Soul crooner Ronnie Dyson became of his generation’s most iconic vocalists before he joined one of soul music’s most important record labels. In 1968, the 18-year old Dyson earned the lead in the musical Hair, singing the tune’s opening line “When the moon is in the seventh house/And Jupiter aligns with Mars.” Dyson continued pursuing an acting career, appearing in the film Putney Swope, a funny and before its time political satire of the way of the advertising world.
Dyson also landed a role in the Off-Broadway production of the rock musicalSalvation, a play that well received by critics and had limited commercial success. Salvation’s musical score had more success, thanks in large part to Dyson, who scored a Top 10 hit with (“If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You” in 1970. A year later, Dyson reached the charts with his cover of the Delfonics’ “When You Get Right Down to It.”
Soon Columbia came calling, signing Dyson to a deal and immediately dispatching the vocalist to Philadelphia to work with that label’s highly regarded producers, such as Thom Bell. This came at a time when Columbia was pursuing a strategy of building a roster of R&B and soul stars, in part by buying independent labels, such as PIR, that specialized in working with black artists.
It is at this time that Dyson worked with Bell on the album One Man Band, a 1973 album that is now the subject of a limited press reissue (in enhanced format) by Purpose Vaults. The reissue includes the 10 tracks that appeared onOne Man Band, such as the title track, “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely,” a soulful version of The Beatles classic “Something” and “A Wednesday in Your Garden.” The reissue also includes six tracks that were not previously available in CD format. The enhanced version of One Man Band also features new interviews with a variety of artists, including Melba Moore.
Dyson, due to his youth singing in the church, as well as his experience singing in musicals, arrived at Columbia with a well-developed and distinctive singing voice. And he was fortunate that the executives at Columbia sent him to PIR because the major label had a reputation of not getting the most out of R&B artists. Bell certainly got the most out of Dyson on One Man Band. The album includes tracks that made the most of Dyson’s musical theater background, such as the aforementioned “A Wednesday in Your Garden,” and the Latin tinged “The Girl Don’t Come,” a tune that brings to mind the 1960s early R&B made by groups such as The Drifters.
Dyson’s versatility is showcased on One Man Band. His talents as a balladeer come through on tracks such as “Give In To Love,” a number that has a Bacharach/David feel, as well as up-tempo tracks like the “The Love Of a Woman,” which is another track that find the PIR producers taking full advantage of Dyson’s roots in musical theater. And if the original 10 tracks make this reissue a worthwhile pick up, the six extra tracks are a revelation. They include the disco influenced “We Can Make It Last Forever” and the absolutely lovely “Life and Breath.”
Ronnie Dyson had a solid career that PIR – though he never received the acclaim that went to the label’s bigger stars such as the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and Billy Paul. And since his voice was sadly silenced far too soon - he died in 1990 at 40 – he has unfortunately been forgotten by many classic soul fans. So kudos to Purpose Vaults for the public service of bringing the music of this distinct and underrated singer back to our collective memories. With One Man Band, music fans can again remember just how special this young singer was four decades ago, and can experience that joy again in 2012. Highly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes