Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ralph "Soul" Jackson: Feature and Interview

Ralph is perhaps most remembered by soul fans for the handful of tracks he cut with Rick Hall and the A Team at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, back in the glory days of southern soul. Deep fans talk about the killer ballad 'Let Your Sweet Love Surround Me' issued on Sounds Of Birmingham.
Following the recent release of The Birmingham Sound - The Soul Of Neal Hemphill Vol 1 (Rabbit Factory), on which some of his post-MS material features prominently, Ralph has been playing shows promoting the cd. At one, a sell out show in Chicago, he was joined by the great Roscoe Robinson, who also features on the Birmingham Sound cd. Rave reviews are emanating from the US of A.
Ralph is back and as you can see from this recent photo, in good shape!
I've been very fortunate to secure a Q&A session with Ralph.

Where & when where you born?
I was born and raised across the river from Columbus, GA, in Phenix City, Alabama. It has always been a tough town, they made a controversial documentary-style film in the 50s called the ‘Phenix City Story’ which brought light to all the organized crime, gambling, and other vices. They used to drag the river on a weekly basis looking for bodies…it was tough, man.

What was your musical background, both yourself as a child and your family? (What were your musical influences?)
I come from a musical family, my first cousins Jo Jo Benson and Fletcher Flowers had some success in soul music. Jo Jo, Fletcher, and I all grew up in the same house and we sang coming up in church and just at home, I would sing along with and bang spoons on the
table to Jo Jo’s singing. In grade school I would
stay in during recess and play the piano while other kids were outside playing and later I switched off between drums and trumpet in the high school marching band.

How did you come to record in Muscle Shoals?
My senior year of high school I wrote this song ‘Don’t Tear Yourself Down’ and sent it up to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals and about four days later I got a call from Rick Hall himself inviting me up to record my song

What do you remember about your recording sessions in Muscle Shoals and Birmingham?
FAME was a trip, man, it was my first studio experience and I found myself teaching my song to these guys Jimmy, Roger, and David, who were telling me who else they played behind: Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, and Arthur Conley, and if you’ve ever been to FAME, the main studio’s control room is above the live room so I found myself alone in a room with guys that cut on some of my favorite sides while Rick Hall and Spooner Oldham hung out above me in the control room, it really freaked me out! I didn’t have another song so Rick had me do Hank Williams’ hit ‘Jambalaya’ and they leased the record to AMY/BELL and chose ‘Jambalaya’ to push to Black radio. I became friends with Spooner and we cut some more stuff together at FAME that was later leased to Atlantic Records and to Neal Hemphill and Ed Mendel for the Sound of Birmingham label. Hemphill’s studio, the second one where I recorded my sides for Black Kat Records, was modeled after FAME, with the control room above the live room but it was a much more laid back atmosphere. If you read the notes to ‘The Birmingham
Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill Vol. 1’ you’ll get the idea. Roscoe Robinson was the only guy with a hit record at the studio while I was there and I played bass behind him doing regional gigs for extra money.

What have you been doing since your period as a recording artist? Have you been performing?
I'm the music minister for my church and play every Sunday and occasionally at weekly revivals. I also opened a recording studio in my backyard to record young and aspiring talent who might not otherwise have a chance. I'm also one of the best known auto mechanics in town!

What songs are typically part of your show nowadays?
We do 'Set Me Free' and 'Take Me Back', a handfull of my newer songs, and I sang 'Don't Tear Yourself Down'
for the first time in over thirty years last weekend and had some fun so we might add it to the set. My musical director, Adam Fitz, has worked a couple of his songs into our set and 'I'm Your Puppet' is coming along well too.

Where are you living now? What are your plans for the future? John tells me there may be new recordings in the pipeline and possible UK visits?
I'm still living in Phenix City, it's my town and my family is all still here. We just did two SOLD OUT shows supporting the release of 'The Birmingham Sound:
The Soul of Neal Hemphill' and I know they're working on a New York show in Nov/Dec. It looks like our UK trip in Sept might get put off a month or so but I will be there before the end of the year to turn your country inside out. John and Adam are getting some recording time together and we're cutting some demos so my UK trip might be with a band (half of my band's other band the Dexateens will be in the UK in October) and hopefully with a record deal! We're talking with a few labels that would be a good fit for me and my sound.

What music do you listen to now?
I write and listen to love songs. You can sing about 'Funky Broadway' or the 'Tighten Up' but they become dated and sort of lose their relevance to a younger generation, love songs are timeless and everybody can relate to them. You may lose love or fall out of love with somebody but you'll alway have love in your heart.

What are your top 10 favourite records?
Elvis Presley - Love Me Tender
Marvin Gaye - Long Distance Lover
James Brown/Billy Eckstine - Just a Prisoner Foreigner - Hot Blooded Dan & Spooner - I'm Your Puppet any Smokey Robinson...soo many songs!

Andrew, thanks for considering me for your website!
I'm so excited to have my music heard again and to perform in front of audiences hungry for Southern-styled soul music. I hope to meet you and all my overseas fans soon!

I'm sure all soul fans join me in wishing Ralph the very best in his current and future endeavours.
Many thanks to John Ciba for facilitating the interview and for the photos.
I'll be posting on the 'The Birmingham Sound' when it turns up!

A Ralph Jackson Discography
‘Jambalaya’ b/w ‘Don’t Tear Yourself Down’ AMY/BELL Records (1965)
‘Sunshine of Your Love’ b/w ‘Cause I Love You’ Atlantic Records (1967)
‘Matchbox’ b/w ‘Let Your Sweet Love Surround Me’ SOB (1971)
‘Set Me Free’ b/w ‘Take Me Back’ Black Kat Records (1975)
‘I’ll Be a Real True Man’ b/w ‘This is My Prayer’ RAJAC/Black Stallion (1981)
“I Can’t Leave You Alone’ b/w ‘Instrumental’ RAJAC Records (1981)

Ralph's Sounds Of Birmingham material including some unreleased, features in the aformentioned The Birmingham Sound - The Soul Of Neal Hemphill Vol 1 (Rabbit Factory 2006)
'Jambalaya' also appears on the recent 'Barnyard Soul' (Deep Groove 2006) cd but this may be a bootleg.


Blogger Keeping Soul Alive said...

Hi Andy

Great to see another addition to soul blog world.

Enjoyed reading your article on Ralph!!!!!

I have put a link to your blog from mine.

I wish you every successs!!!



9:08 AM  
Blogger Rob Whatman said...

I came here via Darcy's Feel It! blog. A fascinating interview, I hope Ralph decides to come to the UK soon! Will you be doing more interviews with soul artists?

12:58 PM  
Blogger Andy Aitchison said...

Hi Rob
Thanks for stopping by. It is my intention to do more interviews, when time allows.
I'm still hopeful of seeing Ralph over here. He's in Chicago at the moment, recording demos of new material & without giving too much away, plans are well advanced for his debut cd. . So one way or another we'll be hearing more of Ralph!

12:23 AM  

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