Trying to precisely define the term describing black music performed by white artists can be a slippery slope — while some of the genre’s greatest practitioners are among its most obscure.
One night in early December, I sat with music-business veteran and fellow Hall of Fame voter Gregg Geller in a Manhattan nightclub. When the conversation turned to the topic of this essay, he reflected: “ ‘Soul’ as a vocal quality is timeless, eternal. But ‘blue-eyed soul’ is a moment in time.”
Gregg was referring to a pop-music phenomenon whose rise and fall paralleled that of African-American soul music itself. Among its spiritual predecessors were Bing Crosby (“The first hip white person,” according bandleader Artie Shaw); Johnnie Ray, whose histrionic style borrowed heavily from black gospel and early rhythm & blues; and Elvis Presley, who scored across-the-board hits on the pop, country and R&B charts alike.
When I e-mailed some twenty music aficionados around the country, informally soliciting their favorite “white soul” artists and recordings, their enthusiastic replies cited nearly seventy artists, spanning the musical alphabet from Mose Allison to Timmy Yuro. A New York label entrepreneur’s all-British list included Tom Jones, the Bee Gees and Simply Red. A Georgia journalist named prewar jazzmen Bix Beiderbecke and Jack Teagarden. A New Jersey memorabilia dealer vouched for Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad and the Four Seasons’ Frankie Valli.
But soul music “has a beginning and an end,” noted another respondent, Dan Hodges of Berkeley, California, in his provocative three-thousand-word (!) response. “I’m unwilling to call something ‘white soul’ that wasn’t recorded during the historical period of soul music. Whatever else, for example, the Beastie Boys may be, I don’t consider them blue-eyed soul.” In awarding his soul seal of approval to the Motown recordings of the little remembered singer Chris Clark and Dusty Springfield’s landmark Dusty in Memphis, Hodges established two compelling criteria for the sound:
“One . . . is that the white singer and song should ‘fit’ with what we recognize as soul music already. It would mean that, for example, the white soul singer was recorded by a record company that released soul records and that the records were made as they would have been with a black singer.”
“Two . . . is that the white singer’s performances should be accepted as soul music since they would be so accepted if sung by blacks [italics added] . . . and [that] if a black singer recorded the song, it would be considered soul. In contrast, whether a white group or the Supremes made an album of Rodgers & Hart show tunes, it wasn’t soul music.”
Dan’s definition would accommodate such exponents (whether famed or forgotten) as the Righteous Brothers, the Magnificent Men, Roy Head, Eddie Hinton, Len Barry, Billy Harner, Roland Stone, Bob Brady & the Con Chords, Bob Kuban & the In-Men—even Lulu (in her Muscle Shoals period) and Charlie Rich (whose version of “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” predated that of Sam and Dave). But it would exclude Hall of Fame inductees the (Young) Rascals, as well as the Box Tops, Tony Joe White, Bobbie Gentry, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Sir Doug Sahm, Laura Nyro, and the Spencer Davis Group featuring Stevie Winwood – to mention just a few more names that came over my Internet transom._
[Gregg Geller’s personal favorite, Aesop’s Fables, were from Huntington, Long Island. “Performing Stax, Motown and especially James Brown’s hits of the day,” he recalls, “their lead singer Sonny Stiles was one of the greatest live performers it has been my privilege to witness. To complicate matters (this is America, after all), Sonny was Puerto Rican – which I guess makes him a brown-eyed blue-eyed soul artist.”]
Wayne Cochran, the Rationals and the Temptones are three classic examples of the profound impact of soul music on a generation of white performers.
Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Wayne Cochran may have done more than any other single white performer to spread the gospel of Southern soul music – and he did so without having anything close to a hit record.
Born in Thomaston, Georgia, in 1939, Cochran was a close friend and frequent performing rival of Hall of Fame inductee Otis Redding in the early Sixties. (Wayne played bass on Otis’s second single, “Shout Bamalama,” in 1962.) In 2001, Cochran described his red-dirt upbringing to author Scott Freeman in the Redding biography Otis!: “Father a cotton-miller and moonshiner. Grandfather a paid-up member of the KKK for life. . . . Music just takes all that away. You appreciate someone’s talent and they become your idol. Who cares what color?”
