  The Body Roll is the obligatory new dance and other pleasant toe-tappers include I’m Ready to Party, Keep On Backing It Up, A Carolina Beach and T.G.I.F (= Thank God It’s Friday).  The four ballads comprise of the wistful It’s You I Need, the swaying She Wanna Come Back, the dramatic Look at What Love has done and the emotional Slip out Tonight, which is the only song Jim himself didn’t write.  It derives from Chuck Roberson’s Ecko days (


  A Woman’s Soul (AVI 9) is Stephanie’s second CD, and right after her debut album two years ago I had a chat with Stephanie about her past career and you can read it at

  Produced and the music performed by Carl Marshall, he also wrote or co-wrote nine songs out of ten on this set.  As expected, the machines dominate.  They credit “Houston’s Got Soul Horn Section”, though, which must be some sort of an inside joke, because on tracks you can hear the same toy horns as earlier.

  The fast and pulsating, even torrential I’m Takin’ My Man Back opens the CD, and Only Time I Get Lonely is a similarly driving dancer and, I guess, one of the top draws on the set.  Lie to Me is an easy and compelling mid-tempo swayer, whereas Larry Hamilton’s pleading slow-to-mid-tempo song named Save Our Love is the cream cut for this scribe.  Incidentally, I talked to Larry about his chequered career way back in 1999, and you can read the Larry Hamilton interview here.

  Unfortunately, there’s not a single gem among Stephanie’s ballads this time.  They’re either lacking a distinctive tune, or the mechanical beat is too intrusive.  Of the four downtempo songs I liked the big-voiced When Will You Leave Her? best, and that was a bit dragging, too.  On this CD Stephanie is vocally as convincing as on the debut set, but she needs another producer and better melodies next time around.  I still have a lot of faith in her (


  If you wish to have a look at (what I believe is) Bobby’s first record over forty years ago, you can go back to my review of his previous album at  Now Bobby has released his fifth CD and second for Aviara Music called Take What’s Left of Me (AVI 8).  Produced and written for the most part by Bobby with some help from an old friend, John Broussard, this time I think there are only two songs out of twelve that Bobby has cut earlier on his Rob-K label.

  I can’t help it, but on this set Bobby’s tired voice and at times off-key singing casts a shadow over all other, even good elements in music.  This still wasn’t evident on the previous CD.  Much like Clarence Carter (see below) he can’t hit high notes anymore and throughout the whole record he’s struggling in his singing.  On some songs it’s almost unbearable to listen to.

  Among the four blues numbers, two mid-tempo toe-tappers (In Love Again, Crossroads of Life) and six slowies, I found my personal favourites in the last group: a soft and melodic ballad named Home to You (written and produced by Achey Johnson) and an inspirational closing song – a common feature nowadays – called Now Unto Him (The Benediction).


  A former Ecko and CDS recording artist Chuck Roberson has now popped up on out of Albany, Georgia, where he’s cutting records alongside such artists as Peggy Scott-Adams and Bobby Jones these days.  His latest CD, I’ll Take Care of You (DSR 2013), was produced by Chuck, Pete Peterson and Eric “Smidi” Smith, and the latter two are in charge of the title tune and the first single, I’ll Take Care of You, which actually gets so close to the Tyrone Davis sound that it’s almost scary – also vocally.

  Chuck himself penned all the new songs, but before those let’s have a look at familiar tunes from the past.  Naturally Chuck can’t touch either O.V. Wright on You Gonna Make Me Cry, or James Carr on A Man Needs a Woman, but vocally they’re brave attempts and quite convincing for a modern-day SS record.  Frank LucasGood Thing Man is treated slightly rougher and it has a more hammering beat to it than the original ’77 hit version.

  Chuck’s signature song, Lollipop Man, is repeated here for the umpteenth time, and other similar light dancers include Let’s Stay Together and Hit it and Get it.  Of the four downtempo songs, Do It All Over is a beat-ballad, I Wanna Make Love Tonight is a roaring mating call and I Feel Sexy is a smooth soul slowie.  Doing What My Heart Say Do, an easily flowing ballad, is melodically an unashamed copy of Always, which both Luther Ingram and Tommy Tate recorded in the 70s.  Other than that, I find this CD quite exhilarating.


