Tag Archives: Soul music

Ray Charles and “What’d I say”

 

In an interview, Ray Charles recalled the genesis of his 1959 hit What’d I say:

We happened to be playing one of my last dances, somewhere in the Midwest, and I had another 12 minutes to kill before the set closed. A typical gig of that kind lasted four hours, including a 30-minute intermission. It was nearly 1 a.m., I remember, and we had played our whole book. There was nothing left that I could think of, so I finally said to the band and The Raeletts, “Listen, I’m going to fool around, so y’all just follow me.”

So I began noodling—just a little riff that floated into my head. It felt good and I kept going. One thing led to another and I found myself singing and wanting the girls to repeat after me. So I told ‘em “Now.”

Then I could feel the whole room bouncing and shaking and carrying on something fierce. So I kept the thing going, tightening it up a little here, adding a dash of Latin rhythm there. When I got through, folks came up and asked where they could buy the record. “Áin’t no record,” I said, “just something I made up to kill a little time.”

The next night I started fooling with it again, adding a few more lyrics and refining the riffs for the band. I did that for several straight evenings until the song froze into place. And each time I sang it, the reaction was wild.

Quoted in Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ own story by David Ritz (New York: Dial, 1978; RILM Abstracts 1978-5376).

Today would have been Ray Charles’s 90th birthday! Above, the album cover (note the keyboard and hands reflected in his glasses); below, the recording itself.

BONUS: The scene as it was recreated in the 2004 film Ray.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

The Stax/Volt Revue

 

The Stax/Volt Revue was a central event in the history of the Stax record label and a key moment in the transatlantic appreciation of soul music. It was the first time that many of its participants visited the U.K., and it offered British soul fans their first opportunity to see the musicians who played on the label’s recent hits.

The Revue played to sold-out audiences in many of Britain’s major cities during March and April 1967. It cemented the appeal of Stax artists like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave in the U.K., confirming them as transatlantic soul icons.

At the time, the Revue was ignored by the national and local press, with coverage limited to the British music magazines. This sorely underestimates its significance, for it proved to be a transformative experience both for the musicians and many audience members; indeed, the response of young British soul fans to the Revue indicates that it was among the most important musical events of the decade.

This according to “The Stax/Volt Revue and soul music fandom in 1960s Britain” by Joe Street, an essay included in Subcultures, popular music and social change (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014 195–217; RILM Abstracts 2014-89164).

Below, the finale of Sam & Dave’s set.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

Bobby Byrd and James Brown

The singer, composer, and bandleader Bobby Byrd’s life and career were closely intertwined with those of James Brown.

Growing up together in Toccoa, Georgia, Byrd gave Brown his first break by inviting him to join the Famous Flames—the vocal group founded by Byrd—after his family took a young Brown into their home following a prison term served for robbery.

After Brown seized the frontman spot, and after he briefly dismissed the Flames altogether, Byrd went on to play an integral role in Brown’s career both on stage and off for the next ten years, providing vocal counterpoint and musical leadership while also serving as an intermediary between the singers, musicians, and dancers employed by Brown.

Known for his catch phrase “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing”, Byrd was widely loved and respected. Although he carved out a modest solo career, if he had been associated with the writers, producers, and musicians at a label like Atlantic or Stax, today he would be remembered alongside the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Solomon Burke. His bond with Brown was perhaps both blessing and curse, but their shared background, struggles, and successes made the bond nearly inevitable.

This according to “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing: Bobby Byrd (1934–2007)” by Alan Leeds (Wax poetics 26 [December/January 2007/2008] pp. 36–39.

Today is Byrd’s 80th birthday! Above, Bobby Byrd by Thomas Halfmann is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Below, with the JB All-Stars in 1989).

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Filed under Popular music

Cholly Atkins and American vernacular dance

 

Charles “Cholly” Atkins was a tap dancing star before the bottom dropped out for the genre in the 1940s.

In 1953 he was hired to coach the Cadillacs on their stage presentation, and he was so successful that he was given a steady job at Motown Records in the early 1960s; he went on to coach and choreograph for their top groups, including The Supremes, The Temptations, and Gladys Knight and the Pips, almost single-handedly keeping much of American vernacular dance alive for a new generation.

This according to “‘Let the punishment fit the crime’: The vocal choreography of Cholly Atkins” by Jacqui Malone (Dance research journal XX/1 [summer 1988] pp. 11–18).

Today is Atkins’s 100th birthday! Below, rehearsing with The Temptations in 1986.

BONUS: The celebrated duo Coles & Atkins (Atkins is on the right).

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Filed under Dance

Black Grooves

Hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture at Indiana University, Black Grooves is a review site that aims to promote black music by providing monthly updates on interesting new releases and quality reissues in all genres—gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, and hip hop, as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists.

Reviews of selected new discs and DVDs are featured, with occasional attention to books and news items. An extra effort is made to track down releases by indie, underground, foreign, and other labels that are not covered in the mainstream media. While the primary focus is on African American music, related areas such as Afropop and reggae are also covered.

This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here for a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Popular music, Resources