His imposing six-two figure topped by a towering white-blond pompadour, Wayne fronted a skin-tight, horn-heavy band known as the C.C. Riders that served as an incubator for such gifted musicians as bassist Jaco Pastorius, later of Weather Report. In a 1994 essay, writer James Porter noted that throughout the Sixties, Cochran regularly performed in “the same places as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. At a time when Black soul acts who played that circuit . . . were reduced, in their heyday [italics in original], to doing stuff along the lines of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business,’ the fact that Cochran could get away with performing maximum r&b for a blue-haired audience is significant.”
Cochran recorded sporadically for such labels as King, Chess and Mercury, but his closest brush with the Hot 100 came when his version of Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” bubbled under for a few weeks in late 1965. As a songwriter, however, Wayne had better luck. In the fall of 1964, his classic tale of teen tragedy, “Last Kiss,” became a Number Two pop hit for J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, obliterating Cochran’s original version on King. Thirty-four years later, Pearl Jam cut the song in one take at a pre-show sound check and pressed it up on a seven-inch single as a fan club giveaway. Radio programmers picked up on the track, which took on an unexpected poignancy in the wake of the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. By the year’s end, “Last Kiss” had reached Number Two and become Pearl Jam’s highest-charting song to date.
Wayne Cochran retired from the music business in the early Eighties and today is a pastor at the Voice of Jesus Christian Center in Hialeah, Florida. “In the end, it wasn’t music to me – it was a cause,” he told Scott Freeman. “. . . What we did, we took soul and r&b music and dressed it up like Las Vegas. And while they weren’t lookin’, we snuck up behind them!”
In 1965, four Temple University students – Daryl Hall, Paul Fogel, Ken Halpern and Brian Utain – were performing around Philadelphia as an a cappella vocal quartet called the Temptones. After Fogel enlisted in the Air Force, another Temple student, Barry Glazer, replaced him.
The new lineup recruited a rhythm section and shifted its repertoire away from doo-wop revival standards toward contemporary soul music, with a particular emphasis on the songs of their idols, the Temptations. A typical Temptones set might include the Spinners’ “I’ll Always Love You,” the Miracles’ “Ooh Baby Baby,” and such Tempts favorites as “I Wish It Would Rain” and “My Girl.”
“The Temptations’ harmonies were tighter and more melodic than [those of] the doo-wop groups,” says Barry Glazer. “Daryl, who was a music major at Temple, did all the vocal arrangements and was our main lead singer.”
When the Temptones finally met the Temptations, backstage at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater, the Motown stars were impressed by the white group’s unaccompanied rendition of an early Tempts ballad, “Farewell My Love.” Temptation Paul Williams became a solid supporter, buying the white kids some new stage clothes and later arranging for an audition with Smokey Robinson (a Motown recording contract was not forthcoming, however).
When the group took second place in a James Brown Talent Show at the Uptown (coming in behind the Ambassadors but ahead of the Delfonics!), WDAS jock Jimmy Bishop brought them to local indie Arctic Records. On their 1966 sessions, the Temptones were backed by many of the session players who would later form MFSB – the musical backbone of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records.
Barry Glazer and Daryl Hall co-wrote the group’s first single, “Girl I Love You,” as well as the followup, “Say These Words of Love.” “‘Girl I Love You’ went Top Twenty on some local radio charts and got us on TV shows with the deejays Hy Lit and Jerry Blavat,” Glazer recalls. “We also played two Freedom Shows, big concerts sponsored by the NAACP. We almost always played with black acts.”
Neither disc did anything to extend the Temptones’ appeal beyond their home turf. A second Freedom Show at Convention Hall would have been the group’s last gig but for the thunderous reception that greeted their rendition of “Old Man River” (in the Temptations’ arrangement, naturally). This led to a showcase for the Ashley Famous Agency at New York’s Village Gate, where the Temptones’ rhythm section included one John Oates on guitar. It was the first time he and Daryl Hall had ever performed onstage together.
Following some personnel changes, the Temptones disbanded for good in 1969. “John and Daryl started doing music together,” says Barry Glazer, “and the rest is history.” (Hall and Oates released their debut album, Whole Oates, in 1972.)
“But the Temptones were pretty damn good and very unusual for our time,” he adds with a chuckle. “We didn’t even like the Beatles. I mean, we really wanted to sound black!”
