Phone interview recorded April 4, 2012
The legendary Dells are celebrating their incredible 60th anniversary in 2012. With an amazing legacy of recordings, this pioneering group helped create what we call soul music. SoulMusic Records is reissuing three of the group's great albums so David Nathan caught up with Chuck Barksdale to talk history and music...
David Nathan: It’s a real honor to welcome today to SoulMusic.com a gentleman who is a part of a group that justifiably calls themselves ‘mighty mighty’. This group has been together for an incredible sixty years, celebrating their Jubilee anniversary and have made probably some of the greatest music that we’ve ever heard in contemporary music, certainly in the world of R&B and soul music. Anyone who hasn’t heard of this group at this point, well, I don’t know… if you’re listening to this and you are on SoulMusic.com, you need to go check your Soul music credentials, because if you haven’t heard of The Dells, then I don’t know what to say!
Chuck Barksdale: You must have been sleeping under a rock.
David: That’s true. The gentleman who I’m about to introduce has just spoken. So, let me just say his name. This is the wonderful Mr. Chuck Barksdale of The Dells. And I want to welcome you officially to SoulMusic.com. It’s really a privilege.
Chuck: And I want to thank you… first of all let me just say this to you. Anybody that doesn’t know about The Dells and our music, they have an opportunity to exploit this because we have three wonderful CDs that are coming out, and I’m sure they’re going to enjoy getting some of this music from The Dells. We’ve already recorded some 300 some odd songs. So, this is only going to scrape the very edge of what we have done musically.
David: 300, wow.
Chuck: Yes, over 300 songs, it’s true.
David: That’s amazing.
Chuck: It is amazing. When I start to think about the many many many albums, days weeks, and months and years that we spent in the recording studios, it becomes kind of mind boggling because you think, you say wow, you mean I spent more days sometimes in the studio than I did at home with my wife and kids?
David: Right. But all in a good cause, obviously.
Chuck: Listen. Let me tell you something. There’s a mighty God that put The Dells together from the beginning. We give praise and thanks to Him for each and every song, and every moment that we’ve spent together these sixty years. It’s been simply mind boggling, it’s been very very good. It’s been excellent, okay? And when you look at the peaks and the valleys, the ups, the downs, the go arounds, it’s like we’ve been on this merry-go-round for over sixty years and when you see this and you say that we’re getting ready to retire, you say well why would you guys retire? Then the next question you ask is why not?
David: Right. Well, I have to ask you. I almost know what you’re going to say, honestly, but I want to ask you anyway. Did you have any idea on that day in 1952 when the group really got formed, did you have any clue that you would still be recording, performing, making music, sixty years later? Did you have any idea?
Chuck: Not even after five minutes. Listen, we had no idea. It came from an idea because back during those times, there was what they call a group craze. In Chicago, there were all kinds of groups, and that word that came, or those two words that came out, they called vocal groups doo wops. That never entered into the spectrum of what The Dells were about because we came from the smooth of harmony blowing era. Like the Flamingos, the Five Keys, the Ravens, The Inkspots, etc. And there was no such thing as ‘doo wop.’ We didn’t know what the hell that was until somebody said ‘you guys are a doo wop group.’ We said, well, ‘when did that happen?’ But we have been blessed to be able to sing some of everything. We started off at the El-Rays as you very well know. And we found out that Mickey was taking Spanish in school at that time, and he said, ‘man do you know that we’ve been calling ourselves “The The Kings”’ What? He said, ‘it sounds like we’re stuttering, okay?’ But when you find out things… knowledge is power. And from the power of the knowledge that we have gained over the years, understanding who we are, what we are, and coming from a great legacy of vocal groups…we’re very honored to even be thought of and seen and heard sixty years later!
David: So, I mean, I know we could go over every decade, and we’re not going to because that would take a very very long time.
Chuck: It would take us sixty years!
David: Exactly… but I do want to ask you, as best as you can, and I know this is difficult, but when you look back at the sixty years, are there some very specific highlights? And I know that’s very difficult because if you ask me, to look back, I’m not sixty… it doesn’t matter how old I am! But, the point being, I wouldn’t even be able to do that myself. So, I know it can be quite difficult, but are there some particular events, particular milestones, that you can look at and look back at as in fact milestones in the sixty years?
