“I’ve been down one time…
And I’ve been down two times.
But right now I’m drowning…
Drowning in the sea of love.”
Ray Charles is considered one of the first artists to meld country with urban R&B, a musical combination music executives felt would never find favor with pop audiences in the sixties. Releasing “Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music” in 1962 to an enthusiastic buying public, ABC Records found a new musical format to market to a mass audience. The success Charles experienced paved the way for Joe Simon, a Louisiana-born soul belter who would find success on the pop, R&B and country charts. His early days were spent recording gospel music with some success, but he was urged to move into the secular realm due to his powerful voice and stage presence. Simon signed to Chicago imprint Vee Jay Records, releasing several singles including ‘My Adorable One’ and ‘Let’s Do it Over’ in 1965 to regional chart success. Vee Jay Records went out of business around this time, allowing Simon to relocate to Nashville and sign with Monument Records, home of Roy Orbison and Ivory Joe Hunter.
The acclaim Simon would experience in Nashville would exceed all expectations, with country crossover success culminating in the singles ‘(You Keep Me) Hangin’ On’, ‘Nine Pound Steel’ and the number one country and R&B hit ‘The Chokin’ Kind’ in 1969. The melding of these genres would go on to influence seventies singer songwriters, including Bill Withers, and further the integration of African American artists into predominantly white radio markets. Defining his sixties period with these country releases, Simon would move into the seventies with Polydor subsidiary Spring Records. Taking his music into the symphonic soul movement being spearheaded by Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records, Simon would soon experience another run of R&B hits.
Not to be confused with the often covered fifties doo wop classic ‘Sea of Love’, ‘Drowning in the Sea of Love’ was a massive seller in 1971. The song is a reverb laden classic that defined the Philly Soul experience, giving this Soul genre one of its finest moments on vinyl. The background vocals and horn arrangements were rich, yet unobtrusive, and the production values brought out the absolute best in their singer. Gamble & Huff wrote and produced the track, but had their biggest success with Joe Simon on the number one smash ‘Power of Love’. The remainder of the seventies saw Simon joining the ranks of soundtrack stalwarts Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, writing and performing the iconic title song to the film ‘Cleopatra Jones’. With his work in Nashville and Philadelphia leaving a strong and lasting musical legacy, Simon has spent the past 30 years as an evangelical preacher in Illinois. Much like Al Green and other early soul pioneers, Joe Simon has decided to return to his roots and focus his attentions away from the commercial music scene. With new artists continuing to cover his classic crossover hits, the body of work he has produced will likely last as a beacon of not only a musical era but also as a key ingredient of a social revolution as well.