Of all the white teen rock & roll bands to emerge from the Great American Garage in the mid-Sixties, none interpreted contemporary soul music with more skill and passion than the Rationals, from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Scott Morgan (vocals) and Steve Correll (guitar), fellow students at Forsythe Junior High in Ann Arbor, formed the embryonic Rationals in 1963 and were joined within a year by Terry Trabandt (bass) and Bill Figg (drums). By then, their focus had shifted from guitar instrumentals to a blend of hip British Invasion covers (Pretty Things, Them, et al.) and promising originals. Meanwhile, Morgan recalls, “Steve Correll’s mother would drive us to the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit to see the Motortown Revue shows with Little Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, everybody. We’d be among the few white kids in the place.”
Jeep Holland was the group’s manager, the founder of the A2 (A Squared) label and a dedicated collector “extremely well-versed in rhythm & blues,” says Scott Morgan. “Jeep was the one who turned us on to songs like ‘I Need You’ by Chuck Jackson, ‘Listen to Me’ by the Esquires and ‘The Entertainer’ by Tony Clarke.” In late 1966, Holland chose an Otis Redding song called “Respect” for the Rationals’ third A2 single. This recording anticipated Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” by nearly a year and – in light of its local-hit status in her hometown of Detroit – likely influenced the Queen of Soul’s own arrangement.
Creeping to Number Ninety-two, “Respect” became the Rationals’ sole Billboard chart entry. Several more intense and soulful singles followed; none broke nationally, despite heavy regional airplay. The Rationals commanded a loyal following in the 1967–69 heyday of Detroit’s Grande Ballroom scene but gradually lost momentum. Only months before the group broke up, in August 1970, New York label entrepreneur Bob Crewe finally released their self-titled debut album. It’s an uneven LP, but the Scott Morgan–Steve Correll duet on “Temptation ’Bout to Get Me,” in its raw power and desperate yearning, actually cuts the Knight Brothers’ hit version. (“Hijackin’ Love,” an obscure 1971 single by Morgan’s next band, Lightnin’, is likewise a more thrilling record than the Johnnie Taylor original.)
Although their greatest recordings have never been legally reissued, the Rationals are partially represented on Medium Rare (Real O Mind, 2001). This Scott Morgan rarities compilation features the group’s last studio recording alongside tracks from their 1991 reunion sessions, including Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time” and Darrell Banks’s “Open the Door to Your Heart.” For thirty years, Scott Morgan has continued to perform and record with such groups as Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, Dodge Main and the Hydromatics. A still vibrant survivor of a legendary music scene, he remains (to quote David Fricke) “one of America’s Great Voices.”
[Thanks to all Blue-Eyed Soul Survey participants. Special thanks to Gregg Geller, Geoff Ginsberg, Barry Glazer of the Temptones, Daniel M. Hodges, Scott Morgan of the Rationals, Phast Phreddie Patterson and Don Waller.]
The West Village rock club Generation was a favorite hangout and jamming spot for Jimi Hendrix. When it closed after six months in the fall of 1968, Hendrix and his manager Michael Jeffery bought Generation and hired Jim Marron to oversee its remodeling. Marron soon convinced his clients to create “a recording studio that was like a nightclub, in that it could be a place that Jimi could entertain his friends—you could do private parties—but it would be a non-public club, one that was fully wired [for] multi-track recording.”
Construction was prolonged and costly but Hendrix began recording at Electric Lady weeks before the official opening party on August 25, 1970. This event marked the last time Jimi Hendrix set foot in Electric Lady. Immediately afterwards, the guitarist flew to England to appear at the Isle of Wight festival; he died in London less than a month later, on September 18.
The loss of the studio’s inspirational figurehead was followed, in later years, by floods, fires, and ill-conceived renovations. Yet by 2008, Electric Lady had survived all of its major competitors to become New York’s longest-running major recording facility. Albums recorded entirely or in part at Electric Lady include Cry of Love (Jimi Hendrix), Led Zeppelin III, Some Girls (Rolling Stones), Voodoo (D’Angelo), Horses (Patti Smith), Talking Book (Stevie Wonder), and Shaman (Santana).
The world’s most famous rock club opened in December, 1973 when musician/actor/nightclub manager/concert impresario Hilly Kristal took over the decrepit Palace Bar and christened it CBGB & OMFUG (Country, Blue Grass, Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers). Beginning in early 1974, as Richard Hell later wrote, CBGB “housed the most influential cluster of bands ever to grow up — or to implicitly reject the concept of growing up — under one roof,” including Blondie, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Heartbreakers (with Johnny Thunders), Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the Ramones, Suicide, Talking Heads, and Television.
