BACK TO THE RIVER - MORE SOUTHERN SOUL STORIES 1961-1978 BOX SET CD REVIEW
If you have opened up this piece in the hope of reading an unbiased review then I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I first got into soul music in a major way when Otis Redding's 45 version of “My Girl” entered the UK pop charts back in November 1965. Ahead of that date, I had been into tracks by the Drifters, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Ben E King, Dionne Warwick, Four Tops, Major Lance, Inez Fox, the Temptations, etc. But it was Otis that had me heading off to research what else of a similar nature was out there. I was soon addicted to Southern Soul (+ Chicago Soul) and over 50 years later it still provides the soundtrack to my life. So, when asked to takes a look at the contents of a recent Kent CD box set, I jumped at the chance. This set gives buyers a package of 75 different cuts that all have that 'Southern Soul' sound. The cuts on display here range from well known hits right through to little indie tracks that few Americans even know exist. I don't intend to try to review every track included on this release as many are staples of everyone's soul directory.
Thus anthems such as “Private Number” (Judy Clay & William Bell – the extended version features here), “Nearer To You” (Betty LaVette), “Rainy Night In Georgia” (Brook Benton), “Nothing Takes The Place Of You” (Toussaint McCall), “Tell It Like It Is” (Aaron Neville) and “Cry To Me” (Freddie Scott) are to be found here. Quite a few familiar songs also feature; “Yesterday” (the Soul Children), “Too Weak To Fight” (Extended Version from Ella Washington), “Do Right Man” (Little Beaver) and “A Woman Will Do Wrong” (Helene Smith). Other tracks feature famed artists such as Solomon Burke (“I Wish I Knew, How It Would Feel To Be Free”), Otis Redding (“Free Me - Take 1”), Bobby Bland (“A Touch Of The Blues”), Dee Dee Sharpe (“This Love Won't Run Out”), Eddie Floyd (”I Got Everything I Need”), Mary Wells (“I Found What I Wanted”), Joe Simon (“Message From Maria”), Mable John (“Problems”), O V Wright (“I've Been Searching”), Clarence Carter (“She Ain't Gonna Do Right”), Bettye Swann (“I'm Just Living A Lie”), Joe Tex (“The Only Girl, I've Ever Loved”), Esther Phillips (“I'm In Love”), Johnny Adams (“Sometimes, A Man Will Shed A Few Tears Too”), Aretha Franklin (“Ain't No Way”), Roy C (“Found A Man In My Bed”), Don Covay (“You're Good For Me”), Fontella Bass (“I Want Everyone To Know”), Barbara Mason (“Shakin' Up”) and Little Richard (“I Don't Know What You've Got But It's Got Me Parts 1 & 2”). Many of the above enjoyed commercial success in the States with Brook Benton making No.1 in 1970. “Private Number” the Top 20 in 68 (No.8 in the UK pop charts). Aaron Neville also hit No.1 in 66, with Freddie Scott's outing making the Top 40 in 67.
Not all of the tracks have actual connections to the bastions of Southern Soul, but everyone has the fingerprint of the genre. I don't know why it should be but cuts laid down in Miami were never really regarded as being Southern Soul tracks, yet it is almost impossible to get any further south in the USA than parts of Florida. Anyway, this compilation does feature some Florida soul, so that's OK. Down to business then and some real reviews. First off it's Solomon Burke down in Memphis with “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)”. A good uptempo anthem about escaping the shackles of life with which to open. It's almost impossible to be any more soulful than miss Betty LaVette; I wish I could get “Nearer To You” Bettye. “Free Me (Take 1)” is Otis Redding at his soulful best. What a truly sad day it was when that plane heading from Cleveland to Madison went down in December 67. Nobody croaks in a finer way than Bobby Bland. Here we have “A Touch Of The Blues” which has little to do with the blues but is 100% soul. “This Love Won't Run Out” sees Dee Dee Sharp also making the journey down to Memphis. The change in geography allows Dee Dee to shine on a scorcher that's solid soul to the bone. Stax fave Eddie Floyd is assisted by Booker T on organ on “I Got Everything I Need”. If you buy this Kent release, you'll have everything you need.
“Please Don't Desert Me Baby” by Gloria Walker and The Chevelles is a product of Muscle Shoals. I think there was something in the water down there that meant it was almost impossible not to turn out silky smooth soul tracks by the bucketful. “Sugarman (Extended Version)” is a Kris Kristofferson song that Sam Baker drives straight out of Nashville in the direction of Memphis. Joe Perkins mines a soul vein on “Think I'll Go Somewhere And Cry Myself To Sleep”. “Sure As Sin” reveals a lot of femme vulnerability from Jeanie Greene on a smoldering ballad. “What's That You Got” from Rudolph Taylor has loads of Memphis soul stew assisting in it's make-up. Mary Wells didn't need the help of the Motown team to turn out goodies. She was equally happy working in Muscle Shoals -- the uptempo “I Found What I Wanted” helps prove that. “I've Got Memories (Demo)” is a slow song that allows Melvin Carter to show in full that he'd graduated with distinction when sitting his soul degree. Joe Simon is soul royalty and “Message From Maria” was never gonna get him beheaded. Mable John had “Problems” back in 1967, my main problem is understanding how this failed to escape from the tape vaults back then. “I've Been Searching” says O.V. Wright and his search was over if he had been looking for a masterful brass section to back him up.
