Socialist Worker

Take Me To The River: US South’s soul sounds that knew no bounds

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2125

Artwork for the CD

Artwork for the CD


At a time when some racist Southern US states went so far as to ban inter-racial chess games in public spaces, something subversive was happening down in Tennessee.

In converted outhouses and farmyard shacks, multi-racial groups of young musicians, writers and producers were distilling the sound of Southern soul music.

The new sound mixed gospel and country with blues and rock and roll. The music was played live at black clubs, the white college fraternity circuits and the racially mixed gambling dens of Memphis. Once recorded, it knew no bounds.

By the mid-1960s artists such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Joe Tex and Al Green were topping the charts and labels like Stax were in a position to rival the mighty Motown label from the Northern city of Detroit.

That black artists from the segregated South could rise to such a position was itself a challenge to the system.

But that their success was part of a creative collaboration with young whites, most of whom remained in the background, made it more so.

A leaflet issued by white supremacists at the time speaks volumes: “Help save the youth of America! Don’t let your children buy or listen to these Negro records. The screaming, idiotic words and savage music are undermining the morals of our white American youth.”

Next to Peter Guralnick’s book Sweet Soul Music, this lavishly produced three-CD box set is about the best history of Southern soul you are ever likely to find.

Among its 75 tracks it has a spread of classics, such as James Carr’s “Dark End Of The Street” and Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind”. But it is also packed with unreleased tracks and singles so rare that you’d need a banker’s bailout money to own a copy. All of which makes the price of thirty quid an absolute bargain.

Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story
Kent Records, £29.99


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Tue 28 Oct 2008, 18:37 GMT
Issue No. 2125
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