Chuck: Of course. There are times when we were very doubtful that we would even be together for the next minute, let alone for the next sixty years. We won an amateur show at Thorton High School when we were young kids. We sang the Mills Brother’s “Till Then” song, and we got rave reviews and applause from the school and Thorton High School in Harvey, Illinois. We said, ‘well, maybe we should keep on singing because the girls seem to love us! ’ Then once we found out that the girls loved us, and we loved the girls, then we said, ‘what are we going to do now? We’ve gotta record for somebody.’ Then we found a guy by the name of Leonard Chess who took us so-called under his wings for the time being, gave us a recording contract, and we recorded two songs… You’ve got to have beginning. I don’t care how bad, sad, or whatever it may be, but you’ve got to have a beginning in life for everything that you do. So, we recorded these two songs. “Christine” was one side and the other song was called “Darlin’ I know”. Lord have mercy! Two of the saddest songs you ever heard in your life! And, you know, we’ll just laugh and we’ll be proud of the fact that from those two songs, it’s like hatching the biggest egg you ever saw in your life. They turned out to be great eggs, three hundred-and-some odd songs, sixty years later, my God, what a career. There’s not any other vocal group on this planet that we know of in this field of R&B, soul music, doo wop, that can claim this fame, okay? And it’s just an honor for you to be wanting to do this conversation with me. I don’t even call this an interview. This is a conversation because we can come up with all types of things that you put down on paper, but these are things that are coming from my mind, from my heart, from my soul, and I’m so proud of the fact that you did call me and we are having this conversation.
David: Okay. Well, let’s actually fast forward a little bit to talk about the reissues that you referenced at the beginning and then I want to talk about some aspects of your history, but again let’s start out with these albums that were recorded at Mercury Records. I know obviously you joined Mercury after quite a long period of time with Chess Records, Cadet Records, and then these were among the albums, I think there was a total of about four albums at Mercury. And the two that we’re specifically focused on were both produced in Philadelphia by Norman Harris and his Harris machine. The titles being THE SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE BUT WE DID IT and LOVE CONNECTION, which of course both are out this month in April on Soul Music Records here in the UK. So, tell us a little bit about your thoughts on those specific records, and actually the time of being with Mercury Records which of course, wasn’t a very long time compared to the time you spent with Chess.
Chuck: The times that we spent at Mercury were like a political campaign. That’s kind of timely for what’s happening today with the politics going on. We looked at Norman Harris because Norman Harris and his staff, when we met for the first time, in Philadelphia, were one of the more incredible and professional production teams that we’d ever worked with at that point. And that’s saying an awful lot because we had been with Charles Stepney, we had been with Bobby Miller who was a songwriter, producer, and we’d been with a number of different people, but I got to take my hat off to Norman Harris and his crew… Ron Tyson… I can’t think of everybody’s name. You have the paper work, you could probably tell me, but they locked their arms and and the talent and their professionalism and their great songs around The Dells. The production team was just incredible.
We recorded this one album THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE, and they came up with the photo session that was done that was really kind of funny because they had us all dressed in this, in these mountain climbing clothes and we fit the title in terms of the clothing that we were wearing because they said it couldn’t be done, and we were sitting on top of a mountain and then on the back of the actual album LP, you saw us sitting in the studio. It kind of made people say, ‘oh they weren’t really on a mountain.’ No, we were in a studio B so to speak. But it worked out fine, and I think out of that came some great songs. Some great songs…THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE has got some great tracks. We did a song called “Rich Man, Poor Man (Peace)” which is very relevant of today’s music, of the times that people are living in today. One of the lines is, “Rich man living up on the hill and a poor man can’t pay his bill.” I think that’s magnificent. It’s really really apropos for what we’re dealing with in the 21st century.
David: How was it recording in Philadelphia? Was it much different from recording in Chicago?
