Interview With Eli Paperboy Reed, Feat. His New Single ‘Come and Get It’

Here’s a clip of Boston-bred soulman and 21st century rhythm & blues daddy Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed along with his band the True Loves.  It’s ‘Come and Get It’, the lead single of off his newest record of the same name, Come and Get It.   This is Reed’s third collection of songs that hearken back to the classic soul period, evoking the spirits of Sam Cooke, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown, with a dash of the Chi-lites and Solomon Burke, too.

While he and the band continued their extensive tour of Europe, and after I was sent a copy of the new record, I asked Eli about this single, about the release of his first album on a major label, about his love of records and record collecting, and about the rich traditions of an American art form; sweet soul music!

Here’s that interview.

***

The Delete BinThe newest record Come and Get It is your third album, yet it’s your first on a major label (EMI-Parlophone).  How did being on a major affect the way you’ve approached making and touring the record?

Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed: It didn’t really change much of the way I thought about approaching the record-making process but it was great to be able to record the whole thing all in one go and to be able to get all the musicians I wanted. Really it was just having the budget to do what we needed to do and having the support to release in so many countries. That was a huge deal, having all the different offices in different territories, it’s allowed us to really go everywhere and get exposure because of it.

DB: This new single,  “Come and Get It”, the title track off of the new record sounds like a classic from Stax/Voltz and Atlantic, an AM radio hit.  But, I get the impression it, and other songs like “Time Will Tell” and “Name Callin'” for instance, could have been written and performed as country songs.  What do you think the connection is between these strains of  American music?

EPR:  Well for starters, “Come and Get It” sounds way more like Brunswick Records or Twinight in Chicago than it does Stax or Atlantic but that’s neither here nor there. Country music and R&B have always gone hand in hand and I grew up listening to so much Country that’s really naturally informed my writing and style. The turn of phrase in “Name Calling” is actually sort of quintessentially 90s country wordplay. They did that kind of stuff all the time.

I’ve been really embracing my 90s country upbringing lately and I think people like Don Schlitz, Paul Overstreet, Alan Jackson and a million others writing that stuff were amazing writers who had knowledge of so much music. It’s all about southern stuff really; country, r&b, gospel, blues.  It all fits together.

DB: You gained an interest in rhythm & blues initially because of records your dad had in his collection.  These days with the Internet and all of the choice that it offers, do you think it’s easier or more difficult for kids to find classic soul music like you did?

EPR:  It’s actually both easier and more difficult. You have to know what you’re looking for and that’s the tough thing. Having a father with a great record collection or a great local record store means you can just browse and find stuff that has cool covers and buy it or put it on the turntable. I would just pull stuff out and be like “I don’t know what this is all about” and half the time it would be good.

I still buy records that way, especially 45s. If the label looks good and it’s got a good title, chances are it’s a great record. I think people just gotta seek stuff out that they don’t know. There are great music blogs that people can go to but for the most part nothing can replace looking through the racks and the stacks.

DB: You’re from the Boston area.  When you were seeking out live R&B music as a growing musician and writer, was there a local scene doing the strain of music you’re currently doing near to where you grew up?

EPR:  I went to some shows and things with my Dad but for the most part I was in a vacuum, listening to records on the living room floor. As I got to be older in high school I went to see shows but not really R&B. When I came back to Boston, though after Chicago I started playing in all these little churches and that really opened my eyes to that kind of music in Boston. I sang in this Gospel Quartet in Boston, the Silver Leaf singers, I was the only member under 65 and also the only instrumentalist they ever had. I played acoustic guitar and sang the high tenor parts and they even let me take some leads. It was amazing.

We sang at the funeral of one of the oldest members who I got along well with because he was from Mississippi and we knew alot of the same places. It was heavy. At the same time I started finding R&B and Gospel records that came out in Boston in the 60s like “Young Girl” and I started going to Skippy White’s record store all the time and talking to him about the records he released. By the time I moved to New York I had found almost every record he put out on all of his labels. He had Silver Cross for Gospel, WILD and Bluestown for R&B.

DB: Having been a singer and instrumentalist in a gospel church while you were going to school in Chicago as you mentioned, but also spending time in Clarksdale Mississippi in juke joints , how did the contrast of these experiences inform your music and performance style?

