Cicero Blake

Daddy B. Nice's #61 ranked Southern Soul Artist



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"I'm Into Something "

Cicero Blake

November 1, 2010: NEW ALBUM ALERT

Bargain-Priced I'm Satisfied CD

Comparison-Priced I'm Satisfied CD

Scroll down to Tidbits #3 for Daddy B. Nice's five-star review.

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See "Tidbits" below for the latest updates on Cicero Blake.

To automatically link to Cicero Blake's charted radio singles, awards, CD's and other references, go to "Blake, Cicero" in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.

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Listen to the full version of Cicero Blake's "I'm Into Something" on YouTube while you read this article.

April 1, 2010: Daddy B. Nice's Prologue

"I'm Into Something": Cicero Blake's Overlooked Masterpiece


One of the great accomplishments of contemporary Southern Soul music is that it has inspired a new generation of young people to record traditional verse-and-chorus soul music.

One of the biggest downfalls of Southern Soul is that even while interest in the genre has grown, the greatest and most inspired songs--the songs that capture the essence of the music--have in many cases gone out of print.

For example, the other day I recommended Ronnie Lovejoy's "Sho' Wasn't Me" to a person who expressed interest in hearing Southern Soul. When I saw him a few days later, I asked him about it. He didn't seem enthused. He said he'd looked up the tune on I-Tunes, but it was under another title.

What had happened was that he had found "Still Wasn't Me," the mediocre follow-up (done a few years later) to "Sho' Wasn't Me." He couldn't find "Sho' Wasn't Me" because it's no longer available.

Lee Fields' "(I'll Put My) Life On The Line" is another out-of-print classic. Glenn Jones, whom most people know as a "smooth" or "urban" R&B singer, recorded one of the most indelible classics of Southern Soul--a tune called "Baby Come Home." It's been out of print for many years.

Even many of the seminal songs by what might now be called the "middle generation" of Southern Soul stars--artists such as David Brinston and O. B. Buchana--are out of print. I'm thinking of "Kick It" (Brinston) and "Let's Get Drunk" (Buchana), recorded at the small but influential Suzie Q label. Every time a small label goes out of business, the classic music recorded on that label disappears.

Now we can add yet another mainline Southern Soul classic to this unfortunate list: Cicero Blake's "I'm Into Something." Hard though it may be to believe, this song deserves to be in the select company of Lovejoy's "Sho' Wasn't Me."

Your Daddy B. Nice never heard this song in the nineties, when Cicero recorded it for Valley Vue Records on the Just One Of Those Things album.

Thanks to the deejays at WMPR (Jackson, Mississippi), however, I heard it a few times over the last years, and commenced a search for its origins that has finally come to fruition.

The lyrics to the song, written by Bob Jones, go like this:

"I got caught up in a trap
That I'm not too proud of.
You see, my part-time play-thing
Become my full-time love.

She greets me with a smile,
Says good-bye with a kiss.
Her love set my soul on fire.
I can't go on like this.

I'm in love.
It just won't leave my mind.
I got a part-time woman
And I love her all the time.
Yes, love her all the time."

If you have never heard this song, you will have a hard time finding a way to hear it, outside of requesting it from longstanding deejays such as Ragman, Outlaw and Handyman at WMPR.

How I wish I could corral the many young musicians who mistakenly call themselves "southern soul musicians"--sit them down and play them Cicero Blake's "I'm Into Something" over and over again until they begin to understand what Southern Soul is really all about.

All of the elements that make Southern Soul the finest elucidation of soul music in this era are present: unerring authenticity, killer rhythm section, take-no-prisoners, guitar-driven hook, smoky and atmospheric keyboard, heavenly banks of horns on every chorus, and making all that seem incidental, the incomparable vocal of Cicero Blake.

There was a time when All Music Guide--to which the album links above transport the reader who wants to sample tracks--contained a feature that linked out-of-print albums to used-record sites such as Amazon.com. It might say something like 2 albums available from $17.99 to 79.99. And often the fact that the albums were available on the used-and-rare record market enabled All Music Guide to offer samples.

Sadly, that feature has been removed. If it were still extant, Blake's album from the nineties would probably be fetching a hundred dollars or more on the rare records market.

