ONCE IN A MILLION-THE SONGS OF SAM DEES.

ONCE IN A MILLION-THE SONGS OF SAM DEES.

Sam Dees is described as: “a prolific songwriter and occasional performer.” That’s true. While Sam has written nearly four-hundred songs, he’s only released three albums. Clearly, Sam believes in quality over quantity. Anyone whose heard Sam’s 1975 debut album The Show Must Go On will be forced to agree. Despite its commercial failure, The Show Must Go On is regarded as a Southern Soul classic. Following The Show Must Go On returned to writing songs for other people. 

That’s what he’d been doing before the release of The Show Must Go On. Sam had written songs for John Edwards, Loleatta Holloway, Clarence Carter, Rozetta Johnson, Jackie Wilson and Frederick Knight. This saw Sam established a reputation as one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. Following the failure of The Show Must Go On, Sam went on to write songs for The Chi-Lites, The Temptations, L.T.D, Johnnie Taylor and Gladys Knight and The Pips. Songs from each of these artists feature on Kent Soul’s forthcoming compilation Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees. It’ll be released on 3rd March 2014. 

Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees features a total of twenty-two tracks. There’s only one contribution from Sam. That’s his 1977 single My World. It’s a tantalising taste of what Sam Dees is capable of. Then there’s the twenty-one tracks Sam penned. They were recorded by what reads like a who’s who of soul. These tracks were released on labels like A&M, Alarm, Atlantic, Aware, Beverley Glen, Columbia, Brunswick, Dakar, Gordy, Malaco, Polydor, Spring and Warner Bros. However, the twenty-two tracks on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees are just a the tip of what’s a musical iceberg. Sam Dees is a prolific songwriter. Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees is the perfect place to start for anyone whose yet to discover the music of Sam Dees, who I’ll tell you about.

It was in December 1945 that Sam Dees was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was born into a large family. Sam stood out though. The reason for that was his voice. From an early age, it was obvious that Sam was a talented singer. When he was just nine, Sam was a veteran of talent contests. He’d won numerous talent shows, so decided to form his own group The Bossanovians. By the time Sam was ten, it became apparent Sam had a way with words.

Unlike most ten year olds, Sam was writing poetry and songs. Looking back, Sam Dees was something of a musical prodigy. So, it’s no surprise that he would make a career as a songwriter. Before that, he had dreams of becoming a singer.

Although Sam was a still teenager, he was already travelling from his Birmingham home to perform. This was the equivalent of Sam serving his musical apprenticeship. Then in 1968, Sam caught a break, He got the chance to record his debut single.

Given Sam was an aspiring soul singer, it sees strange that he made his recording debut in Nashville. I Need You Girl was released on SSS International. Sadly, it wasn’t a commercial success. Neither were Easier To Say Than Do nor It’s All Right (It’s All Right), which sam released on Lo Lo Records in 1969. Then as a new decade dawned, Sam’s luck changed.

Since 1968, Clarence Carter had been signed to Atlantic Records. He’d released a trio of albums, to varying degrees of success. His fourth album, Patches, was released in 1970. Produced by Rick Hall, and featuring some of Memphis’ top musicians and backing vocalists, including Chalmers, Rhodes, Chalmers, Patches featured songs from some top songwriters. This included Sam Dees. He wrote Changes, a heartbreakingly beautiful slice of Southern Soul. Hurt and heartbreak ooze out of Clarence’s soul. You can’t help but empathise with his plight. It’s one of the highlights of Patches and had to feature on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees.

1971 proved to be an important year for Sam Dees. He signed to Chess Records, releasing two singles, the Larry Weiss penned Maryanna and Can You Be A One Man Woman. Despite the quality of music, Sam wasn’t making that important commercial breakthrough. At least other artists were covering his songs.

Rozetta Johnson. She covered A Woman’s Way, which features on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees. A Woman’s Way was the B-Side to Mine Was Real. Sam wrote both songs with his wife Lillian Dees. He co-produced the songs with Clinton Moon. With strings and horns arranged by Dale Warren, Rozetta Johnson’s debut single was a commercial success. Released on Clintone Records, it reached number ninety-four in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts. No wonder. It’s a vocal powerhouse, where Rozetta’s vocal is a cathartic cleansing of her weary soul. She sings the lyrics as if she’s lived, loved and survived them.

