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James Brown (Born: 3 May 1933  Died: 25 December 2006)

James Joseph Brown is the founding father of Funk and the Godfather of Soul. Jimmy Page said of Brown that he was “almost a musical genre in his own right.” Born in South Carolina and raised in extreme poverty, Brown’s career spanned six decades. His music was pivotal in the development of Soul, Funk, and Hip Hop. In the case of the latter, listen to his half sung, half spoken vocal style and riffs and it is clear why many consider him to be the founding father of Hip Hop. He is reputedly the most sampled artist of all time. His performances were electrifyingly entertaining and Brown delighted in leaving his audiences exhausted. On stage, Brown was a perfectionist to the point of being tyrannical, fining musicians who failed to do things the way he directed. The tracks contained in this sampler of Brown’s early work include Please, Please, Please (an over-written gospel song, Brown’s first chart hit and his signature song), Rhythm and Blues hit Mashed Potatoes USA, and Try Me, the follow up hit to Please, Please, Please. In his personal life, Brown had many run-ins with the authorities, most famously the 1988 high speed police chase he was involved in and the subsequent six year prison sentence he received, of which Brown served two years. These frequent brushes with the law did little to diminish his influence. Artists like Sly & the Family Stone, Funkadelic, and Miles Davis were all inspired by Brown. Michael Jackson also proclaimed Brown was his “ultimate idol.”

Jackie Wilson (Born: 9 June 1934  Died: 21 January 1984)

Jack Leroy Wilson Jnr was born in Michigan. He was known as Mr Excitement because of his energetic stage performances. Things didn’t start out too promisingly for the young Wilson. He was a High School drop out, a gang member and a juvenile delinquent. He started out in 1953 as a member of the group, Billy Ward and His Dominoes, before going solo in 1957. His first solo recording, included here, was the smash hit Reet Petite. Other notable recordings in this collection include To Be Loved and Lonely Teardrops. Close friends with Elvis Presley, Wilson was often described as the Black Elvis. When asked about this, Elvis replied with reverence, “I guess that makes me the white Jackie Wilson.” Jackie Wilson’s end was tragic, suffering a heart attack in September 1975 while performing Lonely Teardrops on stage at a nightclub in New Jersey. He was resuscitated but fell into a coma. He died in debt in a New Jersey nursing home in 1984. His stunningly successful career influenced a plethora of stars including James Brown, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and of course, Elvis ‘The King’ Presley. The Commodores song Night Shift was written as a tribute to Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye who passed away the same year.

Ben E. King (Born: 28 September 1938  Died: 30 April 2015)

Born Benjamin Earl Nelson in North Carolina, Ben E. King was an extraordinarily talented singer and songwriter as well as a philanthropist. Early in his career and under his birth name, he was a member of The Five Crowns and went on to become one of the principal lead singers of The Drifters before leaving in 1960 to forge a solo career. One of the first wave of soul musicians, as a solo artist, King enjoyed success with hits including Stand By Me,  Spanish Harlem and Supernatural Thing , which can be heard in this selection of King’s key work. He is most associated with Stand By Me, featured in the Record Industry of America’s Songs of the Century. It is also the name of King’s charitable foundation that works to provide youth education. Amongst those claiming King as an influence were John Lennon, and in a more contemporary vein, Public Enemy’s Chuck D.

Jimmy Ruffin (Born: 7 May 1936  Died: 17 November 2014)

Jimmy Lee Ruffin was born in Mississippi and was the elder brother of The Temptations’ David Ruffin. He cut his musical teeth touring with his family’s gospel group. His soul credentials were impeccable, starting out with Motown in 1961. After National Service he returned to Motown in 1964 and auditioned for The Temptations, but his brother David beat him to the role and Ruffin continued on with his solo aspirations. His first hit was the now classic soul song, What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted. Ruffin continued this success with songs like Gonna Give Her All The Love Ive Got, and Ive Passed This Way Before. All three of these key songs  can be found in this collection. Having achieved greater success in the UK, Ruffin turned his attention there, moving to the UK in the eighties and working with such diverse artists as Paul Weller and Heaven 17.

The Drifters

The smooth soul sounds of The Drifters have, over the last six decades, been delivered by no fewer than sixty-two different members. The Drifters started in 1953 as a backing group for Clyde McPhatter but McPhatter sold his share in the group and the group’s name to American jazz trumpeter, George Treadwell in 1954. After falling out with the band in 1958, Treadwell sacked all members and replaced them wholesale with another band, The Five Crowns which included Ben. E. King. Initially fans hated the change as they did not consider them to be the genuine Drifters. But the group kept recording and touring and soon developed a large fan base. The Drifters tracks found here are all solid gold soul classics including Up On The Roof, There Goes My Baby, Save The Last Dance For Me, Some Kind Of Wonderful and When My Little Girl Is Smiling. This list could have included Ben E. King’s Stand By Me as King wrote it with the intention of recording it with The Drifters.

The Three Degrees

The Three Degrees formed in Philadelphia in 1963 and while the group has always been a trio, there have been fifteen members to date. The original line up consisted of Fayette Pinkney, Shirley Porter and Linda Turner, but by 1965 only Pinkney remained. While The Three Degrees enjoyed a few club hits in the sixties, they had no major commercial successes. It was the seventies that saw them rise to international superstardom with dreamy soul classics like When Will I See You Again, Take Good Care Of Yourself, Woman In Love, and My Simple Heart. The Three Degrees most famous fan is the Prince of Wales who invited them to his and Lady Diana Spencer’s pre-wedding party in 1981.  Thereafter the British Press dubbed them “Charlie’s Angels” The Three Degrees hold the Guinness World Record for the longest running female vocal group.

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