There is some cause for optimism, however. Yesterday your Daddy B. Nice spoke with Cicero Blake, who--now in his mid-seventies--lives in an apartment in a retirement community in Chicago. He recently re-recorded the song with Carl Marshall in Houston for an upcoming album (no title as yet) for CDS Records.

Neither Cicero Blake nor your Daddy B. Nice believes this remake will approach the power and intensity of the original, but it's an effort for which Dylann DeAnna and Carl Marshall of CDS should be commended.

This will be a full Cicero Blake album, tentatively scheduled for a May release, and it will contain a new version of another signature song Blake first recorded in the sixties: "Here Comes The Heartache."

--Daddy B. Nice


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See "Tidbits" below for the latest updates on Cicero Blake.

To automatically link to Cicero Blake's charted radio singles, awards, CD's and other references, go to "Blake" in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.

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Daddy B. Nice's Original Critique:

Longtime Chicago bluesman Cicero Blake is one of those older-generation artists whose life stories seem destined to be the subject of one of the blues documentaries that increasingly frequent the cable movie channels. With Mississippi roots and a Chicago ("city of blues") home base, Blake has played and produced R&B for half a century in spite of never achieving success in the form of a hit record.

The staying power of the creative spirit in artists like Blake is like a flame that refuses to go out. Nowhere is this more evident than in the almost tossed-off brilliance of "Waiting On You" (from Ain't Nothing Wrong, Mardi Gras, 2003).

"I'm waiting on you, baby.
Tell me, what you gonna do?"

We seldom think about all of the little things that make a song succeed. First and foremost is the song itself, and "Waiting On You" (by hot Southern Soul songwriter Floyd Hamberlin, Jr., whose compositions recently highlighted bluesman Charles Wilson's latest CD) relies on a simple but elemental hook repeated over and over again.

"Girl, you promised me,
We'd be together soon.
You said you're tired of creeping around,
In some motel room.

You said you were going to leave
Your happy home.
You said with me
Is where you belong."

How simple? Well, it tackles the peculiar mating ritual of humankind in which the aggressive male, stimulated by the female, delivers the message that he wants to make love, and the female resists while yet attracting, deciding if and when she is ready. Every man, whether he's a one-woman-in-a-lifetime sort or a ladies' man with hundreds of conquests, is familiar with this dynamic.

"Now you've been going on,
For quite some time.
And I wonder what's going on, baby,
Inside your mind.

You keep telling me
I've got to be patient,
But, girl, you really got me,
You got me waiting."

But in "Waiting On You" the songwriting is only part of the story. Equally telling is Blake's super-real vocal, the credible male backup (perhaps Blake himself), the no-reason-to-rush tempo and--above all--the swirling and atmospheric keyboard-and-strings melange that gives the song its powerful Southern Soul ambience. Ironically, some of the synthesizer fillips and chorus backgrounds borrow from one of the youngest stars of the chitlin' circuit, Sir Charles Jones, and yet these are the touches that give the song its authentic Southern Soul sheen.

Like the aforementioned Charles Wilson, Cicero Blake anticipated but never quite reaped the success of Southern Soul music, which didn't begin to spike until the late 90's and early 00's. Blake's albums on the esteemed, now defunct blues labels Valley Vue and Ace in the early to mid-nineties were a precursor of the explosion of interest in rhythm and blues in the 21st century, but few people were buying or listening then. Thus, Cicero Blake's "Waiting On You" arrived like an unexpected Christmas present (along with "Ain't Nothing Wrong" and "It's The Weekend" from the Ain't Nothing Wrong CD) after a long absence from the recording studio.

Boasting the same confident execution as "Waiting On You," "Ain't Nothing Wrong" considers the unashamed swagger of a cheating man intent on doing the "down low," the consequences be damned.

"Some people say cheating is wrong,
But I don't know.
I just like to try it once in awhile
Just for the excitement of it.

There ain't nothing wrong,
With cheating some time.
Girl, let's get together,
And have a good time."

Once again, the arrangement is steeped in a Southern Soul ambience as sweet as pudding, prompting a listener to speculate on just how much more of this vintage-style music the sexagenarian Blake is capable of making. Like Roy C. and the late Tyrone Davis, Cicero Blake is creating some of the very best music of his career as he approaches his golden years.

--Daddy B. Nice


About Cicero Blake

Cicero Blake was born on February 20th, 1938, in Jackson, Mississippi. He was a childhood buddy of Senator Jones, later the CEO of Southern Soul's fabled Hep'Me Records.

In the fifties the Blakes moved to Chicago, where Cicero sang in church and secular bands. Dee Clark, who sang "Raindrops" (which charted higher than Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" in 1961), came out of one of those teen groups. Blake continued to perform during a stint in the Air Force, then toured the chitlin' circuit with the Sonny Thompson Revue.

Blake's first album, Don't Do This To Me (Success) came out in 1962, and led to opening-act tours with such artists as Wilson Pickett, Jerry Butler, and James Brown. A signing with major label Brunswick fell through in 1967, and as disco eclipsed the traditional rhythm and blues scene in the seventies and eighties, Blake fell back on a steady job as a Cook County park commissioner.

At last, in 1988, Cicero Blake recorded Too Hip To Be Happy (Valley Vue), the album which contained his chitlin' circuit (and Chicago-area) signature hit, "Dip My Dipper." (See the import CD Here Comes The Heartache ), Three more albums, one on Valley Vue and two on Ace, followed over the next decade, highlighted by 98's Stand By Me (Ace).

The albums established Blake as one of the more visible members of a stable (led by Tyrone Davis) of Chicago-based R&B performers variously labeled as "Chi-Soul," "northern Soul" or "Chicago Soul."

Meanwhile Blake, like Davis, Syl Johnson, Otis Clay, Lee Fields and others, continued to chart and tour on the chitlin' circuit as Southern Soul acts.

After a hiatus of nearly half a decade, during which interest in Southern Soul grew by leaps and bounds, Cicero Blake returned to the studio in 2003. Ain't Nothing Wrong (Mardi Gras) was a solid "comeback" effort, with a number of tunes ("Waiting On You," "Ain't Nothing Wrong" and "It's The Weekend," all written by up-and-coming songwriter Floyd Hamberlin, Jr.) charting across the Stations of the Deep South. "Waiting On You" was featured on Mardi Gras' Ultimate Southern Soul sampler (2003).


Cicero Blake Discography

1988 Too Hip to Be Happy! Valley Vue

1993 Just One of Those Things Valley Vue

1996 Wives Night Out Ace

1998 Stand by Me Ace

2003 Ain't Nothing Wrong Mardis Gras

2006 Here Comes the Heartache Grapevine

2008 It's You I Need Hep'me



Song's Transcendent Moment

"I'm in love.
It just won't leave my mind.
I got a part-time woman
And I love her all the time.
Yes, love her all the time."


Tidbits

1.

Here Comes The Heartache , a bargain-priced, double-set, compilation album of Cicero Blake tunes from his early Chicago recording days, was released in 2006 by Grapevine. The set pulls together many Blake songs previously unavailable due to the obscurity and age of the original labels.

2.

May 26, 2007. Recently, I've become enamored with a Cicero Blake classic--first recorded as a single way back in the sixties--called "School Of Life." The song, written by M. Gregory and T. Tate, has a pleasing melody, and the arrangement and Blake vocal are outstanding. "School Of Life" appeared on a compilation CD, Classic Blues Vol. 1 (Bluesway), then--much later-- on Blake's Too Hip To Be Happy CD (Valley Vue, 1988). Since then it has graced sampler albums Super Soul Blues and Super Soul Legends. I recommend it as an old-school classic to add to any Southern Soul fan's collection of standards. DBN.

3.

October 30, 2010: CD Review

CICERO BLAKE: I'm Satisfied (CDS) Five Stars ***** Can't Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven. Cicero Blake's new album, I'm Satisfied, is not only a surprise (in this decade alone the Chicago-based singer has endured cancer, chemotherapy and the loss of his singing voice, not to mention a serious car accident) but one of his best albums in years and certainly his best of the 21st century.

The CD embraces and triumphs over contradictions that would ordinarily call the musical product into question.

Blake's vocals, for instance, have a ravaged quality--all of Cicero's seventy-plus years are present, upfront and audible--and yet the vulnerability present in the vocals is delivered with a sweetness that if anything makes them sound even more appealing than his younger output.

Then again, the CD contains no "home runs"--singles that might light up the radio stations of the Deep South with phone calls for more--but on the other hand, the album features a pretty much seamless fabric of nearly flawless tracks that deliver an enjoyable thirty to forty minutes of music.