  Growing Pains ( is Omar’s fifth CD and he cut it at his own Kylee Tunz Studio.  Produced by Omar, he also co-wrote all ten songs, four of them with Vick Allen.  On the party front, Let Me See Shake Your Jelly, Mr. Lowdown and Find a Good Woman are all laid-back, mid-tempo bouncers, whereas the humorous What You Want With My Moma and the playful Do Right are both catchy, poppy ditties.

  I’m Your Maintenance Man was co-written by the Revelations, and this slightly bluesy mid-tempo beater with clichéd lyrics was chosen for the first single.  On the churchy, galloping closing song, Gotta Keep (Do You Know Him?) the vocals are shared by Bigg Robb, Vick Allen, Lacee and Lamorris Williams.

  All three ballads are exceptionally impressive.  Both Here I Am, and If We Can’t Get Along - both co-written and co-produced by Vick – are smooth, soulful and melodic, but vocally Omar gives his strongest delivery on the very slow That’s a LieGrowing Pains is another convincing and entertaining SS set from Omar (


  I’m really getting tired of counting the amount of songs Willie Clayton has released on his earlier albums.  On The Tribute: One Man, One Voice (EMG/EndZone; there are at least five songs that have been available before (Mine All Mine, Equal Opportunity, A Woman Was Made To Be Loved, Without You in My Life and Careless).  Remixed or not, I wish they’d clearly express on the cover that this CD contains previously released material.  I skipped Willie’s previous CD altogether (If Your Loving Wasn’t Good Enough To Keep Me...How It the World Do You Think It Can Bring Me Back on SDEG), because I think there were only a couple of new tunes on it. 

  Some of the rest of the tracks on this CD may well have been in the can for some years, I’m not sure, but this record is primarily a tribute to Tyrone Davis (Turn Back the Hands of Time, Be With Me, Turning Point, A Woman Was Made To Be Loved, Without You In My Life) and Johnnie Taylor (Still Called the Blues, I Believe In You, We’re Getting Careless With Our Love).  Marvin Sease gets his small share too on a poppy cover of Candy Licker.

  Willie’s singing is as great as always and the background is quite full, but I still think that endless recycling is cheating one’s fans.

  Hot on the heels of the tribute above arrives a new CD, Willie Clayton Sings the Number Ones (Music Access Inc.; MUI-CD 10045), which offers ten tracks and nine – I repeat: nine! – have been available before.  I don’t remember his version of Teddy’s Turn off the Lights having been released earlier.

  First the title: according to Billboard, only four of the songs that Willie covers here have been number one hits.  Secondly, I first thought that this CD is a bootleg, with no credits and no info whatsoever.  This CD may be a good introduction to new Willie Clayton fans, but for the rest of us this rip-off is becoming ridiculous!


  Lee’s preceding CD, My World (, from two years back was a marvellous piece of music and also critically acclaimed.  Treacherous (Better Days Ahead, BDA 5288) unfortunately takes us back to machines and a strangely mixed bag of music.

  All songs written and co-produced by Lee (, we are treated to such various styles as house beats (We’re Here to Turn It Out), terrible 80s Euro disco music with autotune (Living for the Gusto), laid-back reggae (He Doesn’t Care about You) and sax-peppered J.B. funk (Dance like Your Naked). 

  On the positive side there are two lightly jogging mid-paced vehicles (I Want to Get with You and Al the End of the Day) and two – but only two! – quality ballads: the slow and anguished I’ve Been Hurt and the gently flowing and soulful I Want You So Bad... like vintage J.B.


  Although not mentioned anywhere, All about Love (Loveland Records; 16 tracks, 78 min.!) is actually a compilation of slow songs mostly from Archie’s three albums (Exposed, Sincerely Yours and Love Chronicles), which means that it’s a cavalcade of romantic and intense ballads (

  There are many moving moments and memorable melodies - Love Is a Wonderful Thing, Standing on the Edge, Before a Judge, Thanks for the Memories, My Baby’s Gone - and occasionally Archie’s style bears a resemblance to either Ron Isley (I’ll Be the One), or Gerald Levert (My Only Girl, Blame it on Me).  Produced by Archie, Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it on is the only outside melody here.  I talked at length with Archie a few years ago, and you’ll find the results at


  Similarly to Willie Clayton above, Clarence is also known for recycling his old tunes.  On Sing Along With Clarence Carter (Cee Gee Ent.) there are two nice, mid-tempo instrumental tracks (Baby Baby, Make My Groove), a sing-along ditty called I Want to Mark Your Card and a speeded-up, beat-heavy version of Let’s Straighten It Out, but I believe Clarence has recorded the rest six songs before.

