Phone interview recorded November 21, 2011
Longtime Philly singer/songwriter BARBARA MASON and her music provided the soundtrack for love, romance, and relationships since 1965, starting with her first and biggest hit, “Yes I’m Ready.” As her audience matured, so did the subject matter of Barbara’s music - which at times bordered on love triangles (“From His Woman To You”), and “alternative lifestyles” (“Another Man”)...
Kevin Goins: This is Kevin Goins with SoulMusic.com, and with us today is a singer/songwriter who has written great songs, great classics such as “Yes, I’m Ready.” And we are ready to talk with her; she’s going to be in Great Britain next month with The Emotions, as part of the Giants Of The Rare Grooves show. Won’t you please welcome to SoulMusic.com to our microphones the great Barbara Mason. Hello, Barbara.
Barbara Mason: Hello, Kevin. How are you?
KG: I’m doing fine, thank you. I want to just start off my interview with saying that it is an honour to be speaking with someone who, in my view, helped lay down the foundation for what we now call “the Sound of Philadelphia.”
BM: Thank you very much. I’m glad that you and many others recognize that. I did not know that I was laying the foundation, at about seventeen years old when I wrote “Yes, I’m Ready”… actually, I was eighteen years old. I did not know that “Yes, I’m Ready” was going to be what it was—or any of the other songs—but thank you very much for that compliment.
KG: You’re very welcome. A song that has been recorded by many folks, such as Teri DeSario and K.C. of K.C. and the Sunshine Band—that was around 1979, 1980. And you rerecorded it years later, too.
BM: Yes, actually I did it over myself in 1972. And the reason why I wanted to rerecord it: I was playing to more adult audiences, so I figured I would change some of the lyrics. So I was in a club in the Midwest, and I tried it out on the audience and they loved it, so we put it on [an album] which I feel was one of my better albums, on the GIVE ME YOUR LOVE album. We put it on that particular album, and it really did help to sell the album.
KG: That’s great. And I want to get to that in a couple of minutes, about how your sound progressed and matured, and how you lyrically grew with your audience, as you grew as a person. Let’s go back to the beginning. Philly-born and raised, how did you get involved in music?
BM: I was about probably twelve years old, and right across the street from my house was a playground or a recreation area. Every summer they would give talent shows, and so I would put myself in these talent shows and I would win—it would be me and maybe a couple of other neighbourhood kids, but I was the leader, and I would make up songs and the neighbourhood people would come, my family would come, and I would win every summer.
Also, during the summer they had something in West Philadelphia, which is in Philadelphia, called the Tiptop Talent Hunt, and that was mostly at night, on Saturdays. I would go over there—I’m still maybe now about thirteen, fourteen years old—and I would go over there and put myself in the talent show. I didn’t win too much over there, because there was a lot of great competition, but that’s actually how I started.
In the home where I was raised by my parents, we had a piano, and so I would just mess around on the piano playing with chords and coming up with, actually, poems, and putting music to these poems. But what I was really doing--I was songwriting; but I had no idea that’s exactly what I was doing.
KG: So you started as a songwriter, first and foremost, in a way.
BM: Yes, yes, I did. And as I just said, I didn’t even know what I was doing; I was just fooling around with some chords, and then I would put the melody to these lyrics, and it would turn into a song. Of course, I wasn’t recording in a professional manner. I used to go downtown in Philadelphia, in which is now called Centre City, to the penny arcade, and I would put my voice on a record. You could make a record for a quarter, so I would listen to myself back, and… that wasn’t all that impressive. I pretty much did not have any aspirations of becoming an entertainer. Not at all.
KG: Hold on to those penny arcade recordings, Barbara, because you can release Barbara Mason: The Early Demos.
BM: [Laughs] Yes.
KG: So let’s go on from the songwriting, and how did you meet a man who is no longer with us, a gentleman who was a friend of mine as well, Weldon McDougal. How did he come into your life?
BM: I met Weldon through a member of his group called The Larks. One of his cohorts in the group knew a girl by the name of Geraldine Jacobs. She lived in Philadelphia, and she and I used to just fool around on singing to the radio. And she told me one day, she said, “There’s a guy that lives next-door to me who has a group, and maybe they might want to record us one day.” So I said, “Oh, yeah, maybe that’s good.”