Chuck: Yes it was. I must admit because coming from Chess Records, where we were quote/unquote the “kings of the studio” there, we were very very used to being spoiled. Well, the Harris machine spoiled us even more. They wrapped their arms around us so professionally, and so well that it kind of made us feel a little bit uneasy at first. We were like ‘are these guys for real?’ Well, anytime, everything begins with a song. From a song, you build a relationship. We already had the relationship amongst the five of us. To find the producer and producers and his assistants etcetera that corralled themselves around us, embraced us with such love and admiration and respect, you could do nothing but go in the studio and do your best in terms of vocalizing. It was just a wonderful, there’s a negative and a positive. Some people say man ‘you ain’t nothing but a trip,’ that meant something negative. But this here was a wonderful blessed trip.
David: I’m looking at the lists of songs and a couple of them that stand out for me, I just want to ask you about really quickly. There’s a great ballad on there called “Betcha You’ve Never Been Loved Like This Before.”
Chuck: Ah, yeah. Good song. That kind of being a waltz type thing. Supposedly we were the guys that were singing to our women, whoever they might be at that time. ‘The love that I’m giving you, bringing you, whatever, bet you’ve never been loved like this before, baby.’ Whatever it is. So, you know, braggadocios.
David: Then, of course, then because of that album and obviously you got a good response, you guys went back to Philadelphia to do a second album called LOVE CONNECTION, which also has wonderful songs on it. As anyone who’s going to listen to the album will find, it’s very much a Philadelphia produced album. It has the flavor of the kind of musicianship of those guys in Philadelphia. It’s great, wonderful vocals, but the one song on there that really stood out for me is not typical of what’s on a Philadelphia [album], it’s the song “Wasted Tears”.
Chuck: “Wasted Tears” was written by Marvin Jr. if I’m not mistaken.
David: Yes, that’s correct.
Chuck: Who was our lead singer, still is because we haven’t totally retired yet. We’re knocking at the door, we were told years earlier, or later, when The Dells retire, get up on your horses to ride on off into the sunset. But, “Wasted Tears” was a composition written by Marvin Jr. and good song.
David: Kind of reminded me of some of The Dells’ recordings from Chess.
Chuck: Well, it would have to because that’s what Marvin’s mindset was. Marvin is, when is your birthday by the way?
David: Mine? My birthday’s in February. February 15th.
Chuck: He’s an Aquarian, just like you.
David: Well. there you go.
Chuck: And you guys hang on to the past forever and two days and a half.
David: Yeah we do! We do. It’s absolutely true.
Chuck: And that’s why I’m saying that Marvin did very eloquently, he did this in terms of ‘don’t worry about so and so and blah blah blah, because those are just wasted tears.’ And wasted tears over someone that you fell in love with forever, things change, women change, men change, and there’s one bus stop that puts you off, another one will be along soon.
David: Well, it’s a great song and it’s a great album. I’m sure that, as you mentioned earlier, that when people hear these albums… many people will be hearing them for the first time because the sad part is that unfortunately when they came out, they didn’t necessarily get the kind of promotion or exposure that they deserved which is really unfortunate.
Chuck: Well, you see, that’s what happens, not only to The Dells, but it happens to a lot of black music…. that gets destroyed before it gets a chance to get to a take off in terms of becoming popular. The audience that these albums will gather, will a lot of times stand around with their mouths wide open in astonishment. How in the world did these songs never make it into the top five? How come they didn’t make it to number one? How come this didn’t so and so. THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE, LOVE CONNECTION, two of the greatest greatest LPs that were ever made by a black vocal group. With the Harris Machine, incredible music. Great great timing by whomever is putting it out now. Their mindset must be set on making a lot of money because it will sell from hence forth.
David: Well, we hope so, since it is associated with our record label SoulMusic Records. So, I’m hoping that they will sell lots!
Chuck: Well, I’ll tell you what. They will, trust me. If the company goes past doing this conversation interview, they will get miles and miles and miles of returns from people from around the world. There’s a need for this type of music. Not to knock rap or hip hop or whatever, but the vocal groups out here today are not singing like we were singing on these albums. These albums are special. They, I’ll be so glad when you send the CDs to us because I haven’t had one in years.
David: Yeah, they’ll be on the way very shortly. So, within the week, you’ll be listening to them again.
Chuck: Magnifique, because what I want to do, I want to give these albums to a lot of young kids in the States as I go around to various schools and do…I just call them ‘mind opening sessions’, to open the minds up of young kids, black, white, Italians, Spanish, English, German, French, the world. Because, when you open up the minds of kids, you move the thing of non-communication. When you have non-communication, you lose a whole entire nation. You lose people. You must be able to talk to these young kids so they understand that they are part of us and we are a part of them. And through communication, we build wonderful relations.
