The term Southern Soul usually evokes images of either some small studio in the Southern US states in the mid-60s to mid-70s, where the musicians are working at getting a suitable groove for a singer to pour heart and soul into some true-to-life lyrics, or a hot, sweaty chitlin’ circuit club, where the crowd is urging acts on to ever greater heights of emotion over the relentless groove of the house band. The best Southern Soul is a rich blend of blues and gospel, with a dash of soulful country added to the mix. Singers who came on the scene in its golden age grew up on their parents’ blues and gospel records, and hearing the (exclusively country) Grand Ole Opry on the radio. They usually started off singing in church, taking their gospel influences with them when they moved to soul. The majority of Southern studio bands mixed black and white musicians, each mixing sympathy with a singer’s vocal needs and knowledge they had to keep the music hard and tight enough to provide the solid framework that the songs needed.
“Take Me To The River” sets out Southern Soul’s story in an approximately chronological manner, from its early rumblings at the beginning of the 1960s, through its first golden era in the mid-60s and its second in the early 70s, and on to the valiant attempts to forestall its demise in the mid-to-late 70s. It features everything from million-sellers to obscure 45s that didn’t get beyond the ‘limits’ of the cities in which they were recorded. It carries repertoire from the genre’s greatest and best-known names, and from its greatest unknowns – all with an excellence factor that justifies their inclusion over hundreds of other magnificent recordings.
It’s important to stress that what this 3CD set offers is very much “A” Southern Soul Story, and not “The” Southern Soul Story. We don’t claim to be definitive and could have chosen 75 different tracks that tell our “Story” in an equally compelling manner. But, in the way that that Kent’s Dave Godin’s Deep Treasures series took Deep Soul to a much bigger audience than most had thought it capable of reaching, this set will, we hope, introduce another seminal strand of black American music to a wider public. We offer no apology to the ardent, long-time collector about the familiarity of some selections - each track here is an important piece of this jigsaw, regardless of whether it sold ten million copies worldwide or only to family and friends. To that end we have also tried to avoid overdosing on the previously unreleased and un-re-released, although several tracks are indeed making their CD debut here.
There have been incredible examples of Southern Soul cut in locations as far north as Detroit, Chicago and New York, but we have restricted ourselves to recordings made, mostly, in studios whose names are synonymous with the sound – Broadway Sound/Quinvy, Royal, Stax, Muscle Shoals Sound, Criteria, Fame et al. The one exception to this is Joe Simon’s ‘My Adorable One’ - in many ways, the archetypal Southern Soul classic, albeit one cut in Northern California. However, Simon is indelibly identified with Southern Soul, having recorded in Nashville, Memphis and Muscle Shoals exclusively between 1966 and 1971, and so we feel justified in accommodating a recording that was so crucial to the development of the genre.
We also limited ourselves to recordings made in Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia. Recordings made in Arizona and Texas offer a largely different slant on Southern Soul, and did not really provide a comfortable musical fit. (We excluded New Orleans for the same reason). We had also originally intended to limit ourselves to one track per artist, but how do you pick just one James Carr or Otis Redding recording? Or choose one William Bell cut, when William made such fine music throughout the time span of this set? Thus we have allowed ourselves the luxury of a second bite of the apple where a select few are concerned, while keeping it to one track for most.
As early as 1962, many of Southern Soul’s pivotal figures had mastered its requisite ‘formula’. By 1964 the genre had fully invented itself – although it wasn’t yet named. Even in the late 60s, when overdubbed string sections were becoming increasingly commonplace, the end product was still so fundamentally Southern that it’s hard to notice attempts to “sweeten” such thrillers as Candi Staton’s ‘Another Man’s Woman’ or Marcell Strong’s ‘Mumble In My Ear’.
It’s the hope of everyone involved with this project that your journey through a decade and a half of unbeatable music will leave you with a desire for more Southern Soul than you thought possible. Welcome to 75 selections of great soul music for grown up tastes.
By Martin Goggin and Tony Rounce