High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Billy Stewart - Fat Boy, Huge Talent

Some called him Fat Boy.

Others called him Motor Mouth,

a moniker only slightly more pc

yet apropos because it aptly

described his fast-paced,

stuttering vocal delivery.

Pianist and rhythm & blues singer Billy Stewart borrowed his style of rapid-fire word and syllable repetition from the scat-singing method employed by jazz vocalists.

Stewart used his vocal dexterity on a rendition of the familiar old standard “Summertime.” The song went top 10 nationally during the summer of 1966 and became the biggest hit of Billy’s career. "Summertime" was also popular at the Shady Dell, taking its place in the lineup at #148 on my Dell's Greatest Hits survey.

During the fall of that same year Billy did nearly as well, cracking the Billboard top 30 with a laudable cover of the Doris Day hit "Secret Love."

Those two Billy Stewart songs are fabulous, but there are four others that I like even more.

“Cross My Heart” enjoyed modest radio exposure in December 1967 and January 1968. A victim of the expanding funk craze, “Cross My Heart,” one of Billy’s best, only reached #86 and was his last charting single.

Three other outstanding Billy Stewart songs were released earlier in his career.

The ethereal “I Do Love You” became a top 30 chart success for Billy in the spring of 1965.

A few months later, during the summer of ’65, “Sitting in the Park” was an even better chart performer, approaching the top 20 mark on Billboard.

"Strange Feeling,” the killer bee on the back of “Sugar and Spice,” was released even earlier, the fall of 1963, the weeks leading up to the JFK assassination. Proof positive that Shady’s Law exists, “Strange Feeling,” one of the greatest soul recordings ever made, stalled at #70 on the Billboard chart.

“Strange Feeling” earns my highest praise because of its innocence and purity. Billy Stewart renders the song in a straightforward manner coming across as sweet, sincere and humble rather than sly, slick and wicked. Mercifully, there’s none of the typical macho man boasting and chest pounding. The leading lady referenced in the song is gentle, kind and supportive of her man, not a petulant princess. The lovers portrayed in “Strange Feeling” have a refreshingly healthy relationship based on mutual respect. You can't help caring about this couple. “Strange Feeling” is simple yet powerful. It is nothing short of a masterpiece. "Strange Feeling" by Billy Stewart is Shady Del's pick to click - the ultimate early soul recording!

“Strange Feeling” reminds me very much of another simple yet powerful early soul single from 1963, “Groovy Baby” performed by another Billy - Billy Abbott.

No, not the kid on Y&R!

"Groovy Baby" is another excellent example of the transitional period when r&b and doo-wop were evolving into soul.

Chicago soul greats Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions

along with Jerry Butler and Gene Chandler

led the way in the historic early 60s doo-wop/soul transition.

I’ll be shining the spotlight on their work in future posts.

The early soul artists mentioned here are the core - the nucleus. Theirs is the type of music nearest and dearest to my heart. Call me old school but the values exemplified by songs like these are sorely missed today, threatened with extinction ever since the rude, crude and vulgar came into vogue. You can have your gangsta rap and your hip hop divas. This music is where it's at for me - sweet soul that dared to be square - ballads that celebrated the pompatus of love, the glory of love, higher love, ideal love. That's what Billy Stewart was all about and no matter what people might say...that's what the Shady Dell was all about.

Have a Shady day!

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