Bobby Byrd-Help For My Brother: The Pre-Funk Singles 1963-1968.

Label: BGP.

During a long and successful career Bobby Byrd was a musician, producer, songwriter and talent scout. He was also one of the founding fathers of funk, and the man who discovered the future hardest working man in show business, James Brown in 1953. This was the start of a twenty year association with James Brown that ended in 1973. By then, Bobby Byrd was a enjoying a successful solo career that began a decade earlier in 1963.

Twenty-eight year old Bobby Byrd had released his debut solo single I Found Out on Federal in April 1963. This was the start of a successful solo career that lasted twenty years and spanned three decades. Recently, BGP released a new compilation Help For My Brother: The Pre-Funk Singles 1963-1968 that documents the first five years of Bobby Byrd’s solo career. His career began eleven years earlier in 1952.

That was when Bobby Byrd founded a new gospel group, The Gospel Starlighters. This came as no surprise to those that knew eighteen year old Bobby Byrd, who was born in Toccoa, Georgia, on August the ’15th’ 1934. His parents were deeply religious and were active members of their local church. Growing up, the young Bobby Byrd was an active member of his local church choir and had been a member of the gospel group, The Zioneers. However, by 1952, Bobby Byrd was ready to found his own gospel group, which he named The Gospel Starlighters.

Joining Bobby Byrd in The Gospel Starlighters was his sister Sarah. Before long, The Gospel Starlighters were a popular draw when they sang locally. However, it wasn’t long Bobby Byrd was expanding his repertoire, and started to sing secular music. Bobby Byrd knew that the elders had his local church disapproved of secular music so crossed the county line to sing R&B.

Bobby Byrd joined a South Carolina based group The Avons, whose  lineup featured Nafloyd Scott, Fred Pulliam and Doyle Oglesby. The final piece of the jigsaw was Bobby Byrd who sang lead vocals and played piano and organ. For Bobby Byrd, this was his introduction to secular music and R&B.

In 1953, Bobby Byrd decided to attend a local baseball game. His decision to head to the ball game changed the course of his career. At the game, Bobby Byrd met convicted felon James Brown, who was an inmate at Alto Reform School. He had been sentenced as a sixteen year old in 1948. Despite that, Bobby Byrd wanted to help James Brown.

This resulted in the Byrd family overseeing Brown’s parole when he was released from Alto Reform School. By then, Bobby Byrd was still leading his own group who sung mostly cover versions. They were known locally as the Bobby Byrd Group. However, in 1954, the group became The Famous Flames, which was the group that James Brown asked to join.

By then, The Famous Flames were a popular draw, and were never short of bookings. They were managed by Barry Tremier who got them bookings in Georgia and South Carolina. Despite enjoying a degree of success some changes were made to The Famous Flames’ lineup and James Brown became the group’s new drummer.

Before long, James Brown wanted to become the group’s lead singer. Eventually, Bobby Byrd who was the lead singer relented and James Brown became The Famous Flames’ new frontman. By then, they were managed by Little Richard’s manager Clint Brantley.

When Little Richard made a breakthrough, The Famous Flames’ manager suddenly was spending all his time managing the rock ’n’ roller. Things changed when Little Richard signed to Speciality. Suddenly, Clint Brantley turned his attention to his other group, The Famous Flames, whose line was about to change.

Two of the original members of the group, Fred Pulliam and Doyle Oglesby, were replaced by Nashpendle Knox and Johnny Terry another alumni of the Alto Reform School. This new lineup of The Famous Flames recorded a demo of Please Please Me in late 1955. 

Please Please Me was a song that The Famous Flames had been part of their stage show for some time. Gradually, the song took shape, and eventually, they felt the song was ready to record. When Ralph Bass at King heard the demo, he decided to offer The Famous Flames a recording contract.

Ralph Bass was head of King’s Federal imprint, which would sign Bobby Byrd in 1963. That was still to come. Meanwhile, Please Please Me was recorded and released as a single on Federal later in 1955. That was when the problems started.

