Blue-eyed Soul

Once it was just a pale imitation of the real thing. But now, with the Average White Band, Kokomo and Pete Wingfield high in the US soul charts, Britain’s white soul brothers have proved that they can do it good. Tony Cummings reports…

“SOUL IS not a black American Birthright”. Well… that’s what the Atlantic Recording Corporation say in their press release. Not really surprisingly, as the blurb is for the Average White Band.

These are strange times for enthusiasts for Afro American music. Once, the view that black music can only be performed by blacks (or at least Americans) wasn’t just rabid bigotry — simply a level-headed assessment of the British Caucasian acts’ first contribution to black music, which invariably were little more than steals from its roots and parodies of its style.

Blue-eyed soul might have existed but it was an American-only phenomenon, argued the purists, a phenomenon explained by intertwining black/white lifestyles: Italian-Americans living in New York ghettos; kids of poor white Southerners finding the blues of their black playmates more attractive than the hillbilly of their parents. American blue-eyed soul seemed to have a logic that blues singers from Cheltenham or soul men from Harrow patently didn’t possess.

Or so it seemed during times gone past… One only had to recall the British blues era. Somebody once observed that being English and singing the blues was like playing football with one leg… quite possible but prone to be somewhat limited. Criticism of the worst excesses of the white blues boom is in retrospect fully justified. That society should prefer to listen to white musicians slavishly copying a folk culture which grew out of white oppression and brutalisation of the black American rather than the black originators, creators and artists who evolved blues’ poignant poetry was an exquisitely painful irony.

Vivid memories remain to this day: John Mayall selling more with one album than Otis Rush managed in a 20-year, flowingly creative career. Or the way in which the vast bulk of the longhaired Britishers who had once been so vocal in their undying love of the blues discarded the twelve-bar tradition when rich pickings were no longer to be had.

Now, the more purist critics might observe, the syndrome is being repeated, though this time with soul. The Average White Band, they argue, are the successors of Peter Green or Duster Bennett. But instead of making musical Xeroxes of Elmore James or Dr. Ross, today’s name of the game is to cop licks from the Crusaders and the JBs in the firm knowledge that the media and the British (and often American) fans want continual reassurance that white guys really are the leaders of the musical pack (NME calling the AWB “the best funk band in the world”) in patent disregard for musical evidence to the contrary.

In fact, it’s not as clear cut as that. For British blue-eyed soul, and in particular the Average White Band, is doing much more than appealing to white audiences too unhip or blinkered to catch up on black source music. It is winning over the black audience as well.

AWB have smashed in the US soul charts, their virile, strutting funk and convincingly mellow ballads making them the rave of the ghettos as well as the rock circuit. Black artists have been fulsome in their praise. Jazz-funk man Les McCann has been quoted as saying “they’re doin’ it, they’re beautiful people”. While soul sister extraordinaire Etta James has enthused “they’re one of the hottest bands around, so much talent, God I just can’t believe it”.

AN ABSORBING theory to explain the extraordinary paradox of a Scottish band fitting so totally into black music’s mainstream was put forward by Pip Williams, an English arranger whose brilliant work particularly with producer Mike Vernon: Bloodstone, Jimmy Witherspoon et al has been one of the highlights of Britain’s soul scene.

“If you’re white there now appears to be three different ways of getting into black music. The first is the copyist… there’s been a lot of them in Britain. It’s easy for a bunch of musicians to sit around with a pile of R&B records and copy them. A lot of the British blues thing was all about that, going over and over Elmore James’ records ’til it sounded near enough. It had nothing to do with creativity. And it still goes on. I heard a band called Muscles (a release recently on Big Bear) who seem to be doing the same thing with funk. Although they were supposedly writing their own material, it’s just a heap of all the most hackneyed clichés, which black street funk has thrown out.

