Unsung Heroes of Soul: King Floyd

By Dean Farrell

As host of “The Soul Express,” I play the biggest names in 1960s and ‘70s-era soul music. I also mix in the many great soul artists who did not necessarily become household names but were no less talented. This month’s column is about King Floyd, whose “Groove Me” propelled him into temporary stardom in the early ‘70s.

King Floyd III was born in New Orleans on February 13, 1945, and grew up in the suburb of Kenner. At age 12, he started hanging out at the One Stop Record Shop on Rampart Street, where he met local music luminaries like Willie Tee and Earl King. It was one such act, a Mr. Google Eyes, who gave Floyd his first break, letting him sing with the house band at the Sho Bar on Bourbon Street.

After a stint in the Army, Floyd moved to New York City. He hung out with Don Covay (“Mercy, Mercy,” 1964) and J.J. Jackson (“But It’s Alright,” 1966), who encouraged him to write his own material. After a year in the Big Apple, Floyd tried his luck in Los Angeles, where he met several transplanted New Orleanians. Among them was Harold Battiste, who was producing Sonny & Cher at the time. Through Battiste, Floyd met Buddy Keleen and Jimmy Holiday, who arranged his first single on Original Sound Records. “When Did She Leave Me?” made some noise locally and landed Floyd gigs at area record hops. 

He also met Mac Rebennack (A/K/A Dr. John), who wrote material for Floyd’s debut LP, A Man in Love. Produced by Battiste for the Pulsar label, the album was not commercially successful. Floyd became disenchanted with the West Coast and returned to New Orleans in 1969. With a wife and daughter to support, he got a job at the Post Office.

Floyd recalled, “I was in town about a month when I ran into [musical arranger] Wardell Quezergue. He said he couldn’t do anything with me at the time, but he’d ask around. Then I talked to Elijah Walker [a New Orleans music promoter], and he was gonna record C.P. Love and Tommy and Sammy Ridgley. C.P. suggested he record me in his place. This impressed Walker, so he asked Wardell if I had any material. Wardell said, ‘Yeah, he’s got some good tunes.’ So one Sunday, we all drove up to Malaco’s studio in Jackson [Mississippi].”

Floyd nearly missed the session as his car broke down. By the time he arrived in Jackson, there was minimal studio time left. Floyd recorded “What Our Love Needs” in three takes, and “Groove Me” in just one. Everyone involved agreed that “What Our Love Needs” would be the A side of the single. Malaco attempted to lease it to Stax and Atlantic, but neither label was interested. So Malaco put it out themselves on the Chimneyville subsidiary.

Floyd gave a copy of the record to Hank Sample of Buffalo, New York’s powerhouse soul station, WBLK. He rode “What Our Love Needs” for about a month. Then George Vinnet of WYLD in New Orleans bumped into Floyd one day and told him, “King, I got your record in the mail today. I’m going to take it to my niece’s party tonight and give it a listen.” Vinnet called Floyd the next morning and said, “You got a hit record, baby! I’m going to play it on the air right now.” When Floyd turned on his radio, he was dismayed to hear “Groove Me.” So he called the station and told Vinnet, “You’re playing the wrong side.” But Vinnet assured him that “Groove Me” was the only song his niece and her friends wanted to hear at their party the night before.

Soon, radio stations all over New Orleans were playing “Groove Me.” Vinnet called Atlantic with the news, which prompted the label to finally offer Malaco a distribution deal. By January 1971, “Groove Me” was spending its first of four weeks at #1 on the Billboard Soul chart. It also peaked at #6 in the pop market and was certified gold.

Floyd’s follow-up was the similar-sounding “Baby Let Me Kiss You.” The public was clearly hungry for more as the song hit #5 R&B and #29 pop in the spring of 1971. That marked the end of King Floyd’s pop stardom, but the soul audience stayed receptive for about six more years.

In 1974, Floyd toured Europe, billed as “The Soulful Highness.” He also toured the Caribbean, where he met Bob Marley and was introduced to some new rhythms. In 1982, he toured South Africa. Floyd moved back and forth between the West Coast and New Orleans, but was unable to find the big break that would get him back in the studio. 

In 1995, Floyd received a credit for “Boombastic,” the massive hit by Shaggy. In 1997, the Wu-Tang Clan sampled his 26-year-old recording of “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” on their song, “For Heaven’s Sake,” from Wu-Tang Forever.In 2000, Floyd reunited with Malaco for the Old Skool Funk album, but it failed to catch on.

King Floyd, 61, died on March 6, 2006, of complications from diabetes and a stroke.

Charted singles:

“Groove Me” (1970-71) R&B #1 (4 weeks), Pop #6

“Baby Let Me Kiss You” (1971) R&B #5, Pop #29

“Got to Have Your Lovin’” (1971) R&B #35, Pop #101

“Woman Don’t Go Astray” (1972) R&B #3, Pop #53

“Think About It” (1973) R&B #49

“So Much Confusion” (1974) R&B #95

“I Feel Like Dynamite” (1974) R&B #35

“Don’t Cry No More” (1974) R&B #96

“We Can Love” (duet with Dorothy Moore, 1975) R&B #76

“Body English” (1976-77) R&B #25

Please check out the Unsung Heroes of Soul blog at https://60459fe07898a.site123.me/

Dean Farrell hosts “The Soul Express” Fridays from 7:00-10:00 p.m. on WECS, 90.1-FM (www.wecsfm.com). He plays vintage soul music of the 1960s and ‘70s, everything from #1 hits to long-lost obscurities. Dean’s e-mail address is soulexpress@gmail.com.

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