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Love Don’t Love Nobody

As long as Boz Scaggs goes on making records, I imagine I’ll keep buying them. Although his new one, A Fool to Care, has its pleasant moments, it isn’t up there with the very best of his work. And, unusually for Boz, it also contains a serious misstep, one that’s worth noting because of its nature.

It’s a cover version, and when Scaggs chooses to cover a song, you can tell it’s because he loved the original. He never moves far from the way it first fell on his ears. And a man who can deliver a decent cover of something as extraordinary as Mable John’s “Your Real Good Thing (Is About to End)”, as he did on Come on Home in 1997, is not to be disrespected. With one song on the new album, however, he overreached himself before he even got started.

The Spinners’ “Love Don’t Love Nobody” was one of the finest soul records of the 1970s, and still sounds to me like one of the greatest deep-soul ballads of all time. It was written by Charles Simmons and Joseph Jefferson, whose credits appeared on many Philadephia records of the era; the arrangement and production came from the extremely great Thom Bell, who moulded the hits of the Delfonics and the Stylistics as well those of the Spinners. It also has a lead vocal that shows what was lost to the art of soul singing when Philippé Wynne died in 1984 at the age of 43, after suffering a heart attack on stage in Oakland, Calfornia.

Wynne could decorate a song with wonderfully inventive ornamentation which, by contrast with the work of the narcissists of today’s so-called R&B, never called undue attention to itself but was always in the service of the song, the arrangement, and the production. In that respect he was the peer of Ronald Isley and Teddy Pendergrass. And he was at his exalted best on “Love Don’t Love Nobody”: seven minutes and 13 seconds of soul heaven.

The record begins with Bell’s piano, discreetly shadowed by a bass guitar and vibes, quietly commanding attention. There’s gospel in the cadences, but also a grave delicacy in Bell’s keyboard voicings and a pensive elegance in his touch. It’s the sound of introspection, even the sound of sadness itself, setting Wynne up for his entrance with that heart-rending opening verse: “Sometimes a girl will come and go / You reach for love, but life won’t let you know / That in the end you’ll still be loving her / But then she’s gone, you’re all alone…”

As the track builds, Wynne adds his characteristic inventions to the song but firmly resists the temptation to overdo it. He’s listening to Bell’s arrangement, so spare, so subtly sophisticated as it adds strings and backing voices, and he’s making himself a part of it, even when he jams over the long fade.

One other thing. I was doing some remixing at Sigma Sound in 1974 when I fell into conversation with an engineer, and asked him about Thom Bell. When I told him how much I admired “Love Don’t Love Nobody”, he said that he’d worked on that session a year or so earlier. He told me that the rhythm track had been done in a single take, and that Bell had finished it in tears. That knowledge doesn’t make me listen to it in a different way, but perhaps it does help to explain the very deep connection that it can make.

Boz Scaggs does a decent job on a song of which he is obviously very fond. But I can’t help wondering if, had he known about Thom Bell’s tears, he’d still have decided to take it on.

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. ‘Mighty Love’ is such a great record – agree with your comments about ‘Love Don’t Love Nobody’, but ‘Since I Been Gone’ and ‘He’ll Never Love You Like I Do’ (the latter sung by the much missed Bobbie Smith I think) are also masterpieces of minor key soul. I love the anecdote about Thom Bell as well – he was such a craftsman, and his Stylistics and Delfonics productions are also worth re-evaluation. It seems that people can’t see beyond the satin suits and dance routines when it comes to this type of music – such a shame. Great post Richard!

    April 21, 2015
  2. John Pidgeon #

    There have been few more joyous sights than Philippe Wynne skipping unselfconsciously round the stage like a child in a playground. Thanks for the memory jog, Richard. Plus, a Boz session is overdue.

    April 21, 2015
    • When you have that session, John, don’t miss “Near You” from Moments and “Sierra” from Some Change…

      April 21, 2015
  3. Dave Heasman #

    Bits of “Fool to Care” are better than the best of “Memphis” and bits are worse than the worst. IMO natch.
    I had to check out the Spinners after hearing Scaggs; it is better, but not by all that much. Worse are “Fool to Care” itself, which is a note-for-note copy of the Joe Barry, who was himself an unimaginitive Fats Domino copyist. And the two Curtis Mayfield songs, “So Proud” (dare I say I prefer Todd?) and “Gypsy Woman”, both done with feeling but without delicacy.
    The tracks I really like are “Hell to Pay” – no real melody but hilarious lyrics and real funk, “Last Tango on 16th St”, lovely melody and relaxed groove, and, “Storm Comin'” which I didn’t like to start with but have been singing for most of the week. Hard to believe Scaggs is 70, no?

    April 21, 2015
    • Personally, I don’t think anything on the new album is as good as “Mixed-up Shook-up Girl” and “Gone Baby Gone” from Memphis, both of which I play often. but I do agree with you about “Last Tango on 16th St”.

      April 21, 2015
  4. WKB #

    My favourite soul ballad, bar none, and the anecdote from the engineer about Thom Bell will stay with me. I’ve recently liberated my copies of “Black Music” magazine (1973 – 1978) from the loft and I’m pretty sure it was the review by Alan Lewis in May ’74 of “Mighty Love” that sent me scurrying excitedly to my local LP emporium. “Black Music” was a great magazine with properly researched, in-depth articles from amongst others; Tony Cummings, Carl Gayle and Dave Godin. Truly a golden period.

    April 21, 2015
  5. Angelo Rigali #

    Another great post, Richard – ashamed to say I hadn’t heard “Love Don’t Love Nobody”. Been listening to it for a day now and love it.

    What were you working on at Sigma Sound in ’74?

    April 22, 2015
    • Remixing the backing track of the Fantastic Johnny C’s “Boogaloo Down Broadway”, as I recall…

      April 22, 2015
  6. Graham Dixon #

    I think the first time I heard the Spinners original was on the Mike Raven show when he used to phone US black music stations and ask the djs what was selling this week. How I wish I could find the cassettes I made of those shows…

    April 24, 2015
  7. I don’t feel qualified to critique the Boz cover of ‘Love Don’t Love Nobody’, although given the Spinners reading, I agree it’s a stretch. Equally as unsuccessful for me is Boz covering ‘I’m So Proud’ – ‘I don’t dig his falsetto – but this is is small nagging. I love Boz Scaggs’ music and for the most part his recent albums are brave and relevant. Fave cut on latest is the cover of Al Green’s ‘Full Of Fire’. He’s still in fine voice.

    April 26, 2015
  8. Weirdly a new version of this has just turned up on the latest CD by Billy Price and Otis Clay – ‘This Time For Real’. Still not as good as the original (it doesn’t have that arrangement for a start), but a good version nonetheless (and Otis Clay still sounds great). No YouTube clips (too new I guess) but you can listen to soundclips of the CD at Soulbrother:

    http://www.soulbrother.com/shop/this-time-for-real/

    Proof you can keep a good song down!

    May 26, 2015
    • Here’s a live version record a few months before Otis Clay’s death:

      April 1, 2016
  9. Muzack Man #

    I get chills when at the end Philippé Wynne sings “I’m gonna love you, I’m gonna need you all wa ay ay ay ays…” You can tell that’s coming from a man who has been through some s**t.

    August 30, 2016

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