PAUL KELLY : ON THE
Paul Kelly was born in the Overtown district of Miami,
Florida, on June 19, 1940 and, as he said, was quickly
introduced to music. 'My brother, Henry, was
musical. He influenced me. I had three
brothers and two sisters, I was number four.
Franklin was the second one, John was the first one.
Henry was the singer, he was the one that was born just
before me and then I had two sisters under me. My
father was a bass player but that was a long time before
my time, so I wouldn't really know nothing about him
because my grandmother brought me up. We came from
my grandmother's house to my mother's house quite
regularly, every Sunday. My grandmother kept me
inchurch: twice on Sundays and several times during the
The church upbringing would inspire Paul but,
surprisingly, that was not where he began to sing in
public. He explained, 'It wasn't at church but,
because I was in the church, I listened a lot and I
heard a lot about singing from church singing. But
I never sung in church, as such. Instead, I sung
to private audiences all the time. We'd do things
for dinner, to get a little money and my mother would
buy the dinner. I'd get up on a chair and sing.
We did all that. My sister reminded me of that
just the other day.' Paul also began to play
instruments... 'I strum on the piano a little bit
and then I play a guitar a little bit. That's what
I write with, the guitar, for the most part.'
By the time Paul was in his mid-teens, he had his own
group but that was to be short-lived, something perhaps
anticipated by his brother, Henry, who was less than
flattering with regard to Paul's singing talents...
'Henry told me at one time, he said I couldn't sing.
I never was going to be a singer. I donıt know why he
said that. That was about 1955. Then about a
year later, he formed a group. He told me who was
going to be in the group and he said 'I'll let you be in
the group, youıll be in the group'. And I said 'What
part am I going to sing?. Heıd named everybody
and got the whole group together except the lead singer.
He said 'You're going to be the
lead'. So he had changed his mind. So I
said, I'm going to sing lead in YOUR group?'. I
was super-surprised! That was the Superiors.
They only stayed together for a few months, because
Henry decided he was going to college and he left Miami
and went to college and that broke up that group. Then I
started the Spades. That was the group that I had
of my class from 20th Street. We hung together.
We did everything together and we formed that group, the
Spades. That then turned into the Valadeers.
That was the one with my buddy, Jimmy Cherry, who's
living in London now. He used to sing the bottom
parts, the baritone. He sang with a lot of groups
there in England but I don't know who he is singing with
now.' Reminded that Jimmy Cherry was with the
Fantastics at one time, Paul, in turn advised of a
further rôle for Cherry while a Valadeer, alleging: 'Bob
Walmer used to manage us but we found he was taking our
money' and adding, 'so we decided to go off on our own.
We started handling the business for ourselves and
Jimmy Cherry was one of those taking care of the
While with the Valadeers, in 1960 Paul broke out for a
solo recording of the standard, I'll String Along With
You' for Henry Stoneıs Dade label but a dispute over
money led to Stone pulling it. Paul believed it
had received a three-week-long release but other sources
suggest it never went beyond the promo stage (and it
does not appear on this writerıs Dade label listing).
Indeed, Paul's solo career proper would not begin for
some five further years and, as he explained, almost by
default, thanks to the intervention of Miami
singer/songwriter/producer, Clarence Reid. 'Clarence
Reid didnıt exactly come along, he just happened to be
around where we used to practise. He used to come around
to hear us sing. We'd sing ten or fifteen songs,
rest, and then get another twenty songs and sing them
and the crowds would be outside reacting. And
Clarence was one of those. Later, Clarence wanted
to do something with the group he had - a good sounding
group too, the Delmiros. Their lead singer - not
Clarence - was hoarse and he couldn't
sing. He had laryngitis. Clarence came to me
to help, he wanted me to help him sing the song and he
came to me and asked would I sing on this record. That
was 'Down With It, Can't Quit It' and 'Sooner Or Later'
was on the other side. He wanted some help and I
decided to help him. I did that out of a favour.'
Despite such a favour, Reid hardly returned the
compliment as, when the record was issued - on Selma in
1963 - the label credited the artist(s) as Clarence Reid
& the Delmiros, & the 'Delmiros' appearing in
tiny letters under the Clarence Reid name. Paul
continued: 'So nobody knew. But a few people
came to me in the clubs and we would sing it there.
