Many of the biggest names in 1950s R&B and rock’n’roll enjoyed careers that sustained well into the soul era. Little Richard and Larry Williams both did, of course, as did Jackie Wilson, Solomon Burke and Joe Tex, who, let’s face it, didn’t really hit their stride until soul came along to reveal their full capabilities.
You can also include Bobby Marchan in that number. The former front man of Huey “Piano” Smith’s Clowns was quick to embrace the coming changes in black American music, via a series of classic singles for Bobby Robinson’s Fire label that included, if not the first then certainly the finest version of, ‘There’s Something on Your Mind’ in 1960.
As the decade progressed, Bobby got even more soulful. After leaving Fury he hooked up with Stax and then Dial Records, for whose boss and producer-in-chief, Buddy Killen, he recorded frequently, and always with splendid results. Many Killen-produced sessions ended up on Cameo, giving the Philadelphia label a welcome if unlikely foot in the door of the house that Southern Soul was building below the Mason-Dixon line.
The recordings Bobby made between 1963 and 1967 found him recording at three of the premier locations for soul music: Stax and American in Memphis and FAME in Muscle Shoals. Almost all of his recordings of the period bear the stamp of those studios, and almost all are truly great. “Get Down With It” finally brings them all together in the same CD, and not before time.
The floor-friendly 1964 title track, which Bobby’s friend Little Richard later revamped into a template for UK group Slade’s breakthrough chart-topper, is probably Marchan’s best-known track here (albeit not the biggest hit, surprisingly). Other strong uptempo highlights include the FAME-recorded groover ‘Funny Style’ and, from a later period, Bobby’s remake of ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia’ (now with added Boogaloo Flu!).
We’re also delighted to finally premiere the remaining two unissued sides from Bobby’s second Volt session (after a mere 48-year delay) and feel that Marchan aficionados will get a huge belt out of his version of Paul Perryman/Clyde McPhatter’s ‘Just To Hold My Hand’, just as I did when I heard the tape for the first time not so long ago.
Wonderful as these are, it’s the ballads that really bring the set home and underscore Marchan’s relevance and importance to 60s soul. He was simply born to sing songs such as Joe Tex’s ‘Meet Me In Church’ and Paul Kelly’s ‘There’s Something About My Baby’ over those sublime rhythms laid down in Muscle Shoals and Memphis. This music is simply timeless and it’s a pleasure to be able to have it all in one place for the first time ever.
Some still believe that all there was to Bobby were his novelty hits with the Clowns. “Get Down With It” disproves any such notions immediately and confirms his standing as a true great of Southern Soul.
By Tony Rounce