by Johnny Cole
Photos by Stephen Anderson
Additional Editing by Brenda Germany
The Southland Music Line continues our Mississippi Blues Trail Series at the marker recognizing Meridian, Mississippi’s history of outstanding Rhythm & blues and soul music. The individuals who helped shape this history have been major contributors to the region’s deep African American musical heritage, extending the legacy also molded by gospel, jazz and traditional blues artists. We have recently written articles spotlighting the markers located in Meridian dedicated to “Jimmie Rodgers & The Blues” and “Peavey Electronics”. The Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring Meridian’s R&B and Soul is located at 601 23rd Avenue in Meridian, MS (location of City Hall).
This marker pays tribute to a list of great music artists and trailblazers. Heading up this listing are renowned brothers, David and Jimmy Ruffin. Emerging from Meridian, the Ruffin brothers would go on to become music icons of the famed “Motown Sound” out of Detroit, Michigan. Prior to their move north in the 1950’s, the Ruffins lived at 316 46th Avenue in Meridian. Jimmy (1936-2014; born in Collinsville, MS), the elder of the two brothers, enjoyed a long and successful career with such hits as “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” in 1966 and “Hold On (To My Love) in 1980 (written & produced by Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb and Blue Weaver). Younger brother, David (1941-1991; born in Whynot, MS) became the voice of several Temptations classics such as “My Girl” (1964) and “Aint Too Proud to Beg” (1966). In 1985, David Ruffin rejoined fellow Temptation, Eddie Kendrick, on a tour which included teaming up with Hall & Oates to perform at the re-opening of the Apollo Theater in New York City and an appearance at that year’s Live Aid Festival in Philadelphia, PA. David Ruffin as a member of The Temptations received numerous accolades. Sadly, after years of troubled life David Ruffin died of a drug overdose in 1991. As for his brother Jimmy, he continued to perform and record music for many years until becoming ill and dying in 2014, while living Las Vegas, NV.
Top photo: Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring Meridian’s Rhythm & blues and soul music heritage; above photo: the 45 rpm sleeves for Temptations’ 1964 classic #1 hit “My Girl” featuring David Ruffin on lead vocals and Al Wilson’s chart-topping classic “Show and Tell” from 1973.
The list continues with Al Wilson (1939-2008) who began his career at the age of twelve leading his own spiritual quartet and singing in the church choir, and performing covers of country and western hits. While still in high school, he and his family moved to California. Wilson spent four years touring with Johnny Harris and the Statesmen, before joining the military. After two years of service, he settled in the Los Angeles area where he performed with a number of bands. In 1968, he released the Top-40 single “The Snake” (co-produced by Johnny Rivers, known for such hits as “Mountain of Love”, ‘Secret Agent Man” and “Poor Side of Town”). In 1973, Wilson released the chart-topping “Show and Tell”, which sold over two million copies. Wilson died of kidney failure in Fontana, California, in 2008.
Eddie Houston, born near Meridian in 1934, was a southern soul singer in the classic mode. As part of the Sensational Spiritualairs, he traveled throughout several states in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Houston performed in both black and white music spots such as Club Ala Miss, Club 493, King of Clubs and Spot Drive Inn. He began his recording career in the early 1960’s with such songs as “Baby You Were Wrong” backed by “Somewhere to Lay My Head” for blues singer/deejay Sherman “B.B.” Johnson’s Mel-O-Juke label. He then signed with Meridian’s very own RAP Records (“Recording Artists Productions” founded by Bob Reetz) and later under the production of George Soule at Tommy Couch, Mitchell Malouf and Wolf Stephenson’s famous Malaco Records in Jackson, MS.
The single “I Can’t Go Wrong”, originally released on the Rise label, was heard by Wayne Shuler, son of Louisiana record man Eddie Shuler, who licensed the masters for Capitol Records. Some of Houston’s singles released on Capitol were the re-release of “I Can Go Wrong”,”That’s How Much (I Love You)” and the amazing deep soul masterpiece “I Won’t Be the Last to Cry”. These highly regarded 45s are now popular collectables. A few years later, Houston released “Knock and the Door Shall Be Opened”/”Away From Home” on the Ovation label. Despite his short recording career, his reputation as one the era’s true soul singers is secure.
The reverse side of Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring Meridian’s Rhythm & blues and soul music heritage
Following his brief career as a singer and part of the B.B. Johnson Trio, Sherman “Blues Boy” Johnson (1925-1982) became one of Mississippi’s first African American disk jockeys. Radio stations WTOK, WQIC and WOKK provided a training ground for Johnson, George Soule and other musicians who worked as disc jockeys, recording commercial jingles, or performing on live broadcasts. Several of Mississippi’s groundbreaking radio stations played a huge part in promoting the region’s music, including its outstanding rhythm & blues and soul.
As one of a number of white participants in the soul music scene, George Soule (born in 1945) has an amazing history as a singer, songwriter, musician, record producer and studio engineer. Soule’s songs have been recorded by some of the most successful artists in soul music. He has been described as a pivotal character in the history of Southern songwriters. Soule’s very own solo R&B recording of “Get Involved” also became a Top 40 hit in 1973.
While still in his teens, Soule became a DJ at a Meridian radio station, WOKK, and began recording his own music in the 1960s. During these years, he began plugging songs, often written with his friend Paul Davis (see later), to music publishers in Memphis and Nashville, which lead to him being signed with Nashville’s Acuff-Rose Music. He also worked at Malaco Records in Jackson, MS, and of course, at FAME Studios, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In 1975, George Soule joined the Music Mill organization in Muscle Shoals, writing songs for others, and engineering sessions for Music Mill. He has certainly had an interesting career and definitely deserves his extended mention on this particular Blues Trail marker honoring Meridian’s R&B and soul. We highly recommend further reading about George Soule and his remarkable career.
