Ann Peebles: Sweet and Soulful
By David Nathan
September 1974, in person interview conducted in London
SHE MAY seem what they like to call diminutive. Petite would be an apt description of the lady known as "99lbs of soul" (a name, she says, given her by her husband, Don Bryant). But don't get fooled. Her physical presence doesn't reflect the amount of soul that this young lady possesses.
Having heard everyone – particularly all those big rock stars – raving about Ann Peebles, you just might be a little sceptical. Unless, of course, you happen to have been a Peebles devotee for any length of time – and doubtless many [soul music lovers in the UK] have been familiar with Ann's work prior to 'I Can't Stand The Rain', which has undoubtedly been the turning point in a career that has spanned some six years.
But if you harbour any doubts about Ann Peebles' soulful qualities, dismiss them right now. Quite simply, she is superb and if you checked out her live shows during her all-too-brief trip to the U.K. (the first of many, we hope), you don't need anyone to tell you.
But not only is she one of the finest female vocalists around today, she is certainly one of the sweetest. She is quiet, almost shy and she seems to accept her success with a mixture of humility and reserve. Not, you might think, the kind of "big time" attitude of which so-called superstars are supposedly made. But then, any true superstar has no need of all that kind of stuff. And Ann Peebles is a super star and a super talent, make no mistake.
Initial reaction to Ann's opening gig at Biba's Rainbow Room [in South Kensington] (for the uninititated, a somewhat pretentious spot which just reeks of pompous self-indulgence – hardly what you might call a soulful venue) was of disappointement. Somehow, the whole show didn't gell and a lot of people came away judging the young lady somewhat unfairly. But consider the facts.
Ann had only two rehearsals with her backing band and was facing a particularly tough audience (which included several 'big' names and a large press contingent) and was performing but 24 hours after arriving here for the first time. Undoubtedly, she was very nervous and it showed.
Although that first show had its highpoints, the real talent and ability which is so obviously part and parcel of what Ann Peebles is all about came a week later when she appeared at the 100 Club in London. To a capacity audience, who were with her every step of the way, Ann gave a definition of soul as she went through many of the songs from her “I Can't Stand The Rain” album which have established her in the top line of soul sisters over the last year or so.
The slow beauty of 'A Love Vibration' or the rockin' 'Run, Run, Run' – whatever she touched created a feeling which obviously made its impact on everyone in her presence.
Ann hardly needed to persuade her audience to join in with her as she stomped through her own finale 'Reach Out And Touch Somebody's Hand' (not the Diana Ross song) and if it were possible, Ann could have sung and sung all night long for that audience because they really loved her.
So what of this young lady who can send a chill up your spine and whose name invokes cries of praise and enthusiasm from nearly every one of her musical colleagues?
"I feel my time is here now. And it's been a long time coming you'd better believe! It's been six years of terrible downs and thrilling ups – I've had my share of disappointments and problems. But I feel that it's all helped me to cope with what's happening now.
"'I Can't Stand The Rain' has obviously been the most exciting thing to have happened and of course, I'm very happy and very proud because I had something to do with writing it as well. Yes, I remember when we first realised how big the record was gonna be. I was in the studios at the time, recording the album and Willie (Mitchell) came in and showed me the chart. I just jumped right up in the air – I was so happy!"
Ann's background is definitely strongly rooted in gospel – she's one of eleven children who form the Peebles' family choir, directed by Ann's father whom she cites as the main influence of her vocal training.
"Yes, we are a very together family. Together in the sense that whenever I get the chance to get down to see them in St. Louis, I do. And whenever I'm home in Memphis, they get to see me if they can. And you know, whenever I'm with them, I still sing along with the choir. In fact, even when I'm on the road, I'll take time – or should I say make time – to go out to church if I can.
"Why? Because it's part of me, part of the way I was brought up and I think that whatever you do, you can't forget what went on before – what's a part of you. And in this business, you have to believe in something."