We're back in Fame studios with “She Ain't Gonna Do Right” from Clarence Carter. This is an alternative version to the one that came out originally. Which is the best effort; both get 10 out of 10 from me. “Give Me Back The Man I Love” allows Barbara West to display that it wasn't only the men that could get the best out of the Fame guys. “You're Gonna Want Me” finds Bill Coday in Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios. They may have had egg boxes on the walls there, but they didn't scrimp on the soul sauce when laying down tracks like this. Bettye Swann was from LA but she was also right at home across in Fame's Muscle Shoals soul HQ. “I'm Just Living A Lie” displays this fact with knobs on. “Home For The Summer” by Jimmy Braswell confuses me. The notes say it was cut in Sheffield but I never ran into the guy when I made any of my many train spotting trips to the city as a lad (am I getting my Sheffield's confused here). If a guy with this much soul had lived in the Yorkshire town, then I'm sure Pete Stringfellow would have made him into a big star. Ella Washington must have been one sassy lady going by her performance on “Too Weak To Fight”. This is true meat-and-potatoes soul. “Everytime It Rains” (aka Teardrops From My Eyes) by Na Allen comes close to finishing off CD1. This uptempo item links Detroit with Memphis to great effect.
Juno Records Player
CD2 opens with Joe Tex's “The Only Girl (I've Ever Loved)” and what a mid tempo gem it is. Not one of his better known outings but still one of his best. At the end, as a piano tinkles, Joe does a bit of impressive vocal gymnastics. Ain't soul music just so flippin' great. I've always dismissed John Fred's recordings as being pop pap but how wrong “Loves Come In Time” proves me to have been. Janis Joplin would always strive to sound like Otis, but she always failed. On this deep soul diamond, John Fred shows her how it should have been done. Up next is a true indie outing as Joey Gilmore tackles “Somebody Done Took My Baby And Gone”. This may have been cut in Florida but it leans (very heavily) towards Tyrone Davis's Chicago sound, rather than taking on a typical Floridian flavour. We then head up to Mississippi and C P Love displays his vocal prowess on another deep southern soul ballad; “I Found All These Things”. It's over to the ladies next as Miami's Helene Smith gives us the original version of a much done song; the Paul Kelly penned “A Woman Will Do Wrong”. There are indie soul 45's and then there are OBSCURE soul 45's, Steve Dixon supplies us the later on “Depend On Me”. Sometimes obscure means 'rare but duff'. Here however we get an exceptional cut, one that is obscure but certainly showcases the ample skills of the song writer, musicians and singer. A fave with Sir Shambling, this would cost you well over $100 on an original 45 (how much is this entire CD package ?). Esther Phillips is true to form and you can tell it's her from the opening words of this song. “I'm In Love” is the Bobby Womack song and she really does it justice. Sam Dees “Easier To Say Than Do” follows and the CD hits it's peak here. How could any recording top Sam's efforts on this number, it leaves me drained as it just drips with unadulterated emotion.
“Without Love What Would Life Be” has the impossible task of following Sam's soul psalm. Terrie & Joy LaRoy (with The Bill Parker Show Band) do a good job but their efforts are totally overshadowed by the previous cut – somebody had to come after Sam but the compilers weren't kind to these teenagers here. The Minaret label / Valparaiso studio cut – I've Got To Tell You – by Count Willie with LRL and The Dukes is so flawless that it also managed to gain a release on Brown Dog Records. It's authentic southern soul signature ensures that it has steadfastly stood the test of time. I believe I'm correct in saying that Joe Wilson enjoyed the privilege of having one of the 1st UK releases of any Malaco studio product back in May 71. His “You Need Me” dates from a couple of years later and only ever managed to escape in demo form (?). Once again this beautiful ballad oozes class. “Nearer To You” by Texan based Joe Medwick is yet another fine soul ballad. Joe really shows off his vocal qualities to good effect on this Chuck Jackson-styled outing. “Your Love Is All I Need” is a Della Humphrey Florida cut effort that was marketed out of Philadelphia. She didn't have the strongest of voices but still puts in an effective effort. “How Sweet It Would Be” by George Perkins is another fave with Sir Shambling; what more can I say apart from Bobby Patterson produced this side. Warren Storm's indie outing “Daydreaming” is more deep soul of substance. “No More Ghettos In America” is the type of message song that I love. A 1970 Louisiana recording on which Stanley Winston displays true gospel credentials. Little Beaver was a Miami soul man who enjoyed much commercial success. This 1970 soulful outing (“Do Right Man”) displays none of the disco influence that would follow later. “(Sometimes) A Man Will Shed A Few Tears Too” from stalwart soulster Johnny Adams also doesn't disappoint. “Asking For The Truth” allows Reuben Bell to let you know that the truth is … you do really need to own a copy of this CD pack. “I Can't Stand To See You Go” has Joe Valentine laying on the soul with a ladle, nuff said. Don Hollinger's “You Got Everything I Need” exhibits more undiluted soul than almost any other recording that came out of Miami in 1973. “A Sad Sad Song” by Charles Crawford may have been laid down in Bobby Patterson's studio but it owes a lot more in it's sound to Otis than Bobby.
