Eddie Floyd: Stax lucky charm
Legendary Sixties Southern soul man Eddie Floyd returns to London this month to perform (alongside equally-iconic MGs members Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn) as part of the internationally-touring ‘Stax’ show.
Born Eddie Lee Floyd in Montgomery, Alabama in June 1937 before moving at six months old to Detroit, Michigan, Floyd first found national success in the late-Fifties after founding The Falcons. Who in hindsight can now be seen as forerunners to such then-future Detroit vocal groups as The Temptations and The Four Tops, and whose must successful songs included 1959’s ‘You’re So Fine’ and (following Wilson Picket’s recruitment into the group as lead-singer) 1962’s ‘I Found A Love’.
Meanwhile, 1965 (with The Falcons having long since disbanded) found Eddie signing on with the then-red-hot Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax Records as a songwriter - teaming up with guitarist Steve Cropper to successfully pen material for such legendary names as Carla Thomas, Otis Redding and the aforementioned Wilson Pickett before launching his own solo recording career internationally with the 1966 all-time soul classic ‘Knock On Wood’ - a song which has since been covered by well over 60 different artists ranging from David Bowie to Count Basie, and most successfully in 1979 by then-global disco star Amii Stewart.
Indeed, from the mid-Sixties on Floyd would go on to become one of Stax’s most consistent artists (via such further hits as 1969’s ‘I’ve Never Found A Girl’ and 1970’s California Girl’) while also remaining one of the label’s most productive writers. Meanwhile, following the iconic Memphis label’s sad demise in December 1975, the next two decades would see Eddie would continue his recording career by releasing albums for such independent labels as Malaco (1978’s Experience’) and former Stax singer/writer William Bell’s WRC Records (1988’s ‘Flashback’) before prestigiously, in the late-Nineties, joining aforementioned one-time Stax collaborators Cropper and Dunn to front The Blues Brothers Band on a series of world tours (which still continue successfully to this day) while notably appearing on-screen in the 1998 movie ‘Blues Brothers 2000’ duetting with fellow former Falcon Wilson Pickett.
Meanwhile, with Eddie’s most recent album release being 2008’s ‘Eddie Loves You So’ for the recently-rejuvenated Stax label, it’s a personable and forthcoming Mr. Floyd who hooks-up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing in-depth discussion about his iconic career just prior to his eagerly-anticipated upcoming UK live date.
PETE: How do you recall your early days in Detroit?
EDDIE: I got a lotta my early musical education in Detroit from watching a lot of the shows that came through the city - people like Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Count Basie... Then of course you also had the big groups of the day like Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, The Platters… And I guess the whole scene in Detroit started taking off from that, where everybody started wanting to form a group - which eventually led to the whole Motown Sound. And with my uncle - Robert West - having his own label (LuPine Records) and being hooked-up with a lot of the local groups, that in turn inspired ME to form a group TOO. Which is how The Falcons came about.”
PETE: Though you grew up in Detroit, you were actually born in Alabama…
EDDIE: “At that time a lotta people from certain areas in the South would migrate to certain areas in the North. And it so happened that many people from Alabama actually moved to Detroit. So, although you were living in Detroit, you were still around a lotta people from Alabama. So in that way the two cultures sorta blended together.”
PETE: So how do you recall your days as a member of The Falcons in the late-Fifties/early-Sixties?
EDDIE: “The first Falcons line-up was kinda ahead of its time - in that we were racially-integrated, with two white members and two black members. But that only lasted long enough to take a photo! No recordings were ever made, because the two white members - Bob Monardo and Tom Shelter - were pretty much drafted straightaway. So that was when the group’s best-known line-up came about - when (Sir) Mack Rice joined me in the group along with Joe Stubbs, brother of Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops. Then from there (fellow Falcons member) Willie Schofield brought in the guitar-player Lance Finnie. And that became the group that did (the 1959 US Top 20 pop hit) ‘You’re So Fine’. Then later, when Joe Stubbs left, Wilson Pickett joined and sang on (the seminal 1962 US R&B smash) ‘I Found A Love’. And it was when Pickett came into the group that we definitely realised our roots were in Alabama!”
PETE: Following The Falcons disbanding, you then did solo recordings in Washington, DC with then-DJ (and future Stax president) Al Bell, with whom you formed your own label Safice. How did that then lead to you hooking-up with Stax Records in Memphis?
EDDIE; “All the records we released on Safice pretty much came out around the same time. Then, when Al Bell got a call from (Stax co-founder) Jim Stewart at Stax asking him to come down and take over promotion and stuff, that’s when we decided not to continue with Safice. So from there Al and I went down to Memphis, and that was my introduction to Stax. The first songs we wrote were for Carla Thomas - which we’d already written up in Washington, where she was going to Howard University… And then from there I wrote for just about EVERYBODY - Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MGs - before becoming an artist myself with songs like ‘Things Get Better’, ‘Knock On Wood’, ‘Raise Your Hand’…”
PETE: So how do you now look back on your writing-sessions at Stax in the Sixties?
