Up next – A closer look at Betty Wright

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She has been labeled the “Queen of Miami Soul”, she just as well may have been labeled the Queen of awesome singing, because anything that Ms. Wright has comitted to tape or done on stage so far, is destined to thrill you to bits!

 

Betty Wright, photo from 1975

Betty Wright, photo from 1975

 

Betty Wright was born in December 1953, and was thus only 14 when her first album “My First Time Around” came out 1968. Since then, Betty Wright has released a long line of albums, and her music is almost a category all of its own. Miami soul it is, but she pours soul into everything she does, whether it is Miami flavoured, reggae infused, disco inspired or neo soul-y….

During the last six decades (yay!!) Betty has recorded many truly stunning albums, and I will soon give you all a closer look at those…. Album titles like “Explosive!”, “Danger – High Voltage” and “Wright Back At You” should give some clues about what this lady is all about. That she vocally can do anything from a deep, slurred whisper and then extend her voice up into the whistle register, is also proof that Betty Wright is one of the most amazing singers to appear on the scene during the last 50 years. (For more info about that, check this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistle_register )

 

Betty Wright - photographed in 2010

Betty Wright – photographed in 2010

 

Stay tuned, a profile on the great work of Betty Wright coming up on this site in a short while….

 

 

 

Coming up soon – a closer look at Bettye LaVette

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Bettye LaVette is currently one of the truly great blues and soul singers in the business. For the last ten years she has released one great album after another, showing time and time again what a totally dedicated and consummate artist she is.

A lot of people might not be aware that she made her first record way back in 1962 and spent years struggling on small labels, constantly working but never quite making it into the big league. She made dozens of great singles in the 60s and early 70s, was a disco singer in the late 70s, had her first released album come out on Motown in 1982 – after TWENTY years of working in the business, then moving on to the British label Motorcity in the late 80s, before rightly claiming her well-deserved position in this millennium.

The great Bettye LaVette

The great Bettye LaVette

Universally acclaimed for her talent these days, the record companies have been wise enough to re-release most of what Bettye has recorded during the last 53 years, and a survey of her recording career will be published here during February or March. Stay tuned!

 

Calla was just one of the smaller labels Bettye worked for. Ad from 1965

Calla was just one of the smaller labels Bettye worked for. Ad from 1965

 

 

Coming soon – a closer look at Barbara Acklin

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Much revered, but too little known – I feel it’s time to place the spotlight on that late, great soul sister – Barbara Acklin! Her career and her albums to be profiled soon!

A portrait of Barbara Acklin, taken in the late 1960’s

Acklin was a song writer and singer, whose golden decade was from around 1965 up to 1975 (the year of her last studio album), but she did make occasional singles up to the early 1990’s. She may be best known for hit duet with Gene Chandler, “From The Teacher to The Preacher” and her own 1968 classic “Love Makes A Woman”, but her albums show a lot of different sides to this wonderful, and now sadly obscure, vocalist. She was a soulful singer, doing a wide range of material from middle of the road pop songs to dance tunes….

The cover of her 1990 single “You’re The One”

Check back in a few days, and there will be more information here about Barbara Acklin, who sadly died in 1998 at the age of just 55…

Coming soon – A Profile on Millie Jackson!

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Tomorrow the saucy Miss Jackson celebrates her birthday, and will find herself 68 years young! I thought it was a great opportunity to write a profile about her music. Millie’s been in the recording business since 1969 when she released her first single.

I will concentrate on Millie Jackson the Soul Singer, and focus on the many great records she’s made since she started out more than 40 years ago…

Millie as a singer seems to have been obscured by a lot of other facts; her dirty raps, her sometimes tasteless record covers and that she’s a “let-it-all-out and tell-it-like-it-is” kind of singer, especially in front of an audience. Check out her live recording of “Phuck U Symphony” for a taste of her sexual bluntness and salty humour.

A lot of Millie’s songs deal with men, and relationships…. She seems to have fun with some of them on this 1980 record cover!

 

All of her close to 30 albums contain proof of the style she’s most famous for; the urban soul woman caught up in some kind of love affair, love triangle or looking at love from another perspective. Her strong, deep – and sometimes gruff – voice is an awesome instrument, and she more than holds her own against other soul singers of the 70’s and 80’s.

Millie made soul records, dance music, comedy albums and even a little bit of country, and adapted each and every style to suit the message she was bringing across.

Stay with me – a deep look into Millie Jackson’s recording career to follow shortly!

Our saucy, sexy Soul Sister pictured ca. 2005

 

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Candi Staton – Candy for your soul!