“The second way is to transcend that, so that soul music is just a colouring or an influence. Like Van Morrison and Elton John started off copying B&B but they were creative musicians and they moved on. Now their stuff isn’t soul, it’s white rock music. But the black thing has helped make it what it is… it’s soulful white music. It’s a difficult thing to do ’cause you have to be a true original and most musicians aren’t. Not even black ones. Like in soul one guy comes in with an original idea and, everybody will grab it. But until recently if you happened to be a British honkie who really dug soul and wanted to PLAY music that was the alternative to copying…

“Now the Average White’s and those guys Mike Vernon uses at Chipping Norton (the Olympic Runners) have come along with a third alternative. It’s creative soul music. Black music isn’t simple anymore. And that’s the paradox, that’s why its now possible for white guys to get in there and CREATE black music. When the music was a guy clutching a twelve string and hollering about cotton picking it was such an environmental thing, such a GUT thing, that only they could do it. And when soul started, a guy like Otis had so much of the blues and that Southern gospel feeling, it was the same. Only black acts had THAT kind of feeling.

“But black music’s changed so much since then. Hendrix, all those progressive soul group’s, Barry White’s sophisticated thing. Black music has got electric. Like black musicians brought in electric keyboards, Moogs, whole lots of new, sophisticated ideas from outside. And when that happened and the ’70s style black music got established it made it possible for groups like the AWB.

“What’s the difference? Sly is influenced by West Coast rock, Dobie Gray borrows from country music, the AWB absorb things from Joe Sample. The thing is that some white musicians around today are soul musicians. That’s a fact.”

THE AWB WERE formed in 1972, already heaped in pro-band experience. Guitarist Hamish Stewart had previously played in Dream Police and Logo; Roger Ball (alto sax, piano and clavinet) and Malcolm “Molly” Duncan (tenor sax) worked together in the Dundee Horns and Mogul Thrash, Onnie McIntyre (guitar) and Alan Gorrie (bass) played in Forever Moore (McIntyre previously working in the Roy Young Band) and drummer Robbie McIntosh was an ex-member of Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express.

The band spent its first six months in limbo while McIntosh fulfilled his commitment to Auger. Then they encountered a different problem. As Alan Gorrie told Rolling Stone magazine: “There was no moral support from anybody in the (British record) business. ‘Soul died years ago’ was the attitude. It was all acid rock”.

Things slowly picked up. US blue-eyed soul sister Bonnie Bramlett invited the AWB to Los Angeles to play backup on her Sweet Bonnie Bramlett album. Fired up, the band toured with B.B. King, returned to Britain to play a critically acclaimed gig with Eric Clapton and signed a recording contract.

It was not a success. MCA Records seemed to have little idea of the potential of the group over which they’d stumbled. AWB’s Show Your Hand album showed the group to be blistering purveyors of fiery funk, particularly on Gorrie’s vocal version of the Crusaders’ ‘Put It Where You Want It’. But, under-promoted and publicised, the album slipped quietly to quick deletion. MCA handed back their contract and the six musicians from the backstreets of Glasgow and Dundee learnt a little more about the music biz scuffling their black music mentors so often endure.

But then came the Average White Band’s giant break. Atlantic Records, the New York giant who for many years had dominated the rhythm and blues scene before expanding (with multi-million dollar success) into the lucrative field of white rock, signed AWB and placed them with Arif Mardin, producer/arranger of dozens of soul and pop hits. And in the summer of ’73 Atlantic released the Average White Band album. It immediately attracted attention, particularly the JBs soundalike ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ and the compulsive ‘Work To Do’. ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ hit pop… and soul. The band began a triumphant US tour.

Then in September a tragedy shattered the group’s euphoria. Robbie McIntosh died after a fatal overdose of morphine/heroin and the stunned group stumbled back to Britain sorrowing in the loss of their good friend and rhythmic mainstay. After a two-night benefit concert for Robbie’s family at London’s Marquee Club, the band returned to the US, where their album had gone gold, and began LA auditions for a new drummer. As Gorrie recalled:

“There we were five of the longest faces you’d ever seen. We said: ‘C’mon Steve, sit down and play with us’. Right away it clicked, just like with Robbie.”

