BICYCLING IN CONNECTICUT (Part 3)

By Dean Farrell

Last year, I wrote a two-part essay about the various bike paths I’ve explored in our state. I’ve since ridden more and thought I would bring them to your attention.

Larkin State Park Trail. This 10.8-mile path runs through Naugatuck, Middlebury, Oxford, and Southbury. To get to the Route 63 trailhead in Naugatuck from the parking area, I had to walk my bike up a steep, rocky incline. I was huffing and puffing and sweating before my ride even began. 

The path itself is made of dirt and is loaded with stones. It also features many dips and slopes as you cross the various roads. And it’s not all that scenic! As such, I can only recommend this trail to those looking for an intense workout.

Southwick Rail Trail/Columbia Greenway. This paved path is a continuation of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, which I covered in “Bicycling in Connecticut, Part 2” (May 2023 Neighbors).You’ll pick it up on Phelps Road in West Suffield and take it about nine miles into Massachusetts, through Southwick and Westfield. At the state line, you’ll see the remnants of the old New Haven to Northampton Canal.

The Massachusetts end goes from the Southwick Rail Trail (due south of Shaker Road) to the Westfield River Esplanade. You’ll go through downtown Westfield and pass farm fields and the Little River. Much of the trail is elevated, following the old New York/New Haven/Hartford Railroad. The section between Main Street and the Westfield River offers exceptional views of the town and its surrounding landscape. This is one of America’s only elevated urban rail trails!

Vernon Rails-to-Trails (Hop River State Park Rockville Spur). This four-mile stone-dust trail begins on Warren Avenue in Vernon. However, you’ll want to park 0.2 miles away at the Rails-to-Trails lot on Church Street. It was once a railroad depot but is now a trailhead, which dedicated volunteers maintain scrupulously. It’s also an outdoor museum with numerous plaques that tell of local railroad history. (Among the facts I learned: the Rockville Spur was built in 1863 to serve the area’s lucrative textile industry.) You also will see the remnants of a roundhouse, and other railroad-based artifacts.

The spur begins at the intersection of Church and Phoenix Streets. A signpost marks the start of the path, and there are quarter-mile markers the rest of the way. Before long, you’ll be in a scenic wooded area. Your first crossing, about .25 miles down, is at Maple Avenue. As there is a crosswalk but no signals, I recommend walking your bike across it.

Soon, you’ll cross the bridge over the Tankerhoosen River. Look upriver (through the ubiquitous trees) and you’ll see Tankerhoosen Lake, one of the river’s seven ponds. It’s worth getting off your bike and taking in this fine example of nature’s beauty. 

After that, you’ll be at the Interstate 84 underpass. In the space between tunnels, you’ll feast your eyes on a colorful, dazzling mural painted by local artists and schoolkids.

The next intersection crosses Route 30 (Hartford Turnpike). Depending on traffic, it may take some time before you’re able to cross. Again, you’ll want to dismount and walk across this very busy stretch of road. The path continues through the woods, and has unmarked side paths leading to it from nearby houses. Clearly, the spur is popular with the locals!

When you’re 3.25 miles in (at West Street), the path narrows into little more than a swath in the grass as you enter a residential neighborhood. One half-mile later, you’re back in the woods and the path becomes wide again. It ends suddenly at an earthen mound on an old bridge abutment. There, you have the option of descending the path to Vernon Avenue, though you’ll need to watch out for loose soil. Or you can just turn back.

Windsor Locks Canal Trail. This 5.4-mile paved path begins at the Windsor Locks Canal & State Park, located behind the Montgomery Mill apartments on Bridge Street (Route 140). The asphalt is badly in need of repaving, which makes for a bumpy ride. You also have to look out for the ubiquitous, and sometimes belligerent, geese—not to mention their, um, droppings. However, the scenery atones for these obstacles.

As you proceed north along the path, the canal lays to your west while the Connecticut River is east of you. The trail’s isolated location between the two bodies of water, coupled with its copious vegetation, makes it ideal for spotting wildlife. There is also a bald eagle’s aerie, which I had never seen along a bike path before.

As you approach the Suffield towpath, you likely will encounter fishermen doing their thing. Just remember, it’s a multi-use trail that we all need to share. It once ended on Canal Road in Suffield, but now extends another mile or so over the CT 190 bridge to Enfield.

