Interview of Archie Love by Mike Stephenson of Blues & Rhythm magazine took place in Memphis in June 2012 at the artist’s home for Jefferson Blues Magazine.
If we could start at the beginning and get you to describe where you were born and how you got into the music business?
I was born in Chicago in 1958 and my father was a gospel singer and my brothers and sisters were like one big choir, four brothers and four sisters, and when we got together it was one big singathon. During the Martin Luther King riots they did a lot of burning in Chicago so my mum thought it would be wise to move south. My father had passed during that time, so she moved us to Memphis, Tennessee. I wasn’t really singing when we were in Chicago as I was so young, it was my brothers and sisters who were singing and I was a spectator to them. We moved to Memphis in 1971 and went to grammar school and that’s where it all began, with grammar school friends and living down the street from the Stax studio. We would go up there and see David Porter and Isaac Hayes and the Emotions and all those people going in and out. We would hang out at the hamburger joint just across the street from the place and we would go home and practise and we got pretty good.
I was singing then and that was my first approach to music and we entered one of the local talent shows and this guy by the name of Harry Winfield had a TV show here for young talent and he saw us and he asked us to come and be on the show. From there everything went real fast, as he liked what he saw and he put us together with a young band called The Soulful Seven and my group was called The Sinders it was four guys, all vocalists, and we were more like a Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five group, as back then everybody wanted to be like the Jackson Five. We worked real hard at it, with the choreography and everything, and as young guys we had something special. The Soulful Seven later on became the Freedom Express Band. Ironically after about one year they then took us to the Stax studio to record. Homer Garrett and Helen Washington from the Stax studio, they had come down to one of our shows to hear us and they knocked on our parents’ doors and told them they were interested in their kids and our parents had meetings with them. Then we recorded four or five songs at Stax, and producing those songs were Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
Can you remember what the names of the songs were?
‘We Are American’ and it was talkjng about being a doctor or an Indian chief, and it doesn’t make a difference as we are all American, and a couple more songs we did, but when it came down to signing a contract at the age we were, our mothers were like uncertain as they wanted to take us out of school and go on the road, but provide us with tutors and all, and that didn’t sit very well with our parents so that kinda went away. As I grew older and still at grammar school I played trumpet, and coming out of high school I switched to percussion and played drums, and that’s when I reunited with the band that was our back up band in our younger days, The Soulful Seven which was The Freedom Express, as they needed a drummer at the time, and as it happened that band went on to be Rufus Thomas’ back up band, the Soul Children’s back up band, Denise LaSalle’s back up band, Shirley Brown, and all these people and we were one of the premier bands in that era. We would practise a lot and we knew these artists’ songs well and these artists would get us on the road with them. All these artists were Memphis based at that time as we were and they were mainly Hi studio or Stax artists, and your name gets around when you do it right. We toured with Rufus Thomas for about two years and our last stint was with the Soul Children and Denise LaSalle, and we were with her for about seven years.
You had connections with J. Blackfoot?
With The Soul Children that had J. Blackfoot was where it really kicked off, and I came to rehearsals with this big old drum set and J. Blackfoot walked in and everybody went quiet and he asked me why I had so many mics on my drums and later on we became the best of friends. From 1976 and until last year we were inseparable. I did two duets with J Blackfoot and I co-wrote the last five albums with J. Blackfoot, and on his last album we did a song named ‘The Same Woman’ and I have a live album of his named ‘’J Blackfoot Live In Selma, Alabama’ that has never been released. He had a stroke when we were on the road, and before the next weekend he had convinced the doctor to let him out the hospital to do a concert, and on this album is a song called ‘Testimony’ and that was created right there on stage. It was a song about his stroke and that God didn’t leave him paralysed and I told him we needed to do an album. At the time we were doing an album on him called ‘It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over’ with people like Sir Charles Jones and Lenny Williams as guests, so we put the live thing on a back burner which was recorded about six years ago and we never got to it. He got sick and we were considering that the live album would be an interim thing between his new album, but as yet it’s not been released. It’s on the Loveland Records label.
How big was this band?
The band was a seven piece, a four piece rhythm section and three horns and everybody sang. We were a Memphis based band and we recorded on a local label called Spirit Records with a number called ‘Stolen Pleasures’ and that song did well for us. It took us to France, Nice and Cannes and we toured abroad with this band called The Love Machine, out of Los Angeles, California, and it was an all girl group and we did South Africa, Switzerland and Singapore, Malaysia and by that time we were honing our craft pretty good and from 1967 to 1985 I was with that band, and it came to a point where there was a local producer in town named Wayne Douglas who wanted to put together a recording act. So he went around and hand picked people out of different bands and I was one of the vocalists and he also picked Eric Shotwell and Roosevelt Nickleberry and Jerry Brackston and we became The Main Attraction and he signed us to RCA Records in 1985.