Finally, the album is divided between blues and Southern Soul songs, and depending upon your tastes the CD accordingly has its hills and valleys. Taken as a whole, however, I'm Satisfied is a definite keeper by one of Southern Soul's most durable and under-recorded artists.

The opening ballad, "I Can't Go On Mrs. Jones," a spin-off from the old Billy Paul classic, immediately sets a tone of weathered authenticity.

"Dip My Dipper (What You Say)," a reworking of the Chicago blues standard that has long been regarded as Blake's signature song, follows.

From a Southern Soul perspective, it's a fairly uninteresting cut, incorporating every bar blues chord-progression cliche in the book. I've always suspected the marvelous metaphor--"dip my dipper"--is as responsible for the song's notoriety as much as any aspect of its music.

Nevertheless, Cicero delivers his most powerful vocal of the CD on "Dipper" while also surpassing the original in impact, and Jamonte Black's female back-up and Carl Marshall's biting, Buddy Guy-like guitar all reinforce the blues mainlining. Blues enthusiasts will undoubtedly consider it the plum of the CD.

The third song, the Southern Soul title cut "I'm Satisfied," begins with two chords that instantly captivate. Those two notes are from a sixties' soul song I can no longer put my finger on. At any rate, those two notes, at that exact tempo, with that light, deft, swirling keyboard, are the equivalent of a secret combination unlocking a tumbler of a safe full of musical riches.

"I'm Satisfied" immediately transitions into a mid-range, trotting tempo. Everything swings but is held in check. (For dancers, this is the "edge" that keeps you dancing.) Carl Marshall's production, first-rate throughout the set, is special on this song. If you admire the renowned reggae rhythm section of Sly & Robbie, for example, you can appreciate the delayed precision with which "I'm Satisfied's" drum and bass provide its pounding foundation.

Cicero's vocal, the female backup and the admirable Andre Houston horns fall into place with beautiful ease.

"She Works The Night Shift" is as compelling a blues number, if not more, than "Dip My Dipper." Marshall (who also plays bass) furnishes apt keyboard doodling, a likable style that continues in the background of the funk-slash-blues "I Want Some More Of Your Love," a more journeyman track begging for a real bridge and chorus.

Still, the top-notch musicians (Blake, Marshall, Ms. Black, Antoine Stewart on drums and Troy Anthony on percussion) do a smart imitation of bringing it off.

The album veers back toward pure Southern Soul--about which more in a minute--before returning to very likely the finest blues cut on the CD, a Dylann DeAnna-written tune first performed by Clarence Dobbins on his album under the title "Blues Uprising."

Here the song grows in stature, both because of Blake's more powerful presence and a much better arrangement that brings out the best elements of the melody.

It's followed with great fanfare and fun by an old Betty Everett standard, "You're No Good," which like so much of the album strikes a perfect tone: nothing is over-dramatized, no one over-reaches, modest musical goals are achieved with outstanding results.

Then the album reprises the title cut, "I'm Satisfied," a wise choice, before segueing into the second of the two Southern Soul blockbusters on the CD, "Here Comes The Heartaches."

But first let's talk about the "pure Southern Soul" alluded to earlier: "Into Something." To hear and read about the original, go to Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to Cicero Blake or simply click this link to listen to the YouTube version of "I'm Into Something" while continuing to read this review.
"Into Something" is the one track on I'm Satisfied that pales in comparison with the original. The phrases that stood out in the original--and in particular the stunning guitar hook and stupendous chorus--are lost in the overly-casual remake, and I wonder whether it was producer Marshall's decision to bury the superb melody or if the remake is simply closer to the live-in-performance version Blake has been doing in his senior years.

I have been featuring the original recording in write-ups (Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to Cicero Blake) ever since I belatedly discovered the tune only a couple of years ago. The original recording was overlooked even though it can stand alongside the landmarks of the genre: Ronnie Lovejoy's "Sho' Wasn't Me," Johnnie Taylor's "Big Head Hundreds" and Tyrone Davis's "Leavin'".

How does this happen? It happens all the time, and not just to musicians but also film directors, writers and many other artists. Sometimes the artist doesn't "know what he's got"; at other times the relative obscurity of the project as a whole dooms the jewel of the lot.

I interviewed Cicero Blake, who--now in his mid-seventies--lives in an apartment in a retirement community in Chicago, shortly after the recording sessions for I'M SATISFIED. He said he knew how good the original "I'm Into Something" was, and he was grateful that someone else had finally caught on, too. Cicero also knew that the version he had just recorded lacked the power and intensity of the original.