Steve was Steve Ferrone. Steve Ferrone was black. Born in Brighton (a father from Sierra Leone, a mother from England), he had known Robbie McIntosh when both had been part of the European club soul circuit backing acts like Ben E. King and Garnet Mimms. He had recently joined Bloodstone as their regular drummer.

“I turned down AWB’s first offer. I’d only been with Bloodstone a short time and I didn’t want to let anybody down. But Bloodstone were busy with the Night Train movie. I preferred AWB’s music because it was a lot tighter, a lot funkier. So I joined them on January 1st.”

AWB, now almost permanently resident in the States, continued to triumph on record. Their second Arif Mardin-produced LP Cut The Cake was another smash. Apart from the pulsating title track, Hamish Stuart and Alan Gorrie showed deft expertise in achieving the vocal textures of soul, from the hovering mellow interplay on ‘Cloudy’ to the snarled street funk of ‘School Boy Crush’. Maybe the AWB will fade from the scene. But with such fine compositional ability (with the exception of Quincy Jones’ ‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’ they wrote all the tracks on Cut The Cake) a slide into “yesterday’s fad” seems unlikely for AWB.

“THEY’RE A very good group. They’ll be around for a long time,” commented Biddu. “They’re not exactly to my personal taste, though, I prefer a more sophisticated soul music.”

Biddu is the nearest thing Britain has at present to Thom Bell and Barry White. The music the Biddu Orchestra offers on his first album Blue Eyed Soul (recently released by Epic) is a mixture of the swirling string sophistisoul of Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Perfect for disco dates, where the clipped cymbal beat will drive dancers on to the floor, or for background doodling while having the Joneses over for cocktails. In fact Biddu’s story is considerably more intriguing than the somewhat bland music of his album.

“I’m from India. I was born in Bangalore, that’s in Southern India, in 1944. I got into music when I became a singer. I was influenced by Trini Lopez and the Beatles. I never heard any soul music. I wrote the music for two Indian movies in ’67. In ’68 I came to England to try and break into pop music. I was very naive when I came but after I’d knocked on a thousand doors it dawned on me, I wasn’t going to get anywhere as a singer. I decided I’d better start song-writing.

“I’d run out of money and got a job with the American Embassy… making doughnuts. I was the best doughnut maker in London! Eventually I saved enough money to hire a studio, hire some musicians and record this singer, Simon Scott, he was an Indian like me.”

Scott’s ‘Brave New World’ pop whimsey went nowhere, though shortly afterwards Biddu did get a break when he got a crack at producing a group from Japan, the Tigers, who hit (in Japan of course) with the Bee Gee’s ‘Smile For Me’. But mostly Biddu’s entrance into the pop scene was spectacularly unsuccessful (anybody remember Mark Etra?) and musically dispiriting. Then Biddu “got into soul”.

“I was listening to soul music and I decided the best thing to do was go and get a black singer. I got together with a West Indian guy called Carl Douglas and produced him on a thing I’d written called ‘Marble And Iron’. It was used in a movie, Somebody Stop This Madness. The film was only released in the States so the record was only issued there too (on Buddah). The sound that really influenced me on the first soul records I produced was the Motown sound.”

And how… From ’71 to ’73 Biddu became immersed in the intriguing though questionably commercial activity of trying to recreate a bit of ’60s musical history. The pounding beat of Hitsville USA was enthusiastically reproduced in Marble Arch’s Nova studios. Unknown British-based soul artists like the Lollipops (discs only released in the States — on Atco), The Jesters, Tyrone and Carr (both acts on Jam Records) and Lon Satton (on CBS) came out. None of the discs were heard… except in the North of England.

“None of my songs or productions were getting any exposure on the radio and for a long time I thought they were sinking without trace so to speak. Eventually I found that the things I were doing were being played in the Northern discotheques. That seemed weird. I’d never been to a Northern disco in my life and knew nothing about that scene… it was pretty amazing.”

What was even more amazing was the manner of Biddu’s production breakthrough.