  Produced by Clarence and mostly backed with Cee Gee Entertainment Band, there’s a quite amusing live version of Looking for a Fox, and his other fast-tempo covers include Don’t Bother Me, Let’s Start Doing and the more mid-tempo Look What I Got.  A laid-back beat-ballad named New Love and a beautiful country-soul song titled I Wouldn’t Do That If I Were You also derive from earlier albums and they are actually the only two downtempo songs on the set.

  Clarence is 75 years old and his voice is inevitably growing tired.  He can’t hit high notes anymore without breaking his voice, but – bigger musical values aside - you can take this as an easy-listening experience and just wait for that famous chuckle to cheer you up (


  Although released almost a year ago, In Touch with My...Southern Soul (Smoothway Music) made such a strong impression on me that I decided to contact Mr. Wendell Brown to find out more about this CD and his back career.  Wendell: “I actually released two CDs at the same time.  One of them is Back to Bid’ness, which is my r&b CD, and the other one is In Touch with My...Southern Soul.  Smoothway is my personal label, located in St. Louis, Missouri.”

  Southern Soul is Wendell’s sixth album, and all songs were written, arranged and produced by Wendell and Mike “360” Brooks.  “He’s my production guy.  Basically I put all this stuff together, and he does production with me.  It’s my ideas, and he pretty much polishes the stuff with me.”  There’s a live rhythm section on some tracks, but there are also moments, when elementary machine instrumentation rises to the top in an embarrassing way.  “I sometimes use live rhythm sections on certain things.  It depends on what the song’s feel is and for how hard I want to deliver that particular message with that song.   Certain songs call for certain rhythms.  If I cannot give them in one way, I always go the other way, but always do what’s best for that particular track.”

  The dominating factor, however, is Wendell’s masculine and soulful baritone and overall full, strong vocals.  The opener, Don’t End Up Like Me, is a slow a cappella number with a strong churchy feeling.  “I went all the way back to high school.  We were a bunch of young guys, who grew up on a group called the Persuasions... and the Temptations, too.  We would sing in the hallway, and I was always the lead singer.  Also when I was in church, I was the lead singer.  We could make harmonies and sound so good that we didn’t need music.”

  Everything Gon’ Be Alright is a laid-back, swaying mid-pacer, whereas Mississippi Girl is a deep soul ballad, and both tracks feature an intense vocal interplay between the lead and background voices, who actually is Wendell himself.  “You can go anywhere in the world and bump into somebody, who says ‘hey, I’m from Mississippi’.  My mother is from Mississippi.  When you think of the good food, good music and a whole bunch of good stuff – and a few bad things, too – you think of Mississippi.”

  I Can Deal with the Leaks is an old-school, slow soul song.  “We’re actually playing live on that, because I wanted to give it that old on-the-porch feeling.  That song was written about the things when as a child you didn’t exactly know what your grandparents were talking about.  As you got older, you found out what ‘dealing with the leaks’ is... meaning ‘boy, you’d better straighten up, because all those type of things can get you in trouble.  I can deal with the leaks, but I can’t fix that hole’.”

  I’m Stayin’ is a smooth, late-night slowie, while The Best Time I Ever Had in My Life, a slow swayer, again is spiced with strong harmonizing.  “I do all of my own background.  I was raised on that great Temptations type of harmony.  As a matter of fact, that was one of the single releases.  With this Southern soul music and with different varieties of music that I give, I’m trying to show my versatility.  I can sing all types of music, and I try to give my fans consistent good music.”

  A medium-tempo toe-tapper titled Workin’ on the Building is followed by a pleading, downtempo song called Put ‘em Down on the Table, which has a Johnnie Taylor feel to it - remember Stop Doggin’ Me?  “I was raised on Johnnie Taylor.  I happen to be a great friend of his son, Floyd Taylor.  We play a lot the same markets and shows.”  The mid-paced When I Did What I Did and the smooth and slow Superlady Superman are the concluding tracks on this album.

