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Deep Soul

By Dave Godin

Originally published in Mojo, December 2000

He's helped turn on a new generation of fans to previously neglected soul stirrers. Now Dave Godin selects 20 of his favourite Deep Soul singers, exclusively for MOJO.

SELECTING 20 FAVOURITE SOUL singers is no easy task. One problem is that the vicissitudes of the recording industry often result in immensely talented artists only ever producing a handful of hard-to-find records, while the mediocre somehow seem to be everywhere and go on for ever. Another problem is the huge wealth of talent that exists in the field of Black American soul music. Such talent is not necessarily innate, but when it is highly prized within a culture even a modest ability is encouraged to blossom from a very early age. Furthermore, looks - especially in soul's earlier days - were not considered such an essential ingredient as they are now; and individual, identifiable vocal sound was much more highly pursued.

In the end I've always reckoned that my own inability to sing a note is an invaluable prerequisite in choosing great soul voices - because deep down inside you hear a great vocal delivery and think, "God, I wish I could sing like that." In my book, the following are the soul brothers and sisters who not only cut it, but slice, chop and sometimes mash it with relish too.

Bessie Banks

The original 'Go Now' girl, Bessie Banks possesses a voice of irresistible sensuality. Because of her remarkable vocal range, she was, despite her gender, a some-time member of The Four Fellows, who had one release on the West Coast Derby label. It was in this group that she met Larry Banks who wrote the classic 'Go Now' specifically to launch her as a solo artist. Lack of airplay, and a blue-eyed cover version (by The Moody Blues), denied them this success. Although she has only ever had a dozen sides issued, she remains a brilliant soul interpreter who always brings a depth of character to her work. Born Bessie White in North Carolina and raised in Brooklyn, she now makes her home on Staten Island, singing gospel on a regular basis.

Recommended: No single CD of her work exists, but she has tracks on Deep Soul Treasures Taken From The Vaults Volumes 1, 2 and 3 (Kent CDKEND 143/158/200)

Maxine Brown

One of soul music's most enduring icons, Maxine Brown had such an enormous hit with 'All In My Mind' in the States (in 1961), that it has tended to eclipse her subsequent work. Grounded firmly in the gospel idiom, having served an apprenticeship as a member of The Manhattans and The Royaltones, she is firmly in the genre of '60s soul women (rather than girls). Brown also teamed up with veteran soulster Chuck Jackson when there was a vogue for boy-girl duos, but she continues to this day delighting audiences who weren't even born when she first started on the ladder of soul fame. A remarkable, dynamic talent.

Recommended: Spotlight On... / Greatest Hits (Kent CDKEND 187)

Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke brought gospel idioms into a much wider consciousness - and just happened to have one of the sweetest and most dynamic voices going. I met Sam when he was over here touring with Little Richard and Billy Preston years ago, and, when I am often asked who is the nicest performer I have ever interviewed, I always name him. His tragic loss left a permanent, and aching, gap that has never quite been filled.

Recommended: The Man And His Music (RCA PD87127)

Eddie & Ernie

Edgar Campbell and Ernest Johnson have to be the kings of close harmony Deep Soul. Career-wise, however, it's been another matter, with only one 1965 entry in the US R&B charts. Moving through a variety of labels, they re-branded themselves as The New Breed and Phoenix Express. Of the less than four dozen sides they cut, many still remain unissued. Their present whereabouts are not known, and all sorts of wild rumours circulate about their fate. Quite rightly, a CD tribute devoted entirely to their work is in the pipeline, but, in the meantime, you can check out their artistry through tracks on the following albums.

Recommended: Deep Soul Treasures Taken From The Vaults Volumes 1, 2 and 3, as before.

The Five Stairsteps

When the Burke family launched themselves as a group, a wealth of pure soul talent came into orbit. Based in Chicago, they consisted of Clarence Jr, James, Aloha (their only female member), Kenneth (aka Keni) and Dennis. Eventually when there was a fad for kiddie vocalists, they supplemented their line-up with five-year-old Cubie (who has since become a ballet dancer). Produced by Curtis Mayfield, and initially signed to the Windy C label, they performed a softer kind of soul: dreamy, sensitive and melodic. Eventually moving to Buddah and Mayfield's own Curtom label, they chalked up over a dozen chart entries before various members left and they rebranded themselves The Stairsteps. It was under this name that they signed to George Harrison's Dark Horse label, and in Second Resurrection produced one of the best, most underrated albums of the mid-'70s. Their work on Windy C and Buddah is well represented on CD, but you will have to search long and hard to find a copy of their Dark Horse album.

