Wednesday, January 13, 2010

That question

Soulstress Beverley Knight was a popular winner of BBC Celebrity Mastermind recently. She certainly knew her Prince and took the General Knowledge in her stride too. They have surely made the questions easier for the celebs though, haven’t they?. (Incidentally, I’ve never been a fan of the Midlands accent but Beverley could talk to me all night in her soft Wolverhampton tones).

Possibly Beverley’s most difficult question on the night was one she couldn’t earn a point for answering. In the idle banter between rounds she was asked what is soul (music). You can see her answer here (it’s 23 min 40 secs in, and assumes of course that the show is still available to view). Considering she was put on the spot (I assume) a brave attempt at an answer, but perhaps not the greatest one I’ve heard. Beverley mentioned the words passion, pain, vigour in her description. Plenty of singers would rightly claim to exhibit or feel those emotions when singing but wouldn’t be considered soul singers.

Also, I read plenty of reviews that describe artists or tracks as being soul or soulful that are really only that in the broadest sense of the word, but in the end they cannot really be classed as soul music. On the other hand though I would certainly struggle to come up with a definition that gets to the essence of the genre, and one that clearly differentiates it from other musical styles. All I know is I know it when I hear it. And that’s my cop out – I simply refer you to some examples what is, undoubtedly, SOUL.

For instance a recent charity shop purchase of mine (for £1) that I am mighty pleased with is Z.Z. Hill’s album “A Man Needs A Woman”. Some research on this album reveals it as being a bit of a curiosity really. Released in the UK in 1985 on a Charly Records offshoot, Top Line, it is on first glance at the tracklisting a straight reissue of 1971’s SwampDogg produced “The Brand New Z Z Hill”. But it’s not as straightforward as that because while a slight majority of the tracks are from the original album other tracks are apparently an amalgam of later instrumental backings overdubbed with Hill’s vocals (which may or may not have been recorded in 1971) that sound as if Hill was in a very large space at the time.he was singing. The effect is to make Hill sound bluesier on these tracks, which may have been the idea.

The sleeve notes on this album said this about Z.Z Hill, and indicate that the album was probably issued as a tribute to the then not long departed Arzell Hill:
For 20 years ZZ Hill was a soul survivor, until his sadly premature death in 1985*. His career had as many ups and downs as a rollercoaster, but the next up was never far away, and he didn’t have to stray from wha the did best – his very own brand of Southern soul. Born in Texas in 1940*, and first making a local name for himself in Dallas, ZZ’s early influence was the classy blues singer Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. In the early 60s his brother Matt had a little record company** in Los Angeles, and it was here that ZZ enjoyed a sizeable r’nb hit in 1964 with “You Were Wrong”. Although he recorded for the bigger Kent and Atlantic labels during the 60s with varying success, it was when he teamed up with his brother again, with Matt as producer, that he had his biggest soul hit – “Don’t Make Me Pay For His Mistakes”, in 1971. It’s the next ‘up’ in his career which is represented by this album, when he was signed in the same year by record producer Jerry Williams Jnr, better know as the legendary Swamp Dogg. ZZ Hill records continued to appear in the 70s***, and in 1981 he joined the Mississippi company Malaco, where he proved that, in spite of changing fashions, a top class singer could still make great music. [Ron Etts]    

*    Wikipedia states 1935-1984.
**  His early releases were on MHR – so that’s what is stands for: Matt Hill Records.
*** I first became aware of ZZ Hill in 1977 when I fell in love with his single “Love Is So Good When You’re Stealing It”.  

Z.Z. Hill – A Man Needs A Woman (A Woman Needs A Man) 1971
(this is the same version as that on “The Brand New ZZ Hill”)  

Z.Z. Hill – Hold Back (One Man At A Time) 1985?
(this is not the version as found on “The Brand New ZZ Hill”) 

Buy “The Brand New Z.Z. Hill”.

“A Man Needs A Woman” in particular is a peach of a song. I needed my research on the Z.Z. Hill album to remind me that James Carr, who some will say is the greatest soul singer of them all, had recorded a song with the same title back in 1968. The songs have similarities, but are not the same. I had to share the You Tube clip of James Carr singing the OB McClinton penned “A Man Needs A Woman” though because listening to it had a profound effect on me and by the fade out I found my eyes were moist. From Soul to Deep Soul, then? See what you think.    





Raggedy said...

I really think Z.Z. should have stuck to the Blues; he's not convincing as a soulman, imo.
James Carr, on the other hand is SOUL incarnate. He starts singing and there is no doubt about what he is singing. With Z.Z I feel like he's not feeling at home in that song -- he's trying, but it doesn't sound right.
Maybe it'll grow on me ...
Great post, as always!

Darcy said...

Raggedy:I sort of know what you mean about ZZ's singing but his "A Man Needs A Woman" really gets me as a whole - the arrangement, the horns, the girl backing singers, the simple guitar motif (Perhaps the real dues should go to Swamp Dogg).

As for James Carr, yes one of the true greats.