Then it would be 'Down With It, Can't Quit It' featuring
Paul Kelly'. That was my little recognition.
We didnıt tour but we just worked local clubs around
Miami. Then Clarence came back a few months later and he
wanted me to sing with the [Delmiros] group. I
thought about it for a week or so, walking around,
laying it on everybody, bumping heads, bouncing it off
and I decided I'd sing with them for a little while.
I told him that, for a little while. So I did
that. Iıd been writing songs for a while by then
and Clarence was also a writer. He used to write
good songs and he was a good piano player
too. So I learned a few things from Clarence.'
Paul's assignment with the Delmiros meant he had
somewhat forsaken the Valadeers so, when the time came
for him and the Delmiros to part, his old group had
moved on. 'I had to turn solo but that singing
without a group was something I didnıt really want to
do. I was scared being all alone by myself out
there but I was forced to by Jimmy Cherry. They'd
formed another group and got someone else to take my
place. I did not know that was going on and they
had... I canıt remember the guyıs name but he
used to sing good and he played the guitar good. I
heard what they were doing. They wrote mea letter
saying 'We replaced you in the group' and that was it.'
Thus, choosing here to gloss over 'I'll String Along
With You', having been cut loose as a solo artist, Paul
Kelly's debut recording appeared on the Lloyd label in
1965, coupling 'It's My Baby' with a track entitled 'The
Upset', inspired by the surprise boxing victory of
Cassius Clay over Sonny Liston. 'It was just
local, nothing happened with it,' was how Paul dismissed
that 45 but its follow up, 'Chills And Fever', would
begin to get his name out there, once picked up from
Lloyd by the Atlantic-distributed Dial label for wider
distribution. Although a Clarence Reid/Willie
Clarke composition, relations between Kelly and Reid had
become strained and spilled over during the recording
session, which Reid had helped set up. In Paul's
words: 'Me and Clarence had a falling out because I went
to Nashville with Clarence. He had been recording
with Buddy Killen. Clarence was supposed to be
telling us the parts but every time he kept telling us
the wrong parts. He kept disagreeing. Itıs
his song, he should know the parts! He's telling us how
to sing the parts but he's giving me the wrong notes. So
I'm telling him what the right note is and he's
disagreeing every time. So that night, when we went back
to the hotel, Clarence raised hell like he
wanted a fight. He was talking that sassy talk to
me and saying 'Say something else!'. I had nothing
to say. I kept my mouth quiet - there was nothing
to talk about. I was about through with him there.
Buddy Killen had been listening to what was happening
all day. He was knowing who was
right and who was wrong. He just came back and
called me later and wanted me to do songs.'
Seemingly, Buddy Killen had already considered Clarence
Reid a difficult man to deal with and was more than
happy with the falling out, which meant he was able to
move Paul Kelly under his own umbrella. Meanwhile,
Lloyd issued an 'answer' record to 'Chills And Fever' by
Helene Smith, entitled 'Thrills And Chills'. For
some reason, Paul's follow-up to 'Chills And Fever', the
self-penned 'Since I Found You', appeared with the
billing of Paul Kelly & the Rocketeers but 'I don't
know about the Rocketeers,' Paul said. Although a
further (in the can) Paul Kelly release would appear on
Dial, this would be after four singles leased to
Philips, produced by Buddy Killen in Muscle Shoals, most
notably the ballad, 'Nine Out Of Ten Times' , which
writing credits of Paul Kelly, Clarence Reid and Willie
Clarke, suggesting either a reconciliation between the
Kelly/Killen and Reid camps or a number which had simply
been sitting on the shelf awaiting recording. The
'in the can' Dial release featured two songs with the
name of Joe Tex - the label's biggest money-spinner and
mainstay - on the credits, one ('We're Gonna Make It')
co-written with Kelly. At the time, they were good
friends, travelling the road together with Paul being
Joe's opening act.