So in those days we had those big tape recorders—like the two-inch reel, but they were smaller—and we would record our voices. So one day her neighbour said to me that he knew a guy named Weldon Arthur MacDougal III who was in the group, and would we like to meet him? So I said I got some girls that sing, and he said, “Well, how can Weldon meet you?”
So Weldon came to my house; I was still living at home, and I started to play some things on the piano, and he asked me if I would like to do some professional recording. And I said, “Well, I’m still in school, so I don’t think I’d be able to do anything like that.” I think I was going on now maybe sixteen years old. And he said to me, “I like what you’re doing, I like your style. Would you be able to sing at a local club?” I said, “Oh, that’s totally out. I’m too young, my parents would never let me go. Again, I’m still in high school.” He said, “Oh, no, it’d be on the weekend and you’ll be chaperoned.”
So it was a club called the B&R Club in Philadelphia. I went to the club, and one of my favourite songs was “Moon River” by Jerry Butler. I sang “Moon River.” The audience went nuts, and Weldon said to me, “I’d like to take you into the studio and make a professional record.” So I said, “My parents will never let me do it, but I’ll take you home with me and let’s see what they say.” So I went home and I asked my parents; I introduced Weldon to my mom and dad and they said, which was surprising to me, if I wanted to do this, that I had their approval.
So I actually came out of school, went into the studio … but before I went into the studio I had written a song called “Troubled Child,” just a silly little song, and Weldon thought this would be a great song to be my first recording. So we went into a recording studio in Philadelphia, at Broad and Oxford Streets; we went in and recorded it and I did it in probably about one or two takes. And we brought it out and it became a regional hit, maybe in Philadelphia, maybe Baltimore, Washington, maybe Miami and on the West Coast. It was not an international hit or anything like that, but it did give me a chance to listen back to myself and say, “Hey, maybe this may be a career for me.”
I still wasn’t all that comfortable with doing it, and I wasn’t all that comfortable with Weldon, because I didn’t know him, and I had never done anything like this. But I continued to write and Weldon continued to produce the records on me, and it was one of the most wonderful times of my life. When I think back over these forty-eight years now, it’s just been fantastic.
KG: And you and Weldon created some fantastic music together. And I want to just go ahead and jump into “Yes, I’m Ready.” From what I understand, you recorded that song when you had a cold.
BM: Yeah, I did initially. It was the spring of 1965, and I had written most of it at home, and Weldon and some other individuals that were partners of his had an office where we used to rehearse in Philadelphia. So I needed to go there and let Weldon and the other gentlemen, that also were going to become my future managers, to hear the song. So then, there was this producer by the name of Jimmy Bishop who was a radio DJ at that time; when I played the song for Jimmy he decided to change the title, because I was calling it “Are You Ready?” and he said we needed to make it first person and call it “Yes, I’m Ready.”
All the lyrics and everything were done, and we went in probably that next night and I laid it down in maybe, again, two takes. And I swear, they probably went back to the original first one that I recorded. It was just fantastic. Of course in those days I think they called those-type songs “sleepers,” so they’d figured they’d bring this song out and we’d see what happens. And it took a while to catch on, but once it caught on it was just nonstop.
KG: Number One R&B hit, Number Five on the Pop charts--got you on “American Bandstand,” “Where the Action Is.” I saw the clip on YouTube of you on “Shivaree,” and I’m looking at this girl, I’m going, “She was probably no more than seventeen, eighteen years old, had a Top Five hit record.” I believe it sold a million copies, if I’m not mistaken.
it, I just had so much fun, in particular on the West Coast doing, as you say, the “Shivaree.” I did the “Shindig” show in those days, and then I went back later and did Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” and “Where the Action” Is. I’m telling you, I will never, ever forget that time. It was almost like it was yesterday … it just always seems like yesterday.
KG: When I saw the clip of you on “Shivaree” performing it—and by the way, for our audience, “Shivaree” was a syndicated Pop music show. It ran no more than a year, a year and a half. It was broadcast through the ABC television affiliates across the country. And to see you perform “Yes, I’m Ready,” and it’s almost like you have this look on your face saying, “I don’t believe I’m doing this! this is great!”
