After an intensive year of researching, writing and publishing my first book "It's Better to Cry" on rare soul and R&B from the 1960s south eastern states, I thought it was about time to expose the project to an even wider audience via the web. While the tangible character of a book appeals to many, I became quickly concious through sales and sales enquiries that was not only the rare soul fan from the UK who was interested in expanding their knowledge base in this area. The European rare soul scene, US collectors, US musicians and relatives of musicians were also clearly very interested in the work that was going on. I became aware that, whilst the process of self publishing and producing a book was rewarding in itself, limitations including printing and overseas posting costs as well as the difficulties of bulk order supply logistics overseas restricted my potential audience. Hence the purpose of this blog. As well as laying down my initial findings in the format here, I wanted a platform to enable me to explore and present the topic of soul music further, beyond the confines the book set in terms of the number of artists and labels.
So to start. My rationale for undertaking this project is perhaps best - and most conveniently for me - explained by a cut and paste job of the introductory chapter from "It's Better to Cry".....
"....My appreciation of soul music has been a long lasting one, and a life long lesson at that. Aged fourteen, I was initially attracted to the northern soul scene as a clandestine alternative to the mainstream pop of the day which attracted my school peers. Through the years as a soul fan, then rare soul collector and occasional DJ, I developed an interest in the breadth of musical subgenres within the rare soul scene itself, including sixties soul, rare Motown, latin boogaloo, R&B, seventies and modern soul, deep soul and ballads.
So, where did beach music and southern soul fit in on my musical journey? My first memories - though I probably didn’t even know the terms at the time - were likely at the very beginning of my foray into northern soul. Well known and even chart breaking sounds, such as those by The Tams or The Prophets were established classics on the northern scene, at least once upon a time, and were easily accessible, cheap collection builders. In this embryonic phase I was also aware of blue-eyed soul oldies with a particular sound which appealed to me, usually involving big rhythm and horn sections and often an uptempo infectious beat, using The Embers as a benchmark. Through time though, I mentally abandoned these records to some degree. My collection would focus for the next few decades on what I perceived at the time as ‘proper’ rare BLACK American soul on tiny labels from Detroit and the other major cities of the north.
Fast forward 30 years. Now in my mid forties, I am finding once again that more of my personal collection is being built from 1960s output from the Carolinas and thereabouts. Not necessarily classic beach hits, but obscure releases, sometimes black artists but predominantly white garage bands with a soul edge from the Carolinas and the neighbouring states of Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee. I am also being pulled toward more recently discovered 1960s sounds played on the northern scene today which after a bit of detective work, turn out to be these white 1960s garage bands form the south east. Hopefully this is an indication of another subgenre to contribute toward sustaining the future northern soul scene for more years to come. Some of these bands ‘sounded black’, or were integrated groups with a black lead vocal, or were all black vocal groups. Others may have been more obviously white, with that characteristic breezy production, but always with soul and an absence of the ‘pop’ factor that ultimately made some of the more established beach classics less attractive to a now matured UK soul scene.
This project then: it would be superfluous to cover ground already comprehensively provided by well respected resources on the subject of the beach music, such as the Greg Haynes Hey Baby Days tome and his ongoing online work, or Jason Perlmutter‘s Carolina Soul website; or to present the more well known sounds which became local hits, already competently described in Rick Simmon’s book Carolina Beach Music: the Classic Years. It must be acknowledged from the outset that the value of these resources as base reference sources has been absolutely priceless. However I also wanted to personalise this writing experience - the primary inspiration for the artists and records of choice are favourites from my own collection, although these are also records which I hope the northern soul collector or fan will find particularly relevant to the scene. I make no apologies for being self indulgent!
For this project, the first objective was to provide the setting. To explore the history of how black music settled and developed in the Carolinas and neighbouring states. To research the drive for young white and black artists and audiences to appreciate soul in this neck of the woods. I also wanted to track down and interview some of the artists to get their personal take on what was going on. Finally I wanted to place these records in the context of the rare northern soul scene in the UK and Europe, through interviewing some of the collectors and DJs in order to assess how these rarities were located and introduced to the UK (and now European) scene. Hopefully the reader will find that these processes bring the records and bands very much to life, and that this book may serve as a future reference source of another musical era passed but not forgotten.
One of the most helpful aspects of obtaining a historical account of life and music in the Carolinas and surrounding states is that many of the musicians are still very active around the south east, either on the beach scene or elsewhere. So, the resources are there if you can access them. Some bands and individuals are still playing live or recording, others moved onto producing or were successful in other related ventures. What seemed clear previously from both Greg Haynes and Jason Perlmutter’s work is that the surviving artists, whether successful or less so, were all keen to collaborate and tell their story. I found this too. The hardest part of this assignment by far has been the detective work tracking these guys down, a mammoth task indeed. Yet without a doubt, also one of the most enjoyable rewards of the journey. I thank the artists, their relatives, researchers who have gone before me, and of course the northern soul scene collectors, DJs and fans for all their support and assistance in this venture...."
However I need to expand on this introduction originally written for "It's Better to Cry". As mentioned previously the future content of this blog intends to also venture slightly further afield than the south east states alone, to consider the significant contribution to soul music from black, white and hispanic artists in peripheral areas such as Texas, Louisiana and such. Hope you enjoy the ride.
E. Mark Windle