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.

Unsung Heroes of Soul:

Fontella Bass

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 Fontella Bass, best known for 1965’s “Rescue Me.”

She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 3, 1940. She was the daughter of gospel singer Martha Bass, who belonged to the Clara Ward Singers. At age five, she provided the piano accompaniment when her grandmother sang at funeral services. She joined her church choir at age six. By the time she was nine, Bass was accompanying her mother on tours of the American South and Southwest.

As a teenager, Bass became more interested in secular music. She took to singing Rhythm & Blues at local contests and fairs. At seventeen, she began her professional career singing at the Showboat Club near Chain Rocks, Missouri. In 1961, she auditioned for the Leon Claxton carnival show. Bass was hired for the two weeks the carnival was in town, playing piano and singing in the chorus. Bass wanted to tour with Claxton, but her mother “literally dragged me off the train.”

During her brief time with Claxton, Bass was heard by blues singer Little Milton. His bandleader, Oliver Sain, hired her to back Milton on piano for both live shows and recording sessions. When Milton failed to show up for a gig, Sain had Bass sing in his place. She soon became a featured vocalist in the show. When Sain and Milton went their separate ways, Bass went with Sain, who also recruited singer Bobby McClure.

With the support of Bob Lyons, who managed the St. Louis radio station KATZ, Bass released her earliest singles on the Bobbin label in 1962. She also recorded for Ike Turner’s labels, Prann and Sonja. Turner produced those sessions for Bass and included his wife Tina on Bass’ 1964 release, “Poor Little Fool.” These early singles were not commercially successful. It was also during this time that Bass married jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie.

In 1964, she had a dispute with Sain that led to her quitting the show and moving to Chicago. Bass auditioned for Chess Records and was signed to its Checker subsidiary. Her first singles there were duets with Bobby McClure, who Chess had also signed. Their debut, “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing,” was released in January 1965. It went top five on the Billboard R&B chart and top forty on the pop side. Ironically, Chess had commissioned Oliver Sain to produce the Bass & McClure session!

After one more single with McClure and a brief tour, Bass returned to the Chess studios to record “Rescue Me.” Backing musicians included bass player Louis Satterfield, saxophonist Gene Barge, and drummer Maurice White (later of Earth, Wind & Fire). Among the back-up singers was a young Minnie Riperton (“Lovin’ You,” 1975). Released in the fall of 1965, “Rescue Me” spent a month at #1 R&B and hit #4 pop. It also became a #11 hit in the UK. “Rescue Me” sold over one million copies and received a gold disc from the Recording Industry Association of America. It further received a Grammy nomination. Also worth mentioning is “Soul of the Man,” the gospel-drenched blues ballad on the flip. A reviewer at Billboard even singled it out as the hit side!

There was some controversy surrounding the writer’s credit on “Rescue Me.” Producer Billy Davis, along with co-writers Carl Smith and Raynard Miner, had assured Bass that her contribution to the song’s lyrics would be acknowledged. However, when the record came out, Bass did not get a writer’s credit. When she complained to Davis (then her manager) about it, he assured Bass that her name would be on the song’s legal documents; but that never happened either. As a result, Bass became disillusioned with Chess and quit the label in 1967. There would be many years of litigation before Bass finally received a co-writer’s credit and collected her back royalties.

In 1969, she and husband Lester Bowie moved to Paris, where they recorded two albums with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. By 1972, Bass had retired from music to focus on raising her and Bowie’s four children. She did, however, appear on two of her husband’s LPs: The Great Pretender (1981) and All the Magic (1982). In 1990, Bass recorded a gospel album, which included her mother and brother, David Peaston. She further toured the American West Coast that fall as part of a show called Juke Joints and Jubilee. It featured both gospel and blues acts.

Also in 1990, “Rescue Me” was used in a TV ad for American Express. Bass sued the company and its advertising agency, which resulted in a 1993 settlement of $50,000 plus punitive damages. Bass went on to appear in the PBS-TV special, Soul Celebration. And in May 2000, she received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

In her later years, Bass struggled with deteriorating health. She survived breast cancer, but then had a series of strokes. She also had a leg amputated. Fontella Bass died on December 26, 2012, of complications from a heart attack. She was 72.