BM: Absolutely, that’s exactly how I felt, because, as you said, I was all of eighteen years old, and I didn’t know what I was going to become after “Yes, I’m Ready,” didn’t know what’s going to happen because of this big hit. I knew it was a hit, but I had no idea that it was going to be as big as it became. Then they started calling in for me to tour with Jackie Wilson, then The Impressions, the Jerry Butlers, the B.B. Kings … all of a sudden I was with all these older people—much older; I don’t remember me performing with any teenagers in terms of touring—and again, it was the most remarkable time of my life.
KG: A very, lucky, lucky girl—or if I may quote one of your songs, “a very happy girl.”
BM: Yes, that’s good.
KG: And that’s what I want to get to, Barbara, because a lot of folks see you as the “Yes, I’m Ready” girl, but I went on YouTube--I have your CDs at my house; and the great collection that one of the European folks put together of your Arctic Records sessions of those great songs, you put out almost a box set’s worth of material then … a lot of tunes. “Happy Girl,” for example; “I’ll Keep on Loving You,” “Oh, How It Hurts”—which I believe was a follow-up to “Yes, I’m Ready”—and for those who want to hear more, go on YouTube, or buy the CD collection, I think it’s still available on Amazon.com. But you wrote a great catalogue, Barbara. How many songs do you think you’ve written in your career?
BM: I would probably think maybe over a hundred, at least. When I look at my BMI catalogue, and I’ve been with them since 1964, it’s probably around a hundred or so that I actually wrote. Of course they weren’t all Number One hits or anything like that, but they were still recorded material. And how I came up with it? I don’t know, I would just always get a feeling inside of me, and sit down and--very good at putting music to lyric. If someone were to ask me, “Can you do this song?” I gotta do it all—I do the music and the lyrics together. If someone gives me music, it’s a little difficult for me to put lyrics to songs, but if you ask me to sit down and write a song, I will write the whole thing, probably in five or ten minutes. I know “Yes, I’m Ready” was done probably in about fifteen minutes. All of them were. I don’t waste any time sitting pondering over the lyrics. It just comes, I just do it, and I love to go in and cut the stuff in one or two takes and just get it out there.
KG: That’s what I hear when I listen to these songs, Barbara; and that is, it’s almost as if you had your idea down, you wrote the words to the music together, you went into the studio—bang, it’s done. Next! It’s like you didn’t waste any time putting this material together and that’s why, when you tell me a hundred, I’m thinking probably a hundred according to BMI and I’m sure there’s many others that have yet to be put through that whole system.
BM: Yes, absolutely. Because, actually, when you look at the stuff that’s still in the can that they didn’t even release. Artic was the second label that I went on … because I think the first label was called Charger Records—and that’s where “Troubled Child” was on, Charger—and that company wasn’t big enough for what they were looking for. So Jimmy Bishop formed Arctic Records, and next thing I know, I was on Arctic just writing and putting out music. It was just fantastic.
And I don’t come from a musical family; nobody sang in the Baptist church, and actually half my family is Catholic, so I know Latin—we just did the Latin stuff. I didn’t come from that particular background, so when I listen to what I’ve done, it still amazes me: “How did you come up with this? Why did you do it?” Actually, Kevin, I was writing at a point when I started to see myself become more successful. I said, “I’m probably writing for my generation.” Especially like with “Yes, I’m Ready” and “Sad, Sad Girl”, which was really the follow-up to “Yes, I’m Ready.” I was writing for my generation: kids that were my age that were falling in love, falling out of love, and knew nothing about love, and neither did I, so I figured I would be a spokesperson for that particular generation.
KG: For that generation, yes. Because when I listen to your music, Barbara—and I’ll move on to my next question—it’s almost as if you were the next level from, let’s say, the Carole Kings and the Ellie Greenwiches, who were writing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” or “You Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” You were writing from the point-of-view of “Hey, I ain’t got tomorrow. Let’s deal with today.”
BM: And all the people that you just named, I listened to them. My favourite, actually, artist that I fell I love with was Curtis Mayfield. For some reason, Curtis’s melodies and his phrasing and his adlibbing … I used to constantly, when he would come on the radio … I had a small transistor radio, and I used to take that radio to bed and put the earphone in my ear and sleep with music. And Curtis Mayfield had a very, very big impression on my career.