We're onto CD3 now and I'm getting writers cramp (& you must be getting weary of reading this drivel). So, apologies, but we'll race through the next 25 cuts. Ground Hog is “Going Back Home” on an uptempo funky cut. “Cry To Me” is emotional soul of the highest order. Freddie Scott may have cut it in New York but you couldn't have squeezed more emotion into this even if it had been cut darn'souf. Little Buster was “Lookin' For A Home” up in New York but his efforts would have induced homesickness in many emigres from the Carolinas and Georgia. “The Girls From Texas” (Extended Version) showcases Jimmy Lewis's ability to make a downtown LA studio sound like a transplanted Mexican Gulf facility. The queen of it all, Reffa comes next. “Ain't No Way” was written by her sister Carolyn Franklin and surely that's her wailing away in the background – ain't no way you CAN'T love this. The 'Shotgun Wedding' man Roy C comes next with one that enjoyed some success back in 1970 (“I Found A Man In My Bed”). I'll not go there with regard to the storyline dealt with in this song. “Take Your Time” is something Clay Hammond could have been doing in bed, but I think it more likely that he had been in church before cutting this. On “Just A Touch Of Your Hand” Al Gardner was guided by none other than Jack Ashford, If you're thinking Motown styled dancer, then all I can say is … NO WAY. Don Covay was a member of the Soul Clan so even though “You're Good For Me” was cut in Philly, it has the sensitivity of a Muscle Shoals outing. “I Found The One” mixes influences from Ohio, LA, Pennsylvania and Detroit but Billy Sha-Rae bestows it with lots of Mississippi mud pie. On “Don't Make Me Pay For His Mistakes”, Z.Z. Hill mixes soul with the blues – outcome: a successful track. “What Can You Do When You Ain't Got Nobody?” ask the Soul Brothers Six. Well, cry a lot is what you'll do if you are listening to this while down in the dumps (romance wise).
I'm going into emotion overload now – how so many singers can imbue so much feeling into so many songs is beyond me. “That's How It Is (When You're In Love)” says Otis Clay on this product of a Chicago studio. The Windy city blues vibe is certainly on display here. If it's love that's being spoken about, then I'd rather be lonely (hide the razor blades please). Marion Black was up in Ohio when he cut the plaintive “Go On Fool” – a fine ballad soaked in molasses. Fontella Bass was back home in St Louis when she “Want Everyone To Know” that she was in love. It didn't repeat the success that “Rescue Me” had awarded her, but it deserved to. “You Wants To Play” again displays a bluesy influence. It certainly doesn't sound like Oscar Weathers laid this down in Philly but he did. Times a wastin', so I'm speedin' up now. “(I Want Her) By My Side” from the Fuller Brothers displays plenty of brass laden passion. Barbara Mason was “Shackin' Up” back in 75. She certainly mined that 'other woman' seam to fine effect back then. “Don't Blame Me” has Willie Hightower seemingly visiting Memphis. In actual fact, he wasn't, though I wouldn't blame you for thinking he was. If you don't care for deep soul, then I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place here. “Stop” says Lester Young and I'd say he had kidnapped the Stax house band to record this opus even though it was laid down in New York. Yet more brass introduces us to “Someone To Take Your Place” by Bill Locke. Bill ditches Joe Tex's way of interpreting this song, but then it was cut up in Ohio. Lee Moses handles “If Loving You Is A Crime (I'll Always Be Guilty)” and his voice is ideally suited to this totally southern soul styled ballad. “Easy As Saying 1-2-3” from Timmy Willis was cut in both Muscle Shoals & Detroit (the vocals) in 1970. That a Detroit vocalist could sound so 'southern' is truly down to both his vocal dexterity and the skills of the southern musicians involved. It's mid 60's LA product next with “I Don't Know What You've Got But It's Got Me” – Parts 1 & 2 from Little Richard. That a rocker like LR could produce this soul-filled number amazes me. “Mary Jane” by Bobby Rush brings this marathon journey to a close. Bobby always displayed his bluesy side and he act's no differently on this chugger. Whew, finally made it to the end, I need to lie down in a dark room now.