David: Absolutely. Is this something that you’ve been doing, going to schools to speak to different schools and different kids in America?
Chuck: You know what I’m doing? I’m in the midst of having to put [this] together, through some people that I’m working with, so that I can do as many of these lectures or these conversation pieces as I possibly can…as long as I’m able to do it.
David: That’s great. Well, lets talk now about the third album that we mentioned, that you referenced at the beginning of the conversation, which is the one that came out in 1984, so this is after leaving Mercury and going to a couple other labels and you did one album, one-off album at a label called Private I and that album of course is another one that we’re doing at SoulMusic Records in June in fact, and that is the album ONE STEP CLOSER. Much of which was produced by Marvin Yancy and Chuck Jackson, also from Chicago.
Chuck: That’s exactly right.
David: Tell us a little bit about that whole project and how it came about.
Chuck: Well, first of all, Chuck Jackson, as a lot of people don’t know is Reverend Jackson’s brother in Chicago...
David: Jesse Jackson, Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Chuck: Reverend Jesse Jackson, yes sir, who has done so many things to help our people, and help a lot people around the world, but it’s his brother, Chuck Jackson, and Marvin Yancey who was a minister and a great musician and they had worked together doing things on Natalie Cole,, they’d done things on Aretha Franklin and then they did something on The Dells. And that’s the ONE STEP CLOSER album, it was the first time that we really worked with [them]. I was there and saw this guy working on this updated machinery, instead of a live drummer, he had electronic drums and I said ‘what is this?’ I said ‘what the hell is this?’ But guess what, it worked. That’s the whole point. ONE STEP CLOSER, ‘one step closer to love, one step closer to me, one step closer to you,’ one step closer to everything, it’s great. I mean, here we are, 1984, we’ve been together for 20,000 years at that time, and here we are… 20,000 years, where did that come from?! At any rate, here we are doing these songs with Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, who are two great producers, we did, I can’t remember, we did part of the sessions here in Chicago. Some of the strings and things were recorded out in California, recorded by a gentleman by the name of Benjamin Wright.
David: Oh yeah, absolutely. I know who Benjamin Wright is.
Chuck: Benjamin Wright had been a producer and arranger and stage production musician for Gladys Knight, he had worked with The Temptations, and he was our, believe it or not, he was our arranger and stage manager for years before going.
Chuck: Yeah, the first time he came here from Mississippi, he came to Chicago and we had some wonderful sessions and times working with Benjamin Wright, who was such a meticulous piano player and musician extraordinaire. The guy that he worked with that we found in Virginia, his name was David Williams. David Williams, guitar player, who went on to so much greatness on, with Michael Jackson, I mean do I have to say more? Michael Jackson, are you kidding me? You know the song ‘Billie Jean?’ The solo part on Billie Jean was David Williams on there… I’m moving into an era where all these people become part of The Dells’ musical life and career and how important they were and how great they must have been for us to pick them up when we picked them up and how God will send people to be around you. You have no idea they’re going to be there, but when they’re there, they’re very integral and very very necessary and important. So, back to Benjamin Wright, he put the strings on one of the songs. I had gotten some money from the guy who was at the time at Private I, the President, Joe Isgro was his name. He allowed me to get $2,500 dollars, I’ll never forget it. But you’ll never think, where they recorded those strings, on the steps of a building, he put the violin players on the steps, it was incredible.
David: Why’d he do it on the steps? Why didn’t he do it in the studio?
Chuck: He had an idea. From the brains of geniuses, you never ask too many questions. You know what? You only look for results. When the results come out to be so fantastic, all you can do is say, ‘hmmm, interesting.’ So, that was Ben Wright, who I stay in touch with all the time. In fact, Ben has a studio in his own home now, which is incredible. I just was out there this past year, sadly to say, but my sister had just passed and Ben invited me to his home. I had never been to his home because he used to have like a hacienda, his other home in LA. But anyway, I went over there and finally saw the studio and also who came by was [the guitarist] Philip Upchurch.