Rock critic Dave Marsh included both “Rescue Me” and “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.

Charted singles:

“Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” (duet with Bobby McClure, 1965) R&B #5, Pop #33

“You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone)” (duet with Bobby McClure, 1965) R&B #27, Pop #91

“Rescue Me” (1965) R&B #1 (4 weeks), Pop #4

“Recovery” (1966) R&B #13, Pop #37

“I Can’t Rest” (1966) R&B #31

“I Surrender” (1966) R&B #33, Pop #78

“You’ll Never Ever Know” (1966) R&B #34

“Safe and Sound” (1966) Pop #100

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) and alternating Saturdays from 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. on WRTC, 89.3-FM (www.wrtcfm.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.

Unsung Heroes of Soul: The Capitols and The Radiants

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 features two vocal groups from the Upper Midwest.
THE CAPITOLS
They formed as the Three Caps in 1962. The line-up comprised Samuel George (lead vocals and drums), Don Storball (back-up vocals and guitar), and Richard McDougall (back-up vocals and keyboard). After they performed at a local dance with Barbara Lewis (“Hello Stranger”) headlining, the group (now renamed the Capitols) came to the attention of her manager, Ollie McLaughlin. He signed them to his Karen label and released the group’s debut single, “Dog and Cat,” in 1963. When it failed to sell, the Capitols broke up and went back to their day jobs.
Three years later, George, Storball and McDougall re-formed the Capitols and looked up Ollie McLaughlin. Inspired by a current dance craze called the Jerk, Storball had written a song about the “Pimp Jerk,” done by the neighborhood pimps who danced in the clubs but were too “cool” to do the Jerk. He renamed it “Cool Jerk” to avoid possible bans on the radio. McLaughlin liked the song and had the Capitols record it at Detroit’s Golden World Studios on March 14, 1966. Motown’s house band, the Funk Brothers, provided the instrumentation. The song was supposed to include a horn section, but the musicians never showed up.
“Cool Jerk” became a solid smash, hitting #2 on Billboard magazine’s Rhythm & Blues singles chart and #7 on its Hot 100 pop survey. It also hit #1 in both Detroit and Philadelphia To cash in on their newfound success, the Capitols released two albums in 1966: Dance the Cool Jerk and We Got a Thing. Both were top-heavy with Motown covers, and were not exactly not hot sellers.
The trio followed up “Cool Jerk” with eight additional singles, three of which made the Billboard charts. None, however, could duplicate the group’s initial success. The Capitols would forever be known as “one-hit wonders.” They broke up for good in 1969.
Unlike its creators, “Cool Jerk” has enjoyed a long shelf life. It was used in Cool Whip commercials (changing “Cool Jerk” to “Cool Whip”), and it appeared in the soundtracks of movies like More American Graffiti (1979), Night and the City (1992), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Calendar Girl (1993), and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012). The song was also ranked at #70 on Digital Dream Door’s list of “100 Greatest Rock Bass Performances,” and at #48 on “VH-1’s 100 Greatest Dance Songs.”
Of the group original members, Donald Storball became a Detroit police officer, Samuel George was killed in an altercation on March 17, 1982, and Richard McDougall’s whereabouts are unknown.
Charted singles:
“Cool Jerk” (1966) R&B #2, Pop #7
“I Got to Handle It” (1966) R&B #49, Pop #74

Unsung Heroes of Soul: Jackie Moore

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 Jackie Moore, a Southern soul diva who transitioned to disco in the mid-1970s.

She was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1946. Not much is known about Moore’s early life, except that her admiration of Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin led her to pursue a singing career. By 1968, she was recording for Bert Berns’ Shout label in New York City. Berns released two singles on Moore, neither of which made the national charts. However, one song, “Dear John,” was a top ten hit on WJLD radio in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1969, another New York label, Wand, released one single on Moore. Although a fine ballad in the Deep Soul tradition, “Loser Again” did little.

It was in 1970, on Atlantic Records, that Jackie Moore enjoyed her first real taste of success. Released that fall, “Precious, Precious” got to #12 on Billboard magazine’s Soul Singles chart and #30 pop. It sold over one million copies and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in March 1971. “Precious, Precious” also charted in Canada, peaking at #70.