Left: George Soule’s R&B and Top 40 hit “Get Involved” from 1973, recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL and produced by Rick Hall; Right: Six Soul Survivors featuring Paul Davis (45 rpm single released on the RAP label, “Recording Artists Productions” founded by Bob Reetz)
Also acknowledged on the marker is Paul Davis (1948-2008), who was a member of a local group called the Six Soul Survivors around 1966 and recorded for Bob Reetz’s local RAP label. During the 1960s, he wrote songs for others, often with fellow songwriters such as George Soule, who was mentioned earlier. In 1968, Davis was also a writer for Malaco Records and wrote “Simon Says” which was recorded by Meridian soul singer, Eddie Houston (see earlier) first appearing on the Rise label. Davis’ career would reach its height in the 1970s and early 80s with such hits as “I Go Crazy” (once held the record for the longest chart run on the Billboard Hot 100), “Sweet Life”, “Do Right”, “Cool Night”, “’65 Love Affair”, a cover of “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” (originally a hit by the soul group The Friends of Distinction in 1970) and the #1 country singles “You’re Still New to Me” (with Marie Osmond) and “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love” (with Tanya Tucker and Paul Overstreet). Paul Davis died of a heart attack in Meridian on April 22, 2008, a day after his 60th birthday. As successful as Davis was on the pop and country charts, he is mentioned on this marker for his early work while writing numerous songs and performing with the Six Soul Survivors.
The blues and southern soul styles of Meridian natives Pat Brown and Patrice Moncell are also deservingly mentioned on this marker. Pat Brown “nee Patricia Rush” (1949-2019) was known for her incredible voice and as one who could not only sing gospel, but also blues, Memphis soul, dance music, pop standards, R&B and smooth contemporary soul. According to interviews, Brown was greatly influenced by fellow Meridianites, David and Jimmy Ruffin, and Al Wilson. Brown, a former schoolteacher, sang locally before moving to Jackson. There she recorded for Johnny Vincent’s Ace and Avanti labels, leading to extensive touring and the formation of her own company, Tapna. Brown’s first Ace album contains the classic “Equal Opportunity,” a duet with Willie Clayton (b. Indianola, MS), one of the most important figures in Chicago blues in the 1970s and 1980s. Pat Brown was a founding member of the Central Mississippi Blues Society and hostess of Blue Monday held weekly at Hal & Mal’s in downtown Jackson, MS. She recorded seven albums, four of which were on her own label. Brown’s many accomplishments and accolades included several Jackson Music Awards. She sadly passed only a few days shy of turning 70 in 2019.
The blues and southern soul styles of Meridian natives Pat Brown and Patrice Moncell.
Another talented Meridian native mentioned on the marker is Patrice Moncell (born: Patrice Gathright, 1962-2015) whose powerhouse vocals and personality left an incredible impression on others. She was named for opera singer Patrice Munsel and grew up singing classical music and “church songs”. She toured the world as a gospel singer before blues and soul audiences embraced her talents. The classically trained vocalist, Moncell, was gifted in singing in French, Italian, and German, yet her true passion was singing blues, soul, and gospel. Known as “the Aretha Franklin of Jackson” and a frequent performer at the famed Subway Lounge, she received an abundant number of accolades in her lifetime. Her phenomenal talent allowed her to rock the blues and jazz clubs of the world, perform at many top festivals and perform at both Carnegie Hall and The Vatican. We lost Patrice Moncell in July of 2015 in Marietta, GA at age 52.
Both Pat Brown and Patrice Moncell appeared in Last of the Mississippi Jukes, the documentary in which director Robert Mugge explores the history and culture of blues clubs — dubbed “juke joints” in Mississippi. The 2002 film also features Morgan Freeman (the Oscar-winning actor from Mississippi), Dick Waterman (acclaimed writer, photographer, promoter & Blues Hall of Fame inductee), Steve Cheseborough (author of Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues), Abdul Rasheed, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Anthony Sherrod, Bobby Rush, Dennis Fountain, Eddie Cotton, Jr., George Jackson, Greg “Fingers” Taylor, Jimmy King, Sam Carr, King Edwards Blues Band, Levon Lindsey, Vasti Jackson and others. The documentary film can now be viewed on the Tubi ad-supported streaming service.
At the dedication of this Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Thursday, June 26, 2014, Pat Brown, Patrice Moncell, and Eddie Houston were present for the special event.
Meridian, Mississippi truly has its place in the chronicles of music history as demonstrated by the talented individuals mentioned above and in our recent articles spotlighting the city’s Mississippi Blues Trail markers. We invite you to continue joining us as we travel across the state and abroad celebrating the music and musicians honored by the Mississippi Blues Trail and legions of loyal music fans.
The front side of the Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring Meridian’s Rhythm & blues and soul music heritage (Meridian, MS, 2022)
Other Mississippi Trail markers located in Meridian, MS:
• Jimmie Rodgers and The Blues
• Peavey Electronics
• Meridian Blues & Jazz
Mississippi Country Music Trail markers located in Meridian, MS:
• Country Music Comes of Age
• Elsie McWilliams
• Jimmie Rodgers
• Moe Bandy
Click Here for Other Articles in our Mississippi Blues Trail Series.
Jackson Free Press
Last of the Mississippi Jukes
The Meridian Star
Mississippi Blues Trail.com
Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven
The reverse side of Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring Meridian’s Rhythm & blues and soul music heritage (Meridian, MS, 2022)
Page Designed & Edited by Johnny Cole
Additional Editing by Brenda Germany
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