“The story of a state long denied its place in soul capitals. Capouya tells quite a tale, taking us from the legends RC to KC; from Jackie Moore to Sam Moore; to many more.”
—Jeffrey M. Lemlich, author of Savage Lost: Florida Garage Bands, the ’60s and Beyond
“Engaging and comprehensive. Spotlighting the rich and underappreciated histories of R&B, soul, funk, and disco in Florida, Capouya contributes greatly to our understanding of the music and its contexts.”—Charles L. Hughes, author of Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South
“Capouya reaches back over eighty years to tell the often overlooked history of Florida’s vibrant soul music scene, painting the music and its makers with sympathetic insight and an eye for detail.”—Michael Lydon, author of Ray Charles: Man and Music
“Shows us the great artists who changed the nation’s music and culture. A superb read.”—William McKeen, author of Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles
“Capouya smoothly weaves together the diverse sounds of one of the key regions in American music history. He discusses Florida history, soul knowledge, and the arc of uneven racial progress and does it as gracefully as a Timmy Thomas wail.”—RJ Smith, author of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown
When recalling the roots of soul music, most people are likely to name Memphis, Detroit, New Orleans, Muscle Shoals, or Macon. But Florida also has a rich soul music history—an important cultural legacy that has often gone unrecognized. Florida Soul celebrates great artists of the Sunshine State who produced some of the most electric, emotive soul music America has ever heard.
This book tells the story of Ray Charles’s musical upbringing in Florida, where he wrote his first songs and made his first recordings. It highlights the careers of Pensacola singers James and Bobby Purify and their producer, Papa Don Schroeder. Florida Soul reveals how Hank Ballard created his international hit song “The Twist” after seeing the dance in Tampa and profiles Gainesville singer Linda Lyndell (“What a Man”). Miami’s Overtown and Liberty City neighborhoods produced Sam Moore of the legendary duo Sam and Dave, Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall of Deep City Records, and singer Helene Smith. Miami was also the longtime headquarters of Henry Stone, whose influential company T.K. Productions put out hits by Timmy Thomas, Latimore, Betty Wright, and KC and the Sunshine Band. Stone’s artists and distribution deals influenced charts and radio airplay across the world.
Born in the era of segregation with origins in gospel, rhythm and blues, and jazz and reaching maturity during the civil rights movement, soul music is still enjoyed today, still very much a part of our collective culture. John Capouya draws on extensive interviews with surviving musicians to re-create the excitement and honor the achievements of soul’s golden age, establishing Florida as one of the great soul music capitals of the United States.
John Capouya is associate professor of journalism and writing at the University of Tampa. His previous book, the biography Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture, is being adapted into a feature film.
In this interview John Capouya tells us about his new book and soul music.
Why did you decide to write a book about Florida soul artists?
Soon after I moved to Florida to teach at the University of Tampa, I discovered that so many of the soul artists I grew up listening to in New York and New Jersey—Sam & Dave, Timmy Thomas, Betty Wright, Latimore—had roots in this state. Then I heard that “The Twist,”’ probably the biggest song and dance craze of my lifetime, originated in Tampa. When I looked into it, it seemed to be true. That’s when I knew I had something to add to the history and understanding of this music.
Why do you think Florida isn’t usually thought of as one of the soul capitals of the country?
Cities like Detroit (Motown) and Memphis (Stax and Hi Records) each have one or at most two recognizable soul sounds. But Florida is so big and the styles so diverse that most soul fans—even diehards—haven’t put the whole musical mosaic together. Sam and Dave, the legendary duo known for “Soul Man,” met in Miami, but were best-known for their recordings at Stax in Memphis, so that may have thrown some listeners off. Lastly, I suspect that because Ray Charles famously sang “Georgia on My Mind,” many music-lovers think he hailed from that state instead of Florida!
What surprised you while researching for this book?
I was surprised and really pleased by how willing and cooperative my soul sources turned out to be. They didn’t know me from Adam, but the vast majority really wanted their stories told, and they were excited that Florida’s contributions to soul music were finally going to get recognized.
You conducted a lot of personal interviews with soul artists for this book. What was that experience like?
You know, sitting down with all these accomplished singers, musicians, and producers was probably the best part of this whole process. (Especially since writing is so notoriously difficult.)
I sat down with Sam Moore of Sam and Dave in his living room and we talked for hours about his career and especially his evolution as a singer since those early days. Timmy Thomas showed me on his keyboard how he came up with the chord changes and bass line for his biggest hit, “Why Can’t We Live Together.” I learned so much about how this music is made and the people who made it.
How has your taste in music evolved over the years? Were you always a soul music fan?
One of my first memories is hearing salsa music when we lived in New York’s Spanish Harlem. Later, growing up in the suburbs, I became a huge blues fan and harmonica player. Then I was introduced to soul, surprisingly enough, by a friend of mine’s mother who played James Brown and Archie Bell around the house. Most recently, I’ve gotten into jazz, but nothing too abstract; I need a melody I can follow.
Who are your favorite musical artists? How did they influence your work on this book?
Artists who really speak to me include the great blues harmonica player Little Walter, who showed how versatile and sophisticated that instrument can be. I think the same is true of soul music; people tend to think it’s all heart, but, as I came to understand, there’s a tremendous amount of craft involved in putting that emotion across. Otis Redding is one of the most moving singers I’ve ever heard, and I found out that quite a few Florida soul artists were influenced by, and friends with, him. Ray Charles has always been a favorite, and in my research I came to understand how his gospel, jazz, blues, and even country influences came together in his enduring work.
If you were going to be marooned on a desert island and could only take a few soul songs with you what would they be?
I’d try to smuggle in 10 cuts, half by Florida artists and half by others:
1. “Hold On, I’m A Comin’,” Sam and Dave
2. “Lonely Avenue,” Ray Charles
3. “Clean Up Woman,” Betty Wright
4. “Why Can’t We Live Together,” Timmy Thomas
5. “What A Man,” Linda Lyndell
1. “I’d Rather Go Blind,” Etta James
2. “Cold Sweat,” James Brown
3. “Try a Little Tenderness,” Otis Redding
4. “What Does It Take,” Jr. Walker & the All Stars
5. “Steal Away,” Jimmy Hughes
What is it about soul music that has made it such an enduring part of American culture and beloved in many other parts of the world?
I think author Peter Guralnick had it right when he called soul music “a message from the heart.” The late singer Sharon Jones took it a step further, saying, “What comes from the heart, reaches the heart.” Soul is an American—fundamentally an African-American—form of expression, but the emotions it conveys are universal. At the same time, not everyone can do it. Think about how many soul singers and musicians we still listen to today, many of them 50 years after they were first recorded. They were and are exceptional people, and I hope my book gives readers that message.
What do you hope readers will enjoy the most about your book?
The information in the book comes directly from the people who made this classic music. The book’s chapters are their stories; I’ve just told them the best ways I can. I also hope readers get nostalgic, as I did, re-living the golden age of soul, funk, and disco. Betty Padgett, a Miami singer who deserves to be better known, has a song called “Let Your Mind Go Back,” in which she references platform shoes, bellbottom pants, Afro hairdos, and dances like the Jerk and the Fly. It certainly took me back…