“It finally all came together for me with Carl Douglas. We did a thing, ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ and bang, it was a gigantic smash hit. All of a sudden the phone was ringing all the time. Everybody wanted me to produce their acts. I’ve done records recently on Jimmy James… he’s a fantastic soul act and I’m sure he’s gonna hit big soon, Jimmy Johnson, another great talent, and the Outriders (their ‘Telegram Song’ on Dart was almost a hit).

“But the acts I’m most excited about are Lee Vanderbelt from Jamaica — he’s a great songwriter (and singer, a good 45 last year on Bell). And another real good writer, Ken Cumberback. And I’ve produced an album on a white girl, Tina Charles. She’s a white ball of fire.”

The incredible success of Carl Douglas’ ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ (12 million sales world-wide and still selling) led to a Biddu-produced album for Pye. On that set Biddu came up with an instrumental, ‘Blue Eyed Soul’.

“I was having a bit of a fight with Carl. The success just seemed to go to his head and I couldn’t get him in the studio to finish off the album. So I worked out an instrumental thing, a disco kind of sound. I’m not really an instrumentalist. Sometimes I play a little guitar. But mainly I stick to conducting. Anyway the Kung Fu Fighting album came out and ‘Blue Eyed Soul’ started getting quite a lot of discotheque exposure in New York. It sowed the seed, so to speak.

“I decided to do some things as an artist. I cut a vocal thing, ‘Shanghai’d In Shanghai’. It came out on GTO records. And Pye put out ‘Blue Eyed Soul’ on a 45 but it was confusing ’cause they issued it with a really unwieldy label credit: ‘Instrumental from Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting Album.’ But my big venture has been the contract I’ve signed with CBS. That’s the kind of soul I love, like those MFSB things… sophistisoul.”

HELPING BIDDU achieve his creamy brand of easy listening soul (“there aren’t any black guys in the Biddu Orchestra but I think they’ve got the same FEELING as the American bands”) is a veteran arranger who, with his conservative dress and plump build (“I know I don’t have the right image”, he smiles), seems as unlikely a candidate to perform black soul music as a Yoga-practising Indian. But Gerry Shury is adamant as to where his musical preferences lie.

“Soul music is what I love, so that’s where I specialise. When I started out it was really unfashionable to be involved with black music in Britain… but that’s all changing now.”

Born in Brixton, Gerry received little formal musical education, but by his teens was playing sax, clarinet and piano.

“Piano was what I was best at so that’s what I stuck with. When I left school I was a music copyist with Francis Day and Hunter, the music publisher. I began forming little bands to play at nights. One of the first big things I did was when I accompanied Dakota Staton one night. Anyway, eventually I formed this little group which played the USAF bases. We were doing Booker T kind of things.

“I started getting work as a session pianist. Straight pop stuff, Petula Clark, lots of work. Then I did arrangements for pop sessions. I can’t even remember what they were. Eventually around ’68 I was asked by Tony McCaulay to do an arrangement for the Fantastics. That was the first arrangement I did that really INTERESTED me. But of course then, cutting black artists in England was a whole different concept. You had to make them sound pop to make them acceptable.”

McCaulay and Shury successfully made the Fantastics (onetime US doo-wop team the Velours) “sound pop” and ‘Something Old Something New’ was a big hit for Bell in ’71. Slowly but surely Shury got to do more work with acts who interested him… black ones.

“I did some arrangements for Johnny Johnson And The Bandwagon which made the charts. But I was still doing quite a few pop sessions as well. Then around ’72 I began writing. I wrote a song called ‘Using Me’ with Ron Roker of ATV Music. It was recorded for Polydor by Ritchie Pitts who had left the Fantastics. I’d met Ron and we struck it off and we have been writing together ever since. Ritchie’s was the first record I actually produced. Then I did some things with individual members of the Bee Gees.”

But Gerry was soon back doing soul… of the “Northern” variety.