In late 1967, while in New York attempting to peddle
some of his songwriting results to other artists and
publishing companies, Paul made the decision to relocate
there, settling in Brooklyn and sending for a lady by
the name of Juanita Rogers, with whom he had begun
writing, to join him. They remain together to this
day. In Paul's words... 'I wasn't writing
with her. Well, I was but nobody knew about us writing
together or what we were doing or nothing. I moved
to New York. She came on January 1, 1968 and we
started living together and weıre still together.'
Recording-wise, Paul cut some unissued material for Stan
Watson's Philly Groove label in 1968 but, by his own
account, it is perhaps best that his fans opt to leave
it in the vaults. Laughing, he opined: 'Stan
Watson! I would say it was poor. That was me
trying to get something going but nothing happened with
that stuff. I wasn't happy with it, it wasn't nothing.'
Although those recordings were 'nothing', he was soon to
break through with the song that would make his name,
the somewhat controversial 'Stealing In The Name Of The
Lord', written not initially for himself but with the
intention of it being recorded by Sam & Dave.
As he said: 'I wrote that song with Sam & Dave in
mind. I noticed that their record company looked
like they were throwing them away. I couldn't
figure that because they were super and, by then, the
world knew that they were super. So I wrote the
song for them and I tried to get the song to them.
I found a number and I called and I called Sammy.
And I'm talking to someone, trying to get through to him
and I hear him talking in the background and saying 'If
the song's so good, why don't he cut it himself?'.
So I did but I wasn't
intending to.' Stung by the reaction of Sam Moore,
who he had known in Miami from the early sixties, Paul
got back in touch with Buddy Killen and quickly sold the
song to him, the result being the Muscle Shoals'
recorded 'Stealing In The Name Of The Lord' by Paul
Kelly himself and placed by Killen with the
Hollywood-based Happy Tiger label. Asked why
Killen went for that deal, Paul replied: 'I don't know
why he thought that would be a good label but he thought
so. He was just looking for a label. I went
back to New York, he went back to Nashville. He
called me and said we got a deal. I said 'With
who?'. He said 'Happy Tiger'. We signed a
Around the same time, a lady called Annetta had a single
release on Love Hill (and, subsequently, Juggy) called 'Since
There Is No More Of You'. Written by Paul Kelly,
recorded on a trip by the lady to New York and featuring
his additional vocal support, 'Annetta' is better known
Snell. Paul took a little time out to talk about
the lady, whose career was tragically curtailed by a
fatal plane crash in Georgia on April 4, 1977 but not
before she had recorded a number of his songs for Buddy
Killen and Dial in the earlier part of the seventies,
most notably the #19 'Billboard' r&b hit, 'You
Oughta Be Here With Me'... 'I met Annette Snell
about 1960 with
Waymon Walker. He used to go with a little girl in
Opa-locka whose name was Mattie [Lovett]. And we
dealt with Mattie and they had a group - the Mar-Vells,
that was they name of the group. It was a good
group. They moved to the city and we started
putting songs together for them. I used to give
them Marvelettes songs to sing live and Annette Snell
was part of that group. She was super.
Loretta [Letlo] used to do all the lead singing.
Wev didn't know at the time that Annette was so good.
The group were all good.'The Mar-Vells would do a lot of
session work in Miami in the early sixties, before going
on to record in their own right for Sound Stage 7 and
as the Fabulettes in 1967/68. They split when
Annette opted to go solo and, specifically discussing 'Since
There Is No More Of You', Paul said, 'I didn't duet, I
do the background. If you call it a duet, in that
case it's a 'triple-et', because there's Juanita there
too. She used to be on all my songs in the
seventies.' He added, 'Annette's death was a
tragedy. There is stuff we recorded on her that
has never been released. Buddy Killen may still
have the tracks.'
Mention has been made of the controversial nature of 'Stealing
In The Name Of The Lord', a song that berates the
hypocrisy of certain churchmen within its lyrics.
'That's been my way of thinking all the time,' said
Paul. 'Thinking about what's wrong with [the] church,
how they do it and what
they're talking about. And what they talk about
and what they do are two different things, you know.
So I was putting that down, writing what I was thinking.'
