As a child, my dad used to get these tapes from Time Life and I distinctly remember singing songs like, “Down Home Blues” and “Stormy Monday Blues”. At the time, I had no clue what the songs meant or who sang them, but as long as my daddy listened to them, I listened to them and grew a great appreciation for what many consider, Southern Soul Music. The origins of Southern Soul Music are not complex, it emerged in the south. Often tagged as deep soul or country soul, popular artists are Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, Lee Dorsey, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding to name a few. The music originated from a combination of styles including blues (both 12 bar and jump), country and western, early rock and roll, and a strong gospel influence that emanated from the sounds of Southern African-American churches. The focus of the music was not on its lyrics, but on the “feel” or the groove. This rhythmic force made it a strong influence in the rise of funk music.
The term “southern soul” refers to music recorded in studios south of the Mason-Dixon line but is also applied to musical styles that were developed there, regardless of where recording took place. For example, Aretha Franklin’s Atlantic recordings were often laid down in New York, but the sound was authentically southern, and not just because the key Muscle Shoals players were flown up to the Big Apple to accompany her.
Some confusion regarding the term is due to the prevalence of the genre northern soul, which refers not to a geographical location in the U.S., but to one in the U.K., despite the fact that the music is almost exclusively American in origin. While the slicker sounds of Philadelphia soul, Chicago soul, and the Motown Sound in Detroit were created almost exclusively by African-Americans, a significant number of the major contributors to southern soul and deep soul have been Caucasian. In fact, one of the most acclaimed southern soul songwriting teams, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, were white, as were many Stax musicians and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
Southern Soul music is still being recorded and played all over the world, as other genres move to the forefront of music, many forget the true origins of soul music but it’s living, breathing and kicking.