We had a couple of decent records, top ten and top fifty, and one of the records was called ‘Rainy Nights’ and Chico DeBarge heard it and asked if he could do it and he took it into the top five, and at that time he was on Motown Records. Al Bell heard and liked the record and he asked us if we would be willing to come over to Motown, and who says no to Motown? so the group less two members switched over to Motown in late 1986 and we did an album with them and we did a remake of Al Green’s ‘Tired Of Being Alone’. The album was called ‘The Right Choice’, as was the group. This was when we had our first big smash, which was that Al Green track. We also recorded ‘My Secret Wish’, ‘Torn Between Two Lovers’, ‘I Let You Slip Away’, ‘BYOB’, ‘I Owe You One’, Am I Losing You’, ‘Keep Coming Back For Your Love’, they were numbers on that album.
Three years after The Right Choice album we grew into our own selves, meaning producers and arrangers and I got the producing bug, and instead of being on the road so much I created a studio, and I would sit at home and do a lot of writing. So I started doing less travelling and subsequently the group added different members and went on and on. I started writing material for J. Blackfoot and The BarKays and Denise LaSalle, Theodis Ealey and a guy named Cato Walker came to me and told me he would be interested in producing some of the songs on me that I had been writing. So I recorded some songs and that started my solo career and this was about 1992. I did an album on Tam Records called ‘All The Way’ which was my first full length album and it did pretty well for a local distribution label. From there I was doing a lot of writing and production stuff with The Bay Kays and Alan Jones. So they asked if they could do an album on me because a lot of stuff that I write, I do a lot of demo vocals on them, the background and lead vocals and the whole thing and they didn’t want to change that. I did a song called ‘My Joy’ for the Bar Kays, and actually it was going to be a duet with the Bar Kays and Al Green and I did the part of Al Green, and they came back to me and told me that they didn’t want to change the song and they wanted to leave me on the song.
They released the song and it did very good. From there that’s when the Archie Love album on J A Right Now Records and the Bar Kays started. I did the ‘Sincerely Yours’ album on the Right Now label and I did a single ‘Should’ve Been There For You’ which was on that album and it really started the solo career, and this was in 2001 and that really got things going for me. The second album was called ‘Love Chronicles’ and it was one of those albums that every song was about relationships and these songs were dropping out of the sky for me when I was trying to write them. I would get with some of my fellas like Sam Fallie and Larry Dodson and we would put the songs together and when we finished the songs it was an album on the story of love and relationships, ups and downs. There were a lot of great ballads on there. I missed an album and that was ‘Exposed’ and that had some of the best work I have done and that was on Tam Records. After the ‘Chronicles’ album I sat in the studio and listened, and I listened to all the ballads I had done and it had to have been about twenty five and my wife suggested that rather than doing a greatest hits thing I put them all on an album called ‘All About Love’ which has sixteen ballads and those songs captivate me, like songs such as ‘I Done All That I Can Do’, ‘Before A Judge’ are songs that tell such a graphic story and are in tune with what goes on in life and in relationships and it has sold pretty good for me.
So in conjunction with the Bar Kays, when we go out on tour I tour with them as a guest member, and I get a chance to perform as Archie Love at the same time as a guest appearance. I do a lot of writing with these guys so we are hand in glove and we became a writing team and a production team. The Bar Kays are Memphis based and they have been around a long time. We have one CD that we did called ‘A Message From Memphis’. When Haiti had the problem, we wanted to contribute like everybody else, so myself and Larry Dodson we sat down and came up with this song called ‘A Message From Memphis’ and we got all the artists in Memphis and the surrounding areas and asked them if they would be willing to do an effort for Haiti and everybody gushed at the idea. People like Preston Shannon, Ruby Wilson, J Blackfoot, O.B Buchana and you name it and a lot of the preachers in the city and we did a compilation CD and DVD and all the proceeds went to Haiti.
You have your own label?
Yes I do and it is called Loveland Records and I have put out CDs on myself and The Duchess, who is my daughter. Her CDs are ‘It’s My Time Now’ and ‘Writing On The Wall’ and she is Memphis based. I have also released a CD called ‘A Night with UnXpecTed’ by The UnXpecTed, which is a trio of guys, they are like a Four Tops and Temptations thing, but a modern version of. For me I have two CDs on my own label.