KG: So big an impression that he had a group called The Impressions. And I’m glad you mentioned Curtis, because that was going to be my next question. Let’s fast-forward past the Arctic Records era: you were on National General for a brief spell, which was distributed by Buddah Records. How did you meet up with Curtis and record “Give Me Your Love,” which came from the Superfly soundtrack?
BM: Neil Bogart, who at that time was the CEO and owner of Buddah Records [KG note: Bogart was actually president of the label, Art Kass owner it]—and I was on Buddah at that time, actually, from the National General thing; when they sold it I automatically went on Buddah, because Buddah was distributing National General.
So it was Neil’s idea that I record “Give Me Your Love.” And actually, I’m the first female that Curtis Mayfield ever got his first hit on. Everyone else came after me. Curtis called me and asked me if I could come to Chicago, and he got my key over the phone, which I’m famous for—I love to get people to get my keys over the phone. He got the key over the phone; he cut the track without me being there.
When we flew into Chicago, I went to the studio; he put the track up, and he asked me how long would it take me to learn it. He said, “I prefer for you to go back to your hotel. How long will it take?” I said, “I don’t know, twenty minutes?” He said, “But you don’t even know it.” I said, “I know your version. I know everything you do.” He said, “You can learn this?” I said, “I’m telling you, I can do it.” I came back to the studio probably in about one hour, cut it in one take. What you hear on the record is what I did. No rehearsal.
KG: No rehearsal, right.
BM: I did it in one take. All of those voices that you hear, that’s me—everything. And it was a big Pop hit.
KG: Big Pop and Soul hit. You are one scary lady, Barbara. My goodness. So “Give Me Your Love” was a hit. And one thing I notice, Barbara, is that you went from the “Yes, I’m Ready” era to the “Give Me Your Love” era and, like I say, you pretty much grew with your audience; you said so yourself that your music spoke of and to your generation.
And like Gamble and Huff, like to some degree, maybe Thom Bell, the Philly folks in particular and the Chicago folks—gotta give Curtis and Eugene Record of The Chi-Lites their credit too—the subject matter of the songs started to mature and started to take on more adult situations. As opposed to the oh-I-love-you-you-love-me, all of a sudden Barbara Mason’s coming up with “Shackin’ Up,” “Bed and Board,” and, of course, your little swordfight with Shirley Brown. How did that all come about?
BM: There was an album that I had called LOVE TO SING, and on the LOVE TO SING album, that’s when “Shackin’ Up” came out, because I went to Detroit to record at that time—now I’m recording in different cities. So when we went to Detroit, there was a writer there, and the writer knew who I was, and said, “I’ve got this song called ‘Shackin’ Up’; would you like to hear it?” So I went in the studio and recut it.
The Shirley Brown thing: I was in Atlanta promoting an album called THE TRANSITION, which was a concept album. I began to write more songs about the things that were happening in the world at that time, and I don’t think people really wanted to hear that type of music from me. But, because of that, my manager called and said, “I need for you to go to Memphis, because there’s a lady by the name of Shirley Brown out that has a record called ‘Woman to Woman.’” And I did not know who she was; I hadn’t heard the record, for some reason, because I was out promoting my own stuff. But after listening to the record I said, “This woman can really sing.”
So I get into Memphis, and this lady by the name of Betty Crutcher and Lester Snell had put this song together, “From His Woman to You,” and they wanted to record it. Again, I never heard it, had no rehearsal, went to the studio, cut it in one take, and they brought it out, and I know that one went gold, too. So that sort of was my beginning of changing up, as you said, coming from the “Yes, I’m Ready” and that early stuff I had done, onto some really heavy, adult triangle kind of songs. And it was great. I didn’t know that I could do it, but it came off … it came off great.
KG: It came off so great it did indeed become a bestselling record. And like I said, Barbara, I mentioned the term swordfight, and someone on YouTube had this comment under “From His Woman to You” saying that this was an early example of what the Hip-Hop and the Rap world call beef—you know, a beef between you and Shirley, Shirley and you, and later Betty Wright … it’s like what the rappers have done, since the nineties, was done before in the R&B world, and you were part of that, and that’s a great thing. Because what I loved about it, Barbara, is that it dealt with these issues from a very adult POV—point of view.
