Billy Price and Otis Clay - This Time For Real (2016)

Billy Price and Otis Clay
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Billy Price and Otis Clay - This Time For Real

On January 9, 2016 Otis Clay became a part of one of this year’s very sad recurring themes when he passed away at age 73. If you perceive that 2016 has seen a disproportionate number of celebrities die, your tingling spider senses would not be wrong. The BBC compared its count of celebrity obits going back to the early spring of 2012 and noted that five such obits four years ago and 24 at a comparable time in 2016. The Telegraph in London tallied 103 culture stars who have transitioned in 2016, and while Clay’s passing didn’t spark the wall to wall coverage and tributes that accompanied the passing of pop culture icons such as David Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali, his transition was no minor deal to his legion of fans.

Billy Price and Otis Clay - This Time For Real

On January 9, 2016 Otis Clay became a part of one of this year’s very sad recurring themes when he passed away at age 73. If you perceive that 2016 has seen a disproportionate number of celebrities die, your tingling spider senses would not be wrong. The BBC compared its count of celebrity obits going back to the early spring of 2012 and noted that five such obits four years ago and 24 at a comparable time in 2016. The Telegraph in London tallied 103 culture stars who have transitioned in 2016, and while Clay’s passing didn’t spark the wall to wall coverage and tributes that accompanied the passing of pop culture icons such as David Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali, his transition was no minor deal to his legion of fans.

Clay was born in Mississippi and moved to Indiana before his family relocated to Chicago. Clay’s musical career followed that of many artists, with a path that started in gospel music before moving onto secular music, where he worked for several legendary record labels, including Atlantic and Hi. Clay achieved moderate chart success with songs such as “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” his first hit. However, his was a familiar and loved voice on the blues and southern soul circuit right up until his death. Clay’s death was a surprise, and after listening to his final project, This Time For Real, a record featuring classic southern soul and blues covers that pair his throaty baritone with the sweet tenor of Billy Price, it’s easy to see why many Clay fans were shocked.,

The tunes included on This Time For Real aren’t the ones receiving major spins on terrestrial radio oldie stations, even though a Google search of titles such as “You Got Me Hummin’” will lead to names that are familiar to most music fans. “You Got Me Hummin’” is a Sam and Dave tune, but that cut is not as well-known as other cuts made famous by Sam Moore and Dave Prater such  as “Soul Man” and “Hold On I’m Comin’.” Of course Clay and Price performed blues and southern soul fans familiar with the Stax songbook, and their familiarity with and love of this material comes through on all these. Clay and Price easily master the tight harmonies heard in the original and the arrangement has the same Stax horns and funky bass line heard in the 1966 original written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

Other tracks that will be a revelation for those not used to straying far from the classic oldies radio path, while eliciting nods of soulful recognition from hard core fans, include the Holland-Dozier-Holland gem “Don’t Leave Me Starving For Your Love,” a mid-tempo torch song that the trio wrote for their Invictus label after they left Motown. Price’s soft tenor that scratches falsetto range is truly on point on this number as he milks the lyrics for all of their vulnerability.

Price takes the verses while Clay’s raspy baritone hits hard on the hook on “Somebody’s Changing My Sweet Baby’s Mind,” a song performed by Johnny Sayles in 1969. This Time For Real also features strong vocal work on ballads such as the gospel-tinged “Tears of God,” the Spinners’ classic “Love Don’t Love Nobody” (which features an especially strong performance by Clay) and the “Book of Memories.” The latter possesses a tinge of country that reminds listeners about the many intersections between the genres in a place such as Memphis. To top it off, country great George Jones recorded a song with same title. However, Clay and Price looked to a different cut – a soul number recorded for Atlantic by Percy Wiggins in 1967.

This Time For Real will appeal to blues and southern soul fans along with those who have fond memories of the music made at labels such as Stax and Hi. And of course, this excellent valedictory will include many Otis Clay fans. In a year when SoulTracks readers get regular reminders that time has no respect for fame, hopefully all music lovers will appreciate two men – one living and one who transitioned – who help lay the foundation upon which this great music stands. Strongly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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