Cult Classic: Sam Dees-The Show Must Go On.

Sam Dees is, without doubt, one of music’s best kept secrets  and has been described as one of the best singers you’ve never heard. His career began back in the late-sixties but sadly, commercial success and critical acclaim never came Sam Dees’ way. As a result, nowadays he’s better known as a songwriter and producer. 

That’s why nowadays, Sam Dees is described as: “a prolific songwriter and occasional performer.” That seems a fitting description of Sam Dees, who has written nearly four-hundred songs. However, during a career stretching six decades he has only released a trio of albums. 

Clearly, Sam Dees believes in quality over quantity. Anyone whose heard Sam’s 1975 debut album The Show Must Go On will be forced to agree. It’s his Magnus Opus and an album that would be almost impossible to surpass.

Although Sam Dees career started in the late-sixties, he didn’t released his debut album until 1975. By then, he was signed to Atlantic Records. His debut album was released to widespread critical acclaim, but despite this, The Show Must Go On  failed commercially. Since then, The Show Must Go On is regarded as a Southern Soul classic.

Sam Dees was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in December 1945. 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.

By the time he was nine, Sam  Dees was already a veteran of numerous talent contests. Having won a many talent shows he decided to form his own group The Bossanovians.  It wasn’t long before people released Sam Dees was a prodigious talent.

When he was ten it became apparent to those around Sam Dees that he had a way with words. Unlike most ten year olds, he was writing poetry and songs. Looking back, Sam Dees was something of a musical prodigy, and it’s no surprise that he would make a career as a songwriter. Before that, he had dreams of becoming a singer.

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

Given Sam Dees 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 and had released a trio of albums, to varying degrees of success. His fourth album  Patches, was released in 1970 and was produced by Rick Hall and featured some of Memphis’ top musicians and backing vocalists. Patches also featured songs from some top songwriters, including Sam Dees. He wrote Changes, a heartbreakingly beautiful slice of Southern Soul. For Sam Dees, an up-and-coming singer and songwriter, writing a song for Clarence Carter was something of a coup. He was, after all, signed to Atlantic Records, one of the biggest soul labels. Little did Sam realise that in a few years, he’d be signed to Atlantic Records. Before that, Sam signed to another famous label, Chess Records.

1971 proved to be an important year for Sam Dees. He signed to Chess Records, and released two singles, the Larry Weiss penned Maryanna and Can You Be A One Man Woman. Despite the quality  of the singles Sam released he still hadn’t made a commercial breakthrough. However,  at least other artists were covering his songs.

Rozetta Johnson covered A Woman’s Way. It  was the B-Side to her single Mine Was Real. Sam Dees also wrote both songs with his wife Lillian Dees, and co-produced the songs with Clinton Moon. Released on Clintone Records, it reached number ninety-four in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts. This was the first hit single Sam had written. Despite this, he saw himself as a singer first, and then a songwriter.

Having written and produced his first hit single, Sam Dees 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 his career was on the up.

By the early seventies, Atlantic Records was a musical institution and 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. However, at least a song Sam cowrote proved much more successful.

Stop This Merry-Go-Round was was a song Sam Dees, 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. Again, Sam was enjoying more success writing songs than singing them. Still he wasn’t for turning his back on his solo career.

Sam Dees returned to his solo career in 1974 and 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. Sam was about to release his debut album The Show Must Go On. It featured ten tracks. Four were penned by Sam, including The Show Must Go On, Come Back Strong, What’s It Gonna Be and Good Guys. Sam cowrote Claim Jumpin’ and So Tied Up with William Brandon. He also cowrote Just Out Of Reach with James Lewis and Worn Out Broken Heart with Sandra Drayton. Child Of The Streets was a collaboration between Sam and David Cammon. The pair also cowrote Troubled Child with Al Gardner. These ten tracks became The Show Must Go On,  and were recorded at two studios in Birmingham, Alabama.

To record his debut album The Show Must Go On, Sam headed to home to Birmingham, Alabama. He recorded The Show Must Go On at two studios, New London Studios and Sound Of Birmingham.  For the recording sessions, Sam drafted in a small, tight band. The rhythm section featured drummer Sherman “Fats” Carson. bassist David Camon and guitarist Glen Woods. Arrangers included Randy Richards, Ronnie Harris, Skip Lane and Sam. Aaron Varnell arranged the horns on Claim Jumpin.’ Sam played piano and produced The Show Must Go On, which was released in 1975.

Sadly, when The Show Must Go On was released, musical tastes had changed. Disco was now King. Soul albums weren’t selling well and The Show Must Go On wasn’t a commercial success. Neither were the singles The Show Must Go On, nor Fragile, Handle With Care. For Sam Dees 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. 

When Sam Dees released The Show Must Go On in 1975, it failed  hailed a Southern Soul classic. Sadly, The Show Must Go On wasn’t commercial success. Disco was now the most popular musical genre. Soul albums weren’t selling well. Even classic albums like The Show Must Go On, which oozes quality.

That’s apparent from the opening bars of Child Of The Streets, right through to the closing notes of So Tied Up, The Show Must Go On oozes quality. Love songs sit comfortably side-by-side with songs full of social comment on The Show Must Go On. Child Of The Streets, Troubled Child and What’s It Gonna Be were full of searing social comment. Southern Soul had found its conscience. However,  Sam Dees was just as comfortable being Southern Soul’s conscience as he was writing love songs.Good as he was at both, Sam shines on the love songs.  

He breathes life, meaning and emotion into songs like The Show Must Go On, Come Back Strong, Just Out of Reach, Worn Out Broken Heart, Good Guys and Tied Up. They’re songs about love lots and love found. During these tracks, the betrayal, hurt, loneliness come to life. So do the hope and joy. Sam sings the lyrics as if he’s lived, loved and survived the lyrics. Other times, he sounds as if he’s experienced the hope and joy that love brings. This makes the music on  The Show Must Go On sound very personal. That’s why, Sam’s versions are the definitive versions. Good as Loleatta Holoway’s version of The Show Must Go On and Worn Out Broken Heart were, Sam’s responsible for the definitive versions. That’s the case with several songs on The Show Must Go On. Despite this, other singers are better known for their cover versions than Sam’s original.

That is because after the commercial failure of The Show Must Go On, Sam Dees decided to concentrate more on his career as a songwriter. He 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 establish a reputation as one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. That’s no exaggeration. However, there’s more to Sam Dees than his songwriting skills.

Proof of that is Sam’s debut album The Show Must Go On. It’s a Southern Soul classic from one of the most underrated singers in the history of soul music. That’s why sometimes, Sam is one of the best singers you’ve never heard of. Given his undoubted talent, Sam Dees should’ve enjoyed a successful career as a singer. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Instead, Sam Dees is “a prolific songwriter and occasional performer” whose debut album The Show Must Go On is  a stonewall Southern Soul classic that belongs in every record collection.

Cult Classic: Sam Dees-The Show Must Go On.





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