EPR:  Well how long have you got? That’s a tough question to answer in a short amount of time. I guess it’s sufficient to say it really shaped everything that I do. I learned about performing and keeping a crowd in Clarksdale and I learned to be tough and thick-skinned. In the churches I learned that as a performer it’s not about you. It’s about the audience you’re playing for. You have to do everything you can for them.  In Church, if they get the spirit, you stop when they’re done, not when you feel like stopping.

DB: Your popularity as a live act is undeniable, especially in places like the UK and continental Europe where you’ve spent a lot of time building a loyal following.  How do European audiences  appreciate soul music and rhythm & blues compared to audiences in the States and Canada?

EPR: I really don’t think there’s much of a difference in the actual audience, but clearly people in the UK and Europe are a little bit more scholarly about their appreciation of American music. When it comes to playing shows though, it doesn’t make a difference where you are.  A good audience is a good audience.

DB: Your influences can be detected  and attached to certain clearly defined musical traditions, yet you clearly have an artistic voice of your own.  How have you managed to avoid the temptation to simply take up the characteristics of a style, rather than find that voice?

EPR:  Listening.

I spent thousands of hours listening and taking things in and learning them. That’s how you ingrain things in your mind and let it come out as your own. If you don’t know the music you love (and why you love it) like the back of your hand, there’s no way you can come up with something new that’s based on that. Everybody needs to spend more time just listening to music, I think that’s probably the biggest problem with most singers these days.

DB:  Your first record Sings Walkin’ and Talkin’ and Other Smash Hits!, which was released independently.  Any chance of a re-issue?

EPR: I hope so, man. I’d love to put it out on vinyl. I might wait a little while longer until the price hits $100 on ebay though!

***

What a thrill to get to interview Eli!  As you can see, he was extremely generous with his time, as reflected here.  Thanks, Eli!

You can check out music, tour information, buy the new record from the official Eli Paperboy Reed site.

Also, you can follow Eli Paperboy Reed on Twitter for real-time updates from the man himself.

And be sure and check out the Eli Paperboy Reed Facebook Page, too.

Enjoy!

Shuggie Otis Sings ‘Strawberry Letter 23’

freedom_flight_coverListen to this track, a unique slice of psych-pop-soul from R&B wunderkind Shuggie Otis.  It’s his glorious ‘Strawberry Letter 23’, a piece of delectable ear candy that seemed to indicate that soul-funk may be headed in something of a Prince-ly direction.  The song comes from Shuggie’s 1971 LP Freedom Flight, also appearing in an early form  on an  album produced by his father, bandleader Johnny Otis two years before that.

This song, written by a fifteen year old Otis as a paean to his ladylove at the time who had a propensity for strawberry scented love letters, was a hit for the Brothers Johnson a few years later, and for R&B pinup Tevin Campbell in the early 90s.  But it’s Shuggie’s version that stands out for me, particularly with its aural sunshine outro.  As far as I’m concerned, that outro could last for days and I’d still love it.

The sheer pop perfection of the track makes it undeniable, punctuated by mallet percussion as a lead instrument, with guitars, bass, keyboards, and even early models of drum machines, layering the sound into a glorious sonic dessert, and played solely by teenager Shuggie.  This model of recording by a multi-instrumentalist producer on songs that cross genres and then back again would be something of a pioneering approach to making records at the time (see also Todd Rundgren).  Shuggie would never rise above cult status.  Yet, as previously mentioned, burgeoning talents like Prince were certainly taking notes.

Shuggie had been a part of his father’s bands as a guitarist, playing in clubs while very much underage, and often times sporting fake moustache and shades to keep from being spotted.   He also played with Frank Zappa, Al Kooper, and  was also courted to tour with the Rolling Stones.  Needless to say, Shuggie Otis was a musical prodigy.  The Inspiration Information album would show him to be an ambitious producer who seemed to ignore the high walls between the rock world, the jazz world, and the world of soul-funk.  ‘Strawberry Letter 23″ in particular revealed him to be an incredibly imaginative songwriter and arranger to boot.