It was not just the churches that were unhappy about the
song, the initial reaction from radio stations was
equally unfavourable due, no doubt, to such as r&b
stations being worried that playing the song would
offend any gospel show-related sponsors. For a
while, it looked like the record was dead in the water.
Happy Tiger all but gave up on promotion and it seemed
the only person making any effort was Paul himself.
Enter Jerry 'Swamp Dogg' Williams Jr., about to set off
on a trip to Baltimore to promote his own productions of
the time... 'Jerry took me to see WWIN dee-jay,
Rockin' Robin. He took me along with him to
Baltimore and there I met Rockin' Robin and I met Al
Jefferson. I met all the jocks at the station.
Jerry was taking care of his own business but he was
also taking me to introduce me. He told them my
record was a hit record but he had asked me 'What's
going on with the record?' and I said 'Ain't nothing
going on with the record, far as I know'. He said
'The record's been out a long time' and I said 'I know
but nothing's happening with it'. He said 'I'm
going to Baltimore this week, do you want to go with me?'
I said 'All right, let's go'. So we went to
Baltimore and he gave the jocks my record. He gave it to
Rockin' Robin who was on the air at the time. He
put it on
the turntable and listened to it and he said 'Which one
do you want?'. I said 'I think [the official
flip-side] 'The Day After Forever' is going to be the
one they'll want to hear'. He played it and he
played 'Stealing In The Name Of The Lord'. He
said, 'You're joking, this is the song'. And he
played it on air, backed it up, played it again, backed
it up and played it again and, by that time, he knew
that song and I knew I had a hit record. He sold that to
the people and he told them what I was singing about.
He explained it. Everybody started calling in and
I never looked back after
that. Thatıs how it broke.' The single made its
debut on the 'Cashbox' r&b charts on June 13, 1970
and the 'Billboard' equivalent a week later. As it
began its ascent to a peak of #5 'Cashbox' and #14 'Billboard',
Happy Tiger's interest was rekindled and an album also
appeared on the back of the hit single. However,
the label was struggling and, although they managed to
rush out three further (poorly promoted) singles in
short order, it quickly went out of business. Killen's
acumen succeeded in transferring the Happy Tiger product
and Kelly's contract to the major Warner Bros label and
the label was repackaged with minor changes and reissued
as 'Dirt', named after the debut Warners single, '(He
Ain't Nothinı But) Dirt'. Despite being by now
assigned with a major, Paul had to wait until his third
Warner Bros single - 'Don't Burn Me' - before he got his
name back on the charts. Asked if Warners were any
better at promoting than Happy Tiger, Paul's reply was
somewhat scathing... 'Well, how many black artists do
they really promote? I wasn't one of them.
Then I did 'Donıt Burn Me' but I went across country
promoting it for myself. And a bunch of people
claim they did this and they did that but I went out and
promoted it for myself. 'Stealing In The Name Of
The Lord' gave me room and it gave me latitude and I
used it. I went out talking to
jocks, I was able to meet almost anybody. One of
them [from Warner Bros] may have been with me but I was
essentially on my own.'
Paul's songwriting was also blossoming. 'It was
easy,' he said. 'I'd sit down and a song comes up.
I'd pick up the guitar and a song comes up. When I
was going to learn how to write, that's what I picked up
the guitar for. Justis Slaughter gave me my first
guitar. That was a friend of mine that I knew from
way back in Miami. He moved to New York too. 'Yes
but Ididn't know it at the time. I didn't know
where the money was coming from. I wasn't thinking about
it, I wasn't worrying about it. I was doing what I
was doing. Really, having fun.'
'Donıt Burn Me' was followed-up by a similarly-titled
album while, further down the line, the hit - his second
biggest - 'Hooked, Hogtied & Collared' gave birth to
a further album, with something of an eye-catching
cover. With a drawing, rather than photographic work,
featuring bondage, it
arguably rather demeaned the musical content.
Although Paul was credited with creating the concept
along with the record company's art department - and it
has been documented as such - he refuted it on this
occasion, saying: 'Oh no, someone else did that,
although yes, I was doing a little
scratchings at the time. I still do that. I
have fun with that. I've been doing it since the
fifties.' Although Paul agreed he sounded happy on
the album overall, it transpired he was less than happy
with the budget he got to make it... 'Hooked...'
had been a hit single. You had to have a hit to
have an album back in them days - if you was black.
