….in the world of ‘everything old is new again,’ I am delighted to launch this (hopefully) bi-weekly blog of reflections, thoughts, insights, observations and news (not of course the fake kind) from my vantage as a champion for soul music since – would you believe – 1965 when I launched the Nina Simone Appreciation Society in the UK as a teenager… To what, you may wonder, do I refer when I start this blog with a reference to ‘old’ and ‘new’?
Well, sometime in October 1973, some six months after my 25th birthday, when I was working at Contempo, a multi-faceted enterprise in London created by music industry pioneer John Abbey that included a famed in-office record store frequented by future UK black music leading lights like Jazzie B (of Soul II Soul fame), Pete Tong, Junior Giscombe, Leee John and others; a booking agency which brought Al Green, Roberta Flack and Barry White to Britain for the first time; a record label whose roster included Ultrafunk, The Armada Orchestra, deep soul singer Doris Duke, Southern soul man Oscar Toney Jr. and Detroit hitmaker J.J. Barnes among others; and the ‘jewel in the crown’ Blues & Soul magazine, I went to John and asked if I could start writing my own regular column for the magazine, by then in its sixth year of publication. He assented and my “Take A Look Around” feature was born and appeared in issue No. 121, dated October 26, 1973!
The column morphed into “Dateline New York ” when I moved to New York in March 1975 and “Dateline USA” after I spent a particularly memorable six months in Los Angeles and moved back to the Big Apple. Eventually, my regular musings – in between interviewing the hundreds of artists, producers, songwriters and musicians I spoke with for Blues & Soul and attending more shows, launch parties and all manner of functions – became ‘American Boogie’ before I took a hiatus from my tenure as the primary U.S.-based correspondent for the magazine in 1981…
Now, here I am (to quote lyricist Hal David), forty-six years later and now what used to be a regular column is a blog, my first such endeavour at SoulMusic.com which I launched twenty years ago! It seems fitting that for starters, I reference that first Blues & Soul column during which I wrote about RCA Records’ emphasis on its expanding black music roster which at the time included Carolyn Franklin, The Hues Corporation, The Main Ingredient, Jimmy Castor, (The) New Birth, Labelle and Wilson Pickett.
But far and away the most provocative aspect of that first piece, my thoughts on…the links between sex and soul, provoked by John Abbey’s review of the then-new album by Marvin Gaye, the future-classic “Let’s Get It On.” I said – a few years before Millie Jackson made infidelity the primary focus of a series of successful albums (“Caught Up,” “Still Caught Up,” etc.) and decades before rap and hip-hop artists didn’t blush in their vivid descriptions of graphic sex – “A good deal of the lyrical content of our music does deal with sex…although more often than not it’s ‘buried’ beneath double meanings and pretty slushy words.” I added, “It’s good to see that soul music still deals with the basic themes of life, unlike so much of the other music around today which seems to simply want to escape from the realities of life…” These days, contemporary soul music offers less escape and more reality but nothing beats a good old school love song like “Precious, Precious,” a heartfelt slice of Southern soul form 1970 from the late Jackie Moore, who scored her first big hit as an Atlantic recording artist with the melodious ode…
Jackie – who passed away on November 3, 2019 – was one of a cadre of talented female singers who achieved varying degrees of success at Atlantic (think Margie Joseph, Bettye Swann, Dee Dee Warwick, Vivian Reed, Judy Clay and Bettye Lavette among others) in the ‘70s without necessarily scaling chart heights on a consistent basis. The artists themselves (and others) may offer conjure as to ‘why’ (the most popular theory being that with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack being at the label, other female artists were never going to get the same level of promotion and marketing): whatever the reasons why, the advent of technology allows us to listen to some of the amazing music they created back then even if it didn’t get the exposure it may have warranted at the time.
As a result of a compilation I created for Real Gone Music a few years ago, ‘The Complete Atlantic Recordings,’ which included a healthy number of then-previously-unreleased tracks, I got to speak with Jackie for the first time since 1979. She was thrilled to learn that her music was being ‘revisited.’
You can hear the interview and Jackie’s glorious recordings for Atlantic (including one of my personal favourites, “Both Ends Against The Middle,” co-written by the Philly soul team, The Young Professionals – Thom Bell’s brother Tony, famed industry executive LeBaron Taylor and renowned producer Phil Hurtt – and a song about being ‘played’ by a guy who likes to keep more than one lover on the run, so to speak…and is likely to get ‘caught,’ a tale that I may know more about than I’m going to disclose right now!)….
Jackie had hoped to come to Britain in the last few years but alas, it wasn’t to be due to her health. although I was thrilled to be able to let her know that she had been inducted into The SoulMusic Hall of Fame as an R&B Pioneer. Precious indeed as you can hear (just click the link)…
Well, all for now…next ‘Diary’ blog in a couple of weeks..
With respect and appreciation….
The British Ambassador Of Soul