JOHN Roburt SMITH
1. Solomon Burke - "I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)"
2. Bettye Lavette - "Nearer To You"
3. William Bell & Judy Clay - "Private Number" (extended version)
4. Otis Redding - "Free Me" (take 1)
5. Bobby Bland - "A Touch Of The Blues"
6. Dee Dee Sharp - "This Love Won't Run Out"
7. Eddie Floyd - "I Got Everything I Need"
8. Gloria Walker & The Chevelles - "Please Don't Desert Me Baby"
9. Sam Baker - "Sugar Man" (extended version)
10. Joe Perkins - "Think I'll Go Somewhere & Cry Myself To Sleep"
11. Jeanie Greene - "Sure As Sin"
12. Rudolph Taylor - "What's That You Got"
13. Mary Wells - "I Found What I Wanted"
14. Melvin Carter - "I've Got Memories" (demo)
15. Joe Simon - "Message From Maria"
16. Mable John - "Problems"
17. OV Wright - "I've Been Searching"
18. Clarence Carter - "She Ain't Gonna Do Right" (demo)
19. Barbara West - "Give Me Back The Man I Love"
20. Bill Coday - "You're Gonna Want Me"
21. Bettye Swann - "I'm Just Livin' A Lie"
22. Jimmy Braswell - "Home For The Summer"
23. Ella Washington - "Too Weak To Fight" (extended version)
24. Na Allen - "Everytime It Rains (Teardrops From My Eyes)"
25. The Soul Children - "Yesterday"
1. Joe Tex - "The Only Girl I've Ever Loved"
2. Brook Benton - "Rainy Night In Georgia"
3. John Fred & The Playboys - "Love Comes In Time"
4. Joey Gilmore - "Somebody Done Took My Baby & Gone"
5. CP Love - "I Found All These Things"
6. Helene Smith - "A Woman Will Do Wrong"
7. Steve Dixon - "Depend On Me"
8. Esther Phillips - "I'm In Love"
9. Sam Dees - "Easier To Say Than Do"
10. Terrie & Joy LaRoy - "Without Love What Would Life Be" (with The Bill Parker Show Band)
11. Count Willie - "I've Got To Tell You" (with LRL & The Dukes)
12. Joe Wilson - "You Need Me"
13. Joe Medwick - "Nearer To You"
14. Della Humphrey - "Your Love Is All I Need"
15. Toussaint McCall - "Nothing Takes The Place Of You"
16. George Perkins - "How Sweet It Would Be"
17. Warren Storm - "Daydreamin'"
18. Stanley Winston - "No More Ghettos In America"
19. Little Beaver - "Do Right Man"
20. Johnny Adams - "(Sometimes) A Man Will Shed A Few Tears Too"
21. Reuben Bell - "Asking For The Truth"
22. Joe Valentine - "I Can't Stand To See You Go"
23. Don Hollinger - "You Got Everything I Need"
24. Charles Crawford - "A Sad Sad Song"
25. Aaron Neville - "Tell It Like It Is"
1. Ground Hog - "Going Back Home"
2. Freddie Scott - "Cry To Me"
3. Little Buster - "Looking For A Home"
4. Jimmy Lewis - "The Girls From Texas" (extended version)
5. Aretha Franklin - "Ain't No Way"
6. Roy C - "I Found A Man In My Bed"
7. Clay Hammond - "Take Your Time"
8. Al Gardner - "Just A Touch Of Your Hand"
9. Don Covay - "You're Good For Me"
10. Billy Sha Rae - "I Found The One"
11. ZZ Hill - "Don't Make Me Pay For His Mistakes"
12. The Soul Brothers Six - "What Can You Do When You Ain't Got Nobody"
13. Otis Clay - "That's How It Is (When Your In Love)"
14. Marion Black - "Go On Fool" (extended version)
15. Fontella Bass - "I Want Everyone To Know"
16. Oscar Weathers - "You Wants To Play"
17. The Fuller Brothers - "(I Want Her) By My Side"
18. Barbara Mason - "Shackin' Up"
19. Willie Hightower - "Don't Blame Me"
20. Lester Young - "Stop"
21. Bill Locke - "Someone To Take Your Place"
22. Lee Moses - "If Loving You Is A Crime (I'll Always Be Guilty)"
23. Timmy Willis - "Easy As Saying 1-2-3"
24. Little Richard - "I Don't Know What You Got But It's Got Me" (part 1 & 2)
25. Bobby Rush - "Mary Jane"