If you was white, you could go and demand a hundred
thousand dollars and cut you an album. And again there
was not much promotion. I thought I should have
been bigger with Warner Bros. I thought I should
have made more money from the records. I was getting
some money but that was mainly from being on the road.'
With disco coming in with a vengeance, Warners felt it
was time to ease out Buddy Killen who, up until then,
had retained the production helm. Although they
had put together the dance-oriented 'Get Sexy' - not
exactly a high spot of the man's career - Paul was
refusing to take the disco road and revealed that he and
Killen were working on a further album's worth of
material that is probably sitting in Warner's vaults
right now... 'Yes, we started an album
before I left Nashville. Me and Buddy Killen was
working on one. I thought it would be my best
album ever but it was Warner Bros, they did not want
Buddy working with me, they wanted a change of producer,
so we had to stop it.' Thus, for what would turn
out to be his final album for the label, 'Stand On The
Positive Side', something 'sweeter' was demanded.
'That was when I had to get another producer to produce
me,' he said. 'That's what Warners said anyway.
I thought I could do it myself. They brought in Gene
Page, who turned out a good producer. He was easy
to work with. I'd like to work with him now.'
Nevertheless, regardless of the change of producer,
there was a parting of the ways between artist and
record company. From Paul's point of view: 'I
wasn't so much worried what disco was about or what they
were doing, that wasn't it. My problem was not
having no money. I thought someone must be playing
games with me so I left.' After a one-off single for
Epic - 'Everybody Got A Jones' c/w 'Shake Your Mind' -
Paul opted to concentrate on songwriting and production.
Despite the lyrical problems with 'Stealing In The Name
Of The Lord', one song from the 'Stand On The Positive
Side' album, 'God Can', had received approval
from the 'non-secular authorities', with other versions
being cut by the Mighty Clouds Of Joy, Dorothy Norwood
and, also for Warner Bros, the Staple Singers.
Paul had come up with a song called 'Personally', which
he decided to present to Jackie Moore, hot at the time
following a string of r&b hits for Kayvette and
newly signed to Columbia. At first, Jackie turned
the song down but, following encouragement from William
Bell, she agreed to record it. Although not the
major hit for her that was expected, over the years it
has become Kelly's best-selling composition. In
1982, at the suggestion of Glenn Frey of the Eagles,
Karla Bonoff recorded the song and gained a #19
pop hit for her efforts, while country singer, Ronnie
McDowell, took the song into the top ten of the country
charts. (Paul himself included 'Personally' on his
1993 'Gonna Stick And Stay' album.)
Mavis Staples, whose voice had fronted the family groupıs
version of 'God Can', also cut further Paul Kelly
compositions on her 1979 solo album, 'Oh What A Feeling',
produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett. Paul
said: 'Jerry Wexler had been listening to me all the
time and, when he got to record Mavis, he asked for some
songs of mine. And I sent him some songs that I
thought would be good. One was 'We Got Love'.
I thought that would be good for Mavis. She went
and did it, she worked it. 'I've Been To The Well
Before' she did over. I donıt write songs for
people specifically - I think I've only done that once
or twice in my life - but if I write a song that turns
out to sound like somebody, then I send it to them.'
'I've Been To The Well Before' was also made by Paul
when he resumed his own singing career with A&M in
1981. He advised that he recorded about four songs
for the label but only that and its flip, 'I Love The
Way You Love' were released. [At this point, it
may be useful to mention that the Paul Kelly & the
Messengers, who were also on A&M - in 1987/88 - is
the Australian Paul Kelly and not our hero.]
Again, he languished. 'Nobody wanted to deal with
me, to give me money and let me do my thing,' he said.