Second, the way you did your monologues: you just laid it out right there on the table, talking about, “Hey, I don’t want to be the person who has to deal with paying his bills and getting his clothes … I just want to love this guy.” You came out so sweet and innocent, but at the same time with a little bit of acid or poison to kind of …
BM: Yes, yes, that was the idea—to come off kind of like, “Hey, I’m really a nice person … sorta.” So if I’m speaking or talking when I’m recording, it’s actually the way that I really am. And I know that, when we would go to the radio stations, and when people would call in and they would ask me questions, they actually wanted me to give them advice on their love lives. And I said, “Well, wait a minute. This is just a record, it’s not really the truth.” And they would say, “Oh, no, it’s true, because I’m going through this and I’m going through that …” Women would call and men would call and they wouldn’t want to give their names, and it was a great PR way of promoting the product.
KG: You could have had a second career, Barbara, doing radio talk shows about love and relationships there.
BM: Yes, maybe it’s not too late. Maybe I’ll try it.
KG: Go for it! Go for it.
BM: Honestly, on “She's Got the Papers (But I Got the Man),” I was riding home that night … I’ll never forget it, it was nineteen probably eighty, ’81, and I heard this guy on the radio, Dimples. I said, “Who are these people?” and I heard this song, “She's Got Papers on Me.” So I was just riding, and I said, “Let me see what this is about.” But when I heard Betty Wright—Betty and I are friends—and when I heard her, I said, “Great, I’m going to answer her tonight.” And I went home and wrote it in about fifteen minutes and called the record label and said, “I have the answer to the song.” And Neil Bogart, at that time, had the record; I think it was on Casablanca.
KG: It was on Boardwalk Records—Boardwalk.
BM: On Boardwalk. I keep getting him and Cecil Holmes mixed up all the time. Cecil’s on Casablanca. He did have Casablanca, too, right?
KG: Yes, he did. To kind of catch folks up: Neil Bogart, president of Buddah Records; prior to that he was with Cameo Parkway out of Philadelphia--he was the vice-president there.
BM: I loved Neil, he was so innovative. I was on WMOT Records at that time, and when Alan Rubens got a call from Neil he said, “Just think, I had her here on Buddah. Suppose I would have had the papers over here, I would have had both of them. I would have had Betty and Barbara.” Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. But that was a fun record to do. I really had wanted to go on tour, actually, with Betty Wright and with Shirley Brown, but they didn’t want to go. I said, “We could really do some damage,” but they didn’t want to, because their thing was, I would make them look bad. I said, “It’s a record.” “No, because you’re really dissing us…” They didn’t want to go. They didn’t want to go.
KG: Wow. Wow, talk about taking it personally.
BM: Yeah. Yeah, really.
KG: Let’s move on to another record now. I remember this from high school going into college. Just so you know, I was born in 1966, so I was, in a way, the result of the “Yes, I’m Ready”… we’ll let folks carry on their imaginations with that one. “Another Man’s Beating My Time” [sic]. How did that come about?
BM: A gentleman by the name of Butch Ingram, who I had done some previous recording with WMOT—I did an album, A PIECE OF MY LIFE and I did “She’s Got the Papers” together—so he knew me very well. He knew how to record me; he loved my writing. He was a lot like Weldon: he would let me just get in the studio and just let me do my song. So I was vacationing in Puerto Rico, and I came back, and I got a phone call from him; it was on my answering service, saying he wanted me to come down to the studio to listen to a song called “Another Man.” And I thought, “I don’t want to do another song about another man,” like another triangle song. When I got down there I said, “What are you talking about?” Whoo! First of all, the track just blew me away. He didn’t have all of the song together; he had some of it, but the rap that I put on there, which I put on in the studio—I only did it in about two takes—that, I feel, is what really sold the song.
I got this hit in New York, and I know in New York we sold fifty-thousand records in 1984, right before Christmas. And, of course, in Europe it was a huge hit. It didn’t do all that well in the States, because a lot of jocks thought that I should not be singing that type of lyric, that it was offensive. So we had some problems. They didn’t take too kindly to me.
