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  One of the most stimulating phenomena in soul music recently has been impressive comeback albums by some of our long-standing heroes.  Critically acclaimed, they all have been top albums of that particular year.  In 2015 it was Wee Willie Walker with If Nothing Ever Changes, last year it was William Bell’s This Is Where I Live and this year it is Don Bryant and Don’t Give up on Love.

  Produced by Scott Bomar (on the pic left) and Bruce Watson, the CD was released on on May the 12th.  Bruce is Fat Possum’s general manager, and Scott is the bassist and the leader of the Bo-Keys, a group that was formed in Memphis in 1998.  Scott Bomar: “I was in a few bands and did a lot of work at various studios in Memphis.  My first band was an instrumental band called Impala.  We released a few albums in the 1990s and toured some.  I also worked for a record distributor in Memphis called Select-O-Hits that the family of Sam Phillips (Sun Records) runs and a record store called Shangri-La Records.”

  Earlier Scott and the Bo-Keys worked with Percy Wiggins a lot  Scott: “Percy Wiggins is the first permanent vocalist for the Bo-Keys.  Before Percy we would back up various singers and a few of the guys in the band would sing a few songs.  Skip Pitts and Ben Cauley, who are both deceased, would do some singing in between our instrumental numbers.  We still work with Percy all of the time.”


  “Percy needed to take a break a few years back due to some health issues and at the same time Don Bryant had been reaching out to Howard Grimes and myself, because he was interested in doing some singing.  The Bo-Keys had some shows booked that Percy could not do and at that same time Don was available.  The timing was good.  Howard Grimes really connected me with Don.  Howard is a great connector, he also brought Percy into the group.”

  Don’t Give up on Love was cut at Scott’s studio at with Charles Hodges on organ, Archie Turner on keyboards and Howard on drums belong to the Hi Rhythm Section and besides Scott on bass there’s still Joe Restivo on guitar and Marc Franklin with Kirk Smothers and Art Edmaiston on horns.

  The opening song on the new CD is a raw, even growling, and soulful cover of O.V. Wright’s Back Beat single in 1971, A Nickel and a Nail (# 19-soul / # 103-pop).  Don Bryant: “I would be in the studio with O.V. many times.  He was a low-key person.  I never saw him getting excited.  I enjoyed the sound of his voice, the things that he could do with his voice.  I picked up this song, because I started doing it on my shows with the Bo-Keys.”

  Don and Scott wrote together the funky Something about You, whereas It Was Jealousy is Don’s emotive deep soul ballad, recorded in the 1970s by Ann Peebles and Otis Clay, and it certainly is one of the highlights on this set.  Don: “We wanted to do some things that I wrote earlier, some of my favourite things.”  First You Cry is a poignant ballad, first cut by Maura O’Connell in 1992 and then by its co-writer, Buddy Flett, four years ago.  “It wasn’t just me choosing the material.  We had a couple of more people bringing songs to the table... and I like the song.” 

  I Got to Know is the first of Don’s songs recorded by another artist.  “I was with Willie Mitchell then and I found out that the “5” Royales were coming in and might need some material, so I wrote that song and Willie presented it to them.”  The original recording was released on Home Of The Blues label in 1960, and to a degree this romp bears a resemblance to Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ 1954 hit, Work with Me Annie.  Don’s new version is a rolling mover and a nostalgic throwback to the doo-wop and genuine rhythm & blues days.

  The title tune is the third touching ballad on the set - “Scott suggested come out with some new material, too” – and it’s followed by an inspirational mid-tempo song called How Do I Get There.  “I was hoping that it would inspire somebody.”  The video for the song was shot at the Clayborn Temple in Memphis.

  Can’t Hide the Hurt is Don’s easily rolling mover, which he first cut for Hi Records in 1967.  A bluesy romp titled One Ain’t Enough is a song that was introduced to Don, and the closing mid-tempo stomper named What Kind of Love was the result of Don and Scott being in the studio and coming up with different ideas.

