Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Bringing Real Soul and R&B Back Home

What do I mean by “Bringing Real Soul and R&B Back Home”?

It is no secret that global corporate radio conglomerates are being accused of killing off opportunities for new, independent artists in favour of “safer” Top 40 commercial certain hits.

 Soul Vibrations
Soul Vibrations

This is a development that is certainly happening on both sides of the Atlantic, to the detriment of unknown artists, new music and ultimately, the music industry as a whole.

For the purpose of this discussion, I will refer specifically to R&B music as it was known in the United States and Soul music, which in the UK has historically been used to encompass R&B, Funk and Disco. I am well aware that the same argument would apply equally to other genres of music, such as Blues, Country, Rock, etc.
Billy Griffin

I am reminded of, and much indebted to, an article posted on Facebook by Billy Griffin, US based R&B singer who replaced Smokey Robinson as the lead singer of legendary Motown group, The Miracles, before enjoying some success as a solo artist. Griffin was also responsible for helping to launch Take That as a major pop act.

Anyway, back to Billy’s article, published over two years ago as far as I can recall. I was just entering the surreal kingdom of Internet Radio. Surreal, because here I was, someone who had wanted to play records on the radio since I started listening to the Pirate Radio stations, such as Radio Caroline and Radio London back in the 1960s, being given the opportunity to broadcast to music lovers around the world.

My initial plan was to present a show that would celebrate the wonderful Soul / R&B classics from the 60s and 70s. 

Otis Redding **** Gladys Knight **** Aretha Franklin **** Marvin Gaye
On reading Billy Griffin’s excellent piece, it became clear that there was a distinct lack of radio airplay in the US dedicated to playing good quality R&B music. Billy brought the reader’s attention to Solar Radio that broadcasts from London, England, as an example of a station playing new R&B music.

This article inspired me to change my tack, and aim my show at the US market. I had a considerable number of Facebook friends based in the US, so I had a good contact base on which to launch my attack.

Many of my US friends were involved in the music industry, so I was soon receiving new music from artists, promoters and radio presenters. The network quickly increased so I fairly swiftly achieved my objective.

I am pleased to report that I have built up a loyal audience base, which is largely made up from folks in the music industry as well as their own fans.

It was interesting to recently read an article posted by Cheryl Cooley on Facebook entitled “8 Reason Why R&B Has Died In The Black Community (Atlanta Blackstar)

The stated reasons include what they refer to as “The Whitewash”, in other words, white artists such as Justin Timberlake, Adele and Robin Thicke dominating the R&B charts. I personally wouldn’t refer to these artists as R&B, but “blurred lines” (pun intended) occur when trying to distinguish between genres.

In fact, now is probably a good time to try to define R&B.  
                                                                                           What the experts say:
What is R&B?

Originally of course, R&B was the acronym for “Rhythm and Blues”, a hard hitting music produced almost exclusively by Black American artists back in the 1950s. Unfortunately, as far back as the 60s, a number of White British groups and singers, who were arguably great fans of R&B, latched on to the genre to produce their own, watered down, rocked up version.

R&B became, during the 90s, a tag for bland pop music that was sold to the masses as a new genre. This is probably where it all fell apart.

The two “reasons” that I personally can relate to are “Too much sex” and “Computerized Production.

These are particularly true in the sub-genre of Southern Soul music. Sex has always sold music, just as it has been successfully exploited to market cars, newspapers, cigarettes, alcohol, and a million other products.

Using sex to sell is perfectly acceptable if it is done tastefully; I would cite Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” album as a fine example. Sadly, far too many recordings use blatant sex to get exposure.

With computerized production, many instruments are being jettisoned for synthesized effects; you just can’t beat a full horn section blasting through a soulful offering, such as those good old Memphis and Muscle Shoals recordings.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. I have been pleased to discover that there is plenty of great new Soul / R&B music on offer from both sides of the Atlantic.

Peter Young, veteran broadcaster, currently putting out his show on Saturday afternoons on Jazz FM points out that there is still a fair amount of real soul being made to keep the genre alive. Sharon Jones, DeRobert, Lee Fields, SouLutions and  Diane Shaw.

Back to Solar Radio, another show not to be missed is “In Orbit” on Sunday mornings, hosted by another veteran of Soul Music, Clive Richardson.

And last, and probably least, don’t forget my own show on Fridays, “Soul Vibrations” on Phat Soul Radio.

Some of the stateside artists that I have been featuring on the show recently include Uvee Hayes, Vel Omarr, Darryl Johnson and Gwendolyn Collins.


Paul T Forrest
DJ Pauly
Presenter, Phat Soul Radio