What Is Deep Soul?
The late Dave Godin invented this term and in a number of essays and articles defined what he meant by the term. I couldn't repeat all that he's written on the subject here, but there are a few quotes from some recent writing of his that may help to set the scene.
“Deep soul is unique in as much as it is the only musical genre, operating within what is generally known, (in the widest sense) as “popular music”, that reflects deep and profound emotions, and a seriousness of purpose that rejects all trivialities and superficialities.”
“… music that comes with a very special “attitude”, and if there is one quality…it has to be sincerity. From the heart, and as always…of lasting and abiding cultural value”
“Deep soul is the logical, natural and unfeigned successor to, and development of, the blues, the more sober and reflective side of life that develops when events have conspired to help it dawn on you that life isn’t always one big party…”
For Godin the tempo of a piece of music wasn’t part of the criterion for classification as Deep Soul, and he included in his definition cuts from artists as diverse as Rick James and Smokey Robinson. And from that standpoint there isn’t an artist on this website who couldn't – or shouldn't - be called a Deep soul singer.
Now I'm all in favour of elastic and wide-ranging musical categorisation like this - after all it makes it so much easier to get your own individual preferences sorted out. This site, however, uses the more accepted definition of deep soul which was developed during Godin's lengthy “interregnum” from involvement in music from the late 70s to the 90s.
So where you see the words “Deep soul “ or more commonly “deep soul ballad” it will refer to tracks that are slow in tempo, intense in nature and feel, with heavily gospel styled vocals and which are almost always concerned with various aspects of love and relationships. Deep soul singing is the transmission of feelings and “heavy” emotional sentiments. The music is aimed at the heart not the head.
Often the tracks will use country or gospel based chord progressions and many will be in the classic 6/8 format. In the 60s horn sections were prominent, string arrangements being more apparent in the next decade, but there are many great deep soul records that only feature a rhythm section. Almost all deep soul discs allow the singer “room” to convey the sense of the lyric – the key is that you should be listening to the singer and the "feel" not the beat. Hence deep soul isn't dancing music.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
The gospel antecedents of deep soul have been well documented, and the vast majority of the artists here will have sung in black churches in their youth. Indeed most of the very best singers in the genre developed their vocal skills in pro or semi pro gospel groups before pursuing a secular career.
The writer Barney Hoskins has done much to bring back into focus the debt that a lot of black music from the South of the USA has to country styles and traditions. The debt to the blues particularly through balladeers like the incomparable Bobby Bland is perhaps too obvious to require any elaboration here.
However, there is one variety of late 50s and early 60s music that contributed strongly to the development of deep soul that has yet to receive wide recognition – the bluesy, horn laden songs from Louisiana that are now called Swamp Pop. Labels such as Jin, Lanor and La Louisisanne for example issued cuts by both black and white artists in this period that had all the stylistic hallmarks of deep soul bar the intensity of the gospel vocals.
Examples of this influence would be recordings by artists like Bobby Charles, Joe Barry, Cookie & The Cupcakes and Jimmy Donley. Listening to the approach of -say - Tommy McLain's version of "Sweet Dreams" and then the magnificent deeps soul cut by Mighty Sam shows quite clearly how much Memphis and Muscle Shoals horn charts owe to New Orleans and other studios from that part of the US.
WHAT IS SOUTHERN SOUL?
This is the (comparatively) easy bit.
“Southern Soul” is simply music recorded in studios south of the Mason Dixon line in the US. The term is also used here as shorthand for musical styles that were developed there, wherever the actual recording took place. For example, Aretha Franklin’s Atlantic recordings were often laid down in New York, but the sound was authentically southern, and not just because the key Muscle Shoals players were flown up to the Big Apple to accompany her.
If there’s any confusion about this issue it arises through the prevalence of the term “Northern Soul”. This refers, of course, not to a geographical location in the US but to one in the UK. And to a particular brand of music danced to in the clubs there. Due to the fact that there are a large number of lightweight, “poppy” records played on that scene – as well as a small number that would qualify for a mention at this site – the use of the term “Northern Soul” in these webpages is almost always not a recommendation - and could even be considered a term of abuse. It is axiomatic that if a 45 has a Northern side and a deep side, the former track will be far the worse.