  Scott: “We have gotten very busy with Don.  Our schedule is getting pretty booked.  Right now we are promoting Don’t Give up on Love and making touring plans.  Don has folks all over the world, who want to hear him perform.”


  Donald Maurice Bryant was born in Memphis on April the 2nd in 1942, so he just turned 75.  He was born into the family of ten children – seven boys and three girls; Don was in the middle – and five of them are still alive today.  Don: “I think I’m the only one that totally pursued the music.”

  Don’s father Edward was a member of the Four Stars of Harmony, a Memphis quartet that was formed in the late 1930s.  “It was a gospel group, and at that time he was out a lot singing in different churches.  Sometimes one of the fellows couldn’t make it, and I was told that my mother would fill that spot in.”

  “I think I was maybe about ten, when I did my first solo in church for a Christmas program.”  Carnegie Church of God in Christ is still today Don’s home church.  “That’s where my mother was, my grandmother, my great-grandmother – they were all members of that church.  My father was my first musical influence.  A lot of times he would have instruments and stuff around the house, and the other fellows would come to the house to rehearse.  Of the recording artists one could be my favourite for awhile, but then I hear somebody else, and I always tried to imitate their sound.  So it wasn’t just one artist that influenced me.”

  Don and his four brothers formed the Five Bryant Brothers.  “That was in my teens, at 13...14.  We would get under the street lights at night and harmonize.  There were other guys in the neighbourhood and they would sing too.  I was around fifteen, when I formed the Quails.  My brothers would move on – some stopped singing – but there were other fellows in the neighbourhood who would sing.  We would ask them to come and join the group.  We weren’t doing any professional work.”  The first line-up of the Quails was Don, his brother James Bryant, Elvin Lee Jones and Rico Walker

  While at Booker T. Washington High School, the Quails became the Canes after meeting with Dick “Cane” Cole, a local DJ at WLOK.  “Somehow we got together and he became our manager.  He had a show early in the morning and then he had one in the evening.”  Those days there were rumours about Dick conning the group out of their money.  “There were situations like that going on.  He was great to work with, but little things like that happened and we thought we could do something better.”  The Canes consisted of Don (lead), James “Jamie” (tenor), Elvin Lee Jones (2nd tenor), Lionel Byrd (baritone) and Joe Louis Powell (bass).  When “Jamie” got left for a minute, they became the Four Canes.

  In 1957 Willie Mitchell was working with a singing group called the Four Dukes, who however quit.  “Willie was working in Danny’s Club, which was a private club in West Memphis, for 4-5 nights a week, and he was working there with the other group (until they left).  We were introduced to him, he heard us, liked our singing and that’s how we got started with him.”  Willie suggested them the name the Kings, which became the Four Kings after Joe Louis Powell had left in mid-1958 and was not replaced. 


  With Willie they also released their first single and that actually is the first record Don’s voice is on.  As “Willie Mitchell with the Four Kings” they put out on Stomper Time Records in 1959 a single coupling a doo-wop jump called Tell It to Me Baby with a tender harmony ballad titled Walking at Your Will.  Don wrote both songs and he’s also the lead voice on them.  Stomper Time was owned by Eddie Bond, who was a local Memphis rockabilly artist himself.

  Don: “We would always try to have some original things, when we went into the studio.  Willie was more like a father figure to us.  He would look out for us.  When we first got together with him, we had to get a written permission from all the parents for him to be our guardian, because we were too young to work in night clubs.”  Right after the first single Lionel left the group and was replaced by William Walker of the Montclairs fame.

  The follow-up single in 1960 consisted of Eudell Graham’s doo-wop ballad named Walkin’ Alone and a jump tune titled Rag Mop.  This time on the label it reads “The Four Kings with the Willie Mitchell Orch.”  The credited writer on Rag Mop is Deacon Anderson, but the song was in fact written and first recorded by Henry Red Allen in 1946 under the title of Get the Mop.

