I remember this time when I was in junior high and high school, and my mom and my stepdad were still together. Every weekend they got together at parties with their buddies, predictably a little Southern soul-blues would be mingled in with Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid” and all that New Jack Swing and hip-hop that I grew up with.
It was pretty embarrassing to me because at age 12, 13, 14, I wanted to be cool. But no kid forced to listen to the likes of Z.Z. Hill or Denise LaSalle was able to be very cool in rural north Mississippi, or anywhere else in the pre-dirty dirty South. (A small exception is for “My Tu-Tu”–I still love that song today!
We were very ’80s kids. I would rather listen to hip-hop, New Wave, Minneapolis funk. But oddly enough, I’d recently become a Monkees fan and started listening to “pop” oldies on the radio (trying to find old Monkees hits, since it was around the 20th anniversary of their TV show and, well, they did have a few radio hits). The mainstream oldies were at least somewhat popular, unlike the bluesy stuff released by Malaco, Ichiban, HSP, etc. Sadly, unlike now, race ended up somewhat mattering in my listening habits at the time. Oldies charts have historically been dominated by white artists, despite Motown’s best efforts; Southern soul has historically been made up of predominantly black artists. And for me, Southern soul was mostly a “black thing,” and a “grown folks thing,” therefore an “embarrassing thing.”
But one exception to the “No Southern Soul” rule was Tyrone Davis, whose earliest hit I can remember was a ballad called “In the Mood,” not the hit by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. Even in my Head Start days I was doing something akin to head-nodding every time that song came on the radio; it meant a lot to me even though the sexy factor must have been through the roof! I have to listen to it on YouTube just to find out what made me so giddy about it as a little kid.
Whateva. I want to especially talk about the experience I had around 1987 with Tyrone Davis’ greatest hits and why I became a more serious fan of his as I got older.
When I was in junior high–around 12, 13, 14 as I said before–we the family were headed home from a Saturday shopping trip, one of us popped an 8-track cartridge into the car stereo. (If it was an 8-track tape, we probably had the 1976 Pontiac Bonneville sedan in our possession at the time. 1986! 1987!)
It was the muscular guitar riff, the Rocky Road-tasting tone of it, that I remember to this day. One of my favorite intros to a soul 45 to date. Then the train-engine shuffle of a big band-style ensemble. Finally the gravelly yet caramel-smooth voice of a no-B.S. soul man.
“There must be somethin’ that I’m missin’…or is it somethin’ that she’s got?”
This chug-a-lug funk soon gave way to a slowed-down vintage groove, accompanied by a female voice welcoming listeners to O’Hare International Airport, hope you enjoy your stay in Chicago. In a fingersnap this chill mood picked up and led to an upbeat, hopeful intro. “I can’t stop…feelin’ this way about you, baby,” Tyrone crooned along the way.
Not much later on, I found out about a TV mail-order offer. Something about the best of Tyrone Davis. This advertisement featured snippets of Mr. Davis singing these hits, even featured music videos of him performing with his band or having a heart-to-heart with whomever his woman was. Here’s how to order!
Of course, I didn’t need to buy Tyrone Davis’ greatest hits to admire his body of work, as the oldies-but-goodies I started listening to as a kid included a boatload of soul classics I’d attached myself to during summer vacations in the Midwest. A certain station in the Chicago market, let’s say 102.7 on the FM dial, would play classics on the weekends; I don’t care whether the call letters were WBMX or WVAZ, I loved them both!
This continued when my family moved there in late 1990, when I discovered a 24-hour “dusties” station, Dustyradio 1390. During my junior and senior years of high school, it was an audio salvation for me, as “current” urban music began slowly losing its quality over the years, and I drifted a little more toward “rave” and mainstream alternative rock scenes. All this is how I began to reinvent myself more radically as a music fan and at once wage a personal war against an increasingly “corporate” music industry.
But not without realizing how infectious the hook to “Turning Point” really is, even in 2017!
Click or tap here for a Tyrone Davis mix from YouTube.