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Chicago Soul (And Tyrone Davis)

Charlottesville, Virginia

July 30, 2020

Chicago soul is a style of soul music that arose during the 1960s in Chicago. Along with Detroit, the home of Motown, and Memphis, with its hard-edged, gritty performers, Chicago and the Chicago soul style helped spur the album-oriented soul revolution of the early 1970s.

The sound of Chicago soul, like southern soul with its rich influence of black gospel music, also exhibited an unmistakable gospel sound, but was somewhat lighter and more delicate in its approach. Chicago vocal groups tended to feature laid-back sweet harmonies, while solo artists exhibited a highly melodic and somewhat pop approach to their songs.

Accompaniment usually featured highly orchestrated arrangements, with horns and strings, by such notable arrangers as Johnny Pate (who largely worked with horns) and Riley Hampton (who specialized in strings). This kind of soul music is sometimes called "soft soul", to distinguish it from the more harsh and gospelly "hard soul" style.

One example of a Chicago soul artist was Tyrone Davis.

Tyrone Fettson was born in Greenville, Mississippi to Willie Branch and Ora Lee Jones in October 1937.

He moved with his father to Saginaw, Michigan, before moving to Chicago in 1959. Working as a valet/chauffeur for blues singer Freddie King, he started singing in local clubs where he was discovered by record executive/musician Harold Burrage. His early records for small record labels in the city, billed as "Tyrone the Wonder Boy" failed to register. Successful Chicago record producer Carl Davis signed him in 1968 to a new label, Dakar Records, that he was starting as part of a distribution deal with Atlantic, and suggested that Tyrone change his name, which he did by borrowing Carl's last name

His first release, "A Woman Needs To Be Loved" was flipped when the B-side started to get radio attention. The song, "Can I Change My Mind" featured a change of vocal style for Davis with a softer, more pleading approach and tone. The record shot up the listings and spent three weeks on the top of the Billboard R&B chart while climbing to number 5 in the Hot 100. It sold over one million and received gold disc recognition. His biggest hit came in early 1970 when "Turn Back The Hands Of Time" also reached number 1 in the R&B chart and went up to number 3 in the Hot 100 pop chart. Written by Jack Daniels and Bonnie Thompson, this disc also sold over one million copies, and received a gold disc awarded by the Recording Industry Association of America in May 1970.

Davis released about 25 singles during his seven years with Dakar, most of them big R&B sellers produced by Willie Henderson. He finally returned to the top spot with "Turning Point" in 1975. Soon afterwards, Davis switched to the major Columbia record label and recorded seven albums over the next five years with producer Leo Graham and arranger James Mack who had collaborated with him for "Turning Point". Major hits with Columbia included "Give It Up" (number 2), "This I Swear" (number 6), and "In The Mood" (number 6,1979). Dubbed the "king of romantic Chicago soul" by MTV, Davis' perceived vulnerability and class endeared him to female soul fans through the 1970s.

1982 brought a change of label to the newly established independent, Highrise and another major hit, "Are You Serious" (number 3 R&B, number 57 pop), again produced by Leo Graham, and written by L. V. Johnson. When Highrise closed the following year, Davis switched to a tiny Los Angeles label, Ocean Front which lacked promotional muscle to get behind arguably one of his best performances, "Let Me Be Your Pacifier". In 1991, Davis switched to Atlanta label, Ichiban Records, recording three albums including the song "Mom's Apple Pie". In 1994, Davis went to Bellmark/Life Records for one album. Davis' days as a major chart act were over, but he continued to be a popular live attraction and finally signed in 1996 with Malaco Records, the southern-based blues label recording him on a number of albums.

A stroke in September 2004 ended his career and, following complications, he died in a Chicago hospital on February 9, 2005, at the age of 66.

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