Tens of thousands of performers—from multi-platinum rockers Pearl Jam and Guns ‘N Roses to country superstar Alan Jackson—played CBGB until October 15, 2006, when the club closed for good following a protracted rent dispute. The Patti Smith Group headlined the last show, and PSG guitarist Lenny Kaye told the NY Times: “When I go into a rock club in Helsinki or London or Des Moines, it feels like CBGB to me there. The message from this tiny little Bowery bar has gone around the world. It has authenticated the rock experience wherever it has landed.” Hilly Kristal died August 28, 2007 at age 75 from complications of lung cancer. In April 2008, designer John Varvatos opened a boutique in the former CBGB.
Harold S. “Nappy” Grossbardt and his partner Sidney Turk founded Colony Records in 1948 after Grossbardt’s former employer, Colony Sporting Goods, went out of business at Broadway and West 52nd Street. The store’s extended hours and prime location made it popular with musicians, theatergoers, and nightclub patrons. In 1970, Colony moved to the Brill Building, at 1619 Broadway, where it continues to do a brisk business in the sale of sheet music, soundtracks, and Broadway memorabilia.
The Brill Building was erected in 1931 and named for the Brill Brothers clothing store that occupied its corner retail space. During the Depression, a paucity of commercial tenants forced the owners to rent space to music publishers, and by 1962 the Brill Building’s eleven floors housed an estimated 165 music businesses. These included record labels and small recording studios, but most of the offices were occupied by songwriters and publishing firms including Hill & Range, Arc Music, and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Trio Music; and composers Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, and Burt Bacharach & Hal David. The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love,” The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment,” and “Don’t Make Me Over” by Dionne Warwick are among the many pop classics that represent the Brill Building scene at its early-Sixties peak.
When the American Federation of Musicians moved its union offices to 50th Street and Sixth Avenue, the time was right for saxophone salesman Manny Goldrich to open Manny’s Music on West 48th Street in 1935. Manny’s quickly became the instrument retailer of choice for the many musicians who filled the ranks of the big bands and Broadway show orchestras. The arrival of the Beatles and the soaring popularity of the guitar (acoustic and electric) further enhanced Manny’s reputation. Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend, and the Beatles all patronized the shop; 14-year-old Paul Simon accompanied his father to Manny’s to pick out his first guitar. After Manny Goldrich died in 1964, ownership of the store passed to his son Henry Goldrich (co-author of The Wall of Fame: New York City’s Legendary Manny’s Music) and then to Henry’s two sons in 1998; the following year, the 20,000-square-foot store was sold to its long-time West 48th Street competitor, Sam Ash Music. It continues to operate under its original name, its walls still papered with hundreds of photos autographed by everyone from Count Basie to Madonna. “Manny’s was a place where you could almost feel the spirit of those musicians whose photos adorned the walls,” said Carlos Santana. “I treasure my experiences in this wonderful place.”
The fourth Manhattan building to be known as Madison Square Garden opened February 11, 1968 with a “Salute to the USO” concert starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Rock and roll arrived November 27-28 when the Rolling Stones headlined two sold-out shows at the 19,000-capacity venue. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley all performed at MSG; indeed, Presley’s four shows in June 1972 were his first and only New York performances. Every former Beatle has played The Garden: George Harrison and Ringo Starr at The Concert For Bangladesh in 1971; John Lennon as the surprise guest of Elton John in 1974 (Lennon’s last live performance); and Paul McCartney as recently as 2005. The last concert ever completed by Bob Marley & the Wailers took place at The Garden on September 20, 1980.
In 2008, Billy Joel held the record for the most number of shows performed in a single MSG run (eleven, in 2006). But close behind him are Bruce Springsteen (ten shows, 2002) and the Grateful Dead (nine shows, first in 1988 and again in 1991. On March 25, 2007, Elton John celebrated his 60th birthday by playing the sixtieth MSG show of his career—and setting a new record for the most appearances by any artist or group at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky opened their 400-seat room, The Bottom Line, on February 12, 1974 with two shows headlined by Dr. John. Neither a dance club nor a hipster lounge, “The Bottom Line put musicians in front of audiences who came for no other reason than to pay attention to the music.” (Jon Pareles, The New York Times, 1.26.2004)
The Cars, the Police, Dire Straits, DEVO, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers all played The Bottom Line in their early careers. In August 1975, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band played ten shows over five nights to launch Springsteen’s career-making album Born To Run. The Bottom Line presented major artists in every non-classical genre including country (Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton), jazz (Bill Evans, Charles Mingus), folk (Joan Baez, David Bromberg), and blues (Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan).
