Soul is a feeling. Funk is a way of life. For Rickey Calloway it's a truth that cannot be denied. For over half a century, his live shows and recordings have changed the whole vibration of the Earth.
Soul Sourcers will of course know his "Tell Me," and "Get It Right," or his work with the Dap Kings, Funk Knight, Jayvilla, and Kay Dee.
In 2010 Rickey linked up with Miami's own Henry Stone Music for his full length King Of Funk album, and on August 9th, 2019, his second release with the label called Break Down officially drops worldwide. It features all new mixes and remixes of vocals, bass, drums, and horns in various forms fully remastered through Jeep Harned's own hand built MCI equipment.
In this exclusive interview never published anywhere else, the great Rickey Calloway talks about meeting fans in France and the United Kingdom, the story behind "Tell Me," and where he got his first guitar...
FIRST OF ALL THANKS AND CONGRATULATIONS FOR ALL OF THE GREAT MUSIC !!
Thank you. I think the people are going to love this new album.
WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND TELL ME?
Well the original "Tell Me," it was funny how that developed. The house I'm living in now, at that time belonged to my mom. The year was 1968 and I was doing my James Brown impersonation thing, all JB, all the time. I got to thinking one day and said, "I want my own song." So I decided to write my own song. I was playing rhythm guitar and only knew a couple of chords. I had been with Frank Williams and The Rocketeers, woodstocking with those guys, and there were some grooves they were doing live and I took the bass line and heard it in my ears, boom boom baboom boom, and then I took it to another dimension, wrote the lyrics to that groove, and got ready to cut this thing with Mirrow Band, and I didn't have the money for it. I had to borrow money from people I knew and got like 40 here, a hundred there from people who believed in me, who thought, "Maybe this guy Rickey may be something." So I got 600 bucks and called Norm Vincent who at that time was a big shot record guy. I called him and he said, "I been hearing about ya. What can I do for ya?" I said, "I got a song I want to record," and I played a little of it over the phone. He said, "Boy, that sounds kinda good. Bring how much money you got and we'll make it work." So me and the band practiced for two nights and I wrote "Tell Me" sitting right there on my mother's bed and it just kept developing. I forgot the lyrics when we got to the studio. I was so scared I would screw up, but the band hit, and played it, and the instrumental sounded so good, and sweet, and funky that I just started singing and got it on the first take. I was lucky. It was luck and nerves. So, now we had a hot funk song right on the heels of James Brown and we knew it. We didn't think it was gonna be anything. Just a good funk song. I went to John Standberry, a big time singer in Europe...he owned the Jayville record label. He was my mentor. He was mentoring a lot of guys. helping everybody. He said, "I'm coming over." I had nowhere to play the tape, the big old studio tape I had in my possession. He took the copy to put on reel to reel and left me the master, and two hours later I got a call. He said, "Rickey, you got a hit. I gotta get the master, send it off, get the label on it..." I didn't know nothing about that stuff. He did his thing and sent it off. When it came back I was really upset. He spelled my name wrong. There was a misprint on the first 500 records. I was real upset. He said, "Don't worry, we'll do another pressing." We went to the DJ's and they started playing it. Lots of local airplay. Got some offers from like Bel Aire Records. They wanted to put me on contract, but I was too young. I stayed in school. The record had its own destiny. And that was in 1968 and until today it has changed so many times, so many mixes, like with a band out of Canada called the Soul Motivators. I did a version with Funk Knight Records. Kenny Dope did his own mix. I really love that mix. There's one from Kay Dee Record. "Tell Me" has opened up a lot of doors and it's the reason I got to London and France in 2017 and 2018 and places like Detroit and New York, and if not for that probably none of this would have happened.
HOW DID YOU GAIN SO MANY FANS IN THE UK AND THROUGHOUT EUROPE?
That's heavy. In fact, If you really wanna know the truth, I'm still having trouble dealing with that one. You got this poor guy (me) who is cleaning sidewalks in Jacksonville, Florida just to make a dime, and I get on an airplane, land in the UK, go through customs, and all of a sudden I got drivers and everyone else wanting autographs and taking pictures, at the hotel, at the show I got people guarding my dressing room and I'm like, "What the heck?" I had to pinch myself. I was just back home digging a ditch in my back yard, covered in mud. At home it's like no one respects you. Then I'm on British Airways being treated like a star. I become a different person. I'm not stuck on myself or feel I'm above anybody, but I do appreciate people stopping me in the street. Some lady stopped me in France and wanted to marry me. It's really weird and I love it. I was actually supposed to go to France this month, but some things came up and I had to tell the promoter that we're gonna come back to this. There's a big documentary coming out in the UK about Southern Soul Funk and they wanna fly me back out there for a blast if you will and I'm looking forward to that.
WHEN DID YOU PICK UP THE GUITAR?
I got my first guitar at a pawn shop because I was always intrigued by that James Brown B9 Funk. I never heard a funk groove like that. other songs use majors, and minors, but funk you have to structure your fingers another way. So I got the cheapest broken guitar in the pawn shop for ten dollars, brought it home half way tuned and didn't know how to play a thing. I went to a guitar player named Lorenzo Brazzo and asked him to teach me. He showed me like three notes and I played them over and over. I went back and showed him and he said, "Boy, you catch on fast." He said, "I'ma show you C Major, then G, then F, and those are your basic structures." You can play basically anything with those chords. So then I bought Mel Bay's Beginner's guitar book, which has every which way to do your fingers. I learned D Minor, and E Minor, and how to stay in the key of C. I self taught myself. I was listening to a lot of James Brown and beginning to play those grooves, learning by ear, playing the Temptations and everything else..."My Girl," "Losing You," "Cloud Nine," "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," and everybody's music.....so if I ever can't dance and sing, at least I can play the guitar. I'm still having fun. I pick up my famous black guitar and teach it to my grandson. He seems to be serious about it. And sometimes if I feel real good at about three or four in the morning I get up and start riffing. I grab my guitar while everybody is asleep and everybody starts waking up, getting water, going to the refrigerator. They love to see and hear me play.
Interview by ©Jacob Katel. More info available at https://henrystonemusic.com