...what is (and isn't) soul?...
Look at the image above. No-one will argue the toss as to whether Otis Redding is a Soul Singer or not. If you think he isn't, then you need to go see the doctor. In the U.S., Soul Singers, in my opinion, are downtrodden....and downtrodden from a great height. Their work is often stolen or copied, many times without any reparation. In the U.K. and Europe, Soul fans spend endless hours arguing whether the label is the correct one, whether the artist has 'sold out', whether it is worth dancing to a tune in case another Soul fan will jump on us and claim that we have no Soul at all. I received a couple of e-mail messages from a woman in the U.S. recently. I didn't want to lose these exchanges, so I asked her if she would mind if I posted them as part of the debate. They are relevant as they illustrate what a rocky road the Black person in the States has travelled along. Below are some exchanges that I thought would illustrate why we need to close ranks and not be so self destructing.
O.K. To begin with, my friend signed the guestbook at the site...twice! First time round, I must confess, I couldn't understand the initial message, after the second, all became clear, so here goes. The follow-on article here is a posting that I placed at the Modern Soul Group, an excellent debating 'Soul Chamber' on the Internet. Various folks had been 'chewing the cud' regarding one thing or another. First off is the initial contact:
You responded so quickly! No, Toby. I'm not in the business. I am probably exactly like you. I just love music. All types, from a string concerto by Vivaldi to Grover Washington's jazzy riffs to the late, great Marvin Gaye and the queen of vocal stylings, Ms.Mavis Staples.
I grew up in Motown during the hey day of Berry Gordy and the whole Hitsville times. An uncle was and is still Berry's best friend so I got to meet a lot of the Motown acts. They were always around. Just normal people who happened to sing for a living. One of the temptations lived across the street, David Ruffin and one of the Four Tops lived behind us. A few blocks over was Stevie Wonder and his families house. He'd come out sometimes and sit on his steps with his brother.
Another uncle owned a very famous club in Detroit called "Ben (Crosby's) High Chaparral." It was one of the main venues for Black acts in those days. Because I was only 9 years old I couldn't go in to the club at night but the music was such a drug for me that I and another cousin would crawl in through a small unlocked window and watch the acts rehearse. One of my favorites was Carolyn Franklin, Aretha's sister. Aretha would be there too...singing, but Carolyn would be singing background and just blowing the roof off the place. Rev. C.L. Franklin wanted Aretha to be the singer in the family so Carolyn was relegated to background shadows.
We got to see Smokey with the Miracles and Claudette. Because Smokey is a good friend of my uncles I got to hang out with him as an adult. He is the coolest guy.
Simply put, I love music and for some reason I have had the benefit of being in the right place at the right time and have gotten to meet a great deal of the great singers of our times. Singing is a dying art...playing real instruments is a rarity. Most artists nowadays are enhanced via computers. Voices courtesy of a keyboard and I don't mean piano!
I would be more than happy to lend you as much of my grey matter as you need in your website. I think you're doing a good thing for those who would otherwise be shelved in obscurity. I still have hundreds upon hundreds of vinyl and at least that many more CD's. I even have 45's the old doo wop, standing on the corner, get your woman pregnant music!! (smile)
What you did for Tashan is great. It takes a giving spirit and a pure heart to give a dream to someone not in your gene pool. That was really special.'
'Thanks for the e-mail.
What can I say other than this 'brotha of another color' is now a 'brotha of yet another color'! Green! LOL. I would love to meet some of those artists.
Smokey released an album called 'Intimate' a couple of years back. In my humble opinion, a song on that album called 'Easy To Love' is one of his finest songs...ever! Bob Dylan was right when he described him as one of our greatest living poets. His voice is still one of the wonders of the modern world. Same as Stevie. Clarence Paul described Stevie to Berry as the 'Eighth Wonder Of The World' and that was where the 'Wonder' surname came from. If you have a spare quarter of an hour, check Clarence's page at the site. His daughter, Alexis, interviewed him a decade or so ago. She sent me a cassette of that, which I put onto CDR for her and mailed it back. That interview is on Clarence's page. Very interesting insight that, I am sure you will find fascinating. Clarence passed in '96.