  Wendell was born in St. Louis.  “One of the reasons, why I love the south, is that in the summer we went to family reunions.  My mother’s family reunion was in Mississippi, and my dad’s family reunion was always in Alabama, so I kind of grew up in the south and that’s why I have this good blues background.”

  “The Sensational Wonders was my very first church group.  I was about five years old, when I joined.  It consisted of me, my brother and several cousins, and I was the lead singer.  Everybody in the group was older than me.  I was about nine or ten, when I joined The Gospel White Brothers.  They were my uncles.  They noticed that their nephew had talent and began to take me with them, and – wow! - I ended up the lead singer there, too.”

  Wendell’s first secular group was called the Dreams.  “It was my first year in high school, so I was about fifteen or sixteen.  We just sang at all the talent shows.”  Those days Wendell also released his first solo single.  “It was done with Ike & Tina Turner’s saxophonist by the name of Oliver Sain.  He’s originally from St. Louis and he was a great friend of mine.  He gave me the break to do my first 45 entitled It’s Gotta Be Good on his Vanessa Records.  It’s a medium-tempo type of song.  I was then still with the Sensational Wonders.  I was maybe about 16 or 17 years old.  I would do gospel during the week, but then I would do r&b.  My momma didn’t want me to do r&b, but I would work on it when I wanted to.”

  “After the Dreams, I got into jingles - for hair-care product and stuff like that.  A guy by the name of Paul Miller actually involved me in my first jingle, and this is where I was discovered by one of the biggest bands here in St. Louis by the name of Vision Band.  I got into Vision Band after high school, so I was about 19 or 20.  We began to tour and go everywhere, and this is how I got introduced to big markets, and began to create Wendell B.”

  “I went to Minneapolis, when I was about 21 or 22, and this is where I met Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Alexander O’Neal, Mint Condition... we all grew up together, and that’s why these guys are all my friends.  Actually the whole Vision Band, all of us moved to Minneapolis to gain a record deal.  Jesse Johnson from the Time produced us and changed the name Vision Band to da’Krash first and then to Kool Skool.”  The group scored on Capitol first as da’Krash in 1988, and then as Kool Skool in 1990, but Wendell wasn’t on those records anymore.

During the years I’ve lived in D.C., Atlanta, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Mississippi... and now back in St. Louis.  My next single in 1992 or ’93 I did for a label called Vertical Records in Charleston, South Carolina.  Why You Wanna Play Me Like That was more like a dance song, and it was written, produced and arranged by myself.”

  “In the late 90s I came upon a record label in Atlanta by the name of Raw Deal.  Make It Good For Ya (Raw Deal in 1998) was a CD, which launched me pretty much in the mainstream, but the label was not big enough for my talent.  The CD is awesome and it got me recognized, but the label also wanted me to launch their other artists.  I was getting all the bookings and they would use me to launch their other artists, and that was holding me back.  I needed someone that knew how to take me, where I needed to go.  I’m a star and I wanted to shine, but you got to have a marketing plan.  With that Raw Deal CD I ran into the producers taking credit for my work.  All of these things were very, very depressing back then, so it was time for me to move on.”

  “I returned to St. Louis after my dad passed in 1999.  With my cousin, who was a NBA player Jahidi White, we started the Cuzzo label.  He came in to save his cousin Wendell, because he knew how talented I was.  Now I was in full control to do my own thing and that’s when I released the CD, Good Times” (in 2005).  Wendell’s next two albums before Back to Bid’ness and In Touch with My...Southern Soul on his Smoothway Music were Love, Life & Relationships and Save a Little Room for Me (both in 2007).  “The Smoothway CDs have been doing tremendously well.  I have finally gotten the world to see Wendell and see that now I can be persistent in giving great music all the time.”

  “I actually got a new CD in the making right now, and it will be coming out in February/March next year, and it is entitled, Get to Know Me.  It’s going to be more contemporary.  This Southern soul CD is just to let all my fans know that I love the blues, too.  My upcoming DVD will be coming out also in February, and it’s entitled Who Is Wendell B.?  It’s just like Unsung.  It tells all about my life up to present, because everybody is thinking that this guy came out of the blue, but I’ve been doing my thing for a long time” (; interviews conducted on October 19 and November 7, 2011).