Still, the I'M SATISFIED version of "Into Something" is a worthy if under-stated version of the classic. It's still strong enough to be one of the top tracks on the LP.

And by the time the CD returns to the other Blake classic--"Here Come The Heartaches"--it more than makes up for the shortcoming.

"Here Come The Heartaches" exploits the same deep vein of bedrock soul that "Into Something" mines, and unlike "Into Something" it outdoes the original.

Jamonte Black's background meshes exhilaratingly with Blake's great vocal, and before you know it, you've been treated to an album's worth of material to make any artist proud.

In I'm Satisfied, with its theme of having lived a life fully--with kindness, pleasure and selflessness--Cicero Blake has left behind a satisfying, final legacy. And if, unfortunately, he should leave us in the near term, he will have succeeded where many other R&B vocalists have failed in doing just that.

In the meantime, Cicero, there's this song that needs a little work. . .

--Daddy B. Nice

Bargain-Priced I'm Satisfied CD

Comparison-Priced I'm Satisfied CD

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If You Liked. . . You'll Love

If you liked Glenn Jones' "Baby Come Home," you'll love Cicero Blake's "Part-Time Woman."




Honorary "B" Side

"School Of Life"



5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy I'm Into Something  by Cicero  Blake
I'm Into Something


CD: Just One Of Those Things

Sample or Buy
Just One Of Those Things


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy School Of Life by Cicero  Blake
School Of Life


CD: Too Hip To Be Happy
Label: P-Vine

Sample or Buy
Too Hip To Be Happy


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy Waiting On You by Cicero  Blake
Waiting On You


CD: Ain't Nothing Wrong
Label: Mardi Gras

Sample or Buy
Ain't Nothing Wrong


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy Ain't Nothing Wrong by Cicero  Blake
Ain't Nothing Wrong


CD: Ain't Nothing Wrong
Label: Mardi Gras

Sample or Buy
Ain't Nothing Wrong


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy Don't Wanna Blow My Chance With You by Cicero  Blake
Don't Wanna Blow My Chance With You


CD: Here Comes The Heartache
Label: Grapevine

Sample or Buy
Here Comes The Heartache


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy I'm Satisfied by Cicero  Blake
I'm Satisfied


CD: I'm Satisfied
Label: CDS

Sample or Buy
I'm Satisfied


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy It's The Weekend by Cicero  Blake
It's The Weekend


CD: Ain't Nothing Wrong
Label: Mardi Gras

Sample or Buy
Ain't Nothing Wrong


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy You're So Good To Me by Cicero  Blake
You're So Good To Me


CD: It's You I Need
Label: Senator N Jones

Sample or Buy
It's You I Need


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy A Woman Needs To Be Loved by Cicero  Blake
A Woman Needs To Be Loved


CD: Harlem Sessions
Label: Sessions (SOH)



3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Dip My Dipper by Cicero  Blake
Dip My Dipper


CD: Here Comes The Heartache
Label: Grapevine

Sample or Buy
Here Comes The Heartache


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Here Comes The Heartache by Cicero  Blake
Here Comes The Heartache


CD: Here Comes The Heartache
Label: Grapevine

Sample or Buy
Here Comes The Heartache


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy I'm Into Something (Remix) by Cicero  Blake
I'm Into Something (Remix)


CD: I'm Satisfied
Label: CDS

Sample or Buy
I'm Satisfied


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Stand By Me by Cicero  Blake
Stand By Me


CD: Stand By Me

Sample or Buy
Stand By Me


2 Stars 2 Stars 
Sample or Buy I Got To Find A Black Cat Bone by Cicero  Blake
I Got To Find A Black Cat Bone


CD: Celebration Of Blues: Blues From Mississippi
Label: Celebration Of Blues



2 Stars 2 Stars 
Sample or Buy I've Got To Use My Imagination by Cicero  Blake
I've Got To Use My Imagination


CD: Too Hip To Be Happy
Label: P-Vine

Sample or Buy
Too Hip To Be Happy


2 Stars 2 Stars 
Sample or Buy Shake It Up by Cicero  Blake
Shake It Up


CD: Ain't Nothing Wrong
Label: Mardi Gras

Sample or Buy
Ain't Nothing Wrong


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