Like Thunder, Lightning (Eddie Floyd)

When Eddie Floyd formed a Doo Wop vocal group, the Falcons, in mid-1950s Detroit he could not have imagined that almost 60 years later he would be invited to participate in a celebration of Memphis Soul at the White House with a Black President & his wife front & centre of the audience. In 1966 Eddie had recorded a song that encapsulated the robust energy of the music being created in the Stax studios in Memphis. “Knock On Wood”, you know it, everybody does, has been recorded by over 150 other artists but there ain’t nothing like the real thing & if that’s what you need then, even when he’s over 70 years old, you send for Eddie.

eddie floyd knock on wood

Everything you read about Eddie Floyd confirms that he is a thoroughly good & unassuming man. The Falcons sold a million in 1959 with “You’re So Fine” then again three years later when “I Found A Love”, featuring an extraordinary vocal by Wilson Pickett, was an R&B smash. The lead singer went solo, the Falcons disbanded, passing their name to another group, & Eddie recorded for his uncle’s label in Detroit then, relocating to Washington, for a label he started with local DJ Al Bell. When Bell was head hunted by the Stax label Eddie went along as a songwriter & found he had an immediate rapport with guitarist Steve Cropper. The former Falcon Wicked Pickett was around too with his hit “In the Midnight Hour”. The Floyd/Cropper combo provided “634-5789” & “Ninety Nine & a Half (Won’t Do)”, tailor-made for the new star.

“Knock On Wood” was intended for Otis Redding but on hearing the demo Atlantic thought that Eddie had already done it right & so he had. The international success of the single may have been a surprise to the label because the track chosen for the b-side sounds like a perfectly good hit to me. “Got To Make A Comeback”, another track from a very fresh debut LP, is written by Eddie & Joe Shamwell, another friend from Washington who had made the move to Memphis. Starting slowly as a duet between the vocals & Cropper’s guitar, building with ascending horns & backing vocals the song displays Eddie’s range more successfully than subsequent attempts to re-create the success of the A-side.

Otis Redding/Stax Records

In 1967 Eddie was part of the Stax revue that introduced European audiences to real Soul Power. His performance, backed by Booker T & the M.G.’s & the Mar-Keys, of “Raise Your Hand” seems to have been mislaid by the Internet which is a shame because it would be a certainty for inclusion here. The death of Otis Redding in December of that year shook the label to its foundations. It was on Eddie’s delayed flight from London back to the funeral that the idea for “Big Bird” originated. Back home the song was completed with Booker T Jones who produced & played guitar on the record. The finished product is a clap of thunderous Power Soul which, on release in 1968, felt like I was hearing the future of music. This absolute gem is recognised now but at the time it was the least successful of any of Eddie’s singles. How could that have happened?

Eddie Floyd | Memphis Music Hall of Fame

Still, Eddie was becoming one of Stax’s most consistent performers & his next two singles, “I Never Found A Girl” & a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” both made Top 5 R&B, his biggest hits since the big one. In 1968, through a shady deal with Atlantic, the label lost the rights to their back catalogue. A rapid reloading programme saw the release of 28 albums with the new finger-popping logo in May 1969. “You’ve Got to Have Eddie” may have been hurriedly recorded, there are only two of his songs included, but on a curation of his singles “Rare Stamps” he had written 11 of the 12 tracks & it’s some collection. With his friend Al Bell now co-owner of Stax Eddie remained loyal to the label right to the end in 1975. Other major players were pursuing further opportunities but were still ready to work with Eddie. 1970’s “California Girl” was a more restrained collaboration with Booker T & the following year he moved across town to the new TMI studio set up by Steve Cropper.

Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper at a Stax recording session [1968] :  OldSchoolCool

After over five years of Steve & Eddie working together on a classic Memphis sound “Down To Earth” is a very interesting departure. It’s an album that is influenced by not only the new Psychedelic Soul but there’s plenty of Rock in there too. It’s certainly different to hear Eddie singing songs like “Linda Sue Dixon” (L.S.D.) & “My Mind Was Messed Around At The Time” & Cropper’s guitar goes to places we hadn’t heard him visit before. It’s a heavy (in a good way) record, closing with the rather epic “Changing Love”. Maybe Stax couldn’t handle all this changing, perhaps they were not inclined to promote a record made in a rival studio but there was no single released from the record & “Down To Earth” remains an album unfairly overlooked at the time & still worth checking out.

Introduction to Eddie Floyd – Mental Itch

Eddie continued to record without repeating his success of the previous decade but his reputation was made, his name remembered. Any compilation, every celebration of Memphis Soul had to include him. Any Soul weekender in Europe would be happy to have Eddie Floyd, still in fine voice, as a respected headliner. Of course he would have to sing “Knock On Wood”, it enabled him to live a life in music & still does. There was so much more to his music & his contribution to the music of fellow Stax artists. I have to end with this track that begins “Eddie Floyd wrote this song”, “Oh yes he did brother”. In 1968, around the same time as “Big Bird”, the double dynamite duo Sam & Dave took a break from the string of hits written for them by David Porter & Isaac Hayes to record “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me”. Yes “Soul Man” & “Hold On I’m Comin'”, yes “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” but when I hear this song I still get the same thrill, have the same silly smile on my face as that 15 year old Soul fan who thought it was just the greatest thing when he first heard it. Keep the faith!

Ray Charles, Believe To Your Soul (Soul April 3rd 1971)



A rare trio of selections from the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations from 50 years ago this week. All three are from a group of musicians & singers assembled by an iconic figure in Black American music, an extraordinarily gifted artist who influenced & inspired many others & who achieved recognition on a scale comparable to the Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Let’s start with a song at #26 on the chart, rising from #33, & a wonderful clip that displays his individual talent & has pretty much been on repeat round at our yard we we discovered its existence.

