How did a Soul Bluesman from Millen, Georgia with stints of employment with Otis Redding and James Brown hookup with a Blues guitarist born in Durban, South Africa?
Incongruous as it may seem, this melding of musical minds has Blues lovers worldwide, raving not only about the critically acclaimed past, but also the bright future that is imminent on the eve of their third album release. The following are recent conversations that Blues Blast had with co-leaders Frank Bey and Anthony Paule.
When Frank Bey was a little boy, growing up in Millen, Georgia, Gospel great Brother Joe May, known as The Thunderbolt of the Midwest, sometimes referred to as the greatest soloist in the history of Gospel music, ate breakfast Frank’s mother’s, Gospel singer Maggie Jordan’s table. “He was big. They all traveled down through that south. My mother loved Gospel music. When Sam Cooke left the Soul Stirrers for a secular career, she was very disappointed. Just didn’t feel that that was the right thing for him to do.”
“Southern people had a different understanding of what they thought Blues and Soul music was about. They looked at it as the devil’s music. My mom was a Gospel singer and it was only natural that my brother and I follow suit. We formed the Rising Sons group with a couple of our cousins. I was four years old at that time.”
“Later on in my youth, I got a job as a bicycle delivery boy at a drug store. The soda jerk at the drug store was a teenaged country guitar player who had a little group with a singer who couldn’t sing! You know that Jim Crow situation was going on so just to rub it in, when it was slow at the drugstore, he’d play a song on his guitar and I would sing it. That led to me sneaking out of the house to their rehearsals to show his singer how to sing. But you know, I couldn’t teach him. He just didn’t have it. The guitar player wanted me to sneak out to the jook joints and sing through the window, but I knew that was no place for me to be.”
At age seventeen, Frank Bey started working with Gene Lawson, PR man for Otis Redding. Through that association he became Otis Redding’s driver. “Anytime he travelled through North and South Carolina, Virginia and other points in the Southeast, I would drive him. You know how they treat the driver. You’re just the driver. Just stay with the car and have it ready. Many times I slept on the floor in the motel. Sometimes I got to sleep in the bed or in a chair but sometimes it was the floor. If I didn’t go to the concert, I could sleep on a bed until everybody got back from the show. And then it might be the floor. I wasn’t the only would who slept on the floor.”
“Being a singer myself, I learned a lot from watching Otis in Richmond, Virginia, D.C., Baltimore, The Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. I saw what he was doing, raising the roof with other entertainers like Sam & Dave, Joe Simon and Joe Tex. I really liked Joe Tex. And Joe took a liking to me. I used to watch him with the microphone tricks and the little steps he used to do. He could dance. There was a dance he and James Brown used to do that they called the Southern Jitterbug. James Brown perfected it, as he performed more than Joe Tex. That’s kind of how the “rivalry” started between them about who handled the mic better and who had the better dance moves. We all picked up on stuff from one another.”
The friendship Frank Bey enjoyed with Joe Tex was perhaps bolstered by both their interests in facets of eastern religions. Joe Tex converted to Islam in 1966. Frank Bey studied Moorish Science, a religion that is closely aligned with Islam.
“I started studying Moorish Science intently in about 1973 and stayed close to it through 1979. After I moved in 1979, I continued to study but I was no longer physically close to the Temple. I still practiced though, as a Moor.”
“In the late ’70s I was in a group called The Moorish Vanguard. We booked time in a studio in Augusta, Georgia and James Brown came by the studio while we were recording. He liked what we were doing and said he could give us a hand. I gave him a copy of the song we were working on as he was going to New York the next day. Four months went by and we hadn’t heard back from Brown. The manager of the Augusta studio told us to hold tight, we had a deal.”
“Our group was working in Florida and one day we heard our song on the radio. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The group left me stranded in the South. From that point, I didn’t hear from Brown for another six weeks or more, even though I was calling his office every couple of days. When I finally spoke with him, he wanted me to have the band meet him on tour to open his show for him. Our record was already being played.”
“Now prior to that, the manager at the Augusta studio had told me that Brown had already got some production money from Polydor for us to come back to the studio to do an album. But without talking to Brown directly, I couldn’t convince the guys to go back in the studio. They already had issues around being hurt in the music business. They weren’t even talking to me. I finally had to get a lawyer to sort the mess out about a year later. I was so naive, when I finally got in front of one I said, “Here’s what happened-” He said, “First you have to retain.” I said, “Okay, here’s what happened.” The lawyer said, “You don’t understand, the retainer is $1500. Then you tell me what happened.”
“I finally was able to use Evelyn “Champagne” King’s producer, T. Life’s attorney who started working the case. It took three years to get the case into the federal court. We won the case and got a judgment against Polydor Record Company and James Brown. We got a check from Polydor but not from James Brown. We had to get in line for unpaid royalties from James. He already had a bunch of cases against him. So I went back to Philadelphia which was and is my home.”
“A San Francisco Blues DJ, Noel Hayes from radio station KPOO, came through Philadelphia and heard me at a venue called Warm Daddy’s. He liked what he heard and asked me if I’d be interested in coming to the West Coast to work. So we stayed in touch and then my kidneys started failing. Four years later after dialysis and a kidney transplant, I was soon ready to travel. Noel called shortly after the transplant and said he would get me a band to work with in California. He was determined to get me to the West Coast. He hooked me up with Anthony Paule’s band and when I landed in California I think we rehearsed about three hours before our first show together at Biscuits & Blues. The owner liked us and gave us return dates. That’s how it got started. Noel Hayes set it up and we are still tight like brothers. He produced our first live album which was recorded at Biscuits & Blues and engineered by Kid Anderson of Rick Estrin & The Nightcats.”