Moore stayed with Atlantic through the middle 1970s, producing additional Soul hits like “Sometimes It’s Got to Rain,” “Darling Baby,” and “Both Ends Against the Middle.” She then signed with Kayvette records, where she enjoyed her all-time highest charting Soul single, “Make Me Feel Like a Woman.” 

By 1976, disco had overtaken soul as the driving force in Black music. Like many other struggling soul singers, Jackie Moore took a stab at the genre. Her efforts paid off with the top forty Soul hit, “Disco Body.” However, Moore would enjoy her greatest success as a disco diva when she signed with Columbia. Her 1979 single, “This Time Baby,” reached #1 on Billboard’s Disco chart that summer.

In 1982, Moore recorded “Seconds,” a duet with Wilson Pickett. It did not chart. That same year, Karla Bonoff’s remake of Moore’s four-year-old single, “Personally,” reached #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

In his 1981 book, Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies, Robert Christgau wrote about Moore’s 1973 LP, Sweet Charlie Babe: “Figures that this should fall somewhere between state-of-the-art and great-mean soul. The five hits go back to ‘Precious, Precious’ in the winter of ‘71, with the two latest cut at a funkier-than-usual Sigma in Philadelphia and the others by a simpler-than-usual Crawford-Shapiro team at Criteria in Miami. Moore’s voice is simultaneously sweet and rough, an unusual combination in a woman, and the songs are pretty consistent. But she lacks not only persona but personality, so that what in technical terms is pretty impressive stuff never goes over the top.”

Rock critic Dave Marsh included Moore’s “Darling Baby” in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.

Jackie Moore, 73, died on November 8, 2019.

Charted singles:

“Precious, Precious” (1970) R&B #12, Pop #30

“Sometimes It’s Got to Rain (In Your Love Life)” (1971) R&B #19

“Darling Baby” (1972) R&B #26, Pop #106

“Time” (1972) R&B #39

“Sweet Charlie Babe” (1973) R&B #15, Pop #42

“Both Ends Against the Middle” (1973) R&B #28, Pop #102

“Make Me Feel Like a Woman” (1975) R&B #6

“Puttin’ It Down to You” (1976) R&B #37

“It’s Harder to Leave” (1976) R&B #74

“Disco Body (Shake It to the East, Shake It to the West)” (1976) R&B #36

“Make Me Yours” (1977) R&B #72

“Personally” (1978) R&B #92

“This Time Baby” (1979) R&B #24, Disco #1 (1 week)

“Helpless” (1980) Disco #25

“How’s Your Love Life Baby” (1980) Disco #57

“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” (1980) R&B #78

“Holding Back” (1983) R&B #73

Other worthwhile Jackie Moore recordings include “Dear John” (1968), “Loser Again” (1969), and “Seconds” (duet with Wilson Pickett, 1982).

Please check out the Unsung Heroes of Soul blog at

Dean Farrell hosts “The Soul Express” Fridays from 7:00-10:00 p.m. on WECS, 90.1-FM (www.wecsfm.com) and alternating Saturdays from 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. on WRTC, 89.3-FM (www.wrtcfm.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.

Unsung Heroes of Soul: Otis Clay

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 Otis Clay, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee who became popular in Japan.

He was born in Waxhaw, Mississippi, on February 11, 1942. In 1953, the Clays moved to Muncie, Indiana, where Otis joined a local gospel group, the Voices of Hope. He later returned to Mississippi to sing with the Christian Travelers before settling in Chicago in 1957. There, he performed with a series of gospel acts, including the Golden Jubilaires, the Famous Blue Jay Singers, the Holy Wonders, and the Pilgrim Harmonizers. Clay made his first solo recordings for Columbia in 1962, but they were never issued. He later joined the Gospel Songbirds, who recorded in Nashville. Though the group released many singles, Clay appeared on just one.

By 1965, Otis Clay had decided to try secular music and signed with One-derful Records in Chicago. His first outing for the label, “Tired of Falling In and Out of Love,” became a local hit that fall. Clay’s first performance in a big auditorium was in Herb Kent’s Christmas Benefit Show at Chicago’s Capitol Theater in December 1965. His next single, “I’m Satisfied,” made Billboard’s “Bubbling Under the Hot 100” chart in early 1966.

