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There is a whole genre’s worth of performers who draw large crowds throughout the American South (and parts of the North) and who sell a sizeable amount of music, but rarely get mainstream media press, rock website attention, or airplay on stations that program for younger folks. I’m talking Chitlin Circuit soul aka Southern Soul.As these artists occasionally draw from a related 12 bar song form, the promoter is billing the traveling festival hitting Showplace Arena, 14900 Pennsylvania Avenue, in Upper Marlboro, Maryland Friday night March the 13th at 8 as “The Blues is Alright Tour,” and locally as “The Capitol Blues Festival.” However, do not expect beer commercial style guitar heroics.
With a roster featuring Clarence Carter, Marvin Sease, Latimore, Mel Waiters, and Roy C., the focus will be on earthy lyrics about drinking, womanizing, hanging out, and memories of good ol’ days.While the artists can get raunchy, Marvin Sease does “The Candy Licker,” Mel Waiters has the “Get It On Song,” and veteran performer Clarence Carter does “Strokin,’”all of the performers also have some storytelling lyrics that work thanks to their gospel-rooted vocals and upbeat keyboard, bass and drum backing rhythms.
One of my fave albums in the genre is Mel Waiters’ 2006 Throwback Days. Waiters’ warm syllable-stretching beautifully conveys the melancholy message of the title cut, while he gets raspier on the upbeat “Friday Night Fish Fry.”I talked briefly on the phone with Waiters.
WCP: So you have a new album coming out?
MW: Yes, the single came out last week. I produced it myself. I wrote some songs myself and did some with others including Robert Conerly [He co-wrote “Friday Night Fishfry”].
WCP: Where did you record it?
MW: I have my own facility.
WCP: Where are you from?
MW: Born and raised in San Antonio.
WCP: So you’ve done some d.j.’ing?
MW: I did radio for 9 years before becoming an artist. Now I have a weekly program called “Friday Night Fish Fry” that’s syndicated online [www.southernsoulradio.com].
WCP: Your songs all have lyrics that resonate.
MW: I take a lot of time in selecting material because it has to represent me.
WCP: Who are some singers that you admire?
MW: The late Johnny Taylor and Tyrone Davis.
WCP: How would you describe your sound? How is it different from others?
MW: My forte is a Southern soul thing with a blues twist in the lyrics. My production is r’n’b and its danceable. Every now and then I do a blues cover like Z.Z. Hill’s “Bump and Grind.”
WCP: Do you wish you could reach other audiences, like blues-rock ones and others?
I did a blues cruise. That showed me I could reach that audience. I try to mix it up.
WCP: Some of it is marketing. It doesn’t always seem like your label is reaching out.
MW: There’s no artist development and money put into promotion by record companies any more, so I’ve been saving my money to make my budget and promote Mel Waiters to where I wanna be. It’s just another level I want to go to. I feel like I have a 10 or 12 year run left in this business and I want to give it a shot.