“John Abbey asked me to do some things on Major Lance for Contempo (Shury later continuing his Contempo relationship with arrangements for heavy soul wailers Oscar Toney and Doris Duke). But the things I’ve been doing the last year or so have easily been my most satisfying. I play electric keyboards now and I’ve had some successes. I did the arrangement for ‘Kung Fu Fighting’.

“And I did ‘Guilty’ which was a big hit by Pearls. It was one of my biggest thrills when I found out the song had been redone at Sigma Sound by First Choice. I admire the Philly Sound so much, it was a great thrill.

“But the highlight of my career so far was when I had a chance to play with Barry White when he came over here. He’s another super talent I admire tremendously.”

The same kind of wistful look came into Gerry’s eye that all British soul acts seem to show when talking about their black US heroes. But despite limited horizons, Gerry’s turning out a stream of homegrown soul.

Apart from Carl Douglas, his most successful work has been with British blue-eyed sister Polly Brown, a sexy young mama with an incredible ability to capture the American pop-soul sound. She started out imitating Dionne Warwicke in a group called Pickettywitch, who had a British smash with ‘Same Old Kinda Feeling’. Then she linked up with Shury and his partner Phillip Swern to make ‘Puff Of Smoke’, a brilliant recreation of the Supremes sound with Polly sounding exactly like Jean Terrell. Though the record had “smash” written all over it, it flopped in Britain. But — like the AWB — it made the US charts.

More recently the team have moved into a Diana Ross-ish bag, and the catchy ‘You’re My Number One’ was the kind of record which Diana herself could do with right now. Ms Brown has also hit the charts as one half (with black artist Tony Jackson) of Sweet Dreams, who scored with ‘Honey Honey’.

“Polly Brown is a fantastic singer, one of the few British white girls who’s ever got into soul”, said Gerry Shury. “I’m working with several other acts at the moment, including the Real Thing. I did ‘Stone Cold Love Affair’ with them which has done fairly well, especially in the States. More people are getting interested in the British sound. There are some really funky British musicians now. I use Chris Rae (guitar), Frank McDonald (bass), Barry DeSousa (drums) and me on keyboards of course. And a regular brass section (Mike Bailey, trumpet; Geoff Wright, trombone; and Jeff Dailey, saxes/flute).

“One of the ideas in my head now is to maybe form a band to do gigs. A Commodores kind of group. I’m looking for a vocalist now. I may not look like a soulman, but that doesn’t count for much anymore. Maybe Black Music magazine had better get used to interviewing white guys…”

BACK IN 1964 there wasn’t a magazine called Black Music. But then the audience for black music in Europe was fragmentary and relatively tiny. Even so, some ultra-specialist, subscription-only magazines did appear to give the first faltering exposure to the music of Black America. A thinly paged glossy publication called R&B Scene emerged out of Manchester run by Roger Eagle, the first influential disc jockey of the “Twisted Wheel” (back when the Wheel’s playlist featured Howlin’ Wolf and before the extraordinary rise of “Northern Soul”). While out of Surrey came R&B Monthly, edited by one Mike Vernon.

But the bravest and most small-time venture of all was Soul Beat. A few duplicated sheets, featuring treasured info on the emergent church-based singers who seemed (and were) so radically different from the urban bluesman dubbed “R&B”. It was put out by a London born student, taking his “A” levels, called Pete Wingfield.

“It was an exciting period of discovery. Everyday you’d discover new records and it was a natural process to write about them. Soul Beat was a hobby and wasn’t a serious venture (never selling more than a hundred or so copies and folding after five issues). Black music was the most exciting thing around and I was a record collecting nut. I was playing piano in little school groups (first the Cossacks, then Pete’s Disciples) but I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be a musician. I finished University at Surrey. Then I just got sucked into a music thing.”

Pete saw a notice on the university noticeboard inviting musicians to rehearsals for a new band. The band were dubbed Jellybread (a name from Booker T’s killer) and soon the British blues boom, which had blossomed into a bewildering array of long-haired students singing the Elmore James song book, sucked in another set of musicians.