Obviously, the going hasn't been all easy. "I've never once felt like quitting because when I first got into the business, I realised that I would have to dedicate my life to it if I wanted to succeed. And I'm glad for all the struggles I've had because it's helped me now. I don't think overnight success is good for anyone."
But why is it that a good proportion of Ann's songs tend to portray the sadder aspect of life and love? "Well, I guess it's just how I feel things. But I wouldn't say I was basically a sad person. Sure, there was a time when I was – everyone goes through that at some time or another. You know, a time when you're looking for something, for someone.
"But I think people are accepting some of my songs because they deal with real situations – things that actually happen. And a lot of the ones I write are based on events and situations which people tell me about. Some are, of course, personal things. Like 'Until You Came Into My Life' – which is my favourite song from the “I Can't Stand The Rain” album. I wrote that when I first got together with my husband, Don. It reflected exactly how I felt at the time and I hope that feeling came over."
Ann says she's written quite a number of new songs over the last few months together with Don. "Sometimes I get the idea for a song whilst I'm asleep. I might be dreaming when something will cross my mind and I'll get up there and then. It might be five o'clock in the morning, but I'll still get up and go down to the piano. I have to do that so that I won't lose the idea!
"Sometimes, Don comes up with the idea for a song first – sometimes I do. It all depends – we've got no set way for writing. Don wrote most of a song that Otis Clay recorded on the back of his latest record – a song called 'Jealousy' – I added my little bit, but he wrote most of it."
The couple have been busy on songs for Ann's latest album which she says should be out at the beginning of next year. "We've written about seven out of ten tracks we've done so far. I've added vocals to about five or them – I'll be doing the rest when I get home.
"So far we haven't got a title for the album but we've got a new single out in the States now. It's called 'Put Yourself In My Place' and it's written by Earl Randle, the guy who wrote 'I'm Gonna Tear your Playhouse Down'. A lot of people seem to think that if we'd had 'Playhouse' out after 'Rain', it might have been an even bigger smash because the whole idea was so different. Still, we're all hoping that the new single will be a big one – everyone seems to think so.
"Oh, yeah, I wrote the flip, with Don. It's called 'Can't Believe He's Gone' and it's a real slow song. It's about a guy that's died and the woman still does everything expecting him to come in for his meals and so on. She just can't believe that he isn't coming back anymore. It should definitely be on the next album."
There has been some speculation about Ann doing a duet album with Al Green but she says that "nothing definite has been set at present". A lot of people still insist on referring to Ann as "the female Al Green" and she says, quite rightly, that she does resent it.
"No, I don't think that's a fair description. Sure, we use the same producer and the same studios. But our styles are completely different, don't you think?" Anyone with any kind of sense will see that although there are obviously some similarities between the two arists' recordings, it really is all down to that famous "Hi" sound and vocally, there really is hardly any comparison.
The future for Ann looks decidedly bright. She has an African tour planned for early next year and now that she's finally made it over the U.K. (and met tremendous response), she is definitely planning to make it back next year. Meanwhile, she'll be working on her new single and completing the new album.
"Yes, I like recording because it gives me the chance to try things – experiment with different vocal techniques etc. I can't really do that on stage you know. It's like that end phrase on 'I Can't Stand The Rain'. We only got that after we'd fooled around with the song for a bit.
"But I love working live as well. I always have to feel a song when I sing it – I won't sing any song which I can't feel – and there have been times, sure, when I got really carried away! But I love it – and I must say the audiences here have been just great – better than I could have ever expected."
"I used to be 99 lbs but I lost a bit of weight, went down to about 97 lbs. But I've put on some weight now!" 99, 102 or whatever, you can be sure Ann Peebles is a whole lotta soul!
THE STORY BEHIND 'I CAN'T STAND THE RAIN'...
ANN PEEBLES 1974 TELEVISION APPEARANCE...