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BLUES & SOUL 28
THE DAVE GODIN COLUMN
DAVE GODIN MEETS MOTHER SOUL
A recent Doris Troy topic led to a dig through the shoe boxes to find this interview with Doris Troy by Dave Godin orignally published in Blues and Soul Issue # 28 February 27 - March 12 1970 Issue, only the first page though...
BLUES & SOUL 28
THE DAVE GODIN COLUMN
DAVE GODIN MEETS MOTHER SOUL
WHEN EDITOR John Abbey asked me if I would do a feature interview with Doris Troy to coincide with her forthcoming single release on "Apple," I protested on the grounds that I already knew her too well personally in order to deliver the goods. A certain amount of formality can often produce the most penetrating discussion for this type of article, but that, he said, was precisely why he wanted me to do the interview; with the formalities over we could more readily get down to the nitty-gritty Doris that everyone wants to know about.
Since arriving in Britain about a year ago, Doris has lived sensibly and modestly in a mews cottage fiat in central London, and it was there that I went for the interview. Wearing casual jeans and a tight black sweater Doris always manages to look every inch a Star. There is something about the way in which she uses make-up on her eye-brows that gives her a regal and imperious look. Not that there is anything aloof about her; when she smiles it is warm, natural and totally captivating.
Doris also has a charming promiscuity about her that results in her calling nearly everyone "darlin'" or "honey", which of course works wonders on the average British male's reserve. Amazingly Doris was alone. She is usually surrounded by a bevy of friends and fellow artists, but on this occasion she'd gone out of her way to make sure I could interview her with no distractions other than from her kitten who has the irreverent name of "Lord Krishna."
Ain't That Cute
First off we started talking about "Apple" and her recording and production work there. Her new single, "Ain't That Cute," could well be the record to establish her in the pop market over here in much the same way as she is already firmly established in the Soul and R&B field since "Just One Look." Doris smiled with true modesty when I stated that this song has now be come something of a Soul classic. Like many American Soul artist however, Doris refuses to classify herself In one single category of musical expression, and, whilst she freely acknowledges that there is an indefinable "something" that is exclusive to real Soul music and exclusive to the would-be imitator, she sees nothing wrong with any cover version of any song she's written or performed.
'I've heard 'Just One Look' all sorts of ways," she said. "I even went to the West Indies and heard a ska version and I liked that too." Of course, she was speaking more as a composer than as a performing artist. "Just One Look” has been good to me," she confessed, "but I've done lots of other things that I like just as much if not more. I was really lucky with the song I helped write for Dee Clark called 'How About That'." She assumed a worried expression. "I guess you didn't have that one released over here?" I assured her it had in fact been released, but discreetly omitted telling her that it failed to repeat its American success this side of the Atlantic.
"That was the first real song I'd ever written, and I just took it along to this publishers, signed a paper and got $100 advance! The next thing I knew was that Dee Clark had recorded it on Vee-Jay and it was in the charts! All my friends had told me I was crazy the way I went about it, but I proved them wrong and it taught me that determination gets you a long way In show business."
I then asked her how she became inspired to become a performer herself. "Well that started when I was just sixteen, and I got myself this job In the Apollo theatre." I interrupted her at this point to ask lf that really was a factual event In her life, I'd always thought privately that that had been a hollywood style press release to perpetuate the rags-to-riches cliche so beloved of teen-magazine feature writers.
"No" she said with a wistful smile, "it was real enough. I had the uniform and a flashlight and everything, and when I saw them stars up there performing I said to myself that's where I want to be someday, and I ,started to spend my off-duty hours in this restaurant in New York where out-of work artists and composers hung out." "I suppose that was where you were discovered" I said, determined somehow to get the Cinderella-type story that I should have known better than to look for. "No, man, I discovered myself! I'd written 'Just One Look' and needed to make a demo. when the demo got made, and i.t was the demo that was released. I was performing at the time, but I'd never looked on my self as ready for making hit records. I'd had a previous release out on Everest under the name of Doris Payne, but it didn't mean a thing."
You mean then" I asked, "that the record we all bought on Atlantic of 'Just One Look' was in actual fact a demo?"
"That's right. We'd taken the demo to Atlantic to sell the song, and as soon as they heard k they flipped and said they'd rush release It at once. I was on the road at the time touring with Chuck Jackson who was big then, and since I had no time to go in the studio and re-record it they Issued the record straight off the demo-dub I’d had made." She lit another cigarette and smiled. "Wasn't that a bitch?"
"Well" she continued, "the record took off so damn fast that it sold like crazy, and it was really lucky for me to be tourIng at the same time since Atlantic were able to arrange a sorts of promotional stints and interviews to tie in with the local radio stations where I was visiting."