  In April 1962 on Stax Records they released a single under the name of the Canes.  A slow blues titled Why Should I Suffer with the Blues was flipped with a Drifters type of a mid-tempo pop song called I’ll Never Give her up (My Friend) – written by Cropper-Moman-Ricky – but Don or his Kings are definitely on this record.  First it was assumed that they were the Vel-Tones, but most probably Dick “Cane” Cole, who owned the name ‘the Canes’, invited Lorece Thompson and the Largoes for this session.

  The actual third Four Kings single was released in 1963 on MOC, a subsidiary to Hi Records, and it paired Don & Dewey’s Farmer John with a Mitchell-Bryant composition called Round and Round.  “I think Willie probably had a lot to do with picking the songs at that time.”  The fourth and final Four Kings single was released in January 1964 on M.O.C. again.  I Want to Be There is a quick-tempo pop song written by three Royal Studio session musicians - Bobby Emmons, Jerry Arnold and Reggie YoungEarly in the Morning on the flip is a similar storming number from the pens of Bobby Darin and Woody Harris, and Bobby Darin also appeared on the original recording in 1958.  It was first released under the pseudonym the Ding Dongs and later the Rinky-Dinks (# 24-pop).  Also Buddy Holly had a small hit with it the same year (# 32-pop).

  Already prior to this last Four Kings single, Jamie Bryant was drafted and Lionel Byrd, who had left four years earlier, rejoined for a short period.  Also Nathaniel Lewis joined the group to fulfil their last live gigs.  The group disbanded in 1963, and of the members Lionel Byrd passed in 2004.


  Still under Willie Mitchell’s supervision Don cut his first solo singles in 1964.  Released on Hi Records, I Like It Like That had been a hit for its writer, Chris Kenner, three years earlier (# 2 both r&b and pop).  “It was Willie’s idea, because we were doing songs like that on our live shows and people enjoyed it.”  The similar My Baby on the flip was written by Ray Harris, Willie Mitchell and Don Bryant.  Ray was an engineer and producer at Hi those days.

  On the second Hi single in 1965, Don’t Turn Your Back on Me is a strong soul ballad.  “I wrote that.  Locally it became very popular, and as far as I’m concerned it was a hit.  They would play it a lot on local radio.”  Backed with a melodic pop ballad called Star of Love, unfortunately the single missed the national charts.  However, it remains one of Don’s best songs and recordings.

  Those days on the M.O.C. subsidiary they released a mid-tempo version of Buck Owens’ country song, Love’s Gonna Live Here Again, coupled with Don’s soul slowie, Been So Long.  Only this time the act was called 1 + 1, which stood for Don and Marion Brittnam.  Marion was in fact Marianne Brittenum, a member of the Volt recording group, the Drapels.  “Marion was at the studio for auditions and different things, and we started writing together,”

  Only this one single was released by the couple, although they cut more tracks, which were left in the can at the time but released on later compilations.  Please Don’t Leave is a stomper, Everytime I Think about You I Get the Blues is a mid-tempo roller, It’s So Hard to Put You Down has a Motown feel to it and I Will Be True is a southern soul ballad.  Actually on some tracks the pair sounds like Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson three years later.  “We cut them, but I guess it was Willie’s decision not to release them.”

  For some strange reason the next single with Don’s vocals on it was credited to “Willie Mitchell & the Four Kings feat. Don Bryant.”  It was strange, because practically the Four Kings didn’t exist anymore.  Don: “I’m the only one singing on it.”  Both songs written by Mitchell, That Driving Beat is an energetic, sax-driven scorcher, and here Don vocally sounds a lot like Jr. Walker.  Everything Is Gonna Be Alright on the flip is like a dead ringer for Shotgun, a # 1 rhythm & blues hit for Jr. Walker & the All Stars in early 1965.  “Jr. Walker at that time was pretty hot.  Those songs were Willie’s idea.”


  Between 1966 and ’69 Don had as many as eight singles still released on Hi Records, and there were a few true gems among them.  I’ll Do the Rest is Don’s emotive southern soul ballad, which remotely brings Sam & Dave to your mind.  “In those days I came through imitating a lot of different artists on my shows, and I would always try to get their sound.  I don’t even know if I had a sound of my own at that time” (laughing).