After Stanley Snadowsky moved to Las Vegas in 1992, Allan Pepper continued to operate The Bottom Line. Later he engaged in protracted but ultimately unsuccessful lease negotiations with the club’s landlord, New York University. The last show was a various-artists tribute to Woody Guthrie held January 10, 2004; The Bottom Line closed January 22, less than one month shy of its thirtieth anniversary. The building now houses NYU classrooms.
Songwriter/producer Jerry Ragovoy (“Piece of My Heart”) opened the original Hit Factory recording studio in 1968 on West 48th Street near Broadway. He later relocated to a converted duplex apartment at 353 West 48th Street, where a winding staircase served as an echo chamber. In March 1975, Ed Germano bought the Hit Factory and eventually moved it to 237 West 54th Street. One of the new room’s first important clients was Stevie Wonder, who recorded “Sir Duke” for his multi-platinum 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life.
In 1991, Ed Germano bought a nearly 100,000-square-foot building at 421 West 54th Street and opened a new Hit Factory in which each of five dedicated floors housed a separate recording studio: Studio 1, on the top floor, could accommodate a 60-piece orchestra. The building also housed the affiliated Hit Factory Mastering; a fully equipped gym with steam room; and the studio’s executive offices, storage areas, and tape library. The Hit Factory attracted a steady stream of major artists ranging from Tony Bennett and Bruce Springsteen to Madonna and 50 Cent. In 1994, the studio made musical history with 41 Grammy Award nominations for songs recorded, mixed and/or mastered at its facilities.
After Ed Germano died in February 2003, his widow and company CFO Janice Germano took over studio operations until the Hit Factory closed in March 2005. The West 54th Street complex was sold for an undisclosed amount (reportedly as high as $20 million) and converted into condominiums that were marketed with the slogan “Live in the House That Rock Built.”
John Mitchell opened the Gaslight Café in 1958 in a grimy converted coal cellar under a bar, The Kettle of Fish. According to legend, the very low ceiling made it impossible to stand upright in the room so the owner lowered the dirt floor by shoveling it out himself. A combative and determined man, Mitchell played a crucial role in establishing the coffee house as a Greenwich Village countercultural institution and made the Gaslight a showcase for poets and monologists. In 1961, he sold the 110-capacity club to former Mississippi lumber salesman Clarence Hood (whose son Sam later joined his father in the operation) and the entertainment changed to folk music—which could play on until dawn, since the Gaslight served no alcohol.
Bob Dylan began performing at the Gaslight in June 1961, and there he premiered “Masters of War” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Dave Van Ronk, Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Son House, Doc Watson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jose Feliciano, John Hammond Jr., and Richie Havens all played the club. The Gaslight closed in 1967 but reopened a year later under new owner Ed Simon; it shut down for good in 1971. The limited edition Bob Dylan album, Live at the Gaslight 1962, was released in 2005.
Beginning in the 1920s, 19-25 St. Mark’s Place was the site of the Polish National Home. In the second-floor space called The Dom, Andy Warhol staged his Exploding Plastic Inevitable with the Velvet Underground in April 1966. Former William Morris talent agent Jerry Brandt acquired the lease and opened the Electric Circus early in the summer of 1967.
Brandt tamed the wilder experimental edges of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable for mass consumption. He hyped his non-alcoholic club as “the ultimate legal experience”—a dizzying immersive environment combining sound, lights, visual projections, and performance elements like a trapeze artist and a resident astrologer. Progressive Architecture described the club as having “a little of the look of a high-school gym, transformed beyond the wildest dreams of the prom committee.” Electric Circus headliners included The Seeds, the Chambers Brothers, Sly & the Family Stone, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Ike & Tina Turner, the Grateful Dead, and avant-garde composers Terry Riley and John Cage.
Crime, hard drug use, and political tension were rising in the East Village when, on March 22, 1970, a bomb exploded in the Electric Circus and injured fifteen people; the club closed for good in August 1971. The interior was demolished by 2003 and remodeled into commercial space for Chinese and Mexican restaurants and, briefly, a CBGB retail store.