Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Outpour of Billy Paul tributes continue

Published:Sunday | May 15, 2016 | 5:00 AM
(From left) Leon A. Huff, cofounder and vice chairman of Philadelphia International Records; singer Billy Paul and Kenneth Gamble.

It's almost two weeks since soul legend Billy Paul died, but the tributes continue to pour in for a man whose contribution to the Philadelphia International Recording Company and to soul music generally, could only be described as limitless.

Paul belonged to an exclusive fraternity of singers that included, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti Labelle, The Three Degrees, The O'Jays and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, who helped to make the organisation the most popular and successful one of its type in the 1970s. Most musicologists believe that Philadelphia International was to the 1970s what Motown was to the 1960s.

Sharing the birth date of December 1 with Lou Rawls Paul was born in 1934. He exhibited unusual preferences in relation to his influences as a youngster growing up in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he was born. Jazz and R&B selections were his speciality at the outset, having been exposed to the genres through records his mother an ardent record collector brought home. Singing along with them, he began to develop a vocal style that combined Jazz technique with modern R&B.

According to him, "That's how I really got indoctrinated into music. My mother was always buying and collecting 78 RPM records and she would buy everything from 'Jazz at the Philharmonic Hall' to Nat King Cole".

Paul further enhanced his music skills by attending

several music schools. By his mid-teens, he was appearing in clubs and at college campuses. Taking a somewhat different route to success than most of his contemporaries, Paul rubbed shoulders on stage, before he began recording, with legendary jazz greats Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, and songstresses Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Roberta Flack.

He first recorded in 1952 for the Jubilee label, a song titled, Why Am I In New York, then followed up with some undistinguished Jazzy selections, before being drafted in 1957 into the US Army. Switching from jazz to rock, to soul and to pop ballads upon his release, Paul soon met songwriter/producer Kenny Gamble at the Philadelphia Cadillac Club in the late 1960s and a deal was struck with Philadelphia International. Paul debuted with the album Ebony Woman.

It was, however, his second album with the label, 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, that contained the single that would revolutionise soul music forever.

Described as the greatest love song ever made, Me and Mrs Jones broke box office records, sold 2 million copies upon release, won a coveted Grammy and was number one in the US, while maintaining a spot in the UK Top 20.

A classic confession of infidelity was on display as Paul sang:

"Me and Mrs Jones, we got a thing going on

We both know that it's wrong

But it's much too strong to let it go now

We meet everyday in the same cafe, six-thirty, I know she'll be there

Holding hands, making all kinds of plans

While the jukebox plays our favourite song".

Paul's voice seemed to fit perfectly into the song and perhaps none could have done it better. His other better-known songs include, Thanks For Saving My Life, Don't Give Up On Us, Bring The Family Back, So Much To Live For and the controversial, Let's Make A Baby in 1976, which, although containing elements of black pride, irked some moralists, who thought that the sexual content was too blatant.