Doris Troy: Stretchin’ Out And Gettin’ Ahead
April 1974, in person interview, London
By David Nathan
Over the years, some American recording artists have decided to make Britain their home and one of the most prominent among them is Doris Troy, who has now spent some five years here. Over that time, Doris has established a strong name for herself without having as yet achieved the chart recognition she's been working towards.
That situation may well change soon, however: Doris has a new album together on People Records, appropriately entitled "Stretchin' Out" and that's exactly what she does. It is, in many ways, a departure for the lady since the set, produced jointly by Doris with [reggae star] Dandy Livingstone, features a much-mellowed Doris on some new songs, as well as some material already familiar to many. It's a fine mixture of soul, gospel and reggae and without qualification, the best thing Doris has recorded since deciding to make this her home.
"Yeah, baby, it's a different thing for me to get into," Doris explained during s very entertaining and interesting chat we had at her West Hampstead home recently. "I figured that everyone — Marvin Gaye, Al Green, all those people were mellowing down so it was time for me to show everyone that I could do it too! Everyone's seen me get down so it was time for me to show everyone that I could do it too! Everyone's seen me get down, get into the gospel thing — you know, stomp around and all, but I want people to know that I can do other things!"
Doris revealed how she got working with Dandy. "I've been doing a lot of background work on reggae records — I did all the Jimmy Cliff hits, John Holt, a whole lot of things. Well, one day I did some work with Dandy and we kinda hit it off. So I said, 'hey, man, have you got a spare track I can try and work on?'. Well, we found a track and I just put my voice on and it sounded cute. So we took it along to B&C Records, they dug it and said go ahead with an album. Thing is, I've always had a great deal of respect for reggae and I was determined that, in this case, I'd be able to do things my way. You know, baby, I been ripped off so many times that I just had to get this album together my way. So Dandy and I got together and we cut the whole thing in about two weeks.”
She continues, "We picked the material ourselves — some of it is Dandy's own stuff, some of it is mine, and there's things that we wrote together. For instance, the title track came about when I was trying to explain to Dandy what I wanted to do — you know, stretch out, expand. I must say I'm happier with this album than with anything else I've done and I do hope it gets to the people. I think the problem with the other product was that it wasn't aimed at any particular market and not much promotion was put behind some of the things I've done here. But the company really does seem to be putting something into the album's promotion and we'll be picking out a single real soon."
Finding a single will be pretty tough because there are certainly several excellent tracks which would qualify. Particularly outstanding are "Black Star", "Reconsider Our Love", "Way Back Home" and "In My Father's House". There's an interesting story behind the last track, too. "We cut most of the album right there in the middle of a power crisis and I told Dandy that I didn't care if they cut off the power, we'd make music anyway! Well, from that, I started singing with one of the girls on an old gospel number, "In My Father's House" without any accompaniment and it sounded so good, I told 'em to press the button! Dandy added the bass voice thing on afterwards — and that's the track. A lot of people do seem to dig it, I must say!”
Doris is so pleased with the finished product that she says she'll see how it goes and probably do some more work with Dandy. "We'll just wait and see how the public reacts and from what they like, we can decide which direction to go for in the future. But the sessions for the album were so beautiful. We used West Indian musicians — some of the best — and Ian Green, Rosetta Hightower's husband, did the string arrangement. Fact, I think that's the first time I've had strings on anything I've done except "I'll Do Anything" and one or two of the Apple tracks.”
"People ask me what went wrong at Apple and I think part of the problem may have been that George Harrison was trying to experiment with soul. Look at Billy (Preston): he had to go back to the States to get a hit and now he's had two million sellers! But I must get to L.A. — everyone tells me that's really where it's at these days. The thing is I've never worked in Los Angeles or Los Vegas — I've worked most everywhere else in the States, but the country is so big that there are always places you've never been. That's why I wanna get back there — I know the time is right for me to go back and work over there. Right now, B&C are negotiating to get the album released there and if they do; I'll definitely go back for a short time."
Talking to Doris about the States and touring etc., brought us round to chatting about some of the things that had happened to her during her early years and she took time out to reminisce about how she started out: "Gee it was really exciting, you know. You wanna know about "Just One Look"? Well, baby, that was a demo! See I'd cut it with just a trio and I wrote the song with a guy named Gregory Carroll. But it was sitting there at Atlantic Records and they hadn't planned to put it out or anything. Then I was doing some backing work with Chuck Jackson — I remember, it was the session for "Tell Her I'm Not Home" — and he asked me if I'd like to go out on the road I said, well, yeah, it would be nice so I called up Atlantic and told them I was going on tour with Chuck, so put the record out in the places we were going. Sure enough, they did and every town we hit, the record was beginning to break. And you know what? They gave me billing on the tour then!”