Please Please Me should’ve been credited to The Famous Flames. Instead, it was credited to James Brown and The Famous Flames. This was because Federal saw James Brown as the star of the group. That wasn’t only problem with Please Please Me. It should’ve been credited The Flames, who Bobby Byrd believed cowrote the song. However, Please Please Me was credited to James Brown and Johnny Terry, the Alto Reform School graduates. This must have been galling for Bobby Byrd as he watched the single The Flames cowrote reach number six in the US R&B charts. Bobby Byrd had been betrayed.

This resulted in a feeling of mistrust within The Flames. Rather than remove James Brown and Johnny Terry from The Flames straight away, the group limped on until April 1957. Somewhat belatedly, James Brown was asked to leave the group.

Despite being asked to leave The Flames, James Brown continued to use The Flames’ name. Despite that, his career stalled, and Syd Nathan the owner of King was starting to lose patience with James Brown.

Meanwhile, the rest of The Flames were now calling themselves Byrd’s Drops Of Joy. Just like James Brown, commercial success continued to elude Byrd’s Drops Of Joy. Eventually Bobby Byrd decided return to work with James Brown. Given what had happened a few years earlier, this was a surprising decision.

Not long after the pair were reunited James Brown released Try Me in late 1958, which gave him the first sixteen US R&B number ones. This was just in time, as King label owner Syd Nathan was beginning to think Please Please Me was a one-off hit.

After the success of Try Me, James Brown and The Famous Flames made their debut at the Harlem Apollo. This was the biggest show of their career. It was the first of many appearances James Brown would make at the Harlem Apollo.

After making his debut at the Harlem Apollo, James Brown and his revue headed out on the road. They were constantly in demand and crisscrossed America playing live. That was despite just one hit in 1959, I Want You So Bad which reached twenty in the US R&B charts. Apart from that, the hits dried up for James Brown during 1959.

Things improved during 1960, with James Brown four top twenty hits with I’ll Go Crazy, Think, You’ve Got The Power and This Old Heart. Much of 1960 was spent playing live, and his revue was taking shape. James Brown was a hard taskmaster and set high standards for members of the revue. This included the singers, who since 1959, had started to release singles.

The first to do so was bandleader James Davis, who released Doodlebug, which was credited to Nat Kendricks and The Swans in 1959. It reached the top ten in the US R&B charts. Then in 1960, Baby Lloyd became the first vocalist to front a James Brown 

Production, when I Need Love was released on Atco. It was the first of many James Brown Productions released over the years. This included the James Brown Productions on the Bobby Byrd compilation Help For My Brother: The Pre-Funk Singles 1963-1968.

Between 1960 and 1963, seven of James Brown singles reached the top ten in US R&B singles charts. Another six reached the top twenty in the US R&B singles charts. For James Brown, this was the most successful period of his career. It gave him an advantage when he entered negotiations with Syd Nathan the owner of King. As a result, a number of James Brown Productions were released between 1961 and 1963. One of the artists who was produced by James Brown was Bobby Byrd, who signed to Federal in early 1963.

Bobby Byrd’s first single for was I Found Out which he penned with James Brown and Johnny Terry. On the B-Side was  They Are Sayin’ a Bobby Byrd and James Brown composition. The funky, soulful mid-tempo I Found Out was released on Federal in April 1963, and featured a heartfelt vocal from Bobby Byrd. However, the single failed to find the audience it deserved and Bobby Byrd didn’t release another single for Federal between 1963 and 1968.

For the remainder of 1963, Bobby Byrd’s solo career was put on hold. James Brown was in the midst of negotiations with King, and at the end of 1963, signed a deal with Mercury. Part of the deal was that Mercury would release all James Brown Productions on their Smash and Blue Rock imprints.

I’m Just A Nobody Parts 1 and 2 was Bobby Byrd’s debut for Smash. This was another Bobby Byrd and James Brown composition, and it was released in early 1964. It featured Bobby Byrd at his most soulful, as he delivers a needy, hopeful vocal against an arrangement that features an accordion. Sometimes, Bobby Byrd sounds like James Brown on Please Please Me on what’s one of the finest singles he released on Smash. However, Bobby Byrd had no way of knowing how well his singles were performing, as Billboard had stopped compiling the US R&B charts between 1963 and 1965. 

