Best Of 2016: The Year In Review

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Best Of 2016: The Year In Review

January 1, 2017:

2016: The Year In Southern Soul

Everything seemed to come in threes in 2016. The number held some magical sway. Three dynamos of southern soul--one a performer, the other two producers--left us. And by way of explanation, in southern soul and southern blues we begin with the obituaries not out of any morbidity but because the so-called "white" mainstream "loves" its blues only after a black musician has been dead for a couple of generations. Then and only then are they raised out of anonymity into unqualified renown: it has always been so.

First was Otis Clay, the great Chicago R&B vocalist who, along with Syl Johnson, Tyrone Davis and Cicero Blake defined Chicago blues and soul singing. Late in life, his duets with Uvee Hayes stirred southern soul fans with their grit, heart and authenticity.

Second was the great Jackson, Mississippi composer/producer Harrison Calloway, the grand master of Mississippi blues and southern soul, whose credits would fill pages of this website. Spanning both Johnnie Taylor's and Floyd Taylor's generations, he worked with literally everyone in the industry from his niche at Malaco Records and beyond.

Third, and least well known, was Chicago-based Leo Graham, longtime songwriter/producer for the voluminous Tyrone Davis, whose many styles and chitlin' circuit hits bore Graham's deft touch and were among the most influential in southern soul.

"Three" also popped up often in the year's music. Stax legend William Bell recorded a much-acclaimed CD and single, "The Three Of Me," in which the gentle stylist sang:

"Last night I had a dream
And there were three of me.
There was the man I was,
The man I am,
And the man I want to be."

Then there was Stan Butler, the young "phenom" who came out of nowhere with a string of rhythmic singles, none more beguiling than "The Third Of The Month," dedicated to "all of the old school players out there who get their check on the first and the third of the month." Butler ended the year sharing the bill with southern soul star T.K. Soul.

Finally, and most dramatically, there was "Three," the astounding southern soul debut by Cold Drank.

"I used to have two.
Now I'm taking care of three,
Got a wife,
The other woman,
And a sidepiece."

Written and produced by Charles Lewis (aka Heavy), the young composer/producer responsible for Pokey Bear's "My Sidepiece," itself the biggest chitlin' circuit smash since Theodis Ealey's "Stand Up In It," "Three" was the latest bombshell from Baton Rouge's boiling cauldron of contemporary southern soul (Beat Flippa, Pokey Bear, Tyree Neal, etc.)

Not much--or "light" fare--from some of southern soul's "big guns," however: Sir Charles Jones, T.K. Soul, L.J. Echols, Bigg Robb, Vick Allen, Karen Wolfe and Willie Clayton. T.K. Soul put much energy into producing new artists. Denise LaSalle was hospitalized but, ever indomitable, bounced back by year's end.

Clarence Carter and Latimore appeared to stop touring. Willie Clayton limited his appearances, as did Roy C, Theodis Ealey and Shirley Brown. Still going strong, however, was the indefatigable Bobby Rush. And touring more--gigging seemingly everywhere--were the charismatic new stars like Pokey Bear, J-Wonn and Big Yayo, alongside the (now) veterans like Sir Charles, T.K. and Vick Allen.

Women came back from an off-year in 2015, and none more so than Ms. Jody, with a tremendous album--I Got The Feeling--consolidating her claim to being southern soul's number-one diva. Nellie "Tiger" Travis returned with a Floyd Hamberlin-produced ballad, "All The Lovers In The House," with the lyric:

"I love a man
Who puts it in the garage
All night long."

Adrena wowed fans with a superlative new album, Better Days. Vicksburg's Nikita Randle, formerly known as Mys. Niki--now Nikita--put out two of the finest singles of the year: "Rules To The Game" and "Don't Make Me Do It." Crystal Thomas and Ms. Mini made strong debuts. And Jesi Terrell had a hit single--charted first here--with "My Man Is A Full Grown Dog."

Other women making contributions in 2016 were Stephanie McDee ("If You Lay, You Gone Pay"), Lady Di ("Love Don't Owe Nothing"), Duchess Jureesa McBride ("Personal Love Vendetta"), Rosalyn Candy ("Timeless Soul Music Never Dies") and Memphis veteran Sheba Potts-Wright's anthem "Big Hand Man" ("A man with little hands/Can't give me enough") was fondly remembered at one point in future-president Donald Trump's campaign.

Longtime vet Big Cynthia scored double # 1 singles at year's end with "Come Saddle Up" and "Swing Out," a duet with Pokey, and overlooked, relatively new female artists like Sharnette Hyter and Summer Wolfe emerged. Dallas soul singer Lady Soul ("Lady Soul Slide") returned with a strong outing, "Tighten Up," on Beat Flippa's (Daniel Ross's) new sampler, and Mystery Lady's hilarious novelty hit, "He Caught Me With The Wrong Drawers On" was resurrected.

