Friday, April 28, 2006

Not-So-Super Taylor

Johnnie Taylor - Don't You Fool With My Soul (Pt. 1)

In Rob Bowman's liner notes to The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles, Vol. 3: 1972-1975, he discusses how Johnnie Taylor had started to chafe at producer Don Davis' production style. Davis, a veteran of Detroit labels such as Thelma, Revilot and Groovesville, had been brought to Stax by Al Bell to give the label a more northern feel. Davis was an adherent to the Motown assembly-line method of production: he would pre-record tracks and then have the vocalist work within the parameters of said tracks. This method did not make Davis a popular person among many Stax artists, especially the "old guard" artists from the earlier days of the label, when sessions were done with "head" arrangements and recorded live on the studio floor. Although Taylor was not from the "old guard," per se, and although Davis' style had racked up an amazing string of hits for the soul legend, Taylor wanted to do things his way.

I won't say that "Don't You Fool With My Soul," which was penned by Taylor and Sam Cooke associate J.W. Alexander and produced by Taylor, is a horrible recording, but it is definately a mark below anything Taylor had recorded for Stax, whether produced by Don Davis or anyone else on the Stax staff. The groove is attractive, but Taylor's lyrics and vocals are very unfocused. I think Taylor was trying to go for a James Brown type of thing, but only JB could really pull off a meandering, chanted vocal. When the single, unsurprisingly, was a total flop (it was his first single since 1968's "Who's Making Love" to not make the charts), Taylor returned to Davis, who gave Taylor a #1 R&B hit with the very next single, "I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)."

I'm putting the song here today, though, because despite its failings, it's a nice piece of funky soul and sometimes the lesser recordings are worth checking out. Were it a recording by someone else, it might be considered to be a decent, if not spectacular, recording. Considering that it is a Johnnie Taylor record, though, it serves as an object lesson of what happens when a star doesn't stick with a proven winning formula. One last point: in fairness to Don Davis, it must be noted that Johnnie Taylor often was wary of various projects sent his way: he called "Who's Making Love" a "boogedy boogedy" song and only recorded it after Davis threatened to let Sam & Dave record it instead (now *that* would have been an awesome thing!), and he really didn't like the way "Disco Lady" sounded and thought that the first single from the Eargasm album should've been something else!

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