For his next single, Bobby Byrd joined forces with Anna King on Baby Baby Baby. It’s a James Brown and Jimmy Crawford song that was arranged by Sammy Lowe. They two members of the James Brown revue were responsible for a barnstorming version of Baby Baby Baby. They trade vocals and prove a potent partnership. Alas, when the single was released in April 1964, it was only a minor hit in Britain and America. However, it’s stood the test of time.

James Brown and Ted Wright wrote I Love You So which became  Bobby Byrd’s next single. On the B-Side was the Howard Biggs’ composition Write Me A Letter. When I Love You So was released in May 1964, it featured a heart-wrenching, emotive vocal from Bobby Byrd. The flip-side Write Me A Letter is very different from anything Bobby Byrd had recorded as he drops his vocal and unleashes rough, gruff vocal on this dance track. It shows Bobby Byrd’s versatility. However, still Bobby Byrd’s breakthrough single continued elude him.

Having recorded songs penned by other people on his last two singles, Bobby Byrd wrote the ballad I’ve Got A Girl with Ted Wright. It features another heartfelt vocal where Bobby Byrd combines emotion and power. On the B-Side was the uptempo dancer I’m Lonely which Bobby Byrd and Sylvester Keels penned. I’ve Got A Girl was released in September 1964, but again, failed to find an audience. This was frustrating for Bobby Byrd who continued to release singles that oozed quality.

That was the case with We Are In Love a Bobby Byrd and Bobby Jones composition. They wrote the B-Side No One Like My Baby with Walter Foster. When We Are In Love was released in January 1965, it features a swinging, uptempo arrangement and stab of blazing horns. They played their part in the success of We Are In Love which reached number fourteen in the newly reinstated US R&B charts. After five attempts Bobby Byrd had his first hit single.

Buoyed by the success of We Are In Love, Bobby Byrd and Ted Wright wrote  Time Will Make A Change and the The Way I Feel. When the two songs were recorded, Time Will Make A Change which sounds as if it was based on I Found Out, was chosen as the single. It was released in May 1965, and features a soul-baring vocal, cooing harmonies and bursts of horns. This was a potent combination, but not enough to give Bobby Byrd another hit single. 

The Bobby Byrd and Ted Wright songwriting partnership reconvened and wrote the heart-wrenching bluesy ballad Let Me Know and the understated soul of You’re Gonna Need My Lovin’. It was Let Me Know that was released by Smash in September 1965. Despite being one of Bobby Byrd’s finest singles for Smash, history repeated itself and the single failed to find the audience it deserved.

Meanwhile, James Brown had returned to King in the summer of 1965, and would enjoy a top five single with I Got You (I Feel Good) towards the end of the year. The self-styled Godfather of Funk was enjoying much more success than the man who discovered him Bobby Byrd. 

He returned in January 1966 with a cover of Oh, What A Night. In Bobby Byrd’s hands the song becomes a beautiful, tender ballad with a horn chart that harked back to a different era. On the B-Side was the Nat Jones and James Brown composition Lost In The Mood Of Changes. However, when the single was released, it failed commercially. It may have been Oh, What A Night was at odds with musical tastes in 1966? By then, the psychedelic era was in full swing, and musical tastes were changing, and changing fast.

Another eight months before Bobby Byrd returned with a new single. Meanwhile, James Brown was working with his latest signing Vicki Anderson. She would release Wide Awake In A Dream on De Luxe in June 1966.

Three months later, Bobby Byrd returned with a cover a cover of Nat Jones’ Ain’t No Use in September 1966. Brash horns and harmonies accompany Bobby Byrd as he unleashes a vocal that is a mixture of power and emotion. Tucked away on the B-Side was Let Me Know a heartfelt ballad penned by Bobby Byrd and Ted Wright. Both sides showcased a truly talented vocalists who should’ve been enjoying a successful career. Sadly, when Ain’t No Use was released, it failed commercially. For Bobby Byrd this was the last single he released on Smash.

In 1967, Bobby Byrd signed to King and released I’ll Keep Pressing On. It was a string drenched ballad where Bobby Byrd lays bare his soul. Despite the quality of I’ll Keep Pressing On, the single never troubled the charts. This was an inauspicious start to Bobby Byrd’s career at King.