But Otis’ reputation faltered, and by the end of the 1970s, and his potential as a household name faded  despite his considerable talent.   But, he continues as an active musician, having collaborated more recently with with Mos Def. This song of Otis’ and other songs have been sampled heavily by artists ranging from Digible Planets to Dr. Dre to Beyoncé.

 

Enjoy!

Rose Royce Performs ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’

roseroycecarwashListen to this track, a funk workout by groove-oriented soul-funk collective Rose Royce.   It’s ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ as taken from the soundtrack album of the 1976 film Car Wash.

This tune has all of the hallmarks of classic funk; a groove-centric appeal, made to dance to, and with the voices of the musicians talking with each other as the song moves along.  It’s all here. For me, it’s the sound of celebration, with something of an off-the-cuff kind of feel about it.  Its interlocked rhythm driven by a deliciously sweaty bassline, percussive guitar, and tasty horn shots still sounds like it’s been made up on the spot.  And that’s part of what makes it so charming.

This song comes out of an era when the idea of black subculture meeting the mainstream was a pretty new idea.  It’s something we take for granted now, of course.  But, it’s important to remember that the civil rights movement was less than fifteen years behind the release date of this tune, and the movie in which it is featured.

If the characters in the film are more stereotypical then our modern sensibilities might be used to, then it’s because the movie was scripted by someone outside of the community it depicts – one Joel Schumacher who would later make a name for himself as a director.  And it’s marked by growing pains, with Hollywood attempting to branch out to brand new audiences by making films that feature the types of characters with whom those communities can more easily identify.

It should be noted that the soundtrack to the Car Wash movie had a more lasting impact than the film, produced as it was by legendary Motown impresario Norman Whitfield who produced the Temptations and Gladys Knight and the Pips, among others.  Rose Royce of course would have a smash hit in the title track to this soundtrack, among other hits like ‘Wishing on a Star’ and other songs that stand as a sort of middle ground between the influence of southern soul music of the first half of the decade and the smoother, and more ubiquitous disco of the second half.

For more about the Car Wash movie, check out the IMDB entry.

Enjoy!

Stevie Wonder Sings “Jesus Children of America”

steviewonder_innervisionsListen to this song by Motown wunderkind turned soul-funk sonic visionary Stevie Wonder.  It’s “Jesus Children of America” as taken from his 1973 LP Innervisions.

From 1971 to 1976, Stevie Wonder pursued his own vision as an album artist with something to say about his country’s social landscape.  It was an artistic trajectory which most critics and fans agree represents his prime period as a songwriter, producer, and performer.

Innervisions is arguably his best record of this period, although this is a point on which many can argue for hours being as it is in extremely close competition with albums like Talking Book, Music of My Mind, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale, all of which were written and recorded in very close succession.

One of the most amazing things about this period was that Stevie Wonder fully embraced the latest technology of the times to make these albums,  and yet the music he created is entirely timeless.  Any one of the songs he recorded and which are now considered classics could have been recorded yesterday.  And thematically, of course, many of the songs which touch upon the issues of poverty, political alienation, and spiritual despondence are also sadly relevant today.

For instance, “Jesus Children of America” is an examination of a culture, with the questions surrounding how spirituality has the power to inspire people to change themselves and to change the world in which they live.  Yet, I think it also touches on the idea that a culture can often make faith into something that is little more than an accessory to human experience, not applied to the potential it has to inspire change.

stevie-wonder-1973
Much like his contemporaries Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder was interested in going beyond the three-minute single and trying to make a statement about his community, and his country as a whole. Perhaps ironically, much of his ability to strike out on his own artistically away from the yoke of his Motown singles days was down to the fact that the song royalities he’d amassed up until this point became fully available to him when he turned 21 in 1971!

At the same time, this song is a rally cry to those in states of confusion, that a spiritual dimension to life can be a stabilizing force – “transcendental meditation can give you peace of mind”.   This aspect of things stops this tune from being a judgmental finger-waggling exercise.  What it does is to turn the song  into a statement of genuine concern about losing out on the real message behind most religions, which I believe is to draw one closer to one’s true origins to finding meaning there, and then make the world better for others as a result.

And as the most important line in the song says: “you better tell your story fast”; the world isn’t getting any better without those stories, and without those stories being understood by others.

Enjoy!