  All the Southern soul CDs above are easy to purchase at



  An U.K. reissue company called Big Break Records ( has been very active lately in releasing sought-after soul, disco and funk albums from the 70s and 80s, and for this column I’ve chosen five from their recent output.  You can read reviews of many of their other discs elsewhere on our website.

  Due to personal problems, Michael Wycoff’s career consists of only three secular albums, and Love Conquers All (CDBBR 0072; 12 tracks, 60 min.; liners by Andy Kellman) is the middle one, released in 1982 on RCA.  Produced by Webster Lewis and recorded at three California studios, Michael also plays keyboards on the set.  Strings were arranged by Webster and H.B. Barnum.

  Michael has listened closely to Donny Hathaway, which becomes evident primarily on slower material, but for the first single they picked up a synth-bass-driven funk titled Still Got the Magic (Sweet Delight) (# 64-soul) and it was followed by a lighter dancer called Looking up to you (# 47-soul).  Take This Chance Again is another light mid-tempo number.

  Love Is So Easy starts as a sophisticated slow song but turns into a big dramatic ballad.  Can We Be Friends is a sweet duet with Evelyn King, whereas the title tune – Love Conquers All – is built on a heavier, pounding beat.  I remember playing this track in my national radio broadcast in the early 80s and, if I remember correctly, it got a favourable response.  The fourth ballad on the album, It’s Over, is almost like a show-tune.


  This 5-piece group out of Pittsburgh was formed in the late 60s and enjoyed its peak period on Mercury between 1974 and ’76.  The self-titled Joneses (CDBBR 0066; 10 tracks, 42 min.; liners with interviews by J Matthew Cobb) is their second album, which was released on Epic in ’77.  Produced by Bobby Eli - who also co-wrote seven songs - and recorded at Sigma Sound with MFSB musicians, unfortunately this fine Philly album got lost due to the lack of promotion, and the group disbanded soon after its release.

  The first single, Who Loves You, is a Tavares-sounding, full-blooded and pulsating disco cut, which was as good as any – if not better – disco hit out there at the time.  The leading high tenor belongs to Jimmy Richardson, whereas on the follow-up, a smooth mid-tempo song called In Love Again, the Teddy-sounding Harold Taylor is on lead.

  The album boasted a lot of similar, melodic and uplifting Philly dancers (Groovin’ on Ya, (If I Could Have) Your Love for a Song, Lies, Universal Love), but a couple of funkier items were thrown in, too (Music to My Ears, Rat Race).  You may think of the Temptations and their harmonies when listening to the atmospheric and hooky mid-tempo song called Merry Go Round, and that leaves us with one more song... but what a song it is!  All the Little Pieces is a beautiful ballad with rich orchestration – full strings and choir – which grows from an opening monologue into quite a crescendo.  The Joneses really deserves another chance.


  Again produced by Bobby Eli, Keith Barrow (CDBBR 0065; 10 tracks, 43 min.; liners with an interview by Christian John Wikane) is an album I was totally unaware of prior to its recent re-release, but I’m glad I can listen to it now.  This is another hidden gem, originally issued on Columbia in 1977.  Bobby co-wrote five of the nine tunes on display - four with Len Barry – he and Jack Faith arranged the music, the album was cut at Sigma Sound and naturally with MFSB players.

  The Chicago-raised Keith entered the secular music scene from the gospel field, cut altogether four albums and died in 1983 at only 29 due to AIDS-related complications.  For me, vocally his high tenor bears a close resemblance to that of Angelo Bond.  After this album, his second Columbia set in ’78 produced two small charted singles, You Know You Wanna Be Loved (# 26-soul) and Turn Me up (# 79-soul).

  The album opens with a swinging version of Wilson Pickett’s ’73 hit, Mr. Magic Man, and it’s followed by a pretty and sweet ballad called Teach Me (It’s Something About Love), which Bobby had cut on Blue Magic a year earlier.  Carrying on with covers, a funky scorcher named You Don’t Know How Hard It Is to Make It was originally recorded by the Devastating Affair three years earlier and a hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips in ’69, Didn’t You Know You’d Have to Cry Sometime, gets here a surprisingly convincing and strong delivery.