In the summer of 1967, Clay recorded his biggest hit to date. A gospel-drenched heartbreak ballad, “That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love)” climbed to #34 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues chart. It was written by Cash McCall, an old friend of Clay’s from the Gospel Songbirds. 

One-derful went out of business in mid-1968 and sold Clay’s contract to the Atlantic subsidiary, Cotillion. His initial release was a remake of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s three-year-old hit, “She’s About a Mover.” It made the bottom rungs of the R&B chart and became the only Clay single to make the Billboard Hot 100. When subsequent releases on Cotillion—including the excellent “Hard-Working Woman” and “Is It Over?”–failed to make much noise, Clay moved on to Hi Records in Memphis. There, he worked with producer Willie Mitchell.

Otis Clay made many of his best-known recordings at Hi, including the 1972 original of “Trying to Live My Life Without You.” A live performance by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band would hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. Seger even introduced it as “an old Memphis song.” 

Clay remained with Hi until 1977, during which time he put out his first two albums: Trying to Live My Life Without You (1972) and Can’t Take It (1977). He next turned up on the Kayvette label, where Clay had his final charted single, “All Because of Your Love.” He later recorded for the Elka and Rounder labels, and on his own Echo Records, where he did the 1980 original of “The Only Way Is Up.” (A 1988 remake by Yazz & The Plastic Population was a #1 UK hit.)

Clay was a very popular live act—not only in the US, but also in Europe and Japan. He recorded four concert LPs: Live! (1978), Live Again! (1984), Soul Man—Live in Japan (1985), and Respect Yourself (2005). The latter captured his 2003 performance at the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland. In the ‘90s, Clay recorded two albums for Bullseye Blues: I’ll Treat You Right and the Willie Mitchell-produced This Time Around. His 2007 gospel release, Walk a Mile in My Shoes, was Grammy-nominated.

In 2010, Otis Clay received a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail in his hometown of Waxhaw. In 2015, his album with Johnny Rawls, Soul Brothers,won the Blues Blast Award for Soul Album of the Year. It also was nominated for the Blues Music Awards Soul Album of the Year and Living Blues Magazine Blues Album of the Year.And it was chosen as the #6 Blues Album of the Year in the Downbeat Magazine Critics’ Poll.

Rock critic Dave Marsh included “Trying to Live My Life Without You” in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. 

Otis Clay, 73, died in Chicago of a heart attack on January 8, 2016.

Charted singles:

“I’m Satisfied” (1966) Pop #105

“That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love)” (1967) R&B #34, Pop #131

“A Lasting Love” (1967) R&B #48

“She’s About a Mover” (1968) R&B #47, Pop #97

“It Is Over” (1971) Pop #128

“Trying to Live My Life Without You” (1972) R&B #24, Pop #102

“I Didn’t Know the Meaning of Pain” (1973) Pop #144

“If I Could Reach Out” (1973) R&B #73

“All Because of Your Love” (1977) R&B #44

Please check out the Unsung Heroes of Soul blog at

Dean Farrell hosts “The Soul Express” Fridays from 7:00-10:00 p.m. on WECS, 90.1-FM (www.wecsfm.com) and alternating Saturdays from 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. on WRTC, 89.3-FM (www.wrtcfm.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.

Unsung Heroes of Soul: Erma Franklin and Mable John

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 features two acts about whom I found relatively scant information.

ERMA FRANKLIN

Erma Franklin was the older sister of Aretha and the originator of “Piece of My Heart.”

She was born in Shelby, Mississippi, on March 13, 1938, and grew up in Detroit. Her father was the Reverend C.L. Franklin of the New Bethel Baptist Church. When Erma was ten years old, her parents separated. Her mother, Barbara, took Erma’s half-brother Vaughn with her to Buffalo, New York, while Rev. Franklin kept their daughters: Erma, Aretha, and Carolyn. Barbara died in 1952.

During her childhood, Erma and her sisters sang at their father’s church. While attending Northern High School, she formed a Rhythm & Blues vocal group called the Cleopatrettes. She spent two years after high school touring with her father’s gospel group and later studied Business at Clark College (now known as Clark Atlanta University). On the weekends, she performed in an Atlanta nightclub. Erma later married one Thomas Garrett and had two children with him.

Her recording career began in 1961, when she signed with Epic Records. She had several singles out on the label, as well as an album, Her Name Is Erma (1962). When Aretha Franklin became a recording artist, Erma frequently sang back-up vocals on her songs—most notably “Respect.”