Carolyn Franklin? I have some of her material here. As you said, a great and underrated singer.
As I was born in '56, I only really began collecting at the end of the Sixties. At this point there are 7,500 albums here. Drives my wife up the wall, although I keep telling her they make for good soundproofing!! She is into the Jones Girls and Teena Marie. Not a bad choice for a wife, eh? She is a great woman who puts up with a great deal from this cranky old man!! LOL.
Recently, I have been in touch with David Ruffin's widow, Genna. She is, currently, hosting a website dedicated to her late husband. I sent her a copy of a compilation of his work, I put together for myself, some time back. Been archiving my vinyl onto CD, recently. Vinyl has it's own sound, CD another. Vinyl onto CD has another take on things.
Tashan & Charles Waring
Soulwalking is a funny place really. It seems (almost) like a magnet to many artists who have been terribly ignored. If I can help these folks in any way, I will. When I met with Tashan we had a ball. He came here, my wife cooked for him, and we ate together. He told me about his family and signed some records (I am big fan of his). I took him to a very good friends recording studio, where I became the teaboy (LOL) and he sang his heart out. He has a brilliant voice. Took him on the London Eye (a big ferris wheel by the Thames here in London), along with a brilliant writer, who reviews for Blues and Soul magazine. He is called Charles Waring. Real nice man and very knowledgeable. Tashan looked at the wheel and said to me 'You ain't gonna get me on that thing, man!'. He had a great time and I turned green....again! Not good with heights. He is good with my camera, however!
As far as the color of a human being goes, well, prejudice never made, or makes, any sense to me. When I was a child I never understood why one person could dislike someone for the color of their skin. What had Martin Luther King or Sister Rosa ever done to me or my family? I got frightened when I got chicken pox, as, if someone hated someone else for the color of their skin, what hope for a kid with polka-dots on his body!!
I think Michael Moore is, kind of, on the same wave length I am, when he talks about 'the only people who have done anything bad to me in this life are white men' (from his book 'Stupid White Men').
Black People made/make the best music on this planet. I have never been assaulted, had money taken from me, been spat at, been threatened with legal action, had my property attacked, been threatened physically, hit with a cane at school, been sworn at, had my wife threatened, had my work criticised, had my musical taste attacked, intimidated or been cursed at by a Black Man. I have, however, had all of those things happen to me at the hands of white people. I was attacked by a group of young 'stupid white men' in 1981. I was walking home with my girlfriend, one woman and a gay hairdresser friend of mine. How brave was that? I now have a crown where one of my front teeth used to reside. I, simply, seem to get on better with Black People (Soul folks and the Irish as well! LOL). I feel safer in the company of Black People and the White Soul fraternity. Black people have an inner peace, I guess, of knowing what has, historically, transpired and the knowledge that white people still haven't come to terms with that, even today. That's coming from an overweight white man who turns 47 in a couple of weeks time! Look at our governments. Just a couple of Black faces in Congress or Parliament, and even those are encouraged not to be 'too Black'. 'Oreole's', I believe that the brotha's and Sista's in the States describe them as. A chocolate biscuit that is black on the outside, white in the middle. Hell, maybe this continuing 'crime echo from the past' may one day pass. Stranger things have happened. Time is a great healer. I look at my daughter at school with her friends. Black, Chinese, Irish, Indian, Muslim. They all come round, from one time or another, for tea after school. This is the hope for the future. I lived through the Sixties and that is something I will never forget. Stupid White Men. Decent people in public life murdered.
Do I hate my color? There are many 'not so stupid white people' who think the same way I do. Good people who don't threaten or capitalize on their contemporaries. The minority spoil things for the many.