Doris told me how she still likes performing in public, even though her heavy schedule as writer and producer leaves her very little time for it nowadays, "Sure, it's a gas. Them kids love me and I love them, and especially over here in England. Why, you go up on the stage and you can hear people say things like 'there's Doris' or 'that's The Troy,' and naturally being a human being, it makes me feel good. All my fans are my brothers and sisters you know; Soul brothers and sisters that is, and I really love 'em like a mother. They've been diggin me for so long, and I'm just happy to be able to entertain them,"
Doris, of course, was one of the highlights of the R&B Associations Ball In 1969, and she said how she hopes she'll be asked back again this year. She thinks the idea of the Association and its annual awards is a great encouragement to Soul artists. "You Soul cats over here are so in to the music that I'm just amazed with how much you all know about it. The songs, the singers and even the record .labels; you really take Soul much more seriously over here than they do in lt!he States. So, I figure that if I were lucky enough to get an award like that it'd be that much more of a personal compliment ·because I know wouldn't be given lightly, and, you know, you Soul people here, well " She stopped speaking and then swore. 'Let's talk about something else, you know I don't like talking just about myself.''
We both got up and went to the kitchen to make coffee. "I was married once so I'm pretty good about ,the house. It was when I was working at the Apollo, but it didn't work out." She carefully measured :the coffee into each cup. "You go through all sorts of changes in life, in addition to which you have to pay your dues. My upbringing was very strict since my Daddy was a Minister, and while we kids were encouraged to sing, it wasn't quite the type of singing that was taking place at the Apollo!" In the meantime she has put out more cat food for Krishna into a bowl that is already brimful. "He might get hungry in the night," she said with an impish grin and a slight rise of one of her magnificent eyebrows! "I'm in love right now, so I'm feeling good all the time. He's an ,actor, but sugar, you know me well enough to know I'm tel1ing you the truth When 'I say he could have been a garage mechanic and it wouldn't have made no difference. If he'd turned me on it wouldn't have mattered who or what he was." And she said it like she meant it.
She resettled herself in her armchair, and I noticed the magazines on her coffee table "Forum", "Jeremy," "Blues & Soul" (natch), and the latest fashion books. "Sure" she said after I'd begun to discuss an article I'd previously read in one of them, "I am a complete believer in free love. And it don't matter what changes you go through so long as you love. There just ain't enough love in the whole world to round, and people don't know how to Jove too well anyway. Loving is taking a chance, which is what Soul music is telling you ,all the time. Them heavy Soul records your label' (she was referring to "Deep Soul") "really tell it like it is-that's a love labeI that, and if you can dig what they're trying to tell you then you've obviously paid your dues and you're ready to and be loved."
I asked how much her previous unsuccessful marriage had affected her views in regard. "It didnt affect it too much. I was ready for my changes when they , and believe me I've been in to all of scenes. Sure, I dig what .Jeremy's 1D say, and I don't pay no mind to people might say about me because lit what must have been her mild garette. "I don't want to comment about the -drug scene, as I don't myself as qualified to comment. It's America, but you do have differentiate between the hard and the soft drugs and I can't seem that it do any harm to legalise soft drugs. But that scene don't bother me; I spend all my money on ordinary cigarettes. They're so damned expensive over here. Why is that?"
We went on to talk about her home background a little more. "I'd still regard myself as a religious person, but in a different way to what I was brought up to believe. My Daddy had his own chapel in New York, and on Sundays you could go in there for the whole day if you wanted. You could pray and sing all day long; they even served Soul food and refreshments in there. Now I feel all religions have something of the Truth in them to commend them to you, and so I wouldn't narrow myself down to any one religion and say that was mine !to the exclusion of all others."
Remembering the books that I had seen in her bookcase, I asked if she could fairly be described as a student of religion and ihe occult. "Definitely" she said. "I don't get 'the time to get into it as deeply as I might like to, but it's real to me, and, yes, you might say it was a kind of hobby with me. My young sister Violet is really in to astrology. I'm a Capricorn which makes me ambitious and determined. I guess that's why I like fellows who let me wear the pants. You know I dig gay guys -all guys in fact. Period." she looked· at the tape recorder I was using to capture the interview with an anxious frown. "l hope you're not gonna print all this shit." I told her that I thought such soul baring on her part could only serve to increase the warm regard people already have for her. "I guess there's not much that they need for me to veil 'em. If you dig Soul music then you already got a head start in life. There's white folks -and some coloured people -in the States who just don't know what Soul is aU about, and it's all around them! Over here you're starved of Soul music on the radio and everywhere, but you still know where it's at and don't miss out on a trick. I hope kids over here are going to go for heavier and heavier Soul -that's the thing to combat Mickey Mouse music."