“Jellybread (Pete, piano; Paul Butler, guitar; John Best, bass; and Chris Walters, drums) played blues because that was the only music in which we had a common interest. We did gigs around and eventually got to do some albums of course: First Slice and 625 Parkway.”

The label for which Jellybread recorded was Blue Horizon Records, run by R&B Monthly‘s old editor, Mike Vernon. Vernon’s extraordinary rise to success was rooted in impromptu recording sessions in his bedroom for bluesmen both black (Hubert Sumlin) and white (John Mayall) which led to a major distribution deal with CBS and smash hits with a blues-cum-pop group called Fleetwood Mac, led by Peter Green. But Jellybread were no Fleetwood Mac. As Pete told Melody Maker‘s Geoff Brown:

“The group lasted from around ’67 until we rather ground to a halt one summer. Then there was a cluster of a week’s gigs in the autumn so we hastily got together for those gigs and then with some sort of sigh of relief called it a day.”

Jellybread’s Huey-Smith-influenced boogies ‘n’ blues was emphatically black. The same couldn’t be said for the pianist’s next ventures. He worked with Keef Hartley in ’71 and then, surprising for a musician so passionate a champion of R&B and soul, joined the Colin Blunstone Band.

“Frankly I took it because I thought it would last a few weeks and it ended up lasting two years. I wasn’t crazy about the music.”

But Pete fitted in neatly behind the ex-Zombie. For Wingfield was, in every way, “a professional”.

“I began doing session work (Memphis Slim, Graham Bond, John L. Watson and Top Topham) and I developed what I suppose is the traditional session man ethic: Go in the studio or to the gig and play to the absolute best of your ability, even if the music isn’t always to your personal taste. I in no way prostituted myself.”

The sessions the brilliant young pianist was offered continued to escalate… some were great. (Van Morrison’s live album) and some were routine (B.B. King’s Recorded In London set). But few could equal the sessions Pete began doing regularly at the Chipping Norton Studios… with producer Mike Vernon.

“Mike was still into recording bluesmen. We did albums with guys like Lightning Slim (now available again on Contempo and featuring the hardest rocking version of ‘Just A Little Bit’ ever) and Jimmy ‘Fast Fingers’ Dawkins. What happened was that a regular rhythm section had formed that was always called for Mike’s sessions at Chipping Norton. I supposed it was in the tradition of all those US house bands… we just knew how to cook and we just got a groove together that was pretty close to the black guys we dug records by. Anyway, Mike Vernon had his big breakthrough with the Bloodstone albums… the ‘Natural High’ session is still one of the sessions I’m most proud of. When it went gold in the States it just zonked me out.”

The Bloodstone San Francisco vocal/instrumental soul team added a new commercial and artistic dimension to Vernon’s continuous sessions in the unfashionable Cotswold’s studio. Maybe the unhip British couldn’t dig Bloodstone brew of blistering street funk and creamy falsetto harmony but the group’s smashes seemed the final recognition for Vernon’s rise from mimeographed magazine editor to Billboard charted hit producer.

Mike’s story was soon to be duplicated by his right-hand piano man.

“A year or so back,” remembered Pete, “we were booked to do a session with Jimmy Dawkins. He didn’t show so we just jammed around a bit filling in time. We just got into a few funky grooves but it sounded OK so Mick cut them. That was ‘Do It Over’ and ‘Put the Music Where Your Mouth Is’. We just used this jokey name for the group, the Olympic Runners.”

The music emanating from Pete Wingfield (electric keyboards), Joe Jammer (guitar), Lyle Harper (bass) and Glen Le Fleur (drums) was a revelation. There had been dozens of previous British acts who had gleaned inspiration from the black music mainstream. But never had a band done it with the flair of the Olympic Runners. They took the warbling, super-slick, skin-tight struts of the street funk bands and came up with a pungently crisp instrumental sound which sounded compulsively authentic but delightfully fresh. ‘Do It Over’ was issued in the States on London (and only belatedly received a British Decca release). Serviced to all the US soul stations it eventually made it high into America’s soul charts.