By 1967, Erma was on the New York-based Shout label, where she worked with songwriter-producer Bert Berns. Her 1967 recording of “Piece of My Heart” hit #10 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues Singles chart and crossed over to the pop market at #62. In 1992, it was used in an ad for Levi’s jeans in England. This led to the song’s reissue in that country, where it got to #9. Still, the best-known “Piece of My Heart” is the 1968 version by Big Brother & The Holding Company, with lead vocals by Janis Joplin.

While none of Franklin’s subsequent Shout releases duplicated her initial success, the label did release an LP on her, 1969’s Soul Sister. It grazed Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart at #199.

By the middle 1970s, Erma Franklin had left the music business. She spent twenty-five years working at the Boysville Holy Cross Community Center in Detroit, helping homeless and disadvantaged minority children. She died of lung cancer on September 7, 2002, at age 64.

In 2015, the RockBeat reissue label put out the CD, The Electric Flag Featuring Erma Franklin—Live 1968.

Charted singles:

“Piece of My Heart” (1967) R&B #10, Pop #62

“Gotta Find Me a Lover (24 Hours a Day)” (1969) R&B #40

Other notable Erma Franklin recordings include “What Kind of Girl,” “I Don’t Want No Momma’s Boy,” “Abracadabra,” “It’s Over,” “Big Boss Man,” “Open Up Your Soul,” “I’m Just Not Ready For Love,” “The Right to Cry,” “Saving My Love For You,” and “Whispers (Gettin’ Louder).”

MABLE JOHN

Mable John was Motown’s first female recording act.

She was born in Barstrop, Louisiana, on November 3, 1930, the eldest of nine children. Her siblings included the 1950s Rhythm & Blues star, Little Willie John (“All Around the World,” “Fever,” “Talk To Me”). When Mable was quite young, the family moved to Cullendale, Arkansas, where her father worked in a paper mill.

When the man found a better job, the Johns moved to Detroit in 1941. After high school, Mable worked for the Friendship Mutual Insurance Company. It was run by Bertha Gordy, mother of Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. John would end up leaving the company and spending two years at Lewis Business College. She later bumped into Mrs. Gordy, who told John that her son Berry was writing songs and looking for singers to record them. Gordy became John’s coach and accompanied her on piano at local gigs.

In 1959, John performed at Detroit’s Flame Show Bar in what would prove to be Billie Holiday’s last show. Also that year, John began recording for Gordy’s fledgling Motown operation. Her singles came out on the Tamla subsidiary, but none of them sold. As a result, Gordy started using John mainly as a background singer before he ended her contract in 1962.

After Motown, John spent several years with Ray Charles in his back-up group, the Raelettes. In 1966, she signed with the Memphis-based powerhouse, Stax. Her first release on the label proved her biggest. “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” went top ten on Billboard magazine’s R&B chart but was her only hit. She left Stax in 1968 and went back to being a Raelette. John ended up leaving secular music in 1973, managing gospel acts and making the occasional recording.

By 1986, John was living in Los Angeles, where she founded Joy Community Outreach, a charity that feeds the homeless. In 1991, the UK-based Motorcity label issued a single on her, “Time Stops.” In 1993, John earned a Doctor of Divnity degree from the Crenshaw Christian Center. In 1994, she received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 2007, she played a blues singer in the John Sayles film, Honeydripper. And in 2014, she appeared in the Oscar-winning documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom.

Mable John, 91, died in Los Angeles on August 25, 2022.

Charted single:

“Your Good Thing Is About to End” (1966) R&B #6, Pop #95

Other notable Mable John recordings include “You Are My Only Love” (1960), “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” (1961), “You’re Taking Up Another Man’s Place” (1966), “Same Time, Same Place” (1966), “I’m a Big Girl Now” (1967), “Don’t Hit Me No More” (1967), “Able Mable” (1968), and “Running Out” (1968).

Please check out the Unsung Heroes of Soul blog at

Dean Farrell hosts “The Soul Express” Fridays from 7:00-10:00 p.m. on WECS, 90.1-FM (www.wecsfm.com) and alternating Saturdays from 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. on WRTC, 89.3-FM (www.wrtcfm.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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