  Phil Hurtt’s driving funk A World of Lonely People goes on and on (6:26) and carries a social message, whereas both I Put the Twinkle in Your eye, and We’ve Got a Right to Be Wrong are light and sunny dancers.  The first single, Precious, is a melodic and sophisticated, mid-paced serenade.  I guess among the readers there are many like me, who had never heard of Keith Barrow before, so please give also this high-class album another chance.


  High-Rise (CDBBR 0057; 12 tracks, 62 min., liners with an interview by Christian John Wikane) was released right after the couple’s masterpiece, Street Opera, so in a sense this album felt like an anti-climax first.  Released on Capitol in 1983, all eight songs were written and produced by Val and the late Nick, and they also did a lot of arranging, with the exception of horns and strings (by Leon Pendarvis, Paul Riser and Ray Chew).

  The title song, a story-telling disco dancer, is not one of the duo’s most memorable songs, but as the first single it climbed all the way up to # 17-black.  The follow-up, the hasty and pumping It’s Much Deeper, was even less attractive (# 45-black), but the next one finally introduced one of their delicious ballads, the haunting and powerful I’m Not That Tough, although a third single off the album usually means that the moment for another hit has gone (# 78-black).  A swaying beat-ballad titled My Kinda Pick Me Up and a beautiful slow song called Still Such a Thing, originally penned for Gladys Knight & the Pips, are the other two gems on this album.


  Let’s Hear It for the Boy (CDBBR 0055; 14 tracks, 64 min.; liners with an interview by Shelley Nicole) was originally released on Columbia in 1984.  Personal favourites include three songs: the gentle I Want You, a hymn named Whiter than Snow and one of Niecy’s signature tunes, Black Butterfly, from the pens of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.  Actually the easiest way for me is to direct you to (please scroll down a bit), where you can read also Deniece’s own comments on this record.


  Call My Name /CDKEND 360,, 24 tracks, 68 min.; liners by Malcolm Baumgart and Mick Patrick) consists of Etta’s ’67 Cadet album and 12 bonus tracks, seven of which were released only in later years.  Call My Name isn’t an easy album for those, who prefer sophisticated and nuanced style of singing.  Etta let’s it all out, she sings – or screams - at the top of her voice a lot and comes out as a perfect example of a 60s soul shoutress.  The beginning of the song may be mellow, but in many cases the interpretation reaches frantic heights before the end.  A Northern dancer called I’m so Glad (I Found Love In you) and a medium-tempo beater and a single release named 842-3089 (Call My Name) are good examples.

  Personal highlights include the melodic and effortless Happiness, a beat-ballad titled Have Faith in Me and another soulful slowie and another single called It Must Be Your Love.  On this Chicago album, produced by Monk Higgins and Ralph Bass, there were some interesting covers, too – the speeded-up That’s All I Want from You and You Are My Sunshine, and the laid-back (turn to frantic) It’s All Right.

  Eight of the bonus tracks were produced by Rick Hall at Fame in 1967 and ‘68, and he knew how to cut Etta on soul ballads, such as Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, I’ve Gone Too Far and the country-tinged Almost Persuaded, which even charted (# 11-r&b, 79-pop), and I Worship the Ground You Walk On


  The Complete Jackie Day/Dig It the Most (CDKEND 359; 20 tracks, 59 min., liners by Jim Dawson and Ady Croasdell) covers Jackie’s single releases on Music City, Phelectron, Modern, Specialty and Paula between 1962 and ’71 and adds eight tracks that were shelved at the time.  The songs were for the most part written, produced and arranged by Jacquelene Baldain herself together with Maxwell Davis and recorded in Los Angeles.

  Being fully aware of Jackie’s cult status as a Northern favourite, I’m still uncomfortable with the tone and certain hardness in her voice.  It’s hard to describe, but I prefer my ladies to have a more elastic and expressive, even softer approach.  But it’s only me and my taste, and I’m delighted to hear Jackie on so many ballads on this CD, such as the tender and sweet Without a Love, the poppy If I’d Lose You, the churchy I Dig It the Most, the thought-provoking Free At Last and the emotive Guilty.  The big stompers and dancers – Before It’s Too Late, Oh What Heartaches, Long As I Got My Baby, I Can’t Wait – are all there to boost the sales of this compilation, and many of them are peppered with perky sax solos.  It’s a draw 10-10 between uptempo and downtempo tracks.  Jackie passed in 2007 at 68.