David: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Chuck: Okay … you know I’m going to show you how things lead up to one thing, leads to another. Phil Upchurch played for The Dells when he was fourteen years old! We were working in a club in Chicago, place called Budland. It was down in the basement, Phil was of course too young to be there because they served alcohol there. So, we had to let Phil play behind the curtain. Listen, people wanted to know where in the hell is this great guitar sound coming from? Well, we couldn’t show Phil because we would all go have gone to jail because, but that was Phil! Phil sent me some pictures not too long ago that were really magnificent where he was featured with the five Dells, they were out of sight. It just goes to show you how one thing leads to the next and you never know, and we’ve been very blessed to have a musical combination of people that have played integral, very wonderful musical parts in The Dells’ lives and played some wonderful music.
David: Well, when anyone looks at your discography, or looks at the tenure, the years that you spent, recordings, like you said three hundred songs, many many albums, the list of people that you’ve worked with [which] is really like a who’s who. You mentioned of course Phil Upchurch there, and then you mentioned Charles Stepney, Charles Stepney of course many people know from his work with Earth Wind and Fire. I have no doubt that your Chess sessions included Maurice White the drummer on of course, he went on to start Earth Wind and Fire
Chuck: That’s right.
David: And we could keep going down the list, you mentioned Benjamin Wright, and then of course in your history, you’ve also got Gamble and Huff, who you worked with at some point. Just so many incredible people.
Chuck: Let me just say. I’m sorry for stepping on your words….we have been blessed from the beginning, “Darlin’ I Know”, “Christine”, we had a musical pianist by the name of Kurt Stewart, who took The Dells under his musical wings and taught us how to sing jazz. People said ‘Jazz? You guys don’t know nothing about’ and I said ‘Oh yes we do. Like the Hi-Los, the Double Six of Paris, here come The Dells,
black vocal group singing jazz blew the white crowds completely off the map. When we sang with Dinah Washington, who we traveled with later for a couple of years, we went to the DianahWashington ‘school of musical knowledge’ and moved on to other things of excellence. This is where we met Charles Stepney, was in a club in Chicago called the Big L which was on Sheron Street in Chicago, northside. And Charles Stepney had a trio there playing, a young man by the name of Al Hendrickson got us the gig there and we worked with Dinah for two years and when we walked in there, Stepney looked at me, I had the music, I was supposed to be the musical director at that time, and I walked in and I had the music in a paper bag, no no, but I had it in a satchel like, okay? And I pulled the music out, I handed it to Step, after we had shaken hands and he looks at the chord structure and he says ‘well, okay, who’s singing these chords here?’ And I said, ‘we are,’ I said ‘can I start the tempo off?’And he said ‘okay, go ahead.’ So, the first song we did for him was an old classic called “Jeepers Creepers”, and when he heard us singing “Jeepers Creepers”, blew him off his pedestal. He said ‘where have you guys been? Don’t all black groups sing like this.’ I said, ‘well, you’ve got one now brother.’ We worked with Step at the Big L for six or eight weeks or so and that’s when we were able to pull out our whole musical jazz bag because that’s all we sang in the Big L and a lot of people that came there were coming there because they had heard of The Dells singing over the night with Step, and they didn’t hear that, they did not forget about “Oh What A Night” but they had enlightened their musical minds in terms of the talents that The Dells had that were really unplugged.
David: Well, that’s interesting because, am I correct that you’ve never made a straight jazz album?
Chuck: Never made a straight jazz album of sorts, but I tell you what, as we move forward with THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE, LOVE CONNECTION, and ONE STEP CLOSER, we’ll see the success with them and then now anything is possible from that point.
David: Now, I am a little surprised, given that you were with Chess, Cadet Records, given the number of jazz artists that they had there, especially at Cadet, Ramsey Lewis, I’m trying to remember all the different names, names coming to my mind, Illinois Jaquet, different people that were on those labels. I was surprised that nobody at Chess said do a jazz album.
Chuck: They were making too much money off of, and this is serious man, they were making too much money off of us quote/unquote singing ‘doo wop.’ And you know, that’s the nature of the beast when you do something and the greed factor becomes the most relevant part of whatever is happening, that’s what you keep hatching and the eggs keep coming out, and the eggs are good eggs and the great renditions and …we have much more conversations to have in another point in time, on some other albums that we could talk to you about.
