Arthur Conley: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — July 20, 2022


524) Arthur Conley — “People Sure Act Funny”

Arthur Conley was way more than a one (“Sweet Soul Music”) or two (“Funky Street”) hit wonder. His ’68 A-side “People Sure Act Funny” reached #58 (#17 R&B), and, as Lindsay Planer says, was a “fun and funky closer” to his ’68 album Soul Directions. Linsday notes that the song “bears more than just a trace of Joe Tex’s influence” — oh man, yeah, with the guffaws — “even as it had actually been recorded by the likes of Lee Dorsey”. ( I would love for there to have been a Joe Tex version! The song was originally released in ’62 by Titus Turner (and written by Turner and James McDougal). Unfortunately, Conley’s album only made it to #185 on the Billboard chart.

Jason Ankeny gives us some history:

Arthur Conley sang and (with mentor Otis Redding) co-wrote the 1967 classic “Sweet Soul Music,” arguably the finest record ever made about the genre it celebrates. . . . Conley was just 12 years old when he joined the Evening Smiles . . . gospel group . . . . By 1963 [age 17!] he was leading his own R&B outfit,  Arthur & the Corvets which over the next two years issued three singles . . . . Despite Conley’s graceful yet powerful vocals . . . the . . . singles earned little attention, and he dissolved the group to mount a solo career, releasing “I’m a Lonely Stranger” . . . . Label owner Rufus Mitchell . . . passed a copy of the single to . . . Redding, who was so impressed he invited Conley to re-record the song at Memphis’ Stax Studios. . . . At Redding’s urging, Conley signed to Atco-distributed Fame Records for his next single . . . “I Can’t Stop (No, No, No).” Though his strongest, most incendiary record to date, it met the same commercial indifference that greeted his previous efforts. Likewise, the follow-up “Take Me (Just as I Am)” fell on deaf ears . . . . At that point Redding took an even greater role in Conley’s career, encouraging his songwriting and advising him in business decisions; while jamming on a cover of Cooke’s “Yeah Man,” the pair began tinkering with [it], creating . . . “Sweet Soul Music.” . . . [which] reaching number two on both the Billboard pop and R&B charts . . . . [When] Redding [was] killed in a Wisconsin plane crash . . . the singer’s career threatened to revert back to its rudderless beginnings, but in early 1968 Conley righted the ship . . . . [producing] . . . some of [his] finest material, including . . . “People Sure Act Funny[]” . . . . [and, of course,] “Funky Street,” which hit number five on the Billboard R&B chart and number 14 on its pop counterpart. . . .

Red Kelly adds that:

When Otis Redding died in December of 1967, Arthur Conley not only lost his best friend, but his producer as well. Once things had calmed down a bit, Atlantic teamed him up with their most empathetic and sensitive producer, and booked him into American in Memphis to record material for a new album . . . . The music Tom Dowd and Arthur came up with there in early 1968 is simply amazing, yet often overlooked in favor of Conley’s Fame sides.

As to Conley’s later life, Tate Dunbar writes that:

After four unsuccessful songs over a three-year period, Conley in 1975 moved to England and then to the Netherlands in 1977. In 1980 he legally changed his name to Lee Roberts, adopting his middle name and his mother’s maiden name.  He also formed a new group and toured Europe as Lee Roberts and the Sweaters.  By the end of 1980 he settled permanently in the Dutch town of Ruurlo. From there he operated Art-Con Production company and promoted the heavy metal band from The Hague, Netherlands, Shockwave. Conley was gay and some observers claimed that as one of the reasons for his move to Europe and his name change.  He believed that his sexual orientation held back his career as an R&B singer in the United States.

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