Doris has a delightful way of stressing certain words and phrases. Often the stress will fall equally on every word in a sentence with the result that you hear it like she really, really means it. "I want to become successful over here because I want to do lots of things. I regard wherever I am at any given time as my home, but ideally I'd like to spend six months of any year in the States, and the rest here in England which is definitely my second home." I asked her how she came to come here when she did. "For the first time for many years, -I won't tell you the exact number of years because you might otherwise be able to work out my age from that ! I was free of all contracts and commitments. so l thought why not?"
Apart from recording herself ·with George Harrison producing at "Apple," she has taken a lively interest in all that has been happening around her, and if she can ever help anyone she will. "One of my best friends is Madeleine Bell. She can sing the ass off anyone and she was stuck doing backing work for far too long. Now with 'Melting Pot' she's had a hit, and I'm really happy for her. I used to do backing work with Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick on all them Solomon Burke records and nearly all the Atlantic records that were cut in New York at that time Those were real groovy days."
We were looking through her photo album which also contained her press clippings and other bits of memorabilia she's collected since she's been here. I commented on the number of people she seems to know. "Well, it's like I said. I'm Mother Soul and these are all my children, and I love 'em all." She identified the famous alongside the not-so-famous. "It don't matter if you're famous o.r not so long as you're real. I've seen more soul in people who can't sing a note than others who give themselves credit for far more than they've really got." I asked who her favourite singers were. "Dinah Washington is THE greatest THE greatest. Esther Phillips, who I know is your idol, is good too, but she's an ill mannered bitch. We went along together one night to see Dusty Springfield open in cabaret, and Miss Esther Phillips just sat there talking at the top of her voice all through Dusty's act! I didn't know where to put my face 'cos I really dig Dusty. Esther sure can sing though as well as talk!"
I asked how she and Billy Preston felt being the only two American Soul artist in the "Apple" complex, and she replied that she fully realised what a big chance it was for both of them. "Billy is a great guy, and George Harrison is a doll. George and I worked together on Billy's album, and if you listen closely you can hear Doris Troy singing away in the background. Just like the good old·days at Atlantic."
She answered the phone for what must have been the twentieth call since I'd been there. "Yes darlin', come ·right. on over now. I'm doing an interview for 'Blues & Soul' and I want you should meet Dave." She hung up and smiled, "That's my new boyfriend I was telling you about, and I asked him over because I want you to meet him." She handed me a pile of singles. "Sort out something nice. I always dig the sounds you dig," and she was off in the bathroom for a quick re-check of her make-up before her boy friend arrived.
This was the Doris I knew and loved. Warm, generous, flattering and always off somewhere or just arriving from somewhere; a human dynamo who is never so busy that she can't stop and say hello and rap awhile. Those who have been close to her over the past years know that she has had troubled times, but she keeps her troubles to herself. When she is making it good she is insanely generous and open handed. She'll feed anyone who is out of work; throw gigs their way if she can and gives people cab fare rather than mere busfare. When she once took one of my fingers and held it saying she'd buy me a big diamond ring when she was a big star, I can well believe she would actually do it, crazy as it would be. Doris does pay her dues, and there are times when her luck runs out or deserts her and she gets depressed and low. Much like all of us I guess, but Doris has a remarkable will, and she struggles on and endures.
In this respect she is truly a child of Capricorn, but above all else there is a largeness of Heart about her that makes her a potentially great person. On her walls she mounts photos of people she loves and digs her boy friend, George, Billy, Marsha Hunt and Gloria Howerd, and, dominating the entire room, a huge photo-poster of the late Dr. Martin Luther King.
"Like you say, the situation between the races is a drag once you're an integrated person yourself, and it is hard to understand the mind of the segregationists. I think things are improving, and then I read something in the paper that convinces you that things have got to get worse before they get better. The way the schools are, in fact, most things in America, are very different to how things are over here. I don't really like to think about it, but naturally I try to be optimistic. "The progress over the past three or four years for the American Negro has been slow -very slow, and coloured people are tired of paying their dues for ever and ever Amen! God didn't give me a Black skin so's white folks could single me out for special praise or discrimination, and who knows, we might be more in his image than white folks are, but when it's all said and done we've got to try and bring people together rather than force them more apart.
"Inter-marriage is really the answer. I've several white friends, and I speak from experience when I tell you there ain't no truth in them myths and legends that people talk about." She burst into peals of laughter and slowly shook her head. "We do need a melting pot like the record says, and al] the while I'm regarded as Mother Soul I'm gonna make ,sure my children get this message. It's a bit of a cliche right now, but like the record says 'All You Need Is Love.' It's that simple.
The silence was interrupted by the door bell, and when her boy friend came in they were soon hugging ,and cuddling one another. Fulfilled and luxuriant she smiled and purred "Ain't that real now? Ain't that real?" I returned her smile and was happy for her, and I thought, who am I to contradict anything my Mother tells me !
David Godin 1970