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Southern Soul-Blues

Southern Soul-Blues

David Whiteis
Foreword by Denise LaSalle
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Southern Soul-Blues
    Book Description:

    Attracting passionate fans primarily among African American listeners in the South, southern soul draws on such diverse influences as the blues, 1960s-era deep soul, contemporary R & B, neosoul, rap, hip-hop, and gospel. Aggressively danceable, lyrically evocative, and fervidly emotional, southern soul songs often portray unabashedly carnal themes, and audiences delight in the performer-audience interaction and communal solidarity at live performances. Examining the history and development of southern soul from its modern roots in the 1960s and 1970s, David Whiteis highlights some of southern soul's most popular and important entertainers and provides first-hand accounts from the clubs, show lounges, festivals, and other local venues where these performers work. Profiles of veteran artists such as Denise LaSalle, the late J. Blackfoot, Latimore, and Bobby Rush--as well as contemporary artists T. K. Soul, Ms. Jody, Sweet Angel, Willie Clayton, and Sir Charles Jones--touch on issues of faith and sensuality, artistic identity and stereotyping, trickster antics, and future directions of the genre. These revealing discussions, drawing on extensive new interviews, also acknowledge the challenges of striving for mainstream popularity while still retaining the cultural and regional identity of the music and of maintaining artistic ownership and control in the age of digital dissemination.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09477-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword: “America’s Prodigal Son”
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Denise LaSalle

    I was born in the United States of America, a product of slavery in the Deep South. My mother’s name is Heartache; my father’s name is Pain.

    I was a sad and lonely child. My only sister, Gospel, was very religious and thought she was better than I. So, we traveled in different circles.

    Early in my youth my parents found that I had a split personality. I was sad most of the time. But there were times when I would have such an overpowering feeling of happiness that I would have to shout it to the world.

    In spite...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: “It’s a Southern Soul Party”
    (pp. 1-12)

    When “Down Home Blues,” Z. Z. Hill’s grits-and-potlikker ode to roots, music, and good times, hit the airwaves in late 1981,¹ it sounded to a lot of blues fans like a call from the Promised Land. Here, arising like an avenging spirit of blues righteousness from amid the mechanized pounding of disco and early rap, was the Real Thing: a voice that sounded equal parts gravel and swamp muck exhorting everyone to “take off those fast records and let me hear some down-home blues” as a fatback guitar chorded and snaked through the mix, a fallen-angel gospel choir added inspirational...

  6. Part I. Deep Blues, Deep Soul, and Beyond: The Roots and Development of Southern Soul-Blues
    (pp. 13-26)

    The precise genesis of the term soul music is somewhat difficult to delineate, but soul, as a secular expression, arose in the mid-twentieth century to symbolize the identity movement that came to life during the postwar years and eventually transformed African American cultural politics. Early on, at least, the concept of “soul” embraced a heritage that had been shaped by history and values of which the blues were an integral part.

    “Man, colored people must be somethin’ else,” author Claude Brown remembered hearing young Harlemites say in the early 1950s. “All those years, man, we was down on the plantation...

  7. Part II. “Party Like Back in the Day”:: Soul Survivors

    • 1 Latimore: “I Capture the Feeling”
      (pp. 29-47)

      Benny Latimore reigns as the Sweet-Loving Philosopher King of Southern Soul.¹ Whether he’s preaching transcendence through sexual ecstasy (“Take Me to the Mountaintop”), spinning out parables that equate conjugal devotion with spiritual enlightenment, if not salvation itself (“Dig a Little Deeper”), extolling the redemptive power of free love (“It Ain’t Where You Been”), or even playfully mocking his own aging-roué persona (“I’m an Old Dog”), his aphoristic meld of romantic fervor, life lessons, and self-deprecating irony continues to melt hearts and elicit screams, no matter how predictable his set lists may become, no matter how tirelessly he keeps his show...

    • 2 Denise LaSalle: Still the Queen
      (pp. 48-66)

      “I had a problem when it come time to become an artist,” Denise LaSalle reflects as she relaxes over coffee in the spacious kitchen of her ranch-style home in Jackson, Tennessee. “I had to fight with Satan on that one.”

