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SOUL TO SOUL: DAVID NATHAN
With all the work I have to do – writing bios, updating the website, doing liner notes – you would think I’d be crazy to commit to yet another writing project. But, sitting in my one bedroom apartment in sunny-but-increasingly-strange Los Angeles and moved as I was the other day to spontaneously listen to tracks from Stevie Wonder’s classic album “Music Of My Mind,” it occurred to me that I really wanted a place to share my thoughts, maybe provide a little inspiration and expand the dialog I have been so fortunate to have with my fellow soul music lovers worldwide…

I don’t know where each of these pages will go - they may end up as the basis for a future book. I may get very personal. I may share some of my most intimate thoughts and feelings. I may talk about some of my experiences with music folks I’ve met and loved – and a few that I haven’t. I will for sure talk about music and what I’m listening to and what effect it might be having on me.. Like, for instance what drew me to suddenly bring out two Stevie CDs and select certain songs and play them over and over…

Well, Stevie Wonder’s music has actually been a part of my life for more years than I care to remember! I wasn’t one of those early, early devotees. Don’t remember hearing “Fingertips” when it first came out but I do remember “Uptight” which was probably the first Stevie song that registered with me. A 1987 visit to the Motown Museum on the very spot where that track was recorded reminded me also of my very first encounter with Mr. Wonder. So funny, here I was at the Museum on Woodward Boulevard looking at suits worn by the Temptations and sequined gowns which had once adorned the shapely frame of one of the star female groups that made Motown such a major force in the ’60s. I spied a table on which there was an array of magazines and I see “Hitsville U.S.A.”

Now, that was the publication created by the British Tamla Motown Appreciation Society and more accurately by the virtually the ‘Godfather’ of soul music in the U.K., my longtime friend Dave Godin who was also one of my partners in Soul City, the first record store in the U.K. entirely devoted to the music of Black America. Dave had started the Society a few years before we met in 1965 when I had just begun my own Appreciation Society for Nina Simone. Dave was already somewhat of a legend among the small coterie of dedicated R&B music lovers that were responsible for promoting and exposing R&B to the masses by all means necessary – which usually meant letter-writing campaigns in support of our favorite soul singers to music papers like “New Musical Express,” “Record Mirror” and “Melody Maker.” Our little ‘in crowd’ included folks like the late Gloria Marcantonio (who ran the Shirelles fan club, later expanded to include others on the Scepter-Wand labels, most notably, soulful diva Dionne Warwick); Mike Critchley and Raymond Cutkelvin, a then-couple who headed the Martha & Vandellas club and who be responsible for taking me to my first gay club and would become my roommates shortly thereafter; Enid Buckland- Evers, the affable leader of the Doris Troy fan club, who would be a friend in time of need when I needed a shoulder to cry on as a result of a love-gone-bad situation; and Bob Nessling, the head of the Irma Thomas fan club whose lover would have a key – but by no means happy - role in my life journey…but more about that another time…

So here I am, looking at this February 1966 issue of “Hitsville USA” and I flick to through the pages to the centerfold…to find photos of Stevie Wonder, his tutor, his good friend and Motown producer Clarence Paul, Dave Godin and myself, aged 17! Bespectacled, with my Beatle-styled mop top in what was likely my first ever photo op with a celebrity! I was stunned and turned to Doris Holland, the gracious lady who was showing me around the Museum. Excitedly, I show Doris the photos, “That’s me!” I scream in disbelief, realizing that I am now part and parcel of Motown’s illustrious history by virtue of a twenty- year old black-and-white pic!

So…you see, Stevie Wonder has been in my life a long time. Fast forward to just a few weeks ago when I am giving a CD to a friend and as I step outside my building, he’s playing KJLH, the radio station that Stevie has owned for quite a few years. That evening, they’re running through some of the Wonder-ful tunes in his vast catalog and somehow the memory of those songs stays with me through to the very next day, a Saturday. Can’t get Stevie tunes out of my head and I focus on two in particular – “Superwoman” from “Music Of My Mind” and “Lately” from ”Hotter Than July.” I play the songs a few times and marvel at the wonder of Wonder. And “Superwoman” becomes my new ‘song of the month.’ It isn’t the first part of the song as much as it is that section that begins “When the winter came, you were not around…”

Now, not an unusual occurrence, I am singing along with intensity and while there is nobody that comes to mind when I sing the line, “where were you when I need you, like right now,” I do ‘feel’ the lyric like there was somebody who I needed right there and then… That, of course, is the power of music which will make you feel like you just came out of love when the truth is, you ain’t been in love for as far back as you can remember! You may have been in major ‘like’ and there have been more than a few folks who could have turned your world upside down but the truth is, love has not been knockin’ on the door any time of late…

And, as I listen again to “Superwoman” and then “Lately,” I can’t help but play “All I Do” and “Rocket Love” and even though no one has ‘dropped me back down to this cold cold world,’ I do recognize how cold the world can be. Like, all I have to do is turn on CNN and see the latest news and I am reminded of just how cold it really is sometimes. But music, as ever the healer, does not bring me down. I could be sad and consider that my soul didn't sign up for all of this madness...but then I am here, so on some level, I know I'm meant to be here to witness it all...

