Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Eddie Floyd: Stax lucky charm

Eddie Floyd
Eddie Floyd

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 âStaxâ 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 1959âs âYouâre So Fineâ and (following Wilson Picketâs recruitment into the group as lead-singer) 1962âs âI Found A Loveâ.

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 âKnock On Woodâ - 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 Staxâs most consistent artists (via such further hits as 1969âs âIâve Never Found A Girlâ and 1970âs California Girlâ) while also remaining one of the labelâs most productive writers. Meanwhile, following the iconic Memphis labelâs 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 (1978âs Experienceâ) and former Stax singer/writer William Bellâs WRC Records (1988âs âFlashbackâ) 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 âBlues Brothers 2000â duetting with fellow former Falcon Wilson Pickett.

Meanwhile, with Eddieâs most recent album release being 2008âs âEddie Loves You Soâ for the recently-rejuvenated Stax label, itâs a personable and forthcoming Mr. Floyd who hooks-up with âBlues & Soulâ 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.â

PETE: Though you grew up in Detroit, you were actually born in Alabamaâ¦

EDDIE: âAt 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.â

PETE: So how do you recall your days as a member of The Falcons in the late-Fifties/early-Sixties?

EDDIE: âThe 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 groupâs 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) âYouâre So Fineâ. Then later, when Joe Stubbs left, Wilson Pickett joined and sang on (the seminal 1962 US R&B smash) âI Found A Loveâ. And it was when Pickett came into the group that we definitely realised our roots were in Alabama!â

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; âAll 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, thatâs 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 weâd 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 âThings Get Betterâ, âKnock On Woodâ, âRaise Your Handââ¦â

PETE: So how do you now look back on your writing-sessions at Stax in the Sixties?

EDDIE: âOh, they were GREAT! I mean, though Iâd had nothing directly to do with Motown while Iâd been in Detroit, Iâd 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 weâd WRITE something! While Al Bell and Jim Stewart would go off and talk about music and BUSINESS... So yeah, thatâs 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, Iâd go and sing on THEIR record, and in turn theyâd sing on MINE! Thatâs just the way we DID things.â

PETE: So what was the story behind you releasing your classic international breakthrough smash, âKnock On Woodâ, in 1966?

EDDIE: âWell, 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 âThis sounds like a record for EDDIE!â! You know, this was like eight months after weâd 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 whatâs 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 âKnock On Woodâ as a duet with Carla Thomas!â

PETE: The following year - 1967 - of course saw you performing as part of the now-legendary âHit The Road Staxâ tour of Europe alongside Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & The MGs and The Mar-Keys. What are your memories like of that?

EDDIE: âOne 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 Iâd 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 theyâd 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 âWOW!â!â

PETE: Is it true one of your most famous songs - the late-Sixties underground soul classic âBig Birdâ - was inspired by your flight being delayed in London while you were on your way to Otis Reddingâs funeral?

EDDIE: âYeah, 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 âGet on UP big bird!â⦠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 whatâs interesting is that itâs Booker whoâs actually playing all the chords on that record. You know, heâs the one playing the guitar, not Steve (Cropper).â

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: âWell, everything was still moving - and in many ways more than BEFORE. Because by then we had the TV shows like âSoul Trainâ... So yeah, for the first part of the Seventies I did a lotta TV around songs I had out like âIâve Never Found A Girlâ, âBring It On Home To Meâ and âCalifornia Girlâ⦠Until the mid-Seventies, when everything started moving into the disco era.â

PETE: Speaking of which, in 1979 Amii Stewart enjoyed huge global success with her disco cover of âKnock On Woodâ. How did you feel about that?

EDDIE: âOh man, I love every version the SAME! You know, youâve GOT to - because these people donât HAVE to do your song! I mean, the melody doesnât really change, itâs more the MUSIC that changes. And with so many different types of artists having covered that one song in so many different ways, itâs actually become a hobby of mine to look for any copies that Iâve missed, put them together, and listen to all the different ONES! And of the ones Iâve heard, Iâd have to say Eric Claptonâs would be the best for me, plus I also think Seal did a good version.â

PETE: In 2008 you released a new album âEddie Loves Youâ for the recently-rejuvenated Stax label. What was the story there?

EDDIE: âThat 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 Iâd never released that Iâd done when Iâd been with my uncle in Detroit and basically said âIâd like to produce an album on youâ. So for the album we tried go get together some of the songs Iâd done back then like âSince Youâve been Goneâ, which was back in like 1955. But what I didnât 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 Iâd been thinking of a big production, they didnât 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 didnât even get time to put out the CHRISTMAS album Iâd been recording!â

PETE: So what about current and future plans?

EDDIE: âWell, in addition to putting out the Christmas album I just mentioned, Iâm 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 âIâve Never Found A Girlâ. Which to me was an interesting choice to redo - because on that particular song itâs really hard to find the difference in our voices!â

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

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