Back in March (later again in July this year), I had some more stupid white men threaten me with a charge of plagiarism and some of the responses from Black people were very touching. One elected me as an 'honorary brotha'. This one had me in.........well:
'Long Story short: Your Dream helped me all through high school, and now. I appreciate all your Hard, Hard work to maintaining the site and (as the O'Jay's sing): 'Giving the people what they want.' My parents always tell me, 'You may act like what you are doing is nothing, but you could be touching lives with that same work as we speak!' You and your work have not gone unnoticed, and I just wanted you to know that. Thanks for touching me spiritually and emotionally.... and for having the balls to be one of the only people to come through thoroughly appreciating Black music and from whence it came.'
Tashan calls me Soulwalker! That is what I will be until the man upstairs finds a room in his 'apartment in the sky' for me (hopefully, if I behave myself!) You should mail Tashan. He is a great man. firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves talking to people.
Have a great day and thank you for your reminisces. I don't, normally, write this much! Caught me in 'full on keyboard' mode! LOL
Peace, have a good day, take care and apologies, again, for my ramblings......once I get going! LOL,
...then followed a posting that I placed at a Soul Group in the U.K....
Blimey. Seem to have spent ages reading through arguments about Soulful House or Northern Soul or Southern Soul, In House / Out House 'shake it all about House' or New R & B 'tags', Reggae, Jazz, Daz, Fairy Washing Up Liquid, Salt and Vinegar Crisps..............
When are we all going to get a grip? Jesus Christ.....
'Gotta Lotta love' by Lenny Williams is a great tune and could be described as a 'Soulful House Tune'. 'Step In The Name Of Love' by R Kelly is a great tune, that could be described as 'New R & B'. Dottie Pearson's forthcoming album is the business.
What the hell is going on? I hate you because you like John Coltrane, and I hate you because you like Kenny Thomas, and I hate you because you like Frank Wilson, and I hate you because you like Joey Negro, and I really hate you because you like Stevie Wonder coz he hasn't got soul, and I hate you because you don't wear Wigan flairs and I hate Trevor Nelson and you hate me because I haven't seen 'Standing In The Shadows of Love' and I hate you because that record isn't on the right label. Southern poofters, what do those guys know?
My own roots are in Hull, although I was born in London. Part of my fathers side of the family were supposed to have come from Ireland. Who do I hate? Just feel sorry for the bad folks.
Let me pass on one small piece of information. Lonnie Cook (page at the site) was at the funeral of Phillipe Wynne. At Phillipe's wake were Lonnie and eight other people. Eight other people. Think about it. That is what happens when the industry sticks two fingers up at us as punters and the Soul Fans don't join ranks. If you think I am ranting without any basis, e-mail Lonnie yourselves at: Doowopsvoice@aol.com. Ask him. He wrote 'Thought You'd Be Mine' for the Natural Four. This bickering really annoys me. I really like this soul group. Please be more positive. If we allow the powers that be have their way, then we are being manipulated.
alan freeman, peter young, charlie gillett and gary crowley
Spoke to Peter Young at Jazz FM today. He said there are only two types of music. Good and bad. Damn right, PY. It ain't the value of a tune, what label it is pressed on or where you heard it. The important thing is you heard it. Horses for courses. If it does it for you, then great. If it doesn't, then fine. Move on. I remember playing at a gig and I put on 'It's all up to you' by the Dells. Great tune. One guy asked me what label it was on, whether it was the original label before he would dance to it. I couldn't give a monkeys if it streamed off the latest KFC advert. If it is good, then enjoy it. My God, we are all suppressing this music by being so small minded. We are handcuffing a genre that we should be trying to liberate. Just enjoy Black Music for what it is and don't look at things as to what side of the M25 you reside on. I don't like Macy Gray or Craig David, but I respect that people do. It is what makes us different but binded by the same thing. Black music.
One thing about running Soulwalking is that folks who live in New Zealand, Sweden, the U.S.A., or wherever, love this stuff. We are being so small minded if we think we can play with soul music like a critical tennis ball. That will relegate us into an endless spiral of fame academy's etc. in the future and more soul singers like Phillipe will be relegated to the 'also rans'.