David: Well, let me ask you, we’ve been talking a little bit about Chess and that whole history; I have two main questions to ask you about that. Was it difficult leaving Chess?
Chuck: It was difficult leaving Chess because of the way we had to leave Chess. This is a story that nobody else has ever had in print. And I’m saying it because I was the only one that was around at that time. The Dells just rehearsed pretty much every day at Chess Records. We had free range of the studio because of the successes that we were having, and we were selling tons and tons of records. This one particular day, I went there because I’m always the early bird so to speak, and I get there, Leonard Chess didn’t have a car at that time, at the studio and he was also the owner of WVON radio station in Chicago, which was the number one radio station. He asked me if I would take him to WVON, I said, ‘I can’t take you over there, we’ve got rehearsal today. Come on, man.’ He said, ‘look, I own the studio, I own Chess Records,’ and I said, ‘don’t you say the rest of it because you’re getting ready to say I own you too.’ So, I said, ‘look, I can only take you over there, but I’ve got to get back, The Dells will be coming here and they’ll be saying I’ve lost my mind. We are supposed to be rehearsing blah blah blah.’
I take him to the studio, WVON, get over there, park in the parking lot. I’m sitting there, listening to another station, because I’m not even worried about them playing The Dells’ records on WVON because the owner of Chess Records was there and they’ll play the Dells, but they don’t play nobody else. Anyway, a guy by the name of Butterball Crane was came out and said Leonard said that you can go on back to the studio because he has a ride back to the studio. I said ‘well, tell him thanks a lot, I sat here wasting all this time.’ Anyway, turned the motor on, shoot back to the studio, get back to the studio and who’s there but Bobby Miller, the rest of The Dells had been there. They were t-ed off with me and left, in short they were just pissed off with me because I wasn’t there. Anyway, Bobby says, ‘hey man listen, since The Dells are not here, you can’t rehearse by yourself, lets go downtown and go shopping.’ I said ‘Shopping for what?’ He said, ‘oh we’ll find something. ‘
So, we went downtown, there’s an ending to my story, that’s why I’m telling you this. We went downtown, stayed for an hour or so, we were coming back down Lakeshore Drive, heading back south, going toward Chess Records and whenever. We were both in different cars, we wound pointing to each other when something was important was coming on the radio, or something was on the radio. Bobby was in front of me and I, we both had WVON on, for some reason and Bobby points to me and I’m saying, ‘what are they saying?’ The announcer on the radio said, ladies and gentleman, Leonard Chess was so and so, and I said ‘why would they put this in past tense, I just dropped the man.’ Leonard had died in short. We headed back, still riding home, we got up 22nd street, went around, boom got to the studio, we walked in the studio and it was like a tomb. Everybody had in there gotten the word; they knew that Leonard Chess had passed. He had been riding in the car with one of the announcers from WVON by the name of Bernadine C. Washington and died from a heart attack in the car. That pulled the record company and everything else completely apart. They brought some other people in. It’s like, it’s a cold business. Nobody cares about nobody; it’s all about the money. Next thing I know, they’ve got the guys coming in there, who have taken over Chess Records and I can’t think of their names right now. Maybe I don’t want to think of their names, okay? But the point is is that, we found ourselves at the door of getting ready to leave Chess and didn’t even know it. Stepney and I had just produced a song called “The Love We Had Stays On My Mind. “
David: Oh yeah, wonderful record. Wonderful record.
Chuck: Yeah, and I got credit for being part of the production team and I was very proud of this. Little did I know that in a short span of time, we would be leaving our home base, so to speak. And, as Stepney left Chess, we had to find another home.
But back to the thing that led us to going to Mercury, to end up going to the Harris Machine and the whole nine yards, all these things here are very relevant, very necessary. It’s very very very important that we understand from which we came because it’s a dangerous person, and you remember this, it’s a dangerous person, or people, that don’t know what they don’t know. Dangerous.
David: I gotcha. Well, I really appreciate your reflections… actually I did not know that story and it’s really quite a story of how you ended up leaving Chess of course, and understandable under those circumstances. Well, let me ask you as we wrap up here… and as I said we could talk for hours and hours and hours, you know that… but let’s wrap up by letting me ask you one question that I really feel compelled to ask, so you’ve been together now for sixty years?