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Miss Staton has every reason to be happy and content with her recording career, as she has touched millions of fans with her music. From her first recording, made in the late 1960’s, she has proven time and time again that she is one of those singers who seem at home in almost every genre they try. She started out performing what is generally known as “Southern Soul”, then she moved on to being one of the 70’s “disco queens”. Then she spent 25 years performing mostly gospel music, and finally from 2006 onwards she has reclaimed her status as one of the finest soul music interpreters in the business.

Promotion photo, ca. 1990

Candi Staton was born in Alabama in 1940, and from early childhood she sang with a gospel choir called The Jewell Gospel Trio. This group recorded and released a couple of singles from 1953 to 1963. At the age of 19, Candi married Joe Williams, and by the time she took the first steps into secular music in 1968, she was already a mother of four children.

Signing with Rick Hall, she started recording for the Fame label, chalking up 16 R’n B hits along the way, and also being Grammy nominated twice. Her first hits was the saucy “I’d rather be an old mans sweetheart (Than a young mans fool)”, followed by other hits like “I’m just a prisoner (Of your good lovin’)”, “He called me baby” and the two songs that were Grammy nominees, “Stand by your man” and “In the ghetto”. So-called Southern soul might sound a little country influenced, and some of the songs she recorded during this time did indeed originate as country song. Still, Candi has no trouble making every one of her songs simply drip with soul and emotion. A stand-out track from her early years is “Mr. & Mrs. Untrue” – maybe the best “cheating” song ever committed to vinyl!

Great collection of songs, 1968-73

Candi signed with Warner Brothers in 1974, releasing her first album for that label, simply called “Candi”. From this album, the songs “Six night and a day”, “Here I am again” and “As long as he takes care of home” were all hits, and proved that Candi was still soulful but a bit less “southern” than earlier.Then, in 1976, Candi recorded what is regarded as her major break-through song, and one that still stands as an all-time classic: “Young hearts run free”! The song zoomed to the top of the charts around the world, and it is one of those songs that seem to have it all: It’s instantly recognizable, very catchy, it has a memorable lyric and is sung with a tremendous amount of sincerity! Candi herself at this point was twice divorced and a mother of five, so perhaps she was able to put some of her personal experiences into the song…. An album named after the big hit quickly followed, as did a similar sounding follow-up single, “Run to me”.

Her next album, “Music Speaks Louder Than Words” (1977) is notable for some stunning cover versions; Bee Gees’ “Nights on Broadway”, The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the music” and Freddy Fender’s “Before the next teardrop fall”. Although having  recently been dubbed “disco queen”, Candi apparently didn’t quite embrace that title – and chose instead to make an album that looked back at her early 70’s style.

She recorded and released 4 more albums in the disco/soul vein during 1978-1982: “House Of Love” (1978) produced the hit “Victim”. The 1979 six tracker “Chance” contains “When you wake up tomorrow”. Next up was 1980’s “Candi Staton”, from this album she saw some chart action with “Halfway to heaven”. It also includes her cover of The Marvelettes “The hunter gets captured by the game”.  Her last album under her WB contract was “Nightlites” (1982). Noted for its sexy cover photo, picturing Candi in a very low-cut lace negligee, looking like she’d rather turn the lights out… She does a very nice version of “Suspicious minds” on this album.

Her last secular album for 25 years. Sexy covershot too!

During early 1983, there were rumours of Candi being “worn out”, either depressed or just ill, some say she was battling alcoholism… Whatever she was dealing with at that time, she certainly chose a different direction; Starting yet another phase of her career, she spent the next 23 years performing gospel and religious music. She made 13 albums of gospel and religious music, and also made a Christmas album in 2000. Her only venture outside gospel during this period was her 1986 collaboration with The Source, “You got the love”, which was a Top 10 Club Hit in the UK and is nowadays regarded as a true classic.

A signed photo from her "religious" period

When Candi made an album called “His Hands” in 2006, it was easy to think it was yet another gospel record, but no! With this album she stepped back into the world of secular music, and proving once again that she is a force to be reckoned with in the soul department! The entire album is just great, and with an added edge in her voice, she makes you believe every syllable of songs like “You never really wanted me”, “When hearts grow cold” and “Running out of love”.

Three years later she made another earthy soul record, “Who’s Hurting Now” (2009), building on the foundation set by “His Hands”. A whole new generation of music lovers had grown up since her 70’s heyday – and these two albums attracted legions of new fans who had never heard her earlier albums. She sinks her teeth into “Dust on my pillow” and “Get your hands dirty”. No coy and cutesy stuff here, this is a mature soul survivor staking her claim and reclaiming her throne!