Ray Charles Robinson was raised in Florida. Blind since the age of six, he received a musical education at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, leaving on the death of his mother when he was 15 & making his living as a professional musician since then. His early records were influenced by the successful, sophisticated stylings of Nat King Cole & Charles Brown, while his tastes were much wider it was what a young unknown musician had to play if he wanted to work in the clubs. There was more R&B push after signing for Atlantic in 1952, there were hits like “Mess Around” too but Ray was still working with other artists, reliant on local pick-up bands for his gigs. Employing his own band brought a focus to the music he wanted to play &, in 1954, “I Got A Woman” hit the shops & the top of the charts. Of course many Black singers had found their voices in church but Gospel still regarded singing secular music as going over to the dark side. With a tune borrowed from the Southern Tones & a sensational, stirring vocal inspired by Archie Brownlee from Five Blind Boys of Mississippi Ray took the song to church & made a ground-breaking record. A door had been open, Sam Cooke, Little Richard & Elvis Presley stepped through.

Ray Charles 1961 concert ad rakes in more than $5K at auction | | tucson.com

Ray Charles toured for 300 days a year with his seven piece orchestra. When studio-ready he was left alone to make his own music & from 1954 to 1957 there was an unbroken run of Top 10 R&B hits. In 1959 “What’d I Say”, a seven and a half minute burst of energy building to a frenzied finale, was edited into two parts with some of the sexual charge sanitised. It crossed over into the Pop charts & earned a gold record. In the same year he recorded an album of swinging big-band music with players from Count Basie’s & Duke Ellington’s groups. These seasoned veterans were impressed by the acuity of the 27 year old R&B pianist & Atlantic could not resist naming the results “The Genius Of Ray Charles”. After a move to ABC the mainstream deal was sealed in 1962 when “Modern Sounds in Country & Western” used a foundation of Country standards to incorporate Ray’s Gospel, Jazz, Soul & Pop to create a new American music so popular & significant that attributions of breaking the racial barriers of the time have been made. Now, when Ray Charles played in New York it was at Carnegie Hall not just the Apollo. The only barrier to this success was his longstanding relationship with heroin & regular brushes with the law. In 1966, faced with prison, he was able to finally break that habit.

In 1970 Ray was ready for the Country again & “Don’t Change On Me” is a single taken from the “Love Country Style” album. For some tastes the swirling strings & choruses on these songs were a little countrypolitan but Ray’s soulful vocals could bring it all back home. Here he’s in the barn of Kornfield Kounty for an appearance on the long-running “Hee Haw” TV show. A fine Country band (the Buckaroos?) is propelled along by his energy, the fluidity, the immediacy of Ray’s vocals make it, for myself anyway, better than the record. It’s a new song not a standard & it’s a Y-tube gem!

Love Country Style - Wikipedia

Further up the chart at #19 is a Ray Charles composition, performed by the Ray Charles Orchestra & released on his own Tangerine label. Throughout the 1960s Ray had expanded his range even more, writing less original material, adding show tunes & selections from the Great American Songbook to his repertoire. His other LP in 1970 is “My Kind of Jazz”, produced by Quincy Jones who he had befriended back in the day when they were teens living in Seattle. It’s a cool instrumental selection, smooth & still swinging with a stellar brass section & Ray on Hammond organ. “Booty Butt”, Ray’s only song in the set, is something of an outlier. If the current thing was Funk then these experienced players show the young guns that it’s not that new & they have always been playing that stuff. Over an oh-so-solid rhythm section of piano, bass & drums, the saxophone solos, Ben Martin’s guitar stings then Ray plays his keys & scat sings. In 1971 a record this good could be played on the radio & sell enough copies to make the R&B chart. What a world!

Ray Charles Video Museum: Ray Charles & The Raelettes

Our final selection is holding up the rest of the chart at #60. In 1956 Ray invited the Cookies to join his recording session & two years later they became part of the Revue as the Raelettes. With Margie Hendricks as the prominent voice the group made fine contributions to the stage show & to records like “What’d I Say” & “Hit the Road Jack”. Margie left in 1964 & the mid-1960s, when the Raelettes were recording their own singles there was a high turnover in personnel. . Members included Merry Clayton, Minnie Riperton, Edna Wright (coming round here soon with Honey Cone) & Clydie King. Mable John joined after leaving Motown, went for solo work with Stax then, by 1971, had rejoined the group. It is her voice that is heard on “Bad Water”, a song written by Jimmy Holiday, also credited on “Don’t Change On Me”, & singer Jackie DeShannon. Other members include Vernita Moss, future Supreme Susaye Greene & possibly Dorothy Berry, keeping tabs on who was a Raelette & when is a tricky thing.

Books have been written & a film has been made about the life of Ray Charles. He achieved more with his musical vision than I can include here. His apparently limitless flexibility meant that he could play Jazz, Gospel, R&B, Country & Pop with equal energy, emotion & creativity. A claim can be made that Ray invented Soul music, if that’s not the case he was certainly in the room when that happened. By 1971 he was already a legend & there was another 30 years of records, performances & deserved accolades from the public & fellow artists to confirm a unique place in American music.

For this week’s live clip we return to that 1970 “Hee Haw” & find Ray Charles sharing a seat with Buck Owens, a pioneer of the influential Bakersfield sound in the 1950s & a star of the show. Buck had written “Crying Time” in 1964 & it was hidden away on the b-side of another song. In 1966 Ray’s version made the US Top 10 & won two R&B Grammy awards. That band plays as clean as country water, the performances by & the obvious respect between the two artists are beautiful things. Excuse me, it must be dust or smoke that’s in my eyes.