  Calvin Carter’s pleading soul ballad called The Lonely Soldier was originally recorded by Jerry Butler in 1960 (# 25-r&b on Abner).  “That’s one of my favourite songs that I love to do live.”  Released in 1967, The Call of Distress is a deep and impressive ballad, whereas on the flip they placed Don’s routine dancer titled Doing the Mustang, which actually is Mustang Sally all over again.  “I was hanging around” (laughing).  Mustang Sally was a big record at that time.”  First Sir Mack Rice made his mark on the charts with it in 1965, and then Wilson Pickett a year later.

  Is That Asking Too Much is a touching deep ballad, and this time it’s quite close to the style how Arthur Conley handled down-tempo material those days.  “It was not all the time I was trying to sound like somebody else.  I was trying to get ideas from what was going on at the time, and - depending on the type of song - I would model it on somebody.”

  Next Don came up with a stomping version of There’s Something on Your Mind, which had been a hit for Big Jay McNeely in 1959 (# 5-r&b / # 44-pop) and still a bigger one for Bobby Marchan a year later (# 1-r&b / # 31-pop).  “I used to do it with Willie on stage.”  The follow-up was again a cover, a quick-tempo version of the Miracles hit in 1960, Shop Around (# 1-r&b / # 2-pop).  “It was very popular, when I did it on stage, and I think it was one of those things that I suggested.”  On the flip there was a fine southern soul deep ballad called I’ll Go Crazy.

  Don’s final solo single in 1969 was his own pop ballad titled It’s So Lonely Being Me, backed with a storming dancer, What Are You Doing to My World?.  Quite a lot of Don’s 1960s material was left in the vaults, until some of those tracks were unearthed in the 1980s and 90s.  “Sometimes we would do recordings more than was needed.”  Among the nine canned songs that saw the light of the day later the most impressive ones are a beat-ballad called With Your Hand In My Hand and a great southern deepie named Clear Days and Stormy Nights.


  Don’s debut album was released on Hi as late as in 1969, and – considering Don’s composing skills – strangely it consisted of 12 cover songs.  “Again, this was the idea from Willie.  The cover songs went well in the clubs, and that was the reason why we also recorded them.  We were all having a good time getting those songs recorded and people would come in the studio looking for a spot or something...”  She’s Looking Good, Funky Broadway, Land of 1000 Dances, Soul Man, Expressway to Your Heart etc. had all been recent big hits, but for a lot of old-school soul fans the best tracks on the album are the four ballads – For Your Precious Love, Try Me, When Something Is Wrong with My Baby and Cry Baby – even though they don’t surpass the original recordings.

  There are as many as four U.K. compilations that exhaustively cover Don’s Hi period

  • Doing the Mustang (HIUKCD 116; in 1991) – 26 tracks = Precious Love + 14 tracks
  • Coming on Strong (HIUKCD 133; 1991) – 20 tracks
  • The Singles collection (HIUKCD 149; 1995) – 20 tracks
  • The Complete Don Bryant on Hi Records (HEXD 50; 2000) – 2-CD: 29 + 23 tracks


  At BMI Don Bryant has as many as 154 titles.  Most of his songs were written for Ann Peebles, who was signed to Hi Records in 1968.  As a side mark, this was before Al Green joined the label.  Born in 1947, Ann started out in St. Louis, joined the Oliver Sain Revue and - while visiting Memphis - Gene “Bowlegs” Miller introduced her to Willie and Don.  “I was working with Willie’s band and recording, and Ann was brought to the studio.  They started working on her, looking for material on her and soon she shot up like a rocket.”  Walk Away and Part Time Love were Ann’s first more notable hits in 1969 and ’70, respectively, but I Can’t Stand the Rain in late 1973 (# 6-soul / # 38-pop) became her signature song.  It was written by Ann, Don and Bernard Miller.  In 1974 Ann and Don married.  According to Don, after her stroke five years ago Ann is now doing relatively okay.