A recent photo of Candi on stage

So, how does one describe the voice of Candi Staton? A bit deep? Yeah, and with a little coarse edge sometimes… Soulful? Yes, indeed! Candi will put any amount of emotion into a song to make it work, and therefore – much like any opera singer – she is a singing actress! She will convey the meaning of the words in such a way, you’ll never doubt that she’s singing from her own experiences!

Also, she perfectly masters the art of holding back. Unlike full-throttle divas like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, Candi has learned to moderate her singing. It’s in the little pauses, the way she stops for breath, how she handles even a single word in a line, to make her point. Just when you expect her to raise her voice an octave to really get her point through, she does the exact opposite and lowers the next word into a hoarse whisper, and is all the more effective for doing it that way. It is a voice of exquisite beauty, and she uses it to convey every human emotion possible. THAT is the main reason for listening to Candi Staton, no matter what kind of material she sings. She is a story-teller of the first order, and will make you get into what she sings in such a way, you’ll feel it inside when she gets to the punchline…

Kim Weston – Recognition long overdue

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Kim showing Motown glamour 1965

 

Kim Weston (1939 – ) is another great lady of soul, who has never received the proper recognition for her work. She was yet another Motown singer who was obscured by their group Supremes and their most magnificent lead singer, Diana Ross.

Kim in the early 60's, with The Andantes

Kim was signed to Motown 1962-67, and she made some truly great music there, but it was not given the right kind of promotion, and so all people remember of her Motown work is her two biggest hits “Take me in your arms (Rock me a little while)” and “Helpless”. And of course her 1966 album with Marvin Gaye, “Take Two” which included their hit single “It takes two”.

Kim & Marvin at an album cover photo session 1966
 
Motown never bothered to release a proper solo album with Kim, but luckily in later years absolutely all of her Motown recordings have been made available on CD, and the two disc/48 track “The Motown Anthology” is definitely worth searching out. Kim has a great voice, and adapts it to widely different material. She can sensually coo her way through a jazzy ballad, or she can belt out a fast stomping soul song like the best of them!
 
Obviously unhappy, she switched labels in 1967 – moving on to MGM. She saw some chart action with the singles “I got what you need” and “Nobody”, and her stunning version of the “black anthem”, “Lift every voice and sing”. MGM also put out a couple of great albums with Kim; “For The First Time” (1967), “This Is America” (1968).
She then got a recording contract with Stax in 1969, the year she made a very good album with Johnny Nash, including the minor hit single “We try harder”. Also on Stax, she made the incredibly soulful “Kim Kim Kim” (1971), containing a fabulous version of “When something is wrong with my baby”.
Next up was her jazz-inspired album “Big Brass Four Poster” (1972), recorded with The Hastings Street Jazz Experience.
After this, Kim did not record again for 15 years, but she did go on tour with both Billy Eckstein and Harry Belafonte. She also worked in radio and she supported and worked for Detroit’s Mayor Young for several years. In addition she went to Israel for some time, working with young singers there.
 

Kim on the cover of Jet Magazine, 1973

 
 
In 1987, Kim was the first ex-Motowner to be signed to Ian Levine’s British label Motor City. Her first single for them was “Signal your intention”, which soared to No. 1 on the UK Hi Energy charts. An album called “Investigate” followed, combining brand new material with a couple of re-recordings of old songs from her time at Motown. She also teamed with Marvin Gaye’s brother Frankie Gaye to make some duets, among them a remake of “It takes two”.
 

Kim & Marvin's brother: cover of 1989 single

 
 
 A follow-up album, “Talking Loud” saw a limited release in Europe 1990, but all of Kim’s Motor City material is available on CD and as digital downloads. Among the most stunning tracks from this period is her version of “It should have been me” and the title track from “Investigate” which is absolutely great!
 

Still glamourous, 1990's

 

Kim in 2004, with Scherrie Payne and Brenda Holloway

 
 
 Kim is still active as a performer, and often visits Europe and the UK. If you ever get the chance to see her perform live, do it!
She is a true soul legend whose work stands up against any competition. Great voice, great songs, great Lady!
 

Linda Clifford – Sure, I’ll keep on loving you!