Never would have thought that the pop hit “Town Without Pity” by the late Gene Pitney could make the transition to Jazz/Blues. But one day while listening to the Bobby “Spider” Webb show on KPOO this heard the melody line ignite the long forgotten memory of the song from my youth. The Anthony Paule reading of the tune is a haunting, soul-drenched piece of work. When Blues Blast inquired of the origins of his rendition, Anthony stated that it was his wife’s idea.
“I didn’t really want to do that song but it was my wife’s idea. She was definitely right about that one. We’ve gotten a lot of airplay out of it. It’s a beautiful melody.”
The conversation then reaches back into the seemingly incongruous origins of the South Africa born Paule.
“My parents were British citizens from the industrial city of Manchester. They both fought for the British Royal Air Force in WWII. Manchester was bombed flat in the war. Not long after WWII they were married and followed my dad’s sister to South Africa. My dad was an extremely liberal, human rights kind of person. After eight years in South Africa he got to the point where he couldn’t take apartheid anymore. He decided to take his family to somewhere with a good climate and standard of living. I was ten months old, my brothers were nine and ten years old respectively. My dad packed his family up and moved across the world to LA.”
When asked about the genesis of his immersion into Blues, Paule references to a progression of incidents.
” My dad took me to see Ike & Tina Turner, B.B. King and The Rolling Stones at the L. A. Coliseum. He and my older brother also took me to the Ashgrove where I saw Johnny Otis’s band which was unbelievably great. Over time he brought a cavalcade of Blues masters to the Ashgrove. I saw Big Joe Turner, Esther Phillips, Roy Milton, Pee Wee Crayton, T-Bone Walker-you name it. I got to see all that when I was twelve or thirteen. Shuggie Otis was only a year or two older than me then, playing with his dad. I was like, I wanna do that.”
“On top of that, my dad had tens of thousands of all kinds of records. Literally walls and walls of records. Classical, Blues, many genres of music. He had 78’s of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. One day I stumbled across an Elmore James record that sent me off the deep end. It was entitled Sunnyland. I believed I had to learn to be able to do that. I became a Blues nut and tried to learn strictly Blues guitar. When I graduated high school, my brother had a Country & Western band. His bass player quit and my brother recruited me which kind of angered the rest of the band because I wasn’t very good at Blues, much less Country! But they stuck with me and it was really cool to just play and get paid for it.”
“Eventually as other guys quit and new members came into the band, it slowly evolved into a Blues and old Rock & Roll band. We did Little Richard and Chuck Berry covers in addition to Blues. The band eventually was based in Willits, California. (My family had moved to Northern California when I was in the tenth grade. During my time with my brother’s band I would also scour the east Bay Area for the many Blues shows that were going on then. I’d see guys like Tom McFarland, Sonny Rhodes, Ron Thompson, Sonny Lane, J.J. “Badboy” Jones and Buddy Ace at places like Eli’s Mile High Club, Ruthie’s Inn, The Deluxe Inn and The Playboy Club in Richmond. Me and my friends would be the only white guys is the place other than some of the musicians, but never had a problem. Once people knew you really were into the music people were really welcoming. I never felt funny or uncomfortable about it.”
“When my brothers band dissolved in the late 70’s, I was already starting to play with Blues bands. I moved to Madison, Wisconsin in 1979 and stayed for six years. That’s where I met my wife, Christine Vitale. At the end of our time there we had a seven piece soul band called Tina & The Tigers, which was anchored by the great Clyde Stubblefield, James Browns former drummer. Clyde was the best man at our wedding.”
“In July of 2014, the Frank Bey Anthony Paule Band went out to the Midwest and we played Madison. Clyde came to see us and invited us to a gig of his at the Hollywood Bowl in California the following month. So we hooked it up and went down. They were doing a special show in conjunction with the release of the James Brown movie Get On Up. Jazz bassist Christian McBride put together an incredible lineup featuring three former James Brown drummers; Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks and Mousey Thompson as well as Brown alums Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis. Bettye Lavette and D’Angelo sang as well as Chadwick Boseman who played James in the film. It was a great, nearly sold out show.
“ Getting back to how we ended up back on the West Coast, in 1985 my wife wanted to move to the Bay Area so I/we came back. It took a little while getting back in the scene but eventually I was hired by Mark Hummel. I traveled all over the world with Mark in a987-1988. After I left Mark’s band I fell in with John Firmin’s Johnny Nocturne Band. We did four records on Rounder, toured Europe, Japan and went to Italy several times. We backed other Rounder artists like the great Johnny Adams and a long list of other artists. I was in that band thirteen years actually. During that bands off times I was also able to tour with Charlie Musselwhite, Boz Scaggs and Maria Muldaur.”
“Eventually, through the efforts of KPOO Blues DJ Noel Hayes, Frank Bey and I formed the current band in 2011 and have had good success since. Looking ahead in 2015 the Frank Bey/Anthony Paule Band has a new album, scheduled to drop on June 16. Then it’s off to Italy for the Umbria Jazz Festival, the Porretta Soul Festival, and four other dates. We’ll be backing Sugar Pie DeSanto in Porretta. Graziano Ulliani the founder of Porretta Soul is really an enthusiast of ‘Deep Soul’ as he calls it and really appreciates Franks husky baritone, our band and Sugar Pie as well. We’re also backing Sugar Pie at the Fillmore Jazz Festival on July 4rth in San Francisco.”
For more information on the Frank Bey & Anthony Paule band, visit http://beypaule.com/
Photos by Marilyn Stringer © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer Tee Watts is music director at KPFZ 88.1 fm in Lakeport, CA and road manager for Sugar Pie DeSanto.