They wanted to play games with me, I donıt know why, so
I had to form my own company.' Run under the
pseudonym of Laurence Dunbar, Paul kept the Laurence
label going from 1983 through to 1991, with just
sporadic releases and a rather eccentric numbering
system... 'I decided just to do what I wanted to do, put
out what I wanted to put out but I wasnıt aware enough
that promotion was everything. That made
Before the eighties were out, it had become apparent to
Paul and Juanita that the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of
Brooklyn where they lived was not the ideal place to
live comfortably and raise a family and they were
presented with the incentive to relocate to Ruby, South
Carolina (just south of the North/South Carolina
border). Paul explained: 'My aunt [Ethel]
mother was moving to South Carolina. They asked if
I wanted to go to South Carolina and I said 'Yes, that
sounds good'. They didn't believe I wanted but I'd
decided a long time ago that South Carolina was a nice
place. I liked the place - and I've been there
ever since. One time, I thought I
would get my woman from this place but I already had
her. She came from Florida, with me!' He
laughed. From his new home, Paul continued to send
out demos of his songs. Writing in the liner notes
to Paul's 'Gonna Stick And Stay' album (Bullseye Blues
CDBB 9523), producer Scott Billington states: 'The
demos were never intended to be more than
functional - they're noisy and technically a bit crude,
with Paul playing guitar and singing all the lead and
background vocal parts. Sometimes he'd use a
bucket or a telephone book for percussion; later, he
used a drum machine. He played the instrumental solos on
a melodica...' adding '...Yet, I'd find myself
mesmerised by the grooves Paul set up for himself and
especially the singing.'
The 'Gonna Stick And Stay' album was '...the realisation
of a dream...' for Scott Billington, recorded at
Ultrasonic Studios in New Orleans in July and August
1992. For Paul, the resultant brilliant effort,
featuring eleven of his own songs, may have been more of
an anti-climax, especially with hindsight, as he talked
about it thus... 'The owner of the company called
me and wanted to do some business and I thought I'd make
a little bit of money. So we went and did that.
Nothing happened but we did it. My voice was going
then. I did not know it then but it was going.
And, in 1994 I came up with congestive heart failure and
again in 1995. I was in hospital. I had a stroke
and didn't know it and I dealt with it and walked passed
it. It cleared up. When it cleared up it was like
I never had it but I haven't got the range I used to
have. I'm reaching but nothing's happening.'
He continued: 'After the two congestive heart
failures, that was when I
realised I had to stop eating meat. I ain't got no
business eating meat. I've been a vegetarian since 1997.'
In 1998, he decided it was time to record again - 'I was
feeling good then though and I'm feeling good now.' -
and, at the Bradleyhouse Studios in Quinby, South
Carolina, he and Marion Carter produced the
appropriately-titled 'Let's Celebrate Life' album for
the local (Elliott, South Carolina-based) Ripete label.
A dozen more Paul Kelly compositions grace the album,
including a remake of 'Stealing In The Name Of The Lord,
but much of the material was around a similar mid tempo
and there were no ballads to show off the best of his
songwriting prowess. Asked if he was
happy with the album, Paulıs reaction was nothing if
not honest... 'No, not really, because it didnıt
sell! It didn't make me a fortune.'
No doubt to the surprise of everyone except those
immediately involved, Warner Bros, in their Warner
Archives cd series, issued a 'Best Of...' retrospective
on Paul Kelly in 1996, twenty tracks drawn from his time
with the label and with a fulsome booklet. Bob
Merlis' liner notes therein
alluded to an autobiography on which Kelly was engaged,
with the working title of 'Changes I Go Through Trying
To Make It'. 'Yes, I'm writing a book,' said Paul,
'but I've been doing that for a number of years. I
haven't touched it in about six months but it's still
ongoing.' When it comes to performing and recording
since the 'Letıs Celebrate Life' album, once again Paul
has been going through something of a hiatus... 'Well,
I've not performed [live] since 1977. It's a
lifetime. Sometimes Iım happy just putting my
feet up, sometimes I'm not. But I've got some
tracks I've been
recording. Some written from way back in the
eighties and the nineties and I've just been recording
for myself. I use studios all over the place.
The world don't know them yet. When I can get a
company that I want to dealwith...'
Interview with Paul Kelly: 22 May 2003 (plus
follow-up telephone up-date)
Acknowledgements: Paul Kelly, Franklin Kelly, Bob
Merlis, John Ridley, Scott
Above Interview appeared in the top soul magazine..