Black people make the best music in the World. My last gig I played:
'You've Been So Wonderful To Me' - The Supremes
'Love Has Found It's Way Back To Me' - Dennis Brown
'Sausolito' - Grover Washington Jnr
and 'Born With The Moon In Virgo' - Michael Franks
Where does that place me? A traitor in all corners.
If we are to self destruct, then I am very sad. We should be celebrating this music and not 'dividing and ruling' as the industry wants us to.
For God's sake, let's hear a little more of what is turning you on, and not what is turning you off. It is the same as saying, 'Yes I love my partner, but I won't make love to her as I think the tonal green of her skirt, or his shirt colour isn't exactly my thing'. For God's sake, you love them, don't you? My daughter loves Justin Timberlake. Great, I know that she likes music. It would frighten me if she didn't. More playlists and less prejudice.
Below is an e-mail from a site visitor in the States. It is good food for thought. Once you have read her mail, the arguments about what is and isn't will seem a little trivial?
..and then my friend from the States got back to me...
'Good Morning Toby,
You were in a "War and Peace" kind of vibe, huh? Not a problem. I enjoyed it. As a writer, I enjoy the lost art of letter writing. We live in the age of instant this and that...text messaging, quick faxes and emails. Don't apologize for having something to say. It's just so much to respond to.
I got some good laughs, my new brotha from anotha color.
Your wife has great taste in music. I like the Jones Girls too. They are rowdy and off the cuff...so fun. Hold on to her if she can stand the clutter of all of those albums.
You have far more vinyl than I, and I too have been trying to replace some of the vinyl with CD's. I am having a time. The only group that I was able to complete with little or no problem was Traffic...yes, I admit to being a closet rocker.
Martin Luther Kings Assassination
You talked about your distaste of racism. Ditto, here. I was born in 1960 to a black mom and an Italian father. It was a rough time, they fought to be together and fought to protect my brothers and I. The '60's here was a turbulent time. I remember the riots in Detroit after Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was so scary to see the National Guard tanks in the streets and the men with guns. Blacks had a 7pm curfew, Whites didn't. It is astounding to me that that could have happened in my lifetime. Then a few years later, we move to Boston and right in the middle of forced busing. Being chased home by angry whites was beginning to be a ritual. Here I was a kid trying to go to high school and coming home everyday a bloody mess. The whites didn't know what I was, I got beaten for being with blacks! Were you attacked because of who you chose to walk with?
People can be so mean when it comes to race mixing here in the US They talk solidarity, but there is none. I heard names that no human should hear, let alone a child. It was difficult to not judge the whole race, but as I got older and didn't get dark enough to be black or light enough to be white I figured being angry hurts no one but me. It's funny, there was a time when no one was my color and now I look at Alicia Keys and others who look like me and I love that there are so many mixed people. It won't happen in my lifetime, but I hope for a time for my children when color doesn't preface who they are. My son has had his share of ribbing too. Amazingly, from Blacks who call him "The White Boy" when does it stop?
Hating Whites would have made me miss out on meeting some dynamic people. I'm divorced and in a relationship with a Jewish guy...I'm Catholic! Who has time for hate?(smile)
I, too, like Michael Moore...quote him all the time. I think all people should read Stupid White Men. It isn't Tolstoy, but it is a good spin on what the upper class is all about here in the good ol' US of A! Hee Ha! He has a way of tipping his head at just the right angle to see the whole picture and he doesn't mince words. I like that. My mom say's I shoot from the lip and so does he I think.
I saw the pix on Tashan's site. Grace is adorable.'
...and after all that, this e-mail came in from a guy who had visited the site since it's conception...
'I used to really like your site but i haven’t seen any new albums in your been missed sections for half a year at least. And there's also very few updates of artists resumes other than new artists with often not much quality in their music.