  Some of the songs Don wrote for Ann include Solid Foundation, Trouble Heartaches and Sadness (Candi Staton cut it, too), 99 Pounds, I’ve Been There Before, Do I Need You, Until You Came into My Life, A Love Vibration (also by Etta James), I Needed Somebody (also by Irma Thomas), Fill This World with Love and many, many more.  Don also wrote numerous songs for Ann’s later Bullseye Blues albums in the 1990s – Full Time Love and Fill This World with Love – and he shares vocals with Ann on an impressive love ballad called I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for One Moment I’ve Spent with You.  Another of their collaborations, the powerful When the Candle Burns Low, appears on the Rhino CD, I Believe to My Soul, in 2005.


  Besides Ann, Don wrote for many artists, who mainly recorded for Hi, but not everybody.  Norman West recorded already in 1964 Five Pages of Heartaches and Hey Little Girl, Janet & the Jays cut Without a Reason, Danny White put out on Decca in 1966 and ‘67 Cracked up over you and You Can Never Keep a Good Man Down and O.V. Wright did in 1967 I Can’t Take It and What about You?  In 1968 Solomon Burke released on Atlantic Shame on Me.

  Otis Clay picked up Don’s songs every now and then – I Die a Little Each Day, You Can’t Keep Running from My Love, It Was Jealousy (also by Ann, and now by Don, too), Let Me Be the One, Brand New Thing, Keep On Loving Me and I Can’t Take It, which O.V. also recorded. 

  In the Hi roster such lesser-known acts as Quiet Elegance (Do You Love Me, Love Will Make You Feel Better) and Teacher’s Edition (I Wanna Share Everything) benefitted from Don’s writing.  His own favourite among those self-written songs is not too difficult to pick out: “my favourite is the one that has brought the most attention – I Can’t Stand the Rain.” 

  However, you can’t find Don’s songs on Al Green’s and Syl Johnson’s recorded output.  “I concentrated more on writing rather than trying to record.  We had artists coming in that were really making their mark, and I decided I rather concentrate more on writing songs.  Willie made me the A&R man at the studio and - every time an artist would be coming in - he would let me know and I would try to present songs for them.  Al Green always wrote his own material.  He never needed anything.”

  Don’s final Hi single was a duet with his wife, a soft and romantic, string-laden mainstream ballad called Mon Belle-Amour in 1981.  Prior to that in the 1970s Don focused on writing and performing as an opening act for Ann on stage.

  In the 1980s confusingly there was another recording artist by the name of Don Bryant, but he was a country singer, Don R. Bryant, who released five singles on the Southern Tracks Records out of Atlanta, Georgia. 


  On disc, our Don next switched over to inspirational music, when in 1987 he released on his own By Faith label a mini-LP titled What Do You Think about Jesus.  “This is the time, when I began to pursue some things that I thought were uplifting to me and hopefully would be uplifting to others.  I didn’t try to get it distributed nationwide or anything.  It was just something I was trying to pursue.”  A Chosen Few on the background included, among others, Teeny and Leroy Hodges plus Ann Peebles, of course.

  Two years later Don put out another similar gospel set, now called I’m Gonna Praise Him.  “That was another try, because the songs kept coming and I just wrote them down until I had another CD.  It wasn’t a major try.  There were about eight songs on the CD.”

  Don’s third solo album on By Faith Records was released in 2000, and ten years later it was re-released on LocoBop.  It’s All in the Word was co-produced by Paul Brown, who was Ann’s musical director at the time.  This 15-track CD has many visitors – Leon Griffin, Howard Grimes, Greg Morris, Larry Dodson, even Tamiko Jones, and others – and Ann herself is singing on a slow soul song named Doing the Work of the Lord, which really is the highlight of the album.  Another intense slow song is He’s Alright, Pt. I.  “It was just another try.  At that time I wasn’t enough involved in the business to really get all my bucks on the line.”  In 1998 on By Faith they released a CD by a group called Victory, but that was the only other act that had a release on the label.