KG: Well, it’s also because of the subject matter—it hinted toward certain things that were pretty controversial. For those that would like to hear the song, it is on YouTube … go ahead, punch it up and you can hear it for yourself.
I remember when I was in high school, and the radio station in my hometown of Rochester, New York, which was an R&B station, WDKX FM … WDKX played the record, but they played it after nine o’clock at night, because they were afraid that the parents would give them grief for hearing it during the daytime, because of the subject matter dealing with what you were singing about. But it made an impact.
BM: I used to have people call me at the record company when I brought out “She’s Got the Papers”—parents would call there, and they’d want to talk to me, and they really read me the riot act: “Barbara Mason, you’re going to go to hell, because my kids…” I said, “Actually, you shouldn’t let your kids be listening to this type of music. I don’t write music for children.” And I would get into big arguments with parents, specially beyond the Bible Belt stuff down there.
KG: Oh, yeah. I can relate to that, Barbara—I’m a preacher’s kid, so trust me, when your record “Another Man” came on the radio, I would automatically plug in my headphones. I had a fear that Mom and Dad would walk by the room going, “What are you listening to?” and I’d be like, “Oh, I’m just changing the station.” Nah, I never did that. So, Barbara—great catalogue of work, and I believe you own the publishing of a lot of your songs.
BM: Well, no, in actuality I don’t; not on everything. Actually I just won the publishing on “Yes, I’m Ready”—which was a big, big, big thing for me.
BM: Yeah, I just got that. But things like “The Papers” and stuff, I do own that, because I formed a publishing company in ’81 when I signed with WMOT Records. Back in the early days, we weren’t allowed to have publishing companies, so they actually made a fortune off of us. Because, in particular, if you were the writer—I only got paid from the publisher as a writer, and, of course, with BMI, they just were fantastic in cataloguing … I mean really looking after this stuff, making sure that we’re paid from every aspect. There are also, Kevin, movies that I did, which a lot of people don’t even know I did; actually, about two soundtracks. One for Pam Grier, one for … God, now I can’t even think of his name.
KG: Well, let’s talk about that. What soundtrack did you compose?
BM: In ’75 I’m still on Buddah Records, and so I get a call that they want me to come and do this soundtrack for one of Pam Grier’s movies, which was called “Sheba, Baby.” So I said, “Okay, now, which day?” I had never done anything like that before. So they sent me to California, and a gentleman by the name of Al Cleveland—I’m sure you’re familiar with his name; Al Cleveland was with Motown at the time, and he’d written a lot of stuff for Smokey and a lot of acts over there like “I Second That Emotion” and “What’s Going On” for Marvin Gaye.
KG: Right, right.
BM: He asked me if I could come to California to do this soundtrack with a gentleman by the name of Monk Higgins. I’d never heard of none of these people. I said, “Okay, “Sheba” soundtrack.” I had heard “Valley of the Dolls” with Dionne Warwick and I didn’t know what you had to do. They picked me up at the airport, put me in a car and give me a cassette, and tell me to learn all these songs. How fast could I learn them? I said I could learn them in an hour. I learned them on the way to the studio, we went in and cut it, and what you hear … that was it. It was fantastic. I had a ball. Then I got a call from Paul Winfield—that was his name, Paul Winfield—about a movie called “Gordon's War.”
They called me again, and this time I was also asked to come in and do “the Midnight Special” because of “Give Me Your Love,” and while I was on there they asked me to sing a cut from the “Gordon's War” movie, which is called “Child of Tomorrow.” So my musicians couldn’t play it, so I did it a cappella. I’m singing this song a cappella, and all of a sudden Sammy Davis comes around, because he was filming his show called “Sammy and Company” at NBC, and he comes around and he says, “Who are you? I never heard of you.” I told him who I was, and he said, “You have a wonderful sound. I’d like to take you with me on tour and to Vegas …” Well, that never came about. Not because he forgot, but because my management, they wouldn’t let me go.