Do you still have your own recording studio?
Yes, I do a lot of producing and recently I did a duet with Toni Green and my daughter called ‘Cry No More’ on my daughter’s ‘Writing On The Wall’ album. It’s a song like a women’s national anthem, like it’s time for women to take a stand, like Toni being the older woman telling my daughter, who is younger, how she should handle a situation. I record and produce other artists that do not appear on my label. I’ve just done some work with Curtis Salgado on his new CD on Alligator, and you will hear Archie Love in the background on that release. They send the pieces into me and my main thing is background and melody. They get a song and send it in, and I lay the background and the melodies down and then send it back. With the Curtis release, I was involved in some of the numbers such as ‘She Didn’t Cut Me Loose’ and his new single. Other artists I have been involved with are the Bar Kays, Theodis Ealey, Mr Sam, Toni Green, Jerry L, Bigg Robb and his song ‘Country Love’ and we have collaborated on a lot of his stuff, and a host of other people. I just love melody and my octave range is pretty broad, so I can do from the first tenor of the lady to the baritone of the guy. I can pretty much put the backing together myself and sound different enough, that when you listen to it it don’t sound like the same person. I’ve also written songs for the Bar Kays, Theodis Ealey, Mr. Sam, The Duchess, J. Blackfoot, UnXpecTed, SOS, Chico DeBarge, and so many others over the years.
Music must be a full time thing for you?
Yes and for many years. I’ve put four of my children through college, one is a teacher, another is a para legal and music has treated me well. I’m still performing and do about five cities a month, an example being doing Oklahoma City on a coming weekend and then go to Nashville. We just did Las Vegas last month. I tour with the BarKays and also about seven other artists, and we have this thing called Masters Of Funk and that is Slave, Confunction, Ohio Players, The Dazz Band, The BarKays and George Clinton, all of the old school funk groups and Archie Love is packaged in there. The concert is three hours and fifteen minutes long and it is non stop music. As The BarKays come off, the Ohio Players come right on and the music never stops and we practise pretty good on that transition and I get to be Archie Love and do some songs, so it works out great. The audience for that package is about 70/ 30 African American, as you would be surprised at how many white fans there are for this music. As The BarKays we do a show called ‘The Soul Revue’ and it consists of all the songs from Stax, from Sam & Dave to Arthur Conley to Booker T And The MGs, to Isaac Hayes and all these people. It’s like a revue, with a big screen with all the original artists up there behind us, they’re doing it as we are doing it on stage and that is a very mixed audience so we stay pretty busy. There are nine members in the BarKays including myself and that is the best of both worlds for me as I can be Archie Love also.
Over the years, who have you been out on the road with?
The O’Jays, Chaka Khan, Franky Beverly and Maze, Anthony Hamilton, Keith Sweet, Bobby Rush, Shirley Brown, Denise LaSalle, L. J. Echols, Sir Charles Jones, Mr. Sam, Kenne Wayne and just about everyone, you just name them. I’ve done a lot of touring with Bobby Womack, Bobby Bland, Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis. I do a lot of those big soul/ blues festivals with the likes of Ms. Jody. I wear a lot of different musical hats and I have so much music in me. I do international touring as well. I did Iraq for the last three years for the troops, and did fourteen gigs over fourteen days and that was the whole package Masters Of Funk thing. That was so rewarding for those kids as they needed it so bad and it was so worth it. Back some years, we did the Apollo Theatre, J. Blackfoot, me, Tyrone Davis and Johnnie Taylor, and that was one of the concerts I will never forget. I was still drumming then and drumming for J. Blackfoot and doing all the background vocals for him. Johnnie Taylor was just incredible, he had a voice of gold and his phrasing was incredible.
I’m working on the new Archie Love album with new songs like ‘Cheating Eyes’. Life is a big musical wave to me, a lot of the guys say they can’t talk about stuff around me as everything they say becomes a song. I hear everything in melody. We are working with the BarKays and have just put out a new single called ‘Grown Folks’. Jazze Pha is a hip hop producer, he produces people like Mary J Blige, he is the son of James Alexander out of the BarKays and he produced that single, and we are finishing an album up with the BarKays. Jewel Jones, a Memphis artist, is asking me to produce something on her. I’m working on a new album on my daughter, The Duchess. Life is music to me.
Text and photo: Mike Stephenson