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Friday, February 20, 2009

That Sweet Soul Sound of R&B

We watch a lot of PBS specials about music and musicians, so it wasn’t unusual that we were recently tuned in to a show about the legendary James Brown. I had gone into my office to do some stuff while listening and would occasionally pop into the living room when it sounded particularly interesting.
But I was seated in my office when I heard the narrator state that James Brown finally crossed over and hit with white audiences in 1967. I marched into the living room and directed at Mike an extremely intelligent “huh?!” Mike chimed in with “that’s crazy,” and we started ticking off the years.

Young Mike and I saw James Brown on stage in Memphis in 1963, and I saw Brown the year before. We were at the WDIA Goodwill Revue which brought fantastic acts to the large venue downtown at what was then called Ellis Auditorium. WDIA was the nation’s first all-black radio station, and it had begun the revue back in 1948.

I clearly remember the first time I saw James Brown drop to his knees onstage only to be comforted by a colleague draping a robe around his shoulders and helping him partially offstage when Brown would throw off the robe and launch back into song with electrifying emotion. It was a performance like none we’d ever seen before. James Brown was like nothing that anyone had seen before.

We were also privileged to see Gladys Knight, Solomon Burke, Jerry Butler and Bobby Blue Bland among others. It was at the first Goodwill Revue I attended that I saw Sweet Mittie Collier who I thought was an amazing singer. She performed her hit, “I Had a Talk With My Man Last Night,” and I was transfixed. Somehow, she did not reach star status, but it’s a moving song, described as “soulful and sensual.” Listen to it here:

At that time, Mike and our friend Phil Stephens were playing with a local group called Jimmy Day & The Knights which broke ground as the first blue-eyed soul band in the area. No other white band was playing the music they did, and other musicians came to hear them and the sounds they created. They’re one of the best bands I’ve heard.

In 2003, a JD&theKnights reunion was put together for a gig at Memphis’ Cockeyed Camel. I was so glad to be able to come to Memphis for that evening, hear the sound and see old friends. It was a trip down memory lane.

The R&B music of the ‘60s will probably always be my favorite. Here is what Mike believes to be the signature song of the R&B 60s. It was written by Memphian Isaac Hayes and Steve Porter and recorded at Memphis’ famous Stax Studio. (You didn’t know that much of the famous R&B songs came from Memphis, not Detroit? A lot of Memphians don’t either, but that’s the topic of another post.)

It’s Sam and Dave featuring legendary bass and guitar players Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper, drummer Al Jackson and the Memphis Horns as well as Booker T and the MGs. It's a great version of the song. You can’t just listen to this one. It demands dancing. Get ready for Hold On, I'm Comin' --

Photos (from top) -
1. James Brown
2. Mitty Collier
3. Mike, Jimmy Day, John Robinette
4. Robinette, Mike on sax, Phil Stephens on trumpet
5. Jimmy Day, me, Mike

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