“We purposely didn’t have any publicity photos published so the black soul jocks assumed the Olympic Runners were black. The Runners were only a studio band of course and despite the record being a hit in the States there was no way we would go out on the road. Apart from their records I was doing sessions for a whole range of people. Mud, the Hollies, lots of sessions.”

But if routine British pop sessions were the means to a comfortable lifestyle for Pete and his wife, it was the pianist’s pursuit of recognition for his fluid composing abilities which led to his move into real stardom.

“I signed a song publishing contract with Island Music and it just seemed logical to record an album. I got the songs together and went in the studio with the Runners at Chipping Norton. I did the whole thing in eleven days. I haven’t got the greatest voice in the world, like on ‘Eighteen With A Bullet’ I pitched the bass voice in the wrong key and we had to speed up the tape slightly. But I think my voice is adequate for what I want to do with it.”

On ‘Bullet’ (a song Pete had written two and a half years before) what he wanted to do was lovingly recreate a ’50s doo-wop sound. It says much for Pete’s skill that he succeeded so brilliantly: the tin whistle falsetto, and the raw edged alternative lead over shooby doobying harmonies and burbling bass. All voices are Pete’s, of course.

“I tried to do as much as I could on the album (entitled Breakfast Special). I did all the vocals, I played grand piano, Hammond organ, clavinet, melodica, mellotron, synthesiser, stylophone and made the tea. I wrote all the songs and I produced it with the engineer Barry Hammond. I’m proud of it. It’s in no single bag, it gives an all round indication of the things I like doing.”

And those, of course, are considerably more than the charming evocations of US trade paper jargon set to doo-wop rhythms. Pete lovingly touches on the whole spectrum of the black music experience. Huey Smith-style New Orleans bounce (‘Kangaroo Hop’), sweet sweet soul balladeering (‘Lovin’ As You Wanna Be’) and a zipping cymbal New York disco sound, ‘Please’.

WHEN ASKED the clichéd question about white soul’s “validity” Pete Wingfield was persuasively articulate, using phrases like “racial cross fertilisation” and “inevitability linked with changing social patterns” and pointed out, quite rightly that “inverted racism” (the attempt to exclude any Caucasian from performing in musical forms initially evolved within Negro society) is practised far more by white liberal, over-compensatory critics than by the black mass who adopt the unwavering, and surely admirable, criterion of “It’s what’s in the grooves that counts” (hoisting AWB and the Olympic Runners high into the US soul charts).

When considering blue-eyed soul, and particularly the British variety, one thing is obvious to any critic prepared to accept neither of journalism’s current extremist stances (“the AWB beat the spades at their own game” of NME or the “AWB have nothing whatsoever to do with soul music” of Shout) and that is that the “melting pot” situation once referred to in song by Blue Mink is nearer than ever to becoming a reality.

Jimmy Thomas agrees. Jimmy, a black American who came over to Britain in the mid-sixties with the Ike and Tina Turner review and settled in London, pointed out that not only have British whites truly “found soul” but American blacks have picked up on white rock.

“Hendrix, Sly, they’ve been influenced by Whites. I’ve been influenced by white musicians. I cut an album (Abyss on Contempo) which was in a progressive rock direction. You can’t have one thing without the other. You got to face it, there are white guys in America… and in Britain… who are really playing soul music now. It had to come once R&B stopped being an enclosed music.

“Once you’d only hear R&B in the ghetto, now you hear it everywhere you go. For years now white kids have been growing up with Otis Redding or Motown or whatever hitting them from the radio. Look man, they say, music is a question of environment. That’s true, but we’re living in sophisticated times. Listening to the radio, buying records, that’s part of people’s environment today.

“Maybe it is a secondhand way into the music, like Alan Gorrie or Pete Wingfield never grew up with that sanctified church music, or with groups harmonising on every street corner. But the point is they HAVE gotten into the music Right in.”

© Tony CummingsBlack Music, September 1975

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