      The year, she remembers, was 1963,¹ and Chicago was emerging once again as a hotbed of black pop music. The Delta-tinged blues of the 1950s had faded in popularity, but a new, more upbeat, youth-oriented sound was rising. Nurtured in the church tradition of rich vocal harmonies but usually conveying a less fervid emotionalism than most gospel, it was a...

    • 3 J. Blackfoot: “Don’t Give Up—Tighten Up!”
      (pp. 67-86)

      “That’s what makes me mad!”

      J. Blackfoot’s emery-board rasp sounds even more corrosive and forceful than usual as he revisits the theme he’d broached in that 1978 interview: his ability to win over a crowd and wreck a house.¹ Now, though, more than thirty years later, the topic seems to upset more than inspire him:

      Man, here these people love me like this, and here’s these disc jockeys, they halfway don’t want to play your record. Listen to my albums—nothing but hits in those albums. All I want ’em to do is play my stuff. But I ain’t gonna...

    • 4 Bobby Rush: Behind the Trickster’s Mask
      (pp. 87-106)

      One of the most widely occurring characters in the folklores of the world is the trickster. A deity or demigod who usually (but not always) takes a male form, he’s a complex and often-misunderstood figure who acts as both challenger and guardian of a society’s most sacred values. He presides over festivals and carnivals as Lord of Misrule, symbolizing a temporary freedom from everyday moral and ethical constraints. On the other hand, as the tale of Eleggua demonstrates, he may simply wreak havoc for the sheer joy of doing so and thus must be appeased through prayer, ritual, and song....

  8. Part III. “Now Playing Love Games”:: Voices from the New Generation

    • 5 Willie Clayton: Last Man Standing
      (pp. 109-124)

      “I ain’t tellin’ you what I think; I’m tellin’ you what I know.”

      When Willie Clayton wraps his honey-and-molasses croon around a ballad like “Simply Beautiful” or “I Love Me Some You,” he can melt hearts in the most cavernous auditorium or civic center. Right now, though, he’s in preaching mode.¹ Fired by the same determination to stake his claim—and, above all, to win—that has propelled him through the years from a restless small-town Mississippi childhood through the vicissitudes of midlevel R & B semiobscurity into the forefront of contemporary soul-blues stardom, he tightens his voice into a hoarse...

    • 6 Sweet Angel: Lessons in Life
      (pp. 125-142)

      September 26, 2009: Sweet Angel is hosting a combined birthday party for herself and her husband, Mike Dobbins, at the Whitehaven Celebration Complex on Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, Tennessee. The wall behind her on stage is draped with silver tinsel; as she sings and banters with her audience she strides, gyrates, and shimmies back and forth across the stage, her legs ample and sexy in full-length fishnet stockings. Lithe, occasionally provocative, and almost constantly in motion, she radiates sensuality like a diva in the great blues and soul tradition, updated for a more explicit age.

      Thus far she’s led...

    • 7 Sir Charles Jones: “Is There Anybody Lonely?”
      (pp. 143-161)

      The houselights have been dimmed at the Lufkin Civic Center in Lufkin, Texas, and people are surging forward from their tables for the appearance of tonight’s headliner, Sir Charles Jones. On stage, backlit by the reflection from massive red, white, and blue Budweiser and Bud Light signs, Sir Charles’s band has segued from a tension-building, suspended chord into a swaying ballad groove. Now bassist Greg King, tall and easy-moving, his bald head shining under the lights, steps to the microphone: “You all ready?” he roars. “If you’re ready, say yeah!” The enthusiasm surges through the crowd as King continues: “Lufkin,...

    • 8 Ms. Jody: “Just a Little Bit Won’t Get It”
      (pp. 162-178)

      It’s mid-August 2009, and a crowd of soul-blues lovers has packed the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Mississippi, a few miles outside of Memphis, Tennessee, for the Seventh Annual Tri-State Blues Festival. Ms. Jody, one of the fastest-rising stars on the circuit despite her newcomer status (her debut CD, You’re My Angel, came out on Ecko in 2006, and when it was released she hadn’t even done her first show yet), is on the bill along with veterans like J. Blackfoot, Shirley Brown, Marvin Sease, Bobby Rush, and Sir Charles Jones. It’s a pretty packed lineup—at least eight acts...