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Of all the soulful girl singers of the 70’s, no one has made such a lasting impression on me as Linda Clifford. She’s been labeled a “disco diva” and of course she is THAT, but she’s so much more than just that! Her voice is one of the most wondrous musical instruments of the 20th century, and I will talk in-depth about her music here…

La Clifford was born in the mid 1940’s and had already explored other branches of the entertainment field when she made her first record. Physically very beautiful, it is no wonder she was once voted Miss New York State. She also sang with a jazz trio, and acted in some films; you can see her in supporting parts in some late 60’s movies like “The Boston Strangler”, “Coogans Bluff” and “Sweet Charity”. One of the songs from the last movie would play a significant part in Linda’s career some 10 years later…

In the early 70’s, she released a few singles, i.e. “It’s gonna be a long, long winter”, “March across the land” and “Can’t get enough”. In 1976 she signed with the Curtom label, and the next year her first album “Linda” was released. It’s a great record, and shows off her talent and diversity to great advantage. From the dance floor groove of “From now on” to the sexy ballad “You can do it”, this album offers one treat after another. She covers Rod Stewart’s recent no. 1 hit “Tonight’s the night” and Evie Sand’s “One thing on my mind” in addition to the Bee Gees’ “Be tender with my love” – and Linda’s versions more than hold their own to the originals.

Her second album, “If My Friends Could See Me Now” came out 1978, and supplied Linda with two substantial hits, the title track (from “Sweet Charity” but revamped as a 7 minute disco work out) and the enduring soul classic “Runaway love”. She covers Curtis Mayfield’s “You are, you are” and also wraps her sexy pipes around “Broadway Gypsy Lady”, a pop song with some nice guitar work and another dancer, “Gypsy Lady” (probably not from Broadway?) in addition to a couple of nice ballads. This album proved once and for all that Linda Clifford had the voice to sing any kind of material presented to her, and that’s exactly what she did!

The very first Clifford album I owned, was the third one she made: “Let Me Be Your Woman” (1979) and I still have the original vinyl LP at home – four sides of pure pleasure! Her extended versions of two classics each clocked in at around 10 minutes and filled one side each: “One of those songs” and “Bridge over troubled water”. The last one is of course, one of the classic ballads of all time, yet Linda proved that when completely rearranged, it could also be a disco classic. The title track is another wonderful ballad, with Linda doing the verses nice and easy, then going into full voice and raising the roof in the chorus. I never saw the point in Helen Reddy covering that song a year later, as it’s done the definite way by Linda.

The same year saw another Clifford album hit the shelves, titled “Here’s My Love”. With the disco factor tuned a little down, this album focuses more on some other sides of Linda, like pop singer, and soul ballad interpreter par excellence! A good example is the title track; in the first half of the song, she coos and sexily offers her love to the listener in a way that says “HERE‘s my love”… Mid-way through the song, she changes her approach altogether, raising her voice as if to fight off competition and most definitely grabbing your attention by changing it to “here’s MY!! love”. It’s a stunning number, and it might just be the finest five minutes of music she’s ever recorded! “Never gonna stop” and “King for a night” are both nice pop songs, “Lonely night”, “Bailin’ out” and “Repossessed” will make you dance, “I just wanna wanna” is a dancey pop song that is also very good. She also made a duet album on Curtom, with its owner Curtis Mayfield. Called “The Right Combination”, it contains a couple of very good tracks like “It’s loving time” and “Rock you to your socks”. What is painfully clear though is that Curtis is not up to his best, and the albums shows Linda stealing all the thunder and making even the most saccharine ballads sound convincing.

In 1980, Linda recorded the song for which she is probably best remembered, “Red Light”. It was featured in the movie “Fame” and also on the Soundtrack album before it was included on Linda’s own “Im Yours” the same year. It’s one of three stand-out tracks, the other two being the funky dancer “Shoot your best shot” and her fabulous version of Mitty Collier’s 1966 hit “I had a talk with my man”. If this track doesn’t prove that Linda deserves to be labeled soul singer, nothing ever will!

The great Linda Clifford made three more albums during the 80’s: “I’ll keep on loving you” (1981), “Sneakin’ Out” (1984) and “My Heart’s On Fire” (1985). The 1981 album is notable for her soulful disco hit “Don’t come crying to me” and the original version of “All the man that I need”, later recorded by Sister Sledge and also Whitney Houston. The 1984/85 albums are the only ones in Linda’s discography that have seen no CD releases (at least not in Europe so far), and I think it’s about time they were put out on a nice two-fer very soon (do you hear me record companies!!??)

The music of Linda Clifford has followed me for more than thirty years, and I never tire of listening to that rich, warm “red velvet” voice. She’s still active, releasing singles like “How long”, “Going back to my roots” and quite recently, “Baby, I’m yours”.

Yes, you sure are “mine”, your voice is the soundtrack of my life and I will keep on loving you…. Forever!

Me at home in 2010 with some original Clifford LPs

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