  The Flash Records Story (Ace, CDTOP2 1309; 2-CD, 60 tracks, 2 h 36 min) contains a 40-page booklet with a Jim Dawson written, detailed story of one little-known 50s record company.  Charlie Reynolds’ Flash was run from a back of a record shop in Los Angeles.  It released 32 singles between 1955 and ’59, and they are almost all here in an almost chronological order.  Six tracks appear for the first time on record, and still five more that were shelved at the time, but have been released in later years, are included here, too.

  Flash tested with straight blues first, but soon switched over to rhythm & blues and doowop mainly because their money-maker, the Jayhawks, scored with Stranded in the Jungle in 1956 (Flash 109, # 9-r&b, # 18-pop).  It was actually the only big hit for the company.

  Some of their rhythm & blues recordings were patterned to the hits or hit artists of the day – such as Johnny Ace, Little Esther, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis etc. – and in some cases the music was quite primitive, but there were delightful ditties among them, too.  Sheryl Crowley’s It Ain’t to Play With is a storming boogie-woogie, Maurice SimonsFlashy is a sax-driven instrumental – the wildest one among the six instrumental tracks on the set – and Gus JenkinsSlow Down is an equally driving, vocal piece of r&b.  Alongside the Jayhawks also the Cubans (Oh Miss Dolly), the Hornets (Tango Moon), the Poets (Dead) and the Arrows (Indian Bop Hop) came up with mostly hilarious goodies.  This set is an interesting survey of one obscure label and a disarming, nostalgic throwback to the 50s rhythm & blues sound.


  The Fame Studios Story 1961-1973/Home of the Muscle Shoals Sound (KENTBOX 11; 3-CD, 75 tracks, 3 h 27 min) is a dream-come-true box for all the fans of the rootsy, down-to-earth music that was created at Rick Hall’s studios in Muscle Shoals during the seminal period and heyday of traditional Southern soul.  As a reminder of the amount of Fame hits you only have to look at the track listing and spot most familiar songs by Arthur Alexander (You Better Move On), Jimmy Hughes (Steal Away), Bobby Moore (Searching for My Love), James & Bobby Purify (I’m Your Puppet), Wilson Pickett (Land of 1000 Dances), Arthur Conley (Sweet Soul Music), Aretha Franklin (I Never Loved a Man), Etta James (Tell Mama), Candi Staton (I’m Just a Prisoner) and Clarence Carter (Patches).

  Besides those obvious tracks above, more obscure artists are featured as well, and at times we even trespass the pop field - in about ten cases actually; plus three instrumentals and one country song.  Disc number one offers many uptempo dancers by, among others, Barbara Perry, the Del-Rays, Bobby Marchan, the Entertainers and Arthur Conley.

  The fans of deeper and highly emotive soul music find their treasures on disc two.  Kip Anderson (Without a Woman), Don Covay (You Put Something on Me), Jeanie Greene (Don’t Make Me Hate Loving You, country-soul), the Wallace Brothers (I Stayed Away Too Long), the Blues Busters (Don’t Lose Your Good Thing), Spencer Wiggins (Once in a While), Mitty Collier (Take Me Just As I Am) and George Jackson (Search Your Heart) are guaranteed to touch your heart of hearts.

  The third disc again is filled with movers, but there are enough slower gems for hard soul fans to enjoy, too - for example Wanted: Lover (No Experience Necessary) by James Govan, I Can’t Let You Break My Heart by Bettye Swann and Back Road into Town by Willie Hightower.

  It’s difficult to pick up highlights, because in a way the whole box is a highlight.  However, I’d like to mention still Feed the Flame by Billy Young, You Left the Water Running by Otis Redding – one of the many previously unreleased tracks - Do Right Woman, Do Right Man by Otis Clay and I’d Rather Go Blind by Spencer Wiggins.  Let’s add still Laura Lee (As Long As I Got You) and Maurice & Mac (Why Don’t You Try Me).  This is as essential as it gets, a piece of music history and a great Christmas present for your friends... or for yourself, if you’re good at hinting around.