EDDIE: “Oh, they were GREAT! I mean, though I’d had nothing directly to do with Motown while I’d been in Detroit, I’d still been around a lotta their artists and seen from a distance how they did things. And so, when I eventually got to Memphis, I could see that it was pretty much the SAME - you know, musicians getting together producing music, with everybody in the same groove... So yeah, working at Stax was very easy, because everybody was open-minded. You know, Al and I first met (legendary MGs guitarist) Steve Cropper at the same time we met Jim Stewart. So what would happen is, Cropper and I would more or less go off to the hotel, sit down and talk about music - and BOOM, almost immediately we’d WRITE something! While Al Bell and Jim Stewart would go off and talk about music and BUSINESS... So yeah, that’s the way it started - and it just moved on from THERE! I later went on to write with Booker T., which was great too. You know, Stax was all about TEAM-work. Like if an artist was recording and needing backing singers, I’d go and sing on THEIR record, and in turn they’d sing on MINE! That’s just the way we DID things.”
PETE: So what was the story behind you releasing your classic international breakthrough smash, ‘Knock On Wood’, in 1966?
EDDIE: “Well, the original idea was to give it to Otis Redding. So we went into the studio, played all the parts, and - though they actually called it a demo - put it down like a finished record… Then, when it was decided eventually not to give it to Otis, everybody spoke up right away and said ‘This sounds like a record for EDDIE!’! You know, this was like eight months after we’d RECORDED it! So then one disc-jockey took it to Buffalo, another took it to Philadelphia, orders started coming in for the record - and then it just spread EVERYWHERE! And what’s funny is that, though it was already a hit on me by the time Otis heard it, he still wanted to DO it! So he eventually ended up recording his own version of ‘Knock On Wood’ as a duet with Carla Thomas!”
PETE: The following year - 1967 - of course saw you performing as part of the now-legendary ‘Hit The Road Stax’ tour of Europe alongside Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & The MGs and The Mar-Keys. What are your memories like of that?
EDDIE: “One of the real highlights for me was that, in all the theatres we played in - whether in England, France or Norway - people were queuing around the block to get IN! Which is something I’d never witnessed ANYWHERE before! And also the fact that the people already knew the songs so WELL! I mean, at that point we had no idea how long they’d been playing our songs in Europe. So when you got there and you started singing them and the people would all be singing along WITH you, it was like ‘WOW!’!”
PETE: Is it true one of your most famous songs - the late-Sixties underground soul classic ‘Big Bird’ - was inspired by your flight being delayed in London while you were on your way to Otis Redding’s funeral?
EDDIE: “Yeah, I was on my way back to The States when the flight I was getting on got cancelled for a while. So of course I was sitting there nervous, not knowing what was gonna happen, wondering if I was gonna miss the funeral... Then, when we eventually did get on the flight, I basically just muttered to myself ‘Get on UP big bird!’… And that line just kinda stuck with me. So I eventually told Booker about it, he started playing some little key-changes on his organ... And together we came up with the SONG! And what’s interesting is that it’s Booker who’s actually playing all the chords on that record. You know, he’s the one playing the guitar, not Steve (Cropper).”
PETE: Your success as a Stax recording artist continued throughout the first-half of the Seventies. What was that period like at the label?
EDDIE: “Well, everything was still moving - and in many ways more than BEFORE. Because by then we had the TV shows like ‘Soul Train’... So yeah, for the first part of the Seventies I did a lotta TV around songs I had out like ‘I’ve Never Found A Girl’, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ and ‘California Girl’… Until the mid-Seventies, when everything started moving into the disco era.”
PETE: Speaking of which, in 1979 Amii Stewart enjoyed huge global success with her disco cover of ‘Knock On Wood’. How did you feel about that?
EDDIE: “Oh man, I love every version the SAME! You know, you’ve GOT to - because these people don’t HAVE to do your song! I mean, the melody doesn’t really change, it’s more the MUSIC that changes. And with so many different types of artists having covered that one song in so many different ways, it’s actually become a hobby of mine to look for any copies that I’ve missed, put them together, and listen to all the different ONES! And of the ones I’ve heard, I’d have to say Eric Clapton’s would be the best for me, plus I also think Seal did a good version.”
PETE: In 2008 you released a new album ‘Eddie Loves You’ for the recently-rejuvenated Stax label. What was the story there?
EDDIE: “That was all due to a young kid from Boston I met when I was doing a show with (former Rolling Stone) Bill Wyman. He started talking to me about some of the songs I’d never released that I’d done when I’d been with my uncle in Detroit and basically said ‘I’d like to produce an album on you’. So for the album we tried go get together some of the songs I’d done back then like ‘Since You’ve been Gone’, which was back in like 1955. But what I didn’t realise was that his band were basically just a rhythm outfit, and they had no intention of doing horns or much in the way of harmonies. So, while I’d been thinking of a big production, they didn’t WANT that. But, you know, I always remain open to the ideas of young people and where they decide to take me. So we actually ended up doing that as a one-off release for Concord Records, which is part of Stax now. In fact, they actually approached the label at the time we were doing the Grand Opening for the Stax Museum in Memphis. And they made a deal so quick I didn’t even get time to put out the CHRISTMAS album I’d been recording!”
PETE: So what about current and future plans?
EDDIE: “Well, in addition to putting out the Christmas album I just mentioned, I’m also putting together right now a project involving my son Anthony alongside a lot of the Memphis players like Teenie Hodges - who played guitar on the classic Al Green stuff - and the guys who worked with Isaac Hayes. And, while the record is gonna go out as Eddie & Anthony Floyd, the main aim of the album is more to spotlight just HIM... Though, having said that, I have got a couple of songs on there too - like a re- recording of ‘I’ve Never Found A Girl’. Which to me was an interesting choice to redo - because on that particular song it’s really hard to find the difference in our voices!”
Eddie performs as part of the not to be missed Stax Show at The Venue, London on July 27 Click to visit 229 The Venue
Words PETE LEWIS