Rather than drowning in my own tears with the 'I ain't-got-nobody' blues as I might have done in times past, I feel the power of song and I bathe in the amazing glory of Stevie Wonder once more. I recognize that through track after track – including all- time favorites like “Girl Blue” (also on “Music Of My Mind," a song Stevie supposedly wrote after hearing Aretha sing or talk at the late King Curtis’ funeral in 1970) and both “Tuesday Heartbreak” and “Maybe Your Baby” from the brilliant “Talking Book” – he is one of the most prolific, profound and brilliant composers of our time…

The power of music to bring back memories is simply phenomenal, isn’t it? Today, a lazy kind of Sunday and I ended it with a trip back down to the real source of my love for music. I decided that it had way too long since I’d listened to some vintage Dionne Warwick, the real songs of my youth, the brilliant material written and produced by the amazing team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the soulful miss from New Jersey…

I could have played the obvious hits, songs like “Walk On By” (still my favorite record of all time), “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” “Reach Out For Me” and “You’ll Never Get To Heaven,” the latter two also among my favorite Warwick recordings. I did pick a few charted songs – “Message To Michael,” “Trains And Boats And Planes,” even “Alfie” and the ever-gorgeous “Here I Am.” And, as is my custom, I opened my patio door and sang along note for note, lost in the sheer beauty of each song. While I loved each and every one of those magical tunes, it was some of the old album cuts that stirred feelings within, taking me back to a place when love was a new feeling and teenage loneliness was an all-too-constant companion. “How Many Days Of Sadness” along with “Don’t Say I Didn’t Tell You So,” two songs from a 1965 LP, “The Sensitive Sound Of Dionne Warwick.” Oh, how I loved that album, song for song – even the out-of-place raging of “You Can Have Him,” a cover of a Roy Hamilton hit.

As I poured my heart and lungs back into those songs this hot L.A. July night, I was transported back to London, back to the little room above the fish-and-chip shop that my Dad managed. That little gramophone…and my big crush. Her name – yes, her name – was Bernice. She was an Irish redhead, the girlfriend of one of the guys who worked for my father. His name was John, a handsome Greek man who oozed sexuality and was always teasing me about my state of virginity. He’d make little comments here and there suggesting it was time for me to discover the joys of sex. Little did John know that in my fantasies, Bernice was the girl I imagined would turn this boy into a man… Of course, when I asked her one night if she’d like to come up to my little play room and listen to “The Sensitive Sound Of Dionne Warwick,” he just might have become a little suspicious. Not that I was a threat or competition for him: John was virile, what we in England called a ‘lad,’ a fly guy and me? Well, kinda nerdy, just out of short trousers, bespectacled and not exactly worldly when it came to matters of the heart! I had had a crush or two but Bernice was different: she was real, not a school girl I’d eye from a distance.

As I played “Don’t Say I Didn’t Tell You So” and “Forever My Love” and “Is There Another Way To Love You,” I imagined that Bernice would finally see how much I really loved her for who she was not. That, unlike John, I would be hers forever. That I wouldn’t dream of breaking her heart. That she would indeed put an end to my many days of sadness. She was kind, she smiled, she laughed and she loved that Dionne Warwick LP! But my hopes and dreams were dashed: she and John got into a fight and yes, he told her he didn’t like her hanging out with a mere teenage schoolboy. No doubt my own parents had said a word or two to him: the household was already awash with secret liaisons and forbidden rendezvous with my Dad sneaking around on my Mum, unbeknownst to me, and no doubt they did not want the pattern repeated with their impressionable young son! It would indeed have been scandalous had Bernice responded to my amorous interest right there under the same roof with her boyfriend downstairs working till all hours….

Eventually, John and Bernice split and I moved on from Dionne’s album to Nina Simone and a whole other world of love, passion and pain…but that’s a whole other story. Thirty-eight years later, as I sing along now with a richness and understanding of what those Hal David lyrics really mean, I still wonder ‘how many days of sadness’ but being a die-hard romantic, I believe love can still be just around the corner…

Yes, the memories music evokes can be bittersweet but they can be so full of pure joy too. When I was watching Earth, Wind & Fire at The Greek Theater a week or so ago, I was taken back to my first major concert, just months after arriving, a timid Englishman decked out with a massive Afro and a colorful dashiki.

Madison Square Garden, New York City, around April ’75. Maurice, Verdine, Philip, Ralph, back then Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Johnny Graham Fred White. At The Greek, the show ends with “Devotion,” “Keep Your Head To The Sky” and “That’s The Way Of The World.” Pure inspiration, pure magic. And I’m back at The Garden, watching thousands of people turn on their lighters, strike a match and illuminate that vast venue as EW&F lifted our spirits with those very same song. A little tear forms in my eye at The Greek as I think of how my life has changed. How one conversation with Maurice White on board a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle changed my life forever, opening up questions to do with my very existence, my soul’s journey, mortality, immortality. Yes, me and Percy Bryant and my friend Yvonne, we were there at Madison Square Garden that night not knowing the pathways that lay ahead for each of us…Percy and I eventually moving to Los Angeles, me in hopes we’d be a couple, him in search of the woman of his dreams… But again, another story for another time. Four years later, back in New

York, I’d go to another EW&F show, this time with a fine Puerto Rican man, Nestor Figueroa who would also be an instrument for life-altering change, opening the doors for me to discover a world of transformation…

Music, y’all, the mighty mighty power of music….

About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.
  
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