R.B. Greaves – 1969 – R.B. Greaves
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The amazing debut of R.B. Greaves – a soul singer with a difference!
RB struck big with this album on late 60s Atlantic Records – yet despite production at Muscle Shoals, and arrangements from Arif Mardin, the sound here is quite different than most of his contemporaries – and certainly not the southern soul you’d expect! Instead, Greaves goes for a crackling quality that really showcases his trans-American roots – a vibe that’s almost like Johnny Nash at points, and has a similar way of embracing a whole host of different sounds at one time – not just late 60s soul, but some other undercurrents of pop, and even some occasional folksy or island flavors as well. The album’s standout hit is the legendary “Take A Letter Maria” – a cut that broke big on both sides of the tracks, and which is one of the most compelling story songs of the time.
A1 Always Something There To Remind Me 3:09
A2 Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) 4:58
A3 Take A Letter Maria 2:42
A4 Cupid 2:59
A5 This Is Soul 2:30
B1 Ballad Of Leroy 4:07
B2 Ain’t That Good News 3:29
B3 Birmingham, Alabama 2:26
B4 Home To Stay 2:57
B5 Oh When I Was A Boy 2:31
Ronald Bertram Aloysius Greaves III, 28 November 1944, Georgetown, British Guyana. This singer, half north American Indian, made his greatest impact with the 1969 single, ‘Take A Letter Maria’. A nephew of Sam Cooke, Greaves had built a career both in the Caribbean and in the UK, where he performed as Sonny Childs with his group the TNTs. His biggest hit had been recorded by both Tom Jones and Stevie Wonder before the author recorded it himself at the insistence of Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun, who produced it.
The ska-flavoured soul song peaked at number 2 in the US charts in late 1969. Greaves recorded a series of cover records as follow-ups, including Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me’, James Taylor’s ‘Fire And Rain’ and Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’. All charted, as did his self-titled 1970 album. Greaves left the label in the 70s when Ertegun could no longer spare time to work with him directly. He recorded briefly for MGM Records and then turned to country music without much commercial success.
By far the best release of his short career, that claim doesn’t say much for Greaves, because this record is as sporadic as they come. Containing the self-penned sing-along hit “Take a Letter Maria” at points Greaves shows signs of developing into a successful pop songwriter. Yet, just as the salsa-flavored horns on “…Maria” leave you smiling, Greaves’ reading of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” and the Bacharach-David classic “Always Something There to Remind Me” leave the listener frustrated.
It seems his voice is never as smooth as a pop singer, never as gritty as an R&B singer, and the middle ground he treads is devoid of any true feeling. Even the fact that the album was produced by Ahmet Ertegun and recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound cannot make up for the lack of emotional conviction in Greaves’ voice.
His 2nd and final album
Seven years later he produced this album for the short lived Bareback label. All 10 tracks are written by Greaves, who has a way with both lyrics and music reminiscent of “Drift Away” hit maker, Dobie Gray – a perfect mix of soul music with some distinct country undertones.
That is perfectly illustrated by the tale of infidelity that is “Who’s Watching The Baby (Margie)” a minor US hit in 1977. This long sought after collector’s item is available on CD too.