It's a shame that you ignore the been missed section which i know been so apprecatied by many, and you only use your site to recommend and help promote new artists. I like some new soul music out there, but let's face it comparing with some of the older stuff from the 70:s & early 80:s most of it can't compete. I wonder why all these changes? When i discovered your site in January 2001 it was foremost dedicated to great soul music from the 70:s & early 80:s and you updated the been missed section and added new resumes very frequent. For the last year it seems like´you are more concentrating on adding resumes of new artists and focus less on truly great soul from the golden period.
I think it's right that you add some new artists music to the site but if it means that you no longer are concentrating on the older stuff and updating audio, resumes and adding some records that you recomend to the been missed section, many fans of soul music will stop visiting your site. I must say that some of the stuff you updated on your audio section is really weak and some of those artist get their resumes out on your site. Some of this songs you have on your list for what you cosnider the best songs of the year are no different in quality than the commercial weak r&b that's played on mtv. There's so many great artists from the 70:s & 80:s you ignored over the last year when you only use your site to promote and recomend new soul music.
I hope you can take this criticism and consider going back to the formula which made your site so great from the beginning.'
'Thanks for the e-mail.
Good point. It has been causing me some concern that I haven't spent more time on certain sections. There are several reasons.
Soulwalking is, for want of a better word, a hobby. I design exhibitions / conferences etc for a living. I have to put food on the table and that side of my work has to take priority. Soulwalking makes me no money and there is only me working at the site. At the outset I had around 20 site visitors a week, which was a manageable amount of correspondence. At the last count, there were 2,750 visitors a week. It can take 3 hours to respond to the morning mail. I am also being approached a lot more by companies who want me to listen to their product and review it. All this takes time, so a slowdown was inevitable, I guess. Then came the threats (twice this year), which does take the wind out of your sails somewhat.
I will try to go back to some pages that have been neglected a little, however, I would ask you to bear with me. Although it may seem that there are fewer and fewer updates, the site IS being updated all the time.
Best wishes, Toby'
...the visitor responded...
I wanna thank you for that you took the time to respond my mail. I have emailed you earlier and say that i like your site, because of that it's sad to see that almost nothing of interest happens on it any more.Of course i understand that the site is just a hobby but considering how much updates of low quality like different djs playlist (who's really interested in that) and mediocre new soul acts records that you write a lot about in the listen out section, it seems like you spend a lot of your time working on the site.
What im asking for is that you can consider and try to judge which updates people may found interesting. I suppose that many who visit Soulwalking are more into older stuff than weak new R & B and because of that i think its sad that you give in to the demands of mediocre new artist who offer you a free copy of their album in order to get a resume, a great review and audio put out.
I know that im not only speaking for myself when im saying this, i know many who don't find your once so great site interesting any more. In your opinion section on your site you earlier talked about how superior the older stuff was to the new soul artists out there even though there of course are exceptions. It strange that someone who has those opinions turns his once so great site into an advertisment page for new weak r&b and uk dj's playlists. I understand that these people email you and want you to add their stuff on your site, but you can't always give in to them and ignore the truly great soul music.
You can't make everybody happy do you really have to update dj:s playlists and add resumes of weak artists? Can't you make the site as great as it once was, when it was a delight to visit it almost everyday.'
...and my reply, for what it's worth...
'Thanks for the e-mail. What can I say?
All I do is try to help the little label artists out there get a better deal. I try to keep up with the updating, but what you are asking me to do is work 24 hours a day, which would mean my wife, daughter and I would be out of house and home. We have to pay the bills.
After 9/11 the design industry went into a recession. It has been very depressing and hard trying to make ends meet.
It saddens me to think that people can be so destructive about Black music. The songs that are in the chart at the site are there on my say so and mine alone. I do not post anything that I feel inferior. There are many CD's that make the rubbish bin here, sent from all parts of the World.