  Seventeen years have passed by since Don’s previous CD, but it was worth the wait - Don’t Give up on Love is a precious CD.  “In the 2000s and 2010s I haven’t really be doing a lot.  I’m still writing songs and I’m still singing in church... and being in touch with my spiritual self.  Right now I want to embrace this opportunity that I have with the new album.  I love it and I love the music on it, and I thank all the people that were involved in getting it done and released.”

(Interview conducted on May the 18th, 2017; acknowledgements to Don Bryant, Scott Bomar, Patrick Addison; David Cole, Marv Goldberg, Rob Bowman and Pekka Talvenmäki).



Willie Mitchell with the Four Kings:

Stomper Time 1160) Tell It To Me Baby / Walking At Your Will (1959)

The Four Kings with the Willie Mitchell Orch.:

Stomper Time 1163) Walkin’ Alone / Rag Mop (1960)

The Four Kings:

MOC 651) Farmer John / Round And Round (1963)

M.O.C. 655) I Want To Be There / Early In The Morning (1964)

Don Bryant:

Hi 2087) I Like It Like That / My Baby

Hi 2095) Don’t Turn Your Back On Me / Star Of Love (1965)

1 + 1:

M.O.C. 662) Love’s Gonna Live Here Again / Been So Long

Willie Mitchell & the Four Kings feat. Don Bryant:

Hi 2097) That Driving Beat / Everything Is Gonna Be Alright

Don Bryant:

Hi 2104) Glory Of Love / I’ll Do The Rest (1966)

Hi 2114) Coming On Strong / The Lonely Soldier

Hi 2122) The Call Of Distress / Doing The Mustang (1967)

Hi 2131) Is That Asking Too Much / Can’t Hide The Hurt

Hi 2135) There’s Something On Your Mind, pt.1 / pt.2

Hi 2143) Shop Around / I’ll Go Crazy (1968)

Hi 2156) That Ain’t Right Woman / You Cause Me To Wonder (1969)

Hi 2169) It’s So Lonely Being Me / What Are You Doing To My World?

Ann Peebles feat. Don Bryant:

Hi 81534) Mon Belle-Amour / Waiting (1981)


PRECIOUS SOUL (Hi, SHL-32054) 1969

She’s Looking Good / (You’re A) Wonderful One / Funky Broadway / Can I Change My Mind / Soul Man / Land Of 1000 Dances // Slip Away / For Your Precious Love / Expressway To Your Heart / Try Me / When Something Is Wrong With My Baby / Cry Baby

Donald Bryant and a Chosen Few:

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT JESUS (By Faith Rec., ADC-4242) 1987

Jesus Is Alright With Me / He’ll Deliver You / We Need To Be Busy Doing The Work Of The Lord // God’s Gonna Send His Son Back / Taking In The Knowledge / If There Ever Was A Time


IT’S ALL IN THE WORD (By Faith Rec.) 2000

It’s All In The Word (feat. Leon Griffin) / Higher In The Service (feat. Jericho) / In My Father’s House (feat. Howard Grimes & Pete Mendillo) / Doing The Work Of The Lord (feat. Ann Peebles & Jeff Adams) / There’s More (feat. Greg Morris) / My God (feat. Larry Dodson) / Highest Praise Intro (feat. Sis Barbara Cole & Shirley Russell) / Highest Praise (feat. the Saints of Carnegie) / Rest Well (Brave Soldier) / He’s Alright, Pt. I / He’s Alright, Pt. II / Soldier, Pt. I / Soldier, Pt. II (feat. Niki, Lisa & By Faith Youth Choir) / Soldier, Pt. III (feat. Tamiko Jones, Nika) / Finale (feat. Leon Griffin)

DON’T GIVE UP ON LOVE (Fat Possum) 2017

A Nickel And A Nail / Something About You / It Was Jealousy / First You Cry / I Got To Know / Don’t Give Up On Love / How Do I Get There / Can’t Hide The Hurt / One Ain’t Enough / What Kind Of Love

© Heikki Suosalo



© Heikki Suosalo

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