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Dave Godin's column for Soulful Kinda Music. Issue 50

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Bernard Shaw 

“The appetite for disaster in some human beings is so strong that they feel let down when nothing terrible happens”. A. J. Liebling 

A TV programme some time back devoted itself to the phenomena of the “Diva” - that female icon first of all created by Grand Opera, then revamped by Hollywood and then carried on into the general music scene. For me, it provoked some rather disturbing thoughts and ideas.  

Firstly, there was the implication that in order to qualify as a Diva one has to suffer, and too, to be half bitch and half goddess, with just a dash of neurotic personality disorder thrown in for good measure. As always with these things, anything that didn’t fit in with the premise is carefully air-brushed out. 

Greta Garbo for instance didn’t actually want to be a Diva, and, towards the end of her life said that if she had it all back to live over, she’d find a nice bloke and raise kids with him instead. Elizabeth Taylor put up her whole salary of one million dollars as collateral when she insisted Montgomery Clift be her co-star when his career was on the rocks through a disfiguring road accident and a cocktail of drugs and booze and was uninsurable. Actions of rounded human personalities if you ask me. 

And although Miss Diana Ross at least was presented as the over-valued, over-wheening, ruthless climber she probably always has been, one sycophantic biographer did venture to say that “She did an awful lot for the American Civil Rights movement in the 60s”! Well, I was there, and where was she? Getting a new fox fur at Tiffany’s no doubt. 

So far as I’m aware, she did sweet buggar all for any movement other than that of advancing the career of Miss Diana Ross, and just as Madonna is a fainter carbon of Cher (two women also included in the programme) so Miss Ross has always manipulated a modest vocal skill by ignoring the company motto, “It’s what’s in the grooves that counts”, focusing instead on her visual presentation to cover the gaps in her vocal artistry. 

And this I think, is the major tragedy that has overtaken the music industry over the years, as the appearance, sexiness or glitz of a “star” has gradually eclipsed what really should be the major focus; the song and its performance.  

But, as the years, and the husbands, go rolling by, the “legend” becomes increasingly important, so that the actual recordings (or movies) people made get overlooked and escape critical judgment simply because there seems to be a pretty widespread neurotic appetite for tragedy. Witness how the names of Billie Holliday and James Carr can never be mentioned hardly without some gossip about their private lives working its way in, as if “tragedy” somehow sanctifies their art. 

Well, there is indeed something tragic about climbing into bed with the company boss in order to further one’s career, or becoming a control freak of monumental proportions, but it is a pitiful fact that some sad folk adore monsters simply because they too would like to be that way, but somehow just haven’t quite got the nerve to do it. 

Why I particularly mention all this is because in the 50s and 60s, Blackamerican music was not bogged down by all these trivial and superficial considerations. It was how you cut the mustard in the grooves that mattered, and if you could do that, then your personal appearance, your personal life and your political views didn’t affect how your records were going to sell.  

Of course too in those days, there was also the “problem” (as corporate America saw it) of actually being Black (how often one heard that odiously patronising expression from White folks that “they can’t help being black”! And, as I always replied, “Well, I can’t help being white”), and so, when Blackamerican recordings did start to gradually cross over into the White market, (which, remember, represented a huge 90% of total sales in those days), so Afro-Americanism was gradually redesigned to make it more palatable to mainstream American.  

Female vocalists always appeared to be much more light skinned than their male counterparts, and they began more and more to become closer to the White male fantasy of what a hot, Black chick should look like - not too dark, and yet a bit more wild and “basic” than her White sisters. 

In this climate, what chance did the exceptional vocal skills of Big Maybelle have when competing against those of Miss Ross? Even though we all KNOW that Maybelle had 50 times the vocal talent of Diane. (It is so sadly revealing that the first Blackamerican millionaire in history was the lady who invented and marketed skin lightening cream and hair straightener).  

By playing along with this charade and mummery, and, at the same time mouthing empty clichés like “Black is beautiful”, the true spirit of the American Civil Rights movement of the 60s has been neatly circumvented, and we end up with the tragic (some might say grotesque) spectacle of Michael Jackson, and the continuing Hollywood stereotypes of black folk as Gangsta Dudes or pert wise-crackers like Eddie Murphy. 