I guess the Net is a little like the television. You can always change site or channel if you don't like what you are looking at. If your friends say the same thing, that saddens me even more. I am just a minnow in a great pond of Soul people out there. I try to keep the site as personal as possible. In that way people can take you or leave you and know what they are likely to hear.
If you can spare the time read this as part of a posting that I sent to the Modern Soul Group:
'Let me pass on one small piece of information. Lonnie Cook (page at the site) was at the funeral of Phillipe Wynne. At Phillipe's funeral were Lonnie and seven other people. Seven other people. Think about it. That is what happens when the industry sticks two fingers up at us as punters and the Soul Fans don't join ranks. If you think I am ranting without any basis, e-mail Lonnie yourselves at: Doowopsvoice@aol.com. Ask him. He wrote 'Thought You'd Be Mine' for the Natural Four. This bickering really annoys me. I really like this soul group. Please be more positive. If we allow the powers that be have their way, then we are being manipulated.'
...then I received this yesterday...
'Hi! I just happened to be listening to a CD today entitled, "Dance Fever hits of the 70's". I came across a song, "Hang On In There Baby", by Johnny Bristol, that made me remember how much I used to like it. I became curious about the artist so I looked him up on the internet. Somehow I fell into your site. And I'm glad I did! After reading your story, it does my heart good to know there is someone out there who remembers the history of Soul artists, good and bad.
The info on Johnny Bristol wasn't available yet, but I'm patient. I decided to check what you had on The Dells, my favorite group. You've listed the original group, which were the El Rays, but the picture you're showing is The Dells. Way-back-when The El Rays were on the road and had a bad accident. Several were hurt and laid-up for a while. After a year, when they got back together, Johnny Funches decided not to return. A young man replaced him by the name of Johnnie Carter. He had been one of The Flamingos before. When he joined, THAT is when they called themselves THE DELLS. And THAT is the picture you are showing on your site. Johnnie Carter is the fellow sitting down. I know this because I am his oldest daughter.
Keep up the good work!'
I am really sorry that you are disillusioned with the site. Quite upsets me as all I am trying to do is help the people whose music has been criminally ignored in the past. We can't be retrospective for ever, otherwise we will never have anything to look back on fondly in the future. Respect the past and the future.
I love this music with a passion. Think about Phillipe Wynnes funeral. Think about Tashan. If we spend hours arguing over what sides of the industry we should or shouldn't support then nothing will ever get achieved. At the moment I am promoting a brilliant album by Ayanna Gregory. I took this e-mail this week:
dick and ayanna gregory
First, let me thank you once again for the great review and compliments to Ayanna's album! I have been wondering why we have been getting so many sales from the U.K. all of a sudden! When we get over your way (I have no idea when this will be), I hope we can have dinner to thank you for your support.
I have visited your site many times before and was doing a random search tonight when I came across your review. You our doing good music a great service, and I will send many more people to visit your site. PLEASE keep up the good work.... and THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK
YOU! I will keep you informed of Ayanna's matriculation in the industry and will send you more releases as they are available.
Peace & Blessings,
New Moon Recordings, LLC'
Should I ignore these guys? No one sent me that album. I went to CD Baby, listened to it, loved it, bought it from there and reviewed it. I could sit here all day scanning and writing about old albums I love, but where will the 'new, old albums I love' come from? I will still place some 'Been Missed' albums at the site in the future. There has been a Top 20 chart at the site since day one. That hasn't changed. Do send your friends this e-mail. I would be interested in their views. Also, be interested in who you see as 'weak' soul artists? The Israel and New Breed album is just about as soulful as it can get.
You take care and have a good weekend, Peace, Toby.'
...this guy is, actually, a real nice person, which is why I listened to him. Spoke to him several times before. Why the cutting criticism, however? We are all trying to promote this great music in one way or another. These 'deejay's' are the bread and butter of the Soul Artist. If they go, then so do people like Tashan, who can sing the pants off any of the boy bands out there!
All of those final exchanges reminds me that I must go give blood. Haven't been for a while!! LOL
toby walker 3rd october 2003