Having written and produced his first hit single, Sam hadn’t given up hope of forging a successful career as a songwriter. After leaving Chess, Sam released a single for Clintone Records. Claim Jumping didn’t replicate the commercial success of Rozetta Johnson’s Mine Was Real. Despite this, Sam’s career was on the up.

By the early seventies, Atlantic Records was a musical institution. Some of the biggest names in soul had been signed to Atlantic. Now, it was a broad musical church, with Led Zeppelin one of its most successful artists. The next addition to the label was Sam Dees. 1973 saw Sam release two singles for Atlantic, So Tied Up and I’m So Very Glad. Despite their undoubted quality, they weren’t the commercial success they deserved to be. At least a song Sam cowrote proved much more successful.

Stop This Merry-Go-Round was was a song Sam, Albert Gardner and Clinton Moon had written. Originally, Bill Brandon took the song to number thirty-three in the US R&B Charts. Now, John Edwards a future Detroit Spinner would record the track. His Johnny Taylor styled cover was released on Aware in 1973, reaching number forty-five in the US R&B Charts. Bristling with emotion, confusion and frustration, John accompanied by blazing horns and harmonies, delivers a vocal tour de force. It opens John’s 1973 eponymous debut album and is well worth its place on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees.

Sam returned to his solo career in 1974. He released two singles, Worn Out Broken Heart and Come Back Strong. Neither were a commercial success, but Come Back Strong proved to be prophetic.

With the last couple of years proving unsuccessful for Sam Dees, 1975 was a big year for him. He released his debut album The Show Must Go On. Sadly, with disco King, it wasn’t a commercial success. Neither were the singles The Show Must Go On, nor Fragile, Handle With Care. For Sam, this must have been a huge disappointment. Here he was, signed to one of soul’s most prestigious labels, but at the wrong time. Belatedly, however, The Show Must Go On has come to be regarded as a Southern Soul classic. Whilst Sam’s solo career had stalled, his song wring career was doing well.

During 1975 Sam wrote songs for a number of artists, including Corey Blake, Loleatta Holloway, Frederick Knight, Jackie Wilson and Sidney Joe Qualls. At last, word was out, Sam Dees was the go-to-guy for artists looking for a talented songwriter capable of writing powerful, emotive, ethereal and beautiful music. Twenty-two examples feature on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees. Having told you about tracks from Clarence Careter, Rozetta Johnson and John Edwards, I’ll pick some more of the highlights of Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees.

Of the songs Sam Dees wrote in 1975, The Show Must Go On was Sam’s Magnus Opus. In the hands of Loleatta Holloway, who back then, was singing Southern Soul, it comes alive. She takes on the role of the character in the song. It’s as if she’s experienced the betrayal, hurt and heartbreak, and knows she must put on a brave face. Her vocal is a cocktail of emotions. Tinged with bravado, anger, despair and hope, there’s no other option, The “Show Must Go On.” It features on Loleatta’s 1975 sophomore album Cry To Me, which was released on Aware. Along with Casanova it’s one of the highlights of Cry To Me. Similarly, The Show Must Go On is one of the highlights of Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees.

Frederick Knight was another of the artists Sam wrote for in 1975. He cowrote I Betcha Didn’t Know That with Fredrick. Produced by Fredrick, it was released on Stax’s short-lived imprint Truth Records. By this time, Stax was just about to become insolvent. As a result, I Betcha Didn’t Know That wasn’t promoted properly. So, it’s no surprise that the single flopped. With a tender, heartfelt vocal, this ethereal paean falls into the category of hidden gems.

Ray Crumley covered Good Guys Don’t Always Win in 1976. Written by Sam, this was one of a trio of singles Ray released on Alarm. Without doubt, it’s the best of the trio. With swathes of sweeping strings for company, Ray combines emotion, power and sincerity. It’s as if he’s singing from experience, and knows all too well that: “Good Guys Don’t Always Win.” Good as this version is, Sam’s version on his 1975 album The Show Must Go On is the definitive version.