  Hype & Soul!/Behind the Scenes at Motown (TempleStreet, ISBN: 978-0-9569593-0-0; 288 pages) is in a way a scrapbook with memorabilia, essays, photos that were never published before, newspaper clippings, press releases, publicity material and many, many stories.  They are chronicled by Al Abrams, who became Berry Gordy’s first employee in 1959 and worked for him as the director of PR between 1964 and ’66.  This glossy book, sized 20 x 26 cm, is printed on a good paper and is colourfully illustrated.  Among those, who wrote forewords, are Mary Wilson, Mickey Stevenson and Lamont Dozier.

  Concentrating on Motown’s early days, Al presents a lot of material on Holland-Dozier-Holland, Berry Gordy, the Miracles, the Supremes, the Vandellas, Barrett Strong, the Four Tops, Brenda Holloway, Stevie Wonder and Marv Johnson.  Among many amusing stories there’s Al’s disclosure about him making up Bob Dylan’s famous words of Smokey Robinson being “America’s greatest living poet.”

  After Motown, Al went on to work with Stax/Volt, then with Florence Ballard and Holland-Dozier-Holland.  This book is either a quick read, or – in case of a serious Motown fan – a long and detailed study with a magnifying glass ( and


  The Man Behind the Music (ISBN: 9780983131724; 210 pages, 7 illustrated; no index) is an interesting and honest story of one the greatest unsung masters in soul music.  Carl Davis was born in 1934 in Chicago, lived a colourful youth on the Southside and tasted the record business for the first time in the mid-50s.  He shares fond memories and some delicious tales of Jackie Wilson, Bunky Sheppard, Ted Taylor, Walter Jackson, Major Lance, Billy Butler, Little Richard, Nat Tarnopol, Curtis Mayfield, Cassius Clay, the Chi-lites and many others.  Much of his work has gone uncredited, like producing Duke of Earl and other hits for Gene Chandler.

  Carl mentions his short romance with Mary Wells, goes through the founding of the Dakar (Tyrone Davis) and Chi-Sound labels, tells openly about his connections with the mob during the Brunswick days, reveals his feelings during the painful payola trial and being betrayed by Eugene Record, exposes the reasons for his bankruptcy in 1984 and, besides music, speaks highly of his wives, children and even sports.

  What makes this book such an interesting read is that Carl doesn’t embellish things but tells in a straight-forward, even laconic way about artists selling dope, prison stints, the real causes of death of some of his friends and similar matters... and - what matters most - main focus is on music (


   Susan Whitall and Little Willie’s eldest son, Kevin John, have interviewed 47 music figures and researched numerous books and magazines for FEVER/Little Willie John, a Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul (Titan Books, ISBN 9780857681379; 214 pages, 24 illustrated, foreword by Stevie Wonder).  There’s no index, but a selected discography is included.

  Hailed by contemporaries and even many artists of today, in public’s eye, however, Little Willie has never really reached that cult status he’s entitled to in the league of innovative and creative artists that played major role in fledgling soul music.  He was no doubt popular in the 50s and early 60s, but his fame was short-lived and today only few remember him as the talented pioneer he in fact was.  Susan’s book actually is the first detailed biography of Willie.

  William Edward John was born in Lafayette, Arkansas in 1937, moved to Detroit and grew up to be a lively and mischievous youngster, who became good friends with Levi Stubbs.  Willie released a Christmas song as early as in 1953, but only his King single two years later, All around the World, opened up the stream of hit records – Need Your Love So Bad, Fever, Talk To Me, Talk To Me, Let Them Talk, Sleep and Take My Love

  Those were happy times with a good marriage, popularity partly due to Willie’s showmanship and charisma on stage, friendly rivalries with James Brown, Sam Cooke and some other artists, but towards the mid-60s his career took a down-turn caused by non-hits, alcohol, drugs and unreliability in terms of turning up for gigs.  Finally in 1965 in Seattle he was convicted of manslaughter in a strange incident, to say the least.  After two years in prison, he died in 1968, again, under mysterious circumstances.

  I like this Susan’s book very much for three reasons.  First, Willie if any deserves a book as one of the unsung legends of our music.  Secondly, the book proceeds in chronological order in terms of performances, records and life-line in general.  Thirdly, Susan and Kevin paint an almost living picture of Willie and his character; sometimes stubborn and filled with ego, but on the other hand a most friendly and lovable person.  After this book you want to put Willie’s music on right away (

© Heikki Suosalo

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