KG: Oh my goodness. If I may interject, Barbara, that would have been such a game-changer for you. I want to just bring the audience up to speed: the movie was, I believe, “Come Back, Sheba Baby”; the Paul Winfield movie was “Gordon's War.” I see ads in Ebony Magazine for “Gordon's War.” And Sammy Davis Jr., to his credit, was a big supporter of black artists, especially younger black artists such as yourself at that time, the Jackson 5, Peaches and Herb. He brought so many black acts to Vegas. At one time the Vegas bosses got a little upset with him, saying, “What are you trying to do, Sammy? Turn our place into a goddamn cotton club?” And he said, “Yes.” So that would have been such a game-changer for you, Barbara.
BM: Yeah, I thought that was good for him to come around. I was just singing, and for some reason I caught his ear with my style. But when you’re young and controlled by different things …
KG: I’m sorry for interrupting; it sounds like your management was afraid that Sammy would take you away from them.
BM: Oh yeah, yeah, I think so. I really do.
KG: So let’s fast-forward to the present. I know we’re skipping over a lot of years here, but I also know that your time is very precious. You cut an album in 2007, and it’s a wonderful recording. What was the name of that album?
BM: In 2007 it was called … I’m not going to remember what it was called. I think it was called… FEELING BLUE. Yes, FEELING BLUE.
BM: I did not, Kevin, like my work on that album—I’m going to be real honest.
KG: Go ahead.
BM: During that time, into the recording, actually my dad had taken very ill. And so he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and I was actually taking care of him, and I said, “Well, maybe this will be a diversion from me taking care of Dad for a while, to go in the studio.” But I should’ve never done it, because the studio was great, and the production and the producers, but it was not my best work. And I’m the first one to say I know when I’ve done well, and I know when I haven’t. So I’m not at all that pleased with the product, because I know that I could do better than that.
KG: Fair enough, fair enough. So what is Barbara Mason doing now?
BM: Well now, that’s a good question. First of all, I’m going to London next month to the Indigo. It will only be my second time in Europe in forty years; I had never been to Europe in my whole career because management wouldn’t let me go there. So for me to go there is such a great thing. I want to really go in the studio and do a complete jazz album.
I want to do some Cole Porter; I want to do some Gershwin. I want to do things that probably what fans I have out there, and then newer people would say, “Wow, who is this?” People don’t even know that I am capable of doing jazz. I’ve always loved jazz; I’ve listened to it. I came up with the Sarah Vaughns, and the Carmen McRaes, the Nina Simones. I’ve listened to all these people and I’m always singing that type of music. That would be one of the next projects that I would really like to bring out.
KG: And I’m sure that you will definitely have an audience that will be very receptive of what you’re doing, Barbara. Again, I go on the Internet--I’ve checked out everything from YouTube to different music sites, and whenever I see your name, Barbara Mason, or any of your songs, you are held in such high regard by your fans—and not just those who listen to “Yes, I’m Ready,” but a lot of the songs that I mentioned earlier, especially in the West Coast with the East L.A. movement, in the East Coast with my friend Felix Hernandez, he hosts a big radio show out of there, and, of course, in your hometown of Philly, PA, and across the country.
I’ve read comments ranging from “Barbara Mason’s music speaks for our generation,” to “Barbara Mason, she’s one bad you-know-what”—and I won’t say the word. But they’re saying it out of respect, because your songs have definitely spoken of and to your generation, and generations that have followed.
BM: I thank you, Kevin, for all of the compliments. I love interviews; I’ve always loved magazine interviews, going to the stations, going to the record shops … and, of course, a lot of those days are gone, now—we don’t go to the record shops anymore, because there aren’t any more record shops to go to. But my fans on the West Coast have been absolutely phenomenal. I play out there an awful lot. I’m going out there again. I just left California. I was out there twice this year, in February and September, and I’m going back next February to do more dates on the West Coast. And the fans, they are Latinos; they are absolutely fantastic in knowing the history of everything that I’m telling you—they probably know even more things. They probably could give you an interview on me.
KG: Barbara, you know what? That’s what prompted me to do my homework. And, of course, that’s what my job is, and yes, I did have your CD collection, but I also wanted to read what the fans were saying … just the love and respect that they have for you… and yes, a lot of these folks know the material probably better than any radio disc jockey could know, because they live that music—not live through the music; they live that music. Big difference.
