Soul and Blues
Soul music was the predominant black music style of the Sixties. Smooth and sensual, passionate and heartfelt, soul included elements of the blues, rhythm & blues, doo-wop and, most notably, gospel. Its roots can be traced back to the Fifties and such artists as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and James Brown (the Godfather of Soul), each of whom incorporated various aspects of gospel into rhythm & blues. But it took a confluence of factors — the Civil Rights Movement, black pride and the work of some enlightened record executives like Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler — for soul music to come into its own.
Although numerous labels released soul records, Atlantic was far and away the house of soul. During the Sixties, Atlantic could lay claim to being the home of such artists as Aretha Franklin (the Queen of Soul), Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett and Ben E. King. At the same time, the Memphis-based Stax Records, which Atlantic distributed, boasted a roster that included Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave and Booker T. and the M.G.’s.
Founded by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, Stax Records first hit the charts with legendary Memphis singer and deejay Rufus Thomas and his daughter, Carla. It was a father-daughter recording, “‘Cause I Love You,” that caught Wexler’s attention. But it was the Stax sound — provided by the ace band Booker T. and the M.G.’s — that would ultimately propel many of Atlantic’s and Stax’s records to the top of the charts throughout the Sixties.
"Green Onions"Finale performance of "Green Onions" featuring Booker T. & the M.G.'s at the 1992 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Regional labels were taking the world by storm
By the end of the Sixties, soul music was on the wane. Otis Redding died in a plane crash in December 1967; Burke, Pickett and Tex all would leave Atlantic by the early Seventies; and, perhaps most significantly, the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. brought a more militant sensibility to the African American community — a sensibility that would be better reflected by the funk music of the Seventies.
Regional labels like Detroit’s Motown and Stax in Memphis were taking the world by storm by the time Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff started Philadelphia International Records in 1972. By the mid-’70s, Philly Soul became a leading musical and cultural influence, led by a roster of African American artists.
Writer/producers Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell pioneered the sound of Philadelphia while creating vocal and instrumental arrangements that paved the way for studio construction of disco and urban contemporary R&B.
Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia productions were sophisticated, making their output prolific and their music and melodies sublime. Reminiscent of the Motown production line in the ‘60s, the team used a core group of musicians and established a multi-layered urban R&B sound. The Philly Soul acts differed from their counterparts; while Motown’s stars usually hailed from Detroit, the Philadelphia performers were often transplants like Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls and Dionne Warwick.
"Backstabbers"The O'Jays perform "Backstabbers" at the 2005 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
The young veterans of T.S.O.P (The Sound of Philadelphia) dominated the scene with the support of talented producers and executive staff including Bunny Sigler and Peter DeAngelis, who scored their first major national hits in the late ‘60s with vocal groups like the Intruders, the Delfonics and Archie Bell and the Drells. In 1968, the Philly-based R&B/soul group the Delfonics released the Thom Bell-produced “La-La (Means I Love You),” which sold over one million copies and is considered one of the first songs to feature the Philadelphia sound.
The wave of success continued with Joe Simon, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass), Billy Paul, the Spinners and especially the O’Jays, who, more than any other act, defined the trademark Philadelphia Soul sound.
Philadelphia hits often boasted strong, socially aware lyrics, particularly on some of the O’Jays classics like “Back Stabbers,” a melodic reflection of urban street life. "We wanted to take social themes and translate them to commercial recordings," Kenny Gamble said in 1988. "Philadelphia International was about spreading love."
The blues were born in the Deep South, traveled up the Mississippi River to Memphis, then Chicago, and spread in all directions. From their origins in the early 1900s, the blues emerged as a highly stylized form of music that nonetheless reflected the individual signatures of those who performed them.
They are the ultimate expression of the African-American experience in America, delivering personal history and parable in song. As a folk song passed from person to person, it might be reshaped by a blues singer such as Robert Johnson or Lead Belly, acquiring a new and definitive complexion. “The blues?” B.B. King asked rhetorically. “It’s the mother of American music. That’s what it is—the source.”
"Let Me Love You Baby"Buddy Guy with B.B. King and Eric Clapton perform "Let Me Love You Baby" at the 2005 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
"Let Me Love You Baby"
The blues had a baby, and they called it rock and roll.
The first blues record, dating from 1920, is thought to be Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues.” Such female singers as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey dominated the early blues scene, fronting jazz groups and jug bands in cabaret settings. Country bluesmen of the period, like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton, played at house parties, fish fries and juke joints, developing rhythmic, self-accompanied styles on acoustic guitar.
Memphis and the Mississippi Delta produced many of the major blues artists of the pre-World War II era, among them Robert Johnson, Son House and Sonny Boy Williamson. Distinct schools and styles developed in Texas and the Carolinas.
The subsequent postwar migration of Southern blacks led to Chicago, where such Delta expatriates as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed and Elmore James blazed an urbanized, amplified blues style that laid the groundwork for a musical revolution.
The blues provided the formal basis for rock and roll, as well as inspiring and informing the music of key artists ranging from Cream and the Rolling Stones to Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughan. As Muddy Waters sang, “The blues had a baby, and they called it rock and roll.”
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