Recommended: Step By Step By Stairsteps (Sequel NEM CD 696)

The Incredibles

This well-named quartet may have only had a handful of hits for the Audio Arts label, but every one is real soul magic. Hailing from Los Angeles, they consisted of Cal Wayman, Carl Gilbert, Jean Smith and Alda Denise Edwards, who had previously been a member of The Vi-Dels. Their output was small but outstandingly good and I wish they were still around.

Recommended: Deep Soul Treasures Taken From The Vaults Volume 1 as before.

The Isley Brothers

The Isley first hit Britain with the incredible 'Shout' at a time when nearly every quality American song was covered by a frail British artist. Their fabulous cover of The Top Notes' 'Twist And Shout' totally transformed a lacklustre original and then a rich spell at Mototwn, on the Tamla label, found on ardent following on Britain's Northern soul circuit. When they established their own T-Neck label, they clocked up an amazing 47 entries into the US R&B chart with 32 of these crossing over into the pop chart. Then, if that weren't enough, they moved to Warners and came up with records of the calibre of 'Colder Are My Nights'. True soul survivors.

Recommended: Greatest Hits (Motown 530053-2)

The Knight Brothers

A little-known Washington DC pair, Richard Dunbar and Jimmy Diggs, had one hit with their glorious 'Temptation 'Bout To Get Me' on Checker, and made others which deserve being saluted for their talent and artistry. Too bad that not enough people appreciated it.

Recommended: Deep Soul Treasures Taken From The Vaults Volume 1 as before.

Bettye Lavette

Now here is a singer to be reckoned with. One of the gutsiest and most poignant signers on the circuit, Bettye slayed us all with her Calla outing, 'Let me Down Easy', and never gave up. Beginning her career with the Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford Revue (the latter actually wrote 'Let Me Down Easy'), she has clocked up six American chart entries, and has even appeared in such Broadway musicals as Bubbling Brown Sugar. As delicate as they come, she can also pack a punch that just knocks you out.

Recommended: Bluesoul Belles (Westside WESM 5459) Souvenirs (Art & Soul 851012)

Barbara Lynn

Once upon a time singers had voices - as unique and identifiable as a thumb print. Ever since her very first record - 'You'll Lose A Good Thing' in 1962 - Barbara Lynn has remained an exciting mixture of tenderness and no-nonsense down-to-earth soul. Still singing, she turned in a splendid performance last year on her first ever visit to the UK.

Recommended:The Best of Barbara Lynn - The Atlantic Years (Ichiban SCL 2505-2), Barbara Lynn - The Crazy Cajun Recordings (Edsel EDCD 586)

Toussaint McCall

An amazing vocalist and keyboard player, as well as a brilliant song-writer, Toussaint McCall hit the big time with 1967's 'Nothing Takes The Place Of You', left one seminal album and some fine singles, and then returned to teaching. He was coaxed back by John Waters to make a brief appearance in the 1988 film Hairspray, but according to Ruth Brown - who also appeared in the movie - he had decided early on that a musical career was not for him. Hard to believe when we're brainwashed to believe that success and fame are the highest accolades life can offer. Music's loss is his students' gain.

Recommended:Nothing Takes The Place Of You (Westside WESA 870)

Garnet Mimms

Now sadly lost to the world of secular music (religion does strange things to people), Garnet Mimms was, for a spell, the major exponent of Deep Soul, backed by the multi-talented Enchanters and working alongside such back-room luminaries as Bert Berns, Jerry Ragavoy and Garry Sherman. A voice of true power and emancipation.

Recommended: Cry Baby / Warm & Soulful (BGO CD 268)

Tony Owens

Here's someone you've probably not heard of. Working in New Orleans, he had a minor breakthrough into the big time in 1971 with 'Confessin' A Feeling' (Cotillion). 'This Heart Can't Take No More' on Soul Sounds - which had its day on the Northern soul circuit - is one of those manic movers that has no equivalent outside the USA. His Deep Soul artistry was further displayed to stunning effect with 'I Don't Want Nobody But My Baby' - picked up for release by Buddah. Still active, his recorded work is only represented on CD by the Buddah track. Further releases are in the pipeline.

Recommended: Deep Soul Treasures Taken From The Vaults Volume 2 as before.

Carla Thomas

A voice so poignant, so moving, that even on an uptempo number, (such as her wonderful duet with Otis Redding, 'Ooh Otis, Ooh Carla'), she still has an emotional power that cuts like a knife. Like all great Deep Soul singers, she knows where the stress and the accents must fall and can wring every last drop of pathos from a song, running all that hurt away. One of the true queens of soul music.