Recalls Doris, "I remember that we had Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford on the show, too, and I ended up having the closing spot on the first half of the show. It was really something. And the follow-up and album were also things I cut almost as demos in a little ol' basement studio at 1650 Broadway. I added a few tracks at Atlantic studios, but most of it was just me and the trio!"
Doris recalled how as the local preacher's daughter, she had a bit of a hard time getting started. "I guess I was around sixteen and I decided that I should go out and get me a job. Well, being a preacher's daughter, I was supposed to keep away from popular music. The Apollo Theatre was just round the corner from me and I knew I wasn't supposed to go in but one day, I applied for a job there as an usherette. I lied about my age and I got it and honey, I knew I just wanted to get up there on stage. I saw so many famous people: Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey (she was the first one I saw there — and she really made a big impression), Sarah Vaughan, Etta James — it was a gas Well, I got together with some girl-friends and we formed a trio. Next thing, we got to appear just down the road from the theatre and everyone dropped by to see us.
"It wasn't too long after that that I cut those first sides and in between times, I worked as a back-up session vocalist with Judy Clay and Cissy Houston. I think the first thing we did was with The Drifters. Not long afterwards, Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick came across from Jersey — they were still at school, I think — and they didn't want to do anything outside of gospel but we managed to persuade them. Well, next thing, you know Burt Bacharach discoverd Dionne at a Drifters' session we were all doing! Gee, I remember, we had some great times.”
"After the records had started to happen for me at Atlantic, I did touring with a lot of 'package' shows. Back in those days, you'd have say, six to eight performers. One of the biggest featured James Brown, Ruby & The Romantics, Marvin Gaye — just imagine how much it would cost to do a big thing like that now! They still do it at The Apollo, as you know, but with the emergence of so many artists in their own right, the idea of tours with so many big names just ain't possible. We used to tour all over — including the deep South. I remember one of the first experiences I had down there: I went into a restaurant and this waitress turns to me and says, 'we don't serve no n-------' in here'. Being a New York girl (where it really doesn't happen quite like that), I said, 'But, honey,I can't see no n-------’ here!' But, believe me, it was really bad in some of those places. They had revolving stages — one side white, one side black. But, thank God, things have changed.”
Doris recalled how she'd decided to make it over here [to London]. "Well, I'd been here back in '65 and then of course, I did the James Brown show in '69. That was a great thrill and the man was a real gentleman. I decided to come over, I guess, because I liked what seemed to be happening. I remember one trip before I came to stay, I brought the tapes with me for "I'll Do Anything". How did I come to do that? Well, it was originally intended for Dee Dee Sharp but for some reason, she didn't use it so I put my voice on it for Gamble & Huff. I changed a few of the words around, too, 'cos I didn't like the way they were! Funny, that record's been out here three times now and I hear people still want it!"
So, to the future: Doris will be appearing at The Rainbow, she hopes with full orchestra as well as her regular rhythm section, The Gospel Truth. "You know, we got some new guys and they are bad! We're also getting into something else — The Cosmic Truth which will feature two of the guys — percussion, bass and me! Should really be something."
And as if to indicate that the very warm Miss Troy is stretching out in all directions, she told me about a spot of Swiss television recently where she was required to sing scat to Dvorak's Humouresque No. 7! "Man, that was really something! Sure I was worried before hand but once we got it together, it was o.k. Maybe, I'll record it, I don't know!"
Whatever the future holds for Doris, it must include recognition for some of the satisfaction and happiness she's brought to so many people with her live appearances (which are always enjoyable) and her records. Paraphrasing one of the songs on her new album, Doris Troy is poised to become a black star of the first magnitude and about time too!
DAVID NATHAN'S 2021 POSTSCRIPT:
“In 1979 and 1980, I had the opportunity to work with Doris in New York, co-writing and co-producing tracks with (then-future musical director for Whitney Houston) John Simmons and doing a session with the New York funk group Mystic Merlin. Thanks to modern technology, the recordings we did back then are now available digitally through SoulMusic Records, distributed by Warner X. Listening to them now brings back many fond memories of one of the best artists – and people – I’ve ever had the privilege to know…”
It's All In The Game (1979 recording)