The Complicatist : Lost Soul Classics, Old and New

How did Shreveport, Louisiana get to be the unknown soul capital of America?

by Gordon Campbell

In recent weeks, the fairy tale story behind the “ You and Me” song featured in the Oscar-worthy film Blue Valentine has received a fair bit of exposure. Essentially, the producers left it up to star Ryan Gosling to select a special song to represent the happy early stages of his character’s relationship with the Michelle Williams character. The track that Gosling chose – “You and Me “ by Penny and the Quarters – could hardly be more obscure. It is nearly 40 years old, and no one (as of now) knows who the musicians were.

A couple of years ago the song surfaced as the second to last cut on a fairly obscure compilation series called Eccentric Soul, in a volume dedicated to the tiny Prix record label of Columbus, Ohio. The liner notes for the album describe the song’s background like this:

More than 30 years after the label closed its doors, a mysterious box of tapes turned up at an estate sale in Columbus. Originally thought to be the lost Prix masters, it was instead discovered to be dozens of demos, rehearsals and a few finished songs…The tape boxes were for the most part unmarked, creating a puzzle that would take some time to solve… Penny and the Quarters’ You and Me’ is a random rehearsal by a group no one can remember.

The Prix collection sold badly, but Gosling’s own group Dead Men’s Bones, share the same pr firm as the Numero Group, who release the Eccentric Soul series. That probably explains how he got hold of the album, but it was Gosling who plucked the song from obscurity, and it is a powerful ingredient in the film. This isn’t the first time that rare soul music has been rescued from oblivion by Hollywood. In 1988, the John Waters’ Hairspray soundtrack included Toussaint McCall’s 1967 mini-hit “ Nothing Takes The Place of You” which almost everyone else except Waters had long since forgotten, if they knew it at all.

Among other things, it is a useful reminder of how much great soul music existed outside the Motown machine on one hand, and the Atlantic/Stax/Volt axis on the other. Before writing this column, I never consciously realised how much of it came from Shreveport, Louisiana – at last count, only the 109th largest city in the United States.

This month’s column disinters a dozen or so lost soul tracks old and new, starting with Ryan Gosling’s inspired resurrection of Penny and the Quarters, who-ever they were :

2. Jackie Shane : “ Walking the Dog”. Jackie Shane was a cross dressing Canadian soul singer who made a few singles and album in the mid 1960s. This fantastic, semi-sedated version of the Rufus Thomas oldie “ Walking the Dog” is pretty startling. His biggest (only) hit “Any Other Way” is also worth checking out on Youtube.

3. Darrell Banks :“Open The Door To Your Heart” Take all my blind soul, why don’t you give it sight? Darrell Banks is remembered for this one great track from 1967. The lyrics pour out like honey….surely, this is the way love was meant to be :

Walk right on in
Let your love come running in….
Let it flow like the river
Let it shine like the light
Take allmy blind soul baby
Why don’t you give it sight ?
You know I’ve needed you
I’ve needed you a long long time
My pride is too much for me baby
That’s what keeps my love so strong

In February 1970, Banks had the dual misfortune of (a) being two-timed by his girlfriend Margaret and (b) finding out too late that his love rival was an off-duty police officer. When Banks tried to pick a fight with the guy, the cop shot him dead. For contrast, I’ve also included a simmering 1970s version of the song by Betty (“Clean Up Woman”) Wright.

4. Eddy Giles : “Losin’ Boy” Giles was performing as Eddy G Giles and the Jive Five around the time he recorded this in Shreveport Louisiana. I bought a copy in Memphis in 1967, on the yellow Murco label just like the one featured in this video. Giles later re-recorded the song for Stax in 1971, but this is the original. Love the way Giles sings “ I’m like Ray Charles/I guess I was born to lose/I’m a losing boy/ I lost you….”

Click To Listen on Youtube

5. Pink : F***in’ Perfect
This may not be soul, but it is plenty soulful. Someone once said when you have a child its like your heart is suddenly walking around outside your body, and you can’t do much to stop it being hurt, over and over. I’ve seen entire movies at film festivals that communicate less than what this astonishing song/representation does about how the world deals to innocence, and yet it closes with the devotion that keeps driving us on, regardless. IMO, this extended version of the song/video is the best of the many on the Web.