David: Two-part question, firstly, how do you maintain friendships for that long? Most people don’t fall out of course because they’re not necessarily working with their friends, but how do you maintain that bond of friendship over sixty years with the people that are members of the group with you?
Chuck: There’s such a thing as love first. There’s such a thing that’s called respect, and see there’s God first, and then there’s family. We became family, though only two of us brothers in the group were actually kin. There’s Vern Allison and Marvin Junior. They’re cousins. Mickey, Johnny and I are friends. Friends to the end. God rest Jonny Carter, he passed on us three years ago, but he had been with us for forty-eight years. The original Johnny Funches, left us after we did an audition for DinahWashington. And Dinahwanted us to travel with her, but he decided he was going to stay home. So, the long story short, we ended up getting Johnny Carter, and which was a pretty arduous situation to get into because Johnny was the original founder of the Flamingos vocal group, and he had been in and come out and they wouldn’t let him back in the group. Long long crazy story, but anyway, he was with us for forty-eight years, and sorely missed. And then they put a bigger debt in our hearts to come out with a movie calle “John Carter” “ I told Mickey, ‘Johnny will not leave us alone. ‘
David: Apparently not! Well, that answered my first part of the question, and the second part is, and it probably has some relationship to the first, to your answer, how does any group continue to be together for sixty years? It’s probably the same answer you just gave me, but I just want to check because I mean that is amazing. You’re right, there is no other group that I can think of, certainly not in the world of R&B and soul, but probably in just in pop music in general that has stayed together for such a long time. I mean, really.
Chuck: That’s very true. You can check the ‘Guinness Book’ and you can check this book and that book. It’s like Marvin Junior holds the longest note ever in music for holding notes! You break records and that’s all fun and good, but at the end of the rainbow, where’s the money? Is it a pot of gold, or is it a freight train coming at you through the tunnel? This is why THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE. It’s going to sell a lot of product. We’re going to make a lot of money.
David: Well, that’s a great note to end our call. Mr. Barksdale, I’m going to call you that as respectfully I should. I think it’s only fitting to end our particular interview by calling you Mr. Barksdale because you absolutely deserve all the respect of anyone who’s had anything in anyway remotely connected to doul music as a genre of music, for the tenure, for the longevity, but most of all, for providing people with such incredible, incredible music over these sixty years…not even referencing that very first single…. we’ll go past that to talk about the incredible legacy of recordings that you’ve made and how what an incredible contribution you and the other members of The Dells have made to the real foundation of what we call soul music. I mean, people used to call it R&B, it’s been called of course Rhythm and Blues, it’s been called many things, but really at the heart of it is soul music and you and The Dells have really been at the very foundation of it so, it just remains for me to say thank you so much for this conversation, but thank you more than anything else for making such great music and to let you know how proud we are at SoulMusic Records to be able to make some of this great music available again.
Chuck: Please, do me this in leaving, I want to thank you on behalf of the Dells, our families, I want to thank you because the time that we spent today, I think it’s been fruitful, I think this is just the beginning. There’s a song that I want you to hear some other point in time, it’s called “The Best is Yet To Come”.
David: Oh, I’ve heard the song, yeah.
Chuck: Well, you haven’t heart The Dells’ version.
David: No, you’re right. I have not heard that!
Chuck: When you e-mail to Mr. McGill, ask him to get you the version of The Dells ’ jazz version of “The Best is Yet to Come”.
David: You got it, absolutely. I can’t wait to hear it.
Chuck: I think it’s going to be a little bit mind boggling for you, okay?
David: Oh, that’s fine. I like having my mind boggled!
Chuck: That’s very good. Hey, looking forward to one day, God willing, that we shake hands and have a spot of tea.
David: A spot of tea. Only appropriate for those of us in England.
Chuck: Yes, and some crumpets. Don’t forget the crumpets.
David: Don’t forget the crumpets.
Chuck: Right, okay?
David: Well, thank you so much really. Take good care of yourself and look forward to catching up with you again sometime soon.
Chuck: Alright, take care of yourself. God bless you.
David: Bye bye.
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.