BM: Kevin, I wanted to tell you one more thing.
KG: Go ahead.
BM: When the Bear Family brought out that two-box set with “Yes, I’m Ready” and “Oh, How It Hurts,” of all those, I think it’s got to be about fifty-eight songs, and I know ninety percent of them I wrote. When I listen to that stuff … I think, when I played London in 2008 at the Jazz Café, the fans over there who had never seen me asked me to do almost every song I had ever recorded, all the way from “Troubled Child” up to “Another Man.” And a lot of the stuff I couldn’t do, but it was just so phenomenal. I did not know the regard I was held in … I didn’t even know. I didn’t even know. I just knew that I loved what I was doing. I still love it, and I’ll probably be one of those acts like Alberta Hunter, and die at ninety-nine, singing or something.
KG: Or two hundred.
BM: Yes, or two hundred and one.
KG: Real quick: The Emotions. Wanda Hutchinson sends her regards—I interviewed her last week.
BM: Oh, yes, I love them. I have been working with The Emotions ever since the early sixties; I love everything they’ve ever done. And also, my dear friends the Natural Four, who backgrounded me on the back of “Give Me Your Love”—we needed a B-side, it’s called “You Can Be With the One You Don’t Love”—and Curtis asked me if I had anything that I wanted to put on the back, and I had something in my purse, and that was sort of a little hit. They did the background for that particular song, because they were on Curtom at that time. So it’s going to be a wonderful show, being with people that I’ve worked with before. I can’t wait to get there and I can’t wait to perform—I cannot wait.
KG: What date is that in December?
BM: That would be December 17th.
KG: Week before Christmas. And it’s going to be at the Indigo Club as part of “the Legends of Soul,” with The Emotions, the Natural Four, who gave us “Can This Be Real?” and “I Thought You Were Mine,” and, of course, singer, songwriter, Philly soul legend … like I said, one of the ladies who helped lay down the path that became known as “the Sound of Philadelphia.” You were one of many ladies, Barbara: I put DeeDee Sharp up there, Barbara Ingram, and the Sweethearts of Soul belong up there. You belong up there.
BM: Thank you.
KG: Everyone talks about the Gambles and the Huffs, and the Thom Bells and Bobby Martins, and Weldon McDougal, and, of course, my dear friend Bobby Eli, and that’s great, but let’s give it up to the ladies. And also, I’ve got to throw in Vinnie Barrett, as well. You ladies were there from the get-go as well.
BM: Yes, yes. All the people that you just named were part of the beginning of [my] studio work: Kenny Gamble’s doing background on “Yes, I’m Ready.” People didn’t know that, and they said, “THE Kenny Gamble?” I said, “Yeah, he’s in the background with Weldon and some other people.”
KG: All right, so we have set the record straight: Kenny Gamble did sing backup.
BM: Bobby Eli played on a session. Of course my dear friend, Norman Harris, who I grew up with, who played on a lot of my records. It was just so much of a family situation that we had. It was like we were all kids, and we all knew each other, and we would go in and have fun. Nobody was trying to compete against each other; we just did what we did, and we loved it, and I still do the same way. Still do.
KG: And that’s what made the Sound of Philadelphia “the Sound of Philadelphia,” and that’s what made Barbara Mason a legendary groundbreaker in that. Barbara Mason, thank you for joining us at SoulMusic.com.
BM: Thank you. Give my love to David.
KG: That’s love to David Nathan, who is the founder. She is going to be with The Emotions and the Natural Four, December 17th at the Indigo as part of “the Legends of Soul.” Barbara Mason, have a great Thanksgiving and a great holiday.
BM: You also, and thank you so much for this interview. I will always cherish this on this day. Thank you so much.
KG: You’re welcome. You have a great day.
BM: Thank you. Bye-bye
About the Writer
Kevin Goins aka “The Soul Ninja” is a veteran of the radio and recording industries, has authored liner notes for CD collections by Earth Wind & Fire, Melba Moore and Stacy Lattisaw. He's also the producer/host of the Internet radio interview series "Soulful Conversations" as well as a classic R&B show "The Kevin Goins Soul Experience".