For his second single for King, Bobby Byrd recorded Funky Soul a two-part dancer written by James Brown, Bud Hobgood and James Crawford. Funky Soul #1 Part 1 was released in September 1967, with Funky Soul #1 Part 2 on the B-Side. It found Bobby Byrd delivering his vocal over a trademark James Brown groove. While this was different to his last couple of singles, still commercial success eluded Bobby Byrd.

Nothing more was heard of Bobby Byrd until February 1968, when  he released a duet with James Brown, You’ve Got To Change Your Mind. Despite the presence of James Brown, the single wasn’t the success that many had forecast. Hidden away on the B-Side was the Bobby Byrd, James Brown and Bud Hobgood composition I’ll Lose My Mind. Stabs of horns punctuate the arrangement as cooing harmonies accompany Bobby Byrd. His vocal veers between tender to powerful and emotive, and occasionally, he resorts to James Brown inspired yelps on this hidden gem.

The final single on Help For My Brother: The Pre-Funk Singles 1963-1968, was a cover of My Concerto. On the B-Side was You Gave Me Hope, which Bobby Byrd wrote with James Brown and Bud Hobgood. However, when the rueful ballad My Concerto was released on King later in 1968, it failed to chart. For Bobby Byrd this marked the end of his spell at King.

The two years Bobby Byrd had spent at King had been an unsuccessful, and none of the singles came close to troubling the charts. When Bobby Byrd looked back at the five years period that is documented on Help For My Brother: The Pre-Funk Singles 1963-1968 he must have felt that he had underachieved. 

He was a talented singer and songwriter, but only enjoyed just one US R&B hit single with We Are In Love in 1965. Many of the other singles he released for Federal, Smash and King should’ve fared better. However, by then, soul was no longer as popular as it once had been. 

Musical tastes were changing, and many saw soul as yesterday’s music. Pop, psychedelia and rock were now the musical flavours of the month. It looked as if soul was about to follow in the footsteps of blues and jazz, which was no longer as popular as they had once been. Just like soul, they had to evolve or risk irrelevance.

Out of necessity, fusion and psychedelic soul were born in the late sixties. This ensured that jazz and soul remained relevant, and lived to fight another day. 

Despite music continuing to evolve, Bobby Byrd’s music stood still. He continued to record ballads, blues, dancers and the occasional funk track. While many of the these tracks oozed quality, they failed to find an audience. Maybe James Brown as the wrong producer for Bobby Byrd, and he needed someone who would’ve tried to take his music in a different direction? 

Maybe Federal, Smash and King were the wrong labels for Bobby Byrd? At these labels, Bobby Byrd was always in James Brown’s shadow. Sometimes, it seemed James Brown was trying to work with too many artists at the one time, and other times, he was working with his latest signing or next big hope. Meanwhile, singers like Bobby Byrd had wait their turn until the ‘great man’ would grant him an audience with him.

As a result, it was no surprise that after the release of My Concerto in 1968, Bobby Byrd parted company with James Brown. So had Vicki Anderson, who Bobby Byrd would later marry. The pair released a single Here Is My Everything on ABC. 

Just over a year later in 1969, James Brown and Vicki Anderson returned to the James Brown revue in 1969. This time round, Bobby Byrd was James Brown’s right hand man. A year later in 1970, Bobby Byrd played an important role in the sound and success of James Brown biggest hit single Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine. 

In August 1970, Bobby Byrd returned to the charts with I Need Help (I Can’t Do It Alone) Pt.1. This was his first hit in five years. Soon, two became three when I Know You Got Soul was released in May 1971, and gave Bobby Byrd his third hit single.  

Two years later, and Bobby Byrd parter company with James Brown for the last time. Their partnership had lasted for the best part of twenty years. During that period, James Brown enjoyed a string of hit singles and successful albums. Sadly, Bobby Byrd didn’t enjoy anywhere like the same success.

Many of Bobby Byrd’s singles failed to find the audience they deserved, and slipped under the musical radar. This included many of the singles on Bobby Byrd-Help For My Brother: The Pre-Funk Singles 1963-1968, which was released by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records. These singles and the B-Sides are a reminder of one of the most underrated soul men of early sixties, Bobby Byrd who could’ve and should’ve reached greater heights, if things had been different.

Bobby Byrd-Help For My Brother: The Pre-Funk Singles 1963-1968.

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