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Oscar Toney Jr.

From Soul Express 4/2000


One of the highlights of my recent trip was a visit to Opelika, Alabama, to meet my all-time deep soul hero, Oscar Toney, and his kind wife, Carolyn. It nicely coincided with the release of Oscar's latest CD, Guilty Of Loving You, on Bob Grady Records, which simply must be my number one record this year.

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Produced by Bryan Cole, Edd Miller and Jimmy O'Neill and recorded in Atlanta, Georgia, this ten-tracker features Oscar in a fine voice and - what's really appreciated - only real live musicians (no machines).
The opener, Back In Your Arms, is a driving beater with a fine saxophone break and written by Dave Williams and Mick Parker, who also penned the title track and the closing cut, a mid-to-uptempo roller called No More Heartaches. "Bob Grady did most of the picking on all of those songs basically, because I had never really heard of these guys. Everything, except California Girl (by Eddie Floyd in '70) and If It Ain't One Thing It's Another (by Oscar Irving in '66 on Boblow), is strictly original material - new to the music world."
Chuck Armstrong wrote a thumpy bouncer called Something Tells Me, as well as a swinging beater titled She Has The Right. On Eddie Floyd's mid-paced floater, California Girl, Wilson Meadows joins in. "Wilson is a friend of mine. He was one of Bob Grady's first artists and he still is one of the hottest acts around. Bob decided that since I was joining his company that he would put Wilson and me together on this particular song."
The title track, Guilty Of Loving You, is a magnificent deep soul ballad with some gospel wailing going back to the late 60s, and for me the most touching song on the set. "We played these tunes to some folks just to listen to it, as samples. They immediately fell in love with that particular song. The name of the CD originally was Something Tells Me, but after that we changed it into Guilty Of Loving You. That's a real strong song."
Keep Love Alive is a mellow, melodic, beat soul ballad. "Wilson Meadows wrote that one. That's a new song. It really catches you - like people in the neighbourhood here - and it's got that punch line, 'Keep It Alive'. The instrumentation here is just way out, especially the bass solo (by Lebron Scott)."
Another deep and thrilling deep soul ballad, which reminds me of some of those late 60s Oscar classics, is called I'm Sorry. "I wrote that in ten minutes at the studio about five months ago. The song is like a gift from the sky. This is Oscar begging and pleading. This was actually my first choice for the name of the CD, but as I said, Bob and I got together and decided to hit on Guilty Of Loving You."
A speedy cut called The Other Woman was written by Oscar and Jerome Tinsley. "He's a guy who used to help me write songs. We did this one about three years ago." Actually The Other Woman was one of the cuts (others included That's How Strong My Love Is, for one) that Oscar was prepared to do for Ichiban just before the company went down.
Oscar, who was known to cut deep and dramatic ballads in the 60s and 70s, has now only three of them on display here. "We're trying to reach the younger generation, as well as appeal to the old school. We know that the old school is going to be with us, no matter what, but for the young generation we did a lot of songs with up, but not with really that up-up tempo. They are songs that tell a story and at the same time you get a younger person to listen and say 'hey, I like the beat to this song'. That's why we don't have any strings. We want to go to the old school, but we want to stay away from the old type of a too lush Jerry Butler stuff. We want to keep it more down-home - not too much B.B.Kingish or not too much Latimorish, but the new Oscar Toney Jr."
Oscar last album before this new one was called Resurfaces Year 2000. "First it was a handed-out-of-the-house type of thing by me and my wife. When we put the CD out, we were actually over in Italy (at the Porretta festival). When we got back, we got a lot of calls that the song I'm Not The Dad is so great. The radio stations had been playing and playing it and people had called for it, but we actually got the CD on the market only about six months later, when they had just lost interest. But what it did for me, it was like 'hey, I'm coming back out'."
"That's a mistake we're trying not to make with this new CD. This CD says 'hey, I'm back'. Now Bob Grady has picked me up and does everything that I was trying to do then, and he knows how to get it in and out. The CD now is ready (and released in Europe), but the time is just not right yet for the U.S. market, so we're trying to wait for the Christmas season be over, so that it won't be lost in the shuffle. A good time to get it out would be the last of January, the beginning of February, because that's when the DJ's start playing their new play list and you're getting all your Christmas stuff out of the way."
Oscar still has his day-job, so his main performing occurs on weekends. "Now we're performing mainly in Alabama, but also going to Georgia, the Carolinas and to Louisiana." All I can add that if you want your soul basic and Southern, you really should have a go at the new Oscar CD, as all the uptempo cuts are also of a very high quality this time. And there are those three killer ballads!
-Heikki Suosalo
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