It is interesting now to recall that when in the late 60s we issued the Nickie Lee record “And Black Is Beautiful” on our DEEP SOUL label we planned a modest poster campaign for it on the London Underground, but before doing so, all posters had to be vetted by them for approval. Well, imagine my horror when ours was rejected, (our economic circumstances dictated that it was the simplest of designs with just text on it), and the reason given was that “it would invite defacement”! And you can bet your bottom dollar Miss Ross didn’t pick up the phone and help intervene on our behalf! (In the event I appealed and won, and the posters went up!) 

And so, talking of Soul music’s history, just how do some of these Urban Myths about the scene get started? Often, I suspect with the tiniest grain of truth or probability, or a dash of wishful thinking, which then gets added to, embellished, and passed on as fact.  

This is one of the reasons I am so reluctant to give interviews, because once the interviewer has gone, you have no control over how they are going to represent what you actually said. Sometimes even, you don’t have to have actually have said it, since somebody else will have said it for you!  

Just recently in “Mojo Collections” magazine, it was stated as fact that Van McCoy had sent me Sandi Sheldon’s classic “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” with a view to me “issuing it” on our SOUL CITY record label, and “I didn’t”! Wrong, wrong, wrong! So, let’s just set the record straight on this one! 

1) Van McCoy only ever sent me records from the SHARE label (two in total, both by The Ad Libs, of which more in a bit), and that was because he co-owned the label and which is presently owned by his estate.  

2) Sandi Sheldon’s classic, though written and produced by Van McCoy, was not owned by him, but was an OKEH recording licensed exclusively to CBS in Britain, and therefore (at that time) unavailable for issue by any other label. 

3) Had Van McCoy offered the recording to me, then our present collective ignorance concerning Sandi Sheldon would not exist because I would naturally have asked him about her. About a year later I did, and he said he had totally forgotten everything about her. How can you enquire further when you get that sort of answer? (In this regard however, young Ady Croasdell has now cracked the mystery, which doubtless he will reveal all in good time. And I understand, also has a photo!) 

4) I got Sandi Sheldon’s record as a brand new release, and not only would I have loved to have released it, but I was the only person in the UK who gave it a rave review, or, come to that, any review of any kind whatsoever at that time. 

5) Since I knew it would be a monster on the Northern scene, I lent my copy to a Northern DJ so that this great sound could at least be shared. He (unbeknown to me) had an Emidisc made of it, and subsequently claimed it as his own “discovery”. Such is life. 

6) Van McCoy DID send me a copy of The Ad Libs’ “Nothing Worse Than Being Alone” on his SHARE label which we fully intended to release, but went bust before it was possible. Remember though, this was the record I took to Wigan Casino, which cleared the floor, and which the DJ took it off halfway through! So much for knowing a great record when you first hear it! 

7) Ironically Sandi Sheldon’s record WOULD have come out on SOUL CITY some few months after it was made if we had been able to survive, since I had negotiated a special sublicensing deal with CBS for material from OKEH and EPIC, (some of which we issued), and there were about 30 other sides in the pipeline but which our financial collapse prevented us from issuing. That said however, if we had issued Sandi Sheldon, you can bet your life nearly all the “head” DJs on the Northern scene at that time would have promptly dropped it from their playlist as they did every other great record when it was issued. So much for keeping the faith in preference to keeping one’s ego. 

So, that’s the facts. And remember, Truth is ALWAYS in the detail!! 

Finally, a salute of congratulations and thanks to Dave Rimmer since this is the 50th edition of “Soulful Kinda Music”, and which, like the 49 issue before, has consistently provided such useful and absorbing material. People always laugh when I tell them I find music a very difficult subject to write about, but anyone who has done it will I think, tend to agree with me, because you are always trying to put into words things that you are experiencing through the heart rather than the head. But Dave and his various contributors have always acquitted themselves superbly in this regard, and I look forward to the next 50 absorbing editions! And there is, refreshingly, never any kind of “attitude” about it. He never panders, and anyone who is prepared to take me on board has got to be pretty fearless! 

Until next time, keep the faith!! (And yes, Volume 4 of “Treasures” is almost completed!)