Unfortunately this week’s update is yet again brought about as the result of the passing of another great artist just last night, Mr Billy Paul. Billy (or Paul Williams as he was christened) died at the age of 81 after a battle against pancreatic cancer.
The Philadelphia born singer started out in the early days of his career singing alongside such legends as Nina Simone, Miles Davis & Dinah Washington who were all idols of his. Alongside Gamble & Huff, Paul was credited with being one of the driving forces behind what became known as the “Philly Sound” in the late 60s. Commercial success was to arrive with the colossal worldwide smash hit “Me & Mrs Jones” which netted him a Grammy in the process.
The song I feature for you today was the follow up single to Me & Mrs Jones and proved to be something of a flop by comparison. Paul himself was dead set against releasing the single at the time as he wanted to capitalise on the success of Me & Mrs Jones and felt Am I Black Enough For You? was too controversial a subject matter to follow as his next single. Peaking at just 79 in the US chart, Paul was to be proved right, however the single was to find favour among a very different group of people.
I first came across this track about 15-20 years ago when if featured on a box set that I bought entitled “Diggin’ Deeper, The Roots Of Acid Jazz”. What struck me was how different it sounded to a lot of the other songs on the compilation and it had a vibe about it that made it sound as though Stevie Wonder & Curtis Mayfield got together in the studio and this was the outcome.
With the opening bars of the clavinet particularly reminiscent of some of Stevie’s best work mixed with the bongos and socially-charged lyrics evoking Curtis’ inner-city storytelling, Am I Black Enough.. encapsulated the type of feeling and sound that was dominant in early 70s black America. Still to this day the song sounds so fresh and still does the business in a club and so I’ve featured the full 5 minute version in tribute. R.I.P. Paul and thanks for the music.