required reading

Book Review

Florida Soul


University Press of Florida (US) ISBN-978-0-8130-5452-0  (hardback)

To quote from the flyleaf to this thoroughly absorbing book: “When recalling the roots of soul music, most people are more likely to name Memphis, Detroit, New Orleans, Muscle Shoals or Macon but Florida has a rich soul music history - an important cultural legacy that has often gone unrecognised.”  We could not have put it better ourselves.  Indeed, the opening paragraph to the ‘In The Basement’ feature on Joey Gilmore - in issue #41 - begins: “The State of Florida is perhaps not the first of the Union that one might think of in terms of soul music but it has, in fact, given us a wealth of native artists and a plethora of labels for the delectation of the soul music aficionado,” while issue #34 contained a whole article by Greg Burgess on the subject of (and entitled) ‘Sunshine State Soul’.  Now, over 396 pages (including indices), hardback, ‘Florida Soul’ truly gets its full dues, thanks to author, John Capouya, as associate professor of journalism and writing at the University of Tampa.

Although not a native Floridian - Capouya admits in the introductory chapter: “Until I began teaching at the University of Tampa I had never heard of the late Henry Stone, the Berry Gordy or leading impresario of Florida Soul.” - his full Damascene conversion, after the groundwork of hearing such artists as Betty Wright, Sam & Dave and Timmy Thomas back ‘up north’, ensured an immersion in the music of his adoptive home state that would culminate in this fully-documented history which takes us principally through three decades from the fifties to the eighties, from Ray Charles to KC & the Sunshine Band, as jazz turns to soul and as Stone’s TK Records and distribution becomes better known for its disco rather than more strictly soul output.  Sometimes more in depth than others and often enhanced by remembrances and anecdotes from singers, musicians and producers themselves, even the more technical/analytical points which might normally be outside the realms or understanding of the musical layman were easy to read and take in and, unlike with several non-fiction tomes - even ones on personally obsessive subjects - I never found myself skipping a word, nor failing to pore over the many b&w photographic illustrations.

As one who has interviewed and penned features on a number of Florida artists, I was delighted that several of Capouya’s ‘artist chapters’ spotlit a number of those featured in past ‘ITB’’s... Sam Moore, James & Bobby Purify, Helene Smith, Frankie Gearing, Latimore and Jackie Moore... and also interested (and intrigued) that he seemed to have received a similar brush-off from Betty Wright as yours truly.  (“Betty Wright, unfortunately, declined through a representative to be interviewed for this book,” he writes.)  Other chapters feature Linda Lyndell, who we learn suffered ‘reverse discrimination’ as a white woman in a black person’s field, Wayne Cochran - who ‘got away with it’ despite similar skin colour - Little Beaver, Timmy Thomas and the aforementioned Ray Charles and KC & the Sunshine Band, plus such early names as Ernie Calhoun, Noble ‘Thin Man’ Watts and Lavell Kamma, while the importance of such ‘backroom boys’ as Papa Don Schroeder, Willie Clarke (and Deep City Records), Chocolate Perry and, of course, Henry Stone is properly emphasised.  Chapter Four also provides a true history lesson as to how ‘The Twist Came From Tampa’.  When it comes to ‘Florida Soul’, John Capouya has certainly done his subject proud.

review posted 4/10/17