Today I present the curious case of Nashville-based producer Shelby Singleton, who was born on this day in 1931 in Waskom, TX. Like many mid-century record executives, this was a man of contradictions. However, in an industry dedicated to dividing musical genres along racial lines, Shelby Singleton did much towards bringing the worlds of country and R&B/soul together. He contributed probably as much as anyone could during that era, and yet he also allowed for the release of records with less progressive content under his umbrella of labels.
Was the appearance of the promotion of racial integration purely an accidental outcome of someone simply trying to make a buck in the music business, or was this man truly trying to make a change? I guess I'll never know. I long had fantasies of interviewing him in person to ask that question, but he passed away in 2009. All we have left is music and speculation. Here is the evidence:
His genre bending began with his productions for Brook Benton. Many of those records would fit as neatly within a country music radio playlist of the early 1960s as they would on R&B radio.
He and his protege Jerry Kennedy would go on to blur genre racial lines at Smash Records with artists like Matt Lucas, Pee Wee Crayton, Ivory Joe Hunter, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich.
In the late 1960s he created his own record labels. SSS International and Silver Fox were primarily soul labels and their country sister label was Plantation. These record labels would often share backing musicians, further marrying the genres.
At Plantation with his grooming of Jeannie C. Riley and her Harper Valley PTA sound he built upon the genre of funky country that had been popularized by Bobbi Gentry. He also broke new ground by releasing records by the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry, Linda Martell.
On the flip side at SSS International, his experiments with mixing country and soul culminated in the soul-twang recordings of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson. Never before were country and soul blended in such a bold manner. The sound of Harper Valley and the sound of Muscle Shoals were thrown into a cocktail shaker and out came the twangtastically funky 45"Soul Shake" among many other recordings by the duo.
These experiments are rarely discussed in on-line soul or country music nerd circles and yet their impact can be heard in the funky country and swamp rock music of the the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Record of the Day is a Shelby Singleton production that musically falls closer to soul than country on the Singleton spectrum, however the chorus borrows the language of a square dance caller. This is a serious soul STOMPER and it's one of my favorite floor-fillers.