Recommended: Comfort Me (Stax SCD 706-2)

Irma Thomas

And here's another. Irma Thomas manages to combine earthiness with high sophistication, a delicious recipe that produced her stunning 'Wish Someone Would Care' and 'Anyone Who Knows What Love Is'. Married at the age of 12 (quite legal at that time in Louisiana), she has survived numerous showbiz ups and downs and remains a bright star in the galaxy of soul divas.

Recommended: Time Is On My Side (Kent CDKEND 010)

Doris Troy

Although she now works mainly in the gospel field, I fell in love with Doris Troy when 'Just One Look' was first issued, and it was (metaphorically, at least) consummated with 'I'll Do Anything (He Wants Me To)', which appeared on the Calla label. (Poor Nate Calla, the label's owner, ended up murdered with a bullet in his head - which shows that the 'industry of human happiness' also has its horrors to contend with). Greatly admired by The Beatles, Doris has worked continuously throughout her career, even if the records have not been frequent, or entirely worthy of her great talent. She had a worldwide smash after adapting her own life story into a musical, Mama, I Want To Sing, and is still a huge draw in Las Vegas.

Recommended: The Best Of Doris Troy (Ichiban 2504-2, US Import)

Dee Dee Warwick

Forever living in the shadow of her older sister Dionne, Dee Dee (as Dionne is the first to admit) is actually the more accomplished singer. But, as if having a sibling who became famous first wasn't enough, Dee Dee seemed jinxed by having all her greatest recordings covered by other artists and, what is worse, they got the hits! A much in-demand backing vocalist, she has an ardent underground following, but it's a crying shame that luck never smiled on her more. Unfortunately, no one has seen fit to reissue her great Mercury recordings on CD, but, perhaps this tribute will stir somebody in that direction. However, the ATCO sessions are every bit as stunning.

Recommended: Dee Dee Warwick - The Atco Sessions (Ichiban SCL2111-2, US Import)

Mary Wells

Once dubbed The Girl Goddess Of R&B Fans (before the word soul fell into popular usage), Mary Wells - despite being just a footnote in Berry Gordy's biography - was way up there long before Diana Ross had started plotting to seize here throne. She was, at the beginning, the biggest star at Motown and, under the guidance of Smokey Robinson, made some superb recordings, unusual and adventurous in their musical structure. 'Two Lovers' remains one of my all-time favourites, as does 'The Doctor', which she made after she'd left Motown and bad luck started to dog her. She ended up flat broke, her children taken into care, and with cancer of the throat which eventually killed her.

Recommended: The Complete Jubilee Sessions (Sequel NEX CD 257) My Guy (Motown WD2730)

Jerry Williams aka Swamp Dogg

The long and illustrious career of multi-talented Jerry Williams started way back in the days when he, like many others, added 'Little' to his name; but there was nothing small about his vocals or songwriting talent. Joining up with Calla Records he cut two absolute classics in 'Baby, You're My Everything' and 'If I Ask You', the latter going on to become one of the classic hits on the Northern soul scene. Subsequently working as producer and arranger, he collaborated with The Sandpebbles when they turned into C & The shells, as well as cutting breathtakingly brilliant albums with Irma Thomas and Doris Duke's incredible I'm A Loser (my all-time favourite album). He also made a sterling anti-war record with Charlie Whitehead and, in 1971, transmogrified himself into Swamp Dogg - rebel, loverman, rationalist and social commentator. Yes, Jerry Williams and Swamp Dogg - that man is two of my favourite people.

Recommended: Little Jerry Williams Anthology (1954-1969) (SDEG 1942, US Import)

Charlie Whitehead

As mentioned above, Charlie Whitehead worked alongside Jerry Williams for some time, and not only cut the blistering anti-Vietnam war Songs To Sing (using the pseudonuym of Raw Spitt), but a very fine album under his own name. A compelling voice that can leave much better known names standing, through lack of lucky breaks he's faded back into the shadows of Brooklyn. Again, no single CD of his work exists, but tracks are included on various compilations.

Recommended: When A Man Cries (Kent CDKEND 176), Deep Soul Treasures Taken From The Vaults Volume 1 as before.

© Dave Godin , 2000

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Guest Stuart T

I don't suppose anyone recalls an excellent article either by Dave Godin or Rod Dearlove in Q Magazine (possibly) from the mid nineties with a deep soul top 20 and write up? Any clues as to the date or issue details gratefully received (I chucked it away by mistake years ago and have never been able to find it again).



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Interesting that he ommitted Bettye Swann - 'Make me Yours' was said to be his all-time top record. Mind you there is so much quality to choose from, ain't there?

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