Jackson, Mississippi's Katrenia Jefferson, southern soul's female-gender doppelganger to Lenny Williams, crushed airplay in southern Alabama with her single "Living A Lie." The talented Shay Denise put out a potent tune, "A Man's World (But Women Run It)," and Toia Jones sexed it up with "You Can Get It."

Collaborations rolled out, among them: O.B. Buchana and Mr. Sam's "I Tiptoed In It," Sir Charles Jones and Karen Wolfe's "You Think I'm Wrong (I Think I'm Right)," Denise Lasalle and Karen Wolfe's vintage acoustic blues, "Shake A Little Something," Cool Ricky Blues and L.J. Echols' "Sneaky Girl," and--recreating the atmosphere of the late Barry White--Wendell B. and Lacee's "Do You Think About Me?"

Mr. David did a southern soul send-off of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire" called "Knock The Fire" (but didn't publish it for obvious copyright reasons). J-Wonn recorded a heartfelt gospel song called "Lord, I Need To Talk To You" in addition to publishing his sophomore CD. And no sketch of 2016 would be complete without mention of the stone-cold masterpiece of a CD, "Mississippi Motown," put out by southern soul's bad-boy genius, LaMorris Williams.

YouTube continued its rise as the defacto radio of southern soul, aided in ever-more-prominent form by YouTube's mixtape deejays, among them Frederick Geason, Mr. Melvin, DJ Bubba Yae, Marvelous Mark and DJ Whaltbabieluv.

Making discreet returns were Ric E. Blues under the new name Cool Ricky Blues, and Luther Lackey, who told your Daddy B. Nice the octave-lower, gospel-drenched background singer on songs like "I Don't Want To Be Alone" is actually himself, saving a buck!

Finally, Zydeco continued to influence and infiltrate southern soul, with none other than traditionalist Ecko Records' John Ward picking up tricks from newbies like Baton Rouge producer Beat Flippa (last year's winner) and giving strong proof for producer of the year. Ward incorporated the cajun-style button accordion into percolating fast jams by Jaye Hammer, ("Trail Ride") and O.B. Buchana ("Why Can't I Be Your Lover"). And on the other side, zydeco's Chris Ardoin (following in Keith Frank's footsteps) moved ever closer to a zydeco-southern soul hybrid with the rhapsodic "Boo Thang."

Here's an approximate list of the year's CD's, many reviewed here, to which your Daddy B. Nice's gives special kudos in these CD-challenged times:

Tucka Long Live The King
T.K. Soul The Legacy
Bigg Robb Got My Whiskey
Big Yayo Southern Classic
Beat Flippa I Got The Blues Vol. 2
J-Wonn The Legacy Begins
Napoleon Demps Presents
Big Poppa G I Believe
Crystal Thomas Lyrical Gumbo
David Brinston Back Seat Rider
Donnie Ray Two Way Love Affair
J. Red Soul Certified
Jeter Jones Da GQ Country Boy
Duchess Jureesa McBride Personal Love Vendetta
Lady Di Love Don't Owe Me Nothing
LaMorris Williams Mississippi Motown
Ms. Jody I Got The Feeling
Pokey Bear Mr. It Ain't Fair
O.B. Buchana Mississippi Folks
Ricky White Love Zone
Rosalyn Candy Timeless Soul Music Never Dies
Big G Satisfaction Guaranteed
Sonny Mack Get On Up
Bobby Conerly The Best Of
Adrena Better Days
Wendell B The Next 1
Stevie J Back 2 Blues

More great quotations from the songs of the year:

Knick-knack, paddy whack,
I think something’s wrong.
I’m in love with a woman,
I think she’s doing me wrong.
(“Sneaky Girl” Cool Ricky Blues)

“What about me?
What about your babies?...
What are you saying?”
“I’m saying….
I used to have two.
Now I’ve taking care of three.
Got a wife, the other woman,
and a sidepiece.”
“…Don’t say no more.
I ain’t no fool!”
(“Three” Cold Drank)

Then I met a man,
And his name was Bill.
And all he wanted
Was just one more cheap thrill.
Then I met another man
And his name was Ray.
And he was just looking
For somewhere to stay.
Now that kind of action
Just won’t do.
(“All True Man” Ms. Jody)

I tried to leave her many times before
And every time I leave,
I walk back for more…
It’s like porcupine meat,
Too fat to eat,
Too lean to throw away.
(“Porcupine Meat” Bobby Rush)

--Daddy B. Nice - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

--Daddy B. Nice

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