In almost any U.S. city with a large black population (but especially in the South), you'll hear Southern soul music blasting from stereos in barbershops, restaurants and lounges. It's the sound that "grown folks" groove to at basement house parties, fish fries and family reunions. If you're a thirtysomething African-American, it's probably the music you heard when your aunts and uncles would loudly congregate in the "front room" while the kids were (supposedly) asleep.
"Southern soul is kind of up and popping," says DDT, a DJ on the Internet-based radio station SouthernSoulRadio.com. "It's urban adult party music."
The Southern soul that DDT plays shouldn't be confused with the '60s Southern soul music recorded by artists like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and others. Redding and Franklin employed a sound that was steeped in gospel and featured vocal acrobatics and grand compositions. DDT's Southern soul also shouldn't be confused with so-called neo-soul -- the music usually associated with D'Angelo, India.Arie and Donnie, among other artists. The Southern soul we're talking about is closer to the blues, according to DDT. It's melodic, hook-driven and fueled by electric guitars and clever lyrics. Folks have been listening to this music for decades, but until recently, it was normally filed under the blues -- a categorization that Tommy Couch Jr., artist representative and marketing director for Malaco Records, is quick to clarify.
"It's not blues," says Couch. "Nobody is singing about a milk cow. Nobody's stomping their foot, playing a guitar real hard."
Couch says corporate chains like Wal-Mart were grouping Malaco's more soulful artists with bar-band blues acts that historically draw predominantly white audiences. And that, says Couch, undermines Malaco's mission to "make black records for black people."
"People say you can't put a color on music. But unfortunately, you kind of can a little bit," says Couch. "[Corporate chains] would think that blues was Stevie Ray Vaughan -- anything that had a guitar. But what a 55-year-old black lady interprets as blues is different than what a 21-year-old white kid in Boston interprets as blues."
Many of the artists who record Southern soul music -- including folks like Lenny Williams, Clarence Carter, Mel Waiters and Marvin Sease -- have been making music for decades, so they're older than your average pop star. But according to DDT, Southern soul isn't just a genre for "old-school" singers and musicians.
"Over the last 10 years, we've had an influx of younger guys coming into the game," says DDT, "guys like Vic Allen, Jerome Powers and Sir Charles Jones."
A music with deep and ever-growing roots, DDT predicts the sound will keep spreading across the country.
"[Radio conglomerates] are not using this genre to its fullest potential," he asserts. "They own four or five stations in one market, but they're overlooking Southern soul. That's going to be the next thing."
For Your Ears (and Eyes)
• Vick Allen: Simply Soul (Malaco)
• Mel Waiters: Throw Back Days (Waldoxy)
• Marvin Sease: Live With The Candy Licker (Malaco)