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Dave Godin's column for Soulful Kinda Music. Issue 22

Playing through some truly golden oldies the other day, I suddenly remembered that one of the now-forgotten stalwarts and pioneer promoters of Blackamerican music in Britain was Norman Jopling, who used to write for "Record Mirror" in the days when it was the only publication that gave reasonable coverage to what Blackamerica was putting down. It was he who introduced an R&B Chart to reflect what Blackamerican records were selling in specialised outlets over here, and who also generously allocated the centre page spread of "Record Mirror" to an account of my trip to Motown in Detroit when I was the first person from Britain to ever go there. Over the years we've lost touch, but being a pedant for accuracy in recording cultural history and giving full credit where it is due, wherever you are now Norman, here's one guy who still admires and appreciates all you did for our music. Without you being where you were, when you were, and without your Soulful attitude, who knows how the history of Soul acceptance in Britain mightn't have changed for the worse? If anyone out there knows where Norman is now, I'd be pleased to hear from you.

Mentioning the R&B chart that "Record Mirror" introduced in the 60s, made me think about "Music Week", who have also just recently introduced an R&B chart, and, quite frankly, I can't think of anything more counterproductive than doing so now at this late stage of the game, when the term "R&B" no longer applies to a genre of contemporary music, but is merely a euphemistic term to cover records which have been made by people of colour. Although no doubt well intentioned, it is, kindly meant or otherwise, a chart based on nothing but race, and, as such, could well create another ghetto from which artists of colour will have to strive twice as hard as their white counterparts to escape. 

I was very late coming to CDs, being, as is well known, an ardent devotee of the 45rpm single, but I must say, CDs have been a boon in reissuing back-catalogue, as well as many tracks from the past which have never been issued before, and/or, are very difficult to obtain as US singles. I recently worked on a CD compilation of Garnet Mimms for "The Beat Goes On" (B.G.O.) label, and although all the material had to come from the United Artists catalogue (the "Cry Baby" and the "Warm And Soulful" LPs on one CD, and sorry, the Veep tracks just weren't available this time around), it made me realise how often we forget the greats of yesteryear; perhaps because there were so darn many of them! Garnet Mimms was always a particular favourite of mine, and the combination of him with the creative talents of Jerry Ragavoy and the late Bert Berns, made some of those splendid Soul tracks which were unique and pioneering in the period 1966 - 1971. Times change and tastes change, but no matter how you cut it, to my mind, this period produced some of the greatest cultural artefacts of this present century, and Blackamerica should draw great pride from what they achieved then. 

Glancing through the B.G.O. CD catalogue, I noticed that one of the albums they'd reissued is the superb Bobby Bland set "Two Steps From The Blues". Actually issued here originally on Vogue in 1961, I remember how when it first appeared Britain's "friends" of Blackamerican music scornfully dismissed it; one even stating in his review that a more apt title would have been "Two Million Steps From The Blues"!! You see, the trouble with these people, although they posed as pals of black music, they in fact had very rigid and narrow notions as to what constituted "black music", and sadly, it was very much a purist position that subconsciously wanted Blackamerica to stay in the cotton fields and ghettos, and not break out and try for the Big Time. All the while these artists were "minority-only" stars, their British "friends" had some status as "keepers of the flame" (which never once of course burnt their pretty fingers!), and thus they could enjoy the smug superiority that comes with championing any minority cause that the masses are too dumb or dopey to appreciate. I could never abide such parochial thinking, for, although they would vehemently deny it, it was both racist and patronising, and displayed an insufferable "we know best" attitude. When a group of such minded people made up the majority on the short-lived "Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame" over here, can you believe that my nomination for the recently deceased Sam Cooke as the first member, was rejected with only two votes in his favour!! Thank god those cotton-pickin' days are well and truly over! (If you would like a copy of the B.G.O. catalogue, then please write to them at P.O. Box 22, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, IP28 6XQ. Although not yet as fully involved in the Soul scene as much as we'd like, they assure me they are planning to expand in this field real soon. They deserve our support).

I know some of you out there still resist CDs, as indeed I did until they started reissuing all those great goodies one couldn't otherwise obtain. One of the reasons I resisted is because I haven't got $1000-hi-fi ears. People played me CDs and went into raptures about the quality of the hi-fi, but I couldn't then, (and still can't), tell any difference between a CD, a good LP or quality cassette. Why I think they caught on however is for a reason nobody ever mentioned, which is their damned user-friendliness! Repeat-play of favourites tracks, random-play, sequence play, skip tracks etc., all added to the pleasure one can get from albums, and, I suspect for the general public, CDs took the fear out of, and demystified hi-fi, and made quality sound available without vast technical knowledge or set-up skills! 

"Hard To Explain" is by our old friend Clay Hammond, and is quite simply one of the best sides I've heard in many, many a long moon. Immaculate, true and cutting Deep Soul of the finest quality, Clay Hammond and his label, WHITE RECORDS, should be congratulated and presented with some kind of award for reminding us that pure Soul is undiminished by fads and trends, and endures (like all perfection) for ever. Hear it and get it, for it will grow and grow on you. Clay Hammond is a well-respected artist we've all known and loved for many years now, but this side is the best he's ever cut; he's in top Soulful vocal form, and really preaches it all across, and I really thank him for it. 

Over the years, I've noticed that the music of Blackamerica rarely gets equal treatment in the British media. It is either the subject of condescension, or is seen as "dangerous", or "low-life", or somehow has to be interpreted in a sociological way. Seldom is it regarded just as another musical form, and as a result, its uniqueness is seldom noted outside of Soul-committed circles. "The Observer" newspaper recently ran an article in which it speculated that the pop scene was running out of new tunes to compose, and so I wrote to them, using the article as an opportunity to make a few points about Soul. They didn't print the letter, but I've reproduced it now as I still think these things need to be said. 

The Editor, The Observer. 

"If, as you report, pop music is running out tunes, perhaps it is because it is not now so easy as it once was for British acts to exploit and appropriate the music of Blackamerica, and pass it off as one's own original art form. 

Whereas 30 years ago, groups like The Rolling Stones could carve out a career by plagiarising the music of Blackamerica with insipid cover-versions, secure in the knowledge that Britain's latent anti-Americanism and small-minded parochialism would always ensure that their records would secure the air-play denied Blackamerican artists, it now seems that 90% of all "Golden Oldies" played on radio are by the very Blackamericans who, generally, were denied any exposure first time around.  

Surely there is an important cultural lesson to be learnt here, which also reveals much about the mind-set of most British music critics too. But if anyone is anxious about running out of first rate popular music, I can assure them that there is still a huge reservoir of great Soul material waiting to be re-discovered. At present it is known only to Soul music aficionados, but we are now numerous enough to demand that this time around, the original artists, rather than opportunistic imitators, get the credit and the kudos, and like all great art, it also has a much, much longer "sell-by" date." 

Finally, which lucky devil out there has, as the final letters of his/her post code, the magic letters "JB"? 

Until next time, keep the faith!