Pink – F**kin Perfect – Official Music Video found on Pop

6. Majestic Arrows : “ I’ll Never Cry For Another Boy”
OK here’s a track from a different Eccentric Soul compilation, one devoted to Chicago’s obscure Bandit record label. Like the Penny and the Quarters track, this is a recording of a rehearsal. The Bandit label was run by a domineering guru figure called Arrow Brown, which may explain why the Eccentric Soul compilation has tracks by the Arrows, by the Majestic Arrows, and by Arrow’s son, the magnificently named Altyrone Deno Brown. The heartfelt vocal makes this one special, and the defiant proto-feminist lyrics are also great :

Can’t you understand? I want to be my own woman
Tears are for babies who can’t help themselves
I’m lost in a love that I really don’t need
Crying on the inside
While my poor heart bleeds
And I’ll never, never cry for another boy…

Buried in the fade-out is this zinger as well : “If you get down on your knees, I won’t even turn around.”

7. Bobby Powell : “ The Bells”
The criminally overlooked Bobby Powell cut some great tracks for the Whit/Jewel labels based in Shreveport, Louisiana. Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to his wonderful version of Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” but this wedding track (originally recorded by Baby Washington) is almost a one of a kind genre – an exultantly happy soul song about marital bliss. You know we started kissing, and we kept on kissing….

8. Suicide : “Dream Baby Dream”
White boy soul. Alan Vega on vocals and the great Martin Rev on Farfisa do the white man’s Ghost Dance. Dream, baby, dream …and everything will be alright, though probably not. . Every ten years or so, Suicide get re-discovered for the electro pioneers that they were, and then get buried again as everyone also remembers what an annoying little prick Alan Vega was.

9. James Carr : “ A Man Needs A Woman”
This is from the Stax/Volt empire. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke are all better known, but my pick for the greatest soul singer of all time would be the eternally troubled, fantastically talented James Carr. The man could sing anything, even the Bee Gees “ To Love Somebody” and make it sound soulful, and his version of the much recorded “Dark End of the Street” is one of the supreme vocal performances in American music. Because the “Dark End” track is relatively well known, I’ve featured his “A Man Needs a Woman” as well.

10. Jerry Butler : “ He Will Break Your Heart”
In the early 1960s, Chicago soul churned out some killer tracks by the Impressions, Major Lance and Jerry Butler – all of them sharing the common denominator of Curtis Mayfield as writer, guitarist and co-vocalist. These days, Jerry Butler is a very prominent politician in Chicago – but back in the day, he was a key link between 1950s doowop and the Philly soul of the early 1970s. Butler recorded several distinctive tracks with his old Impressions colleague Curtis Mayfield – whose tremolo guitar and falsetto harmonies on this track are instantly recognizable.

At the time, only Smokey Robinson was writing soul songs with lyrics as humane and literate as Mayfield, and Butler does a great job of conveying what is basically a guy’s argument – expressed via an intricate metaphor derived from the theatre – that his honesty and devotion should be worth more to his girlfriend than the surface flash that his rival has to offer. Since this is a soul song, it is an argument that he’s very likely to lose, but Butler’s warmly compassionate voice makes a pretty good case, all the way to the finale : “ And when he bows and takes his exit / Uh-huh, I’ll be there to take you hooome”

11. Reuben Bell : “ You’re Gonna Miss Me”

Like Eddy Giles and Bobby Powell, Reuben Bell recorded in Shreveport, where he recorded this beautifully plaintive track for Murco in 1967, with his group the Beltones. Bell died in Shreveport in 2004.

12. Stanley Winston : No More Ghettos in America” ; George Perkins and the Silver Stars : “Cryin’ In The Streets, Pt One ”

“I don’t think there can be another ghetto in America… not for me.’ On his only single, Stanley Winston delivers that line with such wistful sadness that hope virtually dies on delivery. (The version I’ve linked to here is taken from a John Peel tribute radio show, and includes an initial bit of extraneous talk.) This track too, was recorded in Louisiana. For obvious reasons, I’ve twinned it with another neo-political southern soul song from the same era, the George Perkins classic “Crying in the Streets” – which was distributed by former Marine Shelby Singleton, on his Silver Fox label.

Only in America could you get this kind of cultural mash-up. Shelby Singleton not only released George Perkins’ gospel drenched lament for the murdered Martin Luther King. He also bought Sun Records from Sam Phillips, produced country pop hits like Jeanne C. Riley’s ‘Harper Valley PTA’ and Ray Stevens “ Ahab the Arab” and – via his business partner Lelan Rogers – was involved in the psychedelic scene in Texas, and released classics by the 13th Floor Elevators, Red Krayola and Bubble Puppy. Oh, did I mention that Shelby Singleton grew up in Shreveport Louisiana, and started out in the music business as the Mercury Records talent scout in that city?