    • Postscript: The “Raunch” Debate: Hoochification or Sexual Healing?
      (pp. 179-196)

      Spend even a little time in the soul-blues world, and you’re likely to find yourself in the middle of conversations, if not arguments, about the current proliferation of graphic lyrics and stage turns in the music. Songs like Sweet Angel’s “The Tongue Don’t Need No Viagra” and the various “cat”/ “dog” ditties in recent years, as well as more explicit outings like Ms. Jody’s “Lick if You Can’t Stick” and L. J. Echols’ 2009 “From the Back” (“Do you want me to get it from the back . . . do you want me to lay up in it from...

  9. Part IV. The Crossroad and Further On:: Where Do We Go from Here?

    • Introduction: Too Late to Stop Now
      (pp. 199-203)

      It’s been over three decades since “Down Home Blues” kicked off the modern soul-blues renaissance. Since then, the music has succeeded to the extent that it has on a unique fusion of hipness and anomaly. While drawing on decades of soul and blues tradition, its producers and artists have also attempted to mainstream their sound by incorporating stylistic and technological features borrowed from contemporary R & B. These days, even when it’s extolling “down-home” virtues like slow-paced living and small-town friendliness, southern soul-blues usually employs cadences and vernacular that bespeak a modernist sensibility.

      At the same time, though, seemingly in the...

    • 9 Blues with a Feeling: Writing Songs for the Market and the Heart
      (pp. 204-213)

      “Go back to that little change, George . . . let me put the solo in here. . . . Play it where you did two bars, right there where you [played] ‘di-di-di-di. . . . ’ Okay, hold it, I got you now, I see where you’re going there. Okay . . . is it right? It’s a two-flat, major seventh. . . . Yeah, that’ll probably be the guitar—let that part be the guitar. . . . Let’s see if I got it, George. . . . Take it from the solo.”¹

      It’s a quiet afternoon at...

    • 10 Music and the Marketplace: Getting Heard, Getting Known, and Staying on Top of the Game
      (pp. 214-231)

      The paradox is undeniable: despite their almost universal belief in southern soul’s potential, even its strongest advocates will recite a list of problems so daunting—diminishing media exposure, plunging CD sales, uncertain quality control at some labels and from certain producers, and an aging fan base, to name just a few—that after a while, simply thinking about the future can feel like an exercise in blues forbearance. Even as megaevents like the Blues Is Alright tour, as well as smaller regional showcases featuring many of the same artists, continue to sell out auditoriums and civic centers in the South...

    • 11 Evolution: A Look toward the Future
      (pp. 232-248)

      Media exposure, CD sales, and revolutions in communications and marketing aren’t the only challenges facing southern soul-blues. Despite the encouraging signs noted by Larry Chambers, Stan Mosley, and others, the music is also contending with aesthetic and cultural constraints that involve not just geography (“that ’Bama music”) and style, but audience as well. The blues, unlike rock and roll (and, at least since the mid-1970s, unlike a lot of mainstream R & B and certainly unlike most rap), has historically been characterized by an adult sensibility.

      Back when the blues was first developing, there was no such thing as “adolescence,” especially...

  10. Part V. Soul Stew Revisited

    • 12 Leading Lights
      (pp. 251-264)

      When discussing singers and musicians, it’s always risky to apply terms such as major; the relative importance of a given artist may have as much to do with the evaluator’s tastes as with any objective standards. Nonetheless, for this section I have selected artists (several from earlier eras) whom I consider especially significant in terms of their influence on the development and ongoing viability of southern soul-blues. Obviously, commercial success is part, but not all, of the consideration. Most of the individuals profiled here have been among the genre’s most successful recording artists (whether in the southern soul market or...

    • 13 Soul Serenade
      (pp. 265-276)

      It’s impossible to avoid a certain arbitrariness when compiling a lineup like this. For this reason, the reader should take these listings in the same spirit as he or she might take a label’s sampler CD: as a taste, hopefully a tantalizing one, of the pleasures awaiting anyone exploring the southern soul-blues world for the first time as well as an affirmation of how rich the lode of talent is in this still underrecognized musical genre.

      Mississippi-based Vick Allen first made his name in gospel with the Canton Spirituals. Since the early 2000s, he has slowly cultivated his reputation in...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 277-290)
  12. References
    (pp. 291-296)
  13. Index
    (pp. 297-318)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-328)