Fittingly, Sam Dees’ 1977 single My World opens Once In A Million-The Songs Often Sam Dees. Released on Polydor, sadly, the single failed commercially. Despite this, it’s a perfect introduction to Sam Dees. Gradually, what is a bewitching and dramatic ballad unfolds. Just piano and strings usher in Sam’s needy vocal. His delivery is dramatic, as he constantly reassures. All the time, cooing harmonies accompany Sam. By the end of the track, you should be convinced that every record collection should’ve a Sam Dees album in it.

Losing Eugene Records was a huge blow for The Chi-Lites. They’d enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim under his leadership. By 1977, success had almost dried up. Despite this, The Chi-Lites were still capable of creating musical magic. This describes Vanishing Love. Written by Sam, John Edwards enjoyed a hit with it in 1975. Vanishing Love features on The Chi-Lites 1977 album Happy Being Lonely. The version on Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees, is a UK remix. Full of hooks and dance-floor friendly, it’s a welcome return to form from The Chi-Lites.

For anyone unfamiliar with Dorothy Moore’s Girl Overboard, it’s another hugely underrated song. Written by Sam and Floyd Smith, it was produced by James Stroud, Wolf Stephenson and Tommy Couch. They provide a mellow and understated arrangement for Dorothy’s impassioned, soulful vocal. Released in 1978, on Dorothy’s Once More With Feeling album, this track was a favourite in the rare groove and two step scenes. 

In 1979, Sam Dees moved to Los Angeles. That’s where he met Les McCann and another Philly native, Bobby Martin. Bobby was one of architects of Philly Soul. Just like so many others, he never got the credit he deserved. Les had started out playing jazz. By 1979, he was a successful producer and solo artist. Sam cowrote four tracks and cowrote another track for his 1979 album Tall, Dark and Handsome. One of these songs was So Your Love Finally Ran Out For Me. Produced by Benny Golson for Bobby Martin, it’s a truly beautiful ballad. Drama, emotion, heartbreak and beauty, it’s got everything. It’s the smoothest soul you could hope to hear, thanks to Les’ vocal.

My final choice from Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees, is an artist I’ve always championed, Esther Phillips. There’s one reason for that, her unmistakable vocal. Esther released the best music of her career at Kudu, between 1971 and 1976. That wasn’t the end of the Esther Phillips story though. Poof of this is Cry To Me, from her 1981 Mercury album Good Black Is Hard To Crack. It’s a fusion of jazz, funk and soul. Although Cry To Me doesn’t reach the heights of Loleatta Holloway’s definitive version, it’ll be enough to get people digging into Esther’s illustrious back-catalogue.

Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees is a compilation I’ve been really looking forward to reviewing. There’s a reason for that. I’m a huge fan of Sam Dees, whose one of the most underrated singer-songwriters. That’s because most people haven’t heard of Sam Dees. Hopefully, Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees which will be released on 4rd March 2014, on Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records will change this. Maybe now, people will begin to look at Sam’s back catalogue. 

After buying Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees, Sam’s 1975 debut album The Show Must Go On is an essential purchase. Then there’s two compilations from Kent Soul that are well worth looking out for. Second To None and The Heritage Of A Black Man provide further insight into the best soul singer you’ve never heard. Despite only three studio albums to his name, there’s much more to Sam Dees than that.

Sam Dees has written songs for some of the biggest names in soul. Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees’ track-listing shows this. He’s penned tracks for everyone from John Edwards, Loleatta Holloway, Clarence Carter, Rozetta Johnson, Jackie Wilson and Frederick Knight right through to The Chi-Lites, The Temptations, L.T.D, Johnnie Taylor and Gladys Knight and The Pips. That saw Sam establis a reputation as one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. That’s no exaggeration. Far from it. Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees is just the tip of a musical iceberg. Once In A Million-The Songs Of Sam Dees is just a tantalising taste of “a prolific songwriter and occasional performer” whose the best soul singer you’ve never heard. Standout Tracks: Sam Dees My World, Dorothy Moore Girl Overboard, Les McCann So Your Love Finally Ran Out For Me and  Loleatta Holloway The Show Must Go On.

ONCE IN A MILLION-THE SONGS OF SAM DEES.

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