"Blue-eyed soul" is a term I first saw used in reference to the Righteous Brothers. As a concept, it may have originated (I'm leaving aside the blackface tradition extending from the Christy Minstrels to Al Jolson) with Sam Phillips in Memphis back in the early 1950s, musing about how he could make a million if he could find a white singer who sounded black. His wish was granted in the form of Elvis Presley, who recorded Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" as if it were composed by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, and Crudup's "That's All Right" as if it weren't a white singer's cover. When these first Elvis recordings got some air time on Memphis radio, Peter Guralnick writes in his notes to The Sun Sessions CD, the DJ, Dewey Phillips ( a friend, but apparently not a relative of Sam), interviewed Elvis live on his show in order to ask one question: "Where did you go to high school?" When Elvis answered "Humes", the audience in then segregated Memphis knew he was white.
Since then, many white singers have aspired to achieve what Elvis did in those early recordings; none perhaps so blatantly as Lou Reed. The latest of these shares Lou's surname, if not his style. Eli "Paperboy" Reed, "a Jewish kid from Brookline" (Massachusetts, a close-in suburb of Boston), along with his band, the True Loves, does R&B that evokes sounds from the sixties and seventies (see clip above). This album review suggests, however, that Reed's music is more than a re-creation of old R&B. He spent the better part of two years studying the roots of R&B, first in Mississippi, birthplace of the blues, then in Chicago. The result, according to the review, is a syncretic style that draws on a number of sources, not all of them well known.
Reed is now, like so many critically acclaimed musicians and groups, Brooklyn based.
Eli and the True Loves will be at Le Poisson Rouge, 136 Bleecker Street, this Wednesday evening, August 11. I'll be there and give you a full report.