The gifted Alabama vocalist Clarence Mann made some really excellent southern soul in the 70s and 80s both as a solo artist and as lead singer in the True Image group, but never seemed to get that big break. And although the settings he recorded in were much “softer” and had bigger orchestration than vocalists who made music in the 60s, his gruff tones, super sense of timing and gospel phrasing were absolutely in the same grand tradition.
Over the years he worked a lot with producer James Terry, and Mann’s first release came out on a label which I would guess that they set up, T & M (Terry & Mann?) in Selma, AL. Both sides get five stars here, but I just prefer Mann’s own aching ballad Have Faith In Me over his really well judged version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation”. Just check out Clarence’s wonderful falsetto burst towards the finish – sheer joy! Terry leased out the next two 45s to Atlanta based Gram-O-Phon and while I really enjoy his version of Dan Brantley’s evergreen “Please Accept My Love” I think his first cut for the label You Met Your Match is better. This hugely melodic number again came from his own pen, and the tricky rhythm is very similar to the sort of arrangement that Malaco were putting together for artists like King Floyd.
For a time after this Mann left his solo career behind to join True Image, with whom he worked for the rest of the 70s and into the 80s. Their first release “I’m Not Over You” was co-written by the great Bill Wright and must have been recorded in Atlanta by Terry. “I’m Not Over You” has long been a dance floor favourite in the UK but the relentless beat doesn’t do a lot for me I’m sorry to say. The group’s next few releases were produced by that excellent man of southern soul Frederick “Witness” Knight whose contribution to the genre remains so sadly underrated.
Knight had a distribution deal with Henry Stone and True Image’s initial release for him came out on Glades, but the beauty of It Ain’t Fair is a perfect vehicle for Mann’s tenor voice – and he doesn’t disappoint in any way. Several other Knight production on the group veer far too close to disco for my taste, although the melodies of tracks like “Different Kind Of Love” and the unissued “A Fool And His Money” make them far more listenable than so many of the breed. But the other standout track from the group is the delicious Tommy Tate / Joe Shamwell ballad It’s Only A Matter Of Time on which Mann gives another fine performance. The 45 promised an LP on the label, but that never appeared.
Instead Knight put out an album credited to Mann only – although it wouldn’t surprise me in any way if it wasn’t the True Image set as three of the tracks had already as True Image 45s – “Different Kind Of Live”, “It’s Only A Matter Of Time” and “It Ain’t Fair”. There were two tracks that Knight also recorded by the outstanding C L Blast, “Somebody Shot The Eagle” and the excellent “Lay Another Log On The Fire”. And it must be said that Mann certainly holds his own on these cuts, despite the “opposition” being amongst the very best. The other selections on the album were the tuneful midpaced “Curtains Up”, the lovely David Camon number “There’s Only Enough Room For Two” and the killer deep soul item You Can’t Deny Me, yet another winner from Tate and Shamwell that Knight himself covered on his fine “Let The Sunshine In” set.
The Mann LP appeared in 1983 although the tracks must have been cut earlier as by then he was back with James Terry, who leased a couple of numbers to the Indianapolis based Flower’s concern. One was Clarence's first try at a song that ex-Mad Lad John Gary Williams first recorded for Stax, “Come What May”, which came out credited to True Image. This song became a big 80s indie disc in the UK and Mann re-recorded it firstly for Wass, and then cut it a third time for Susie Q and Bama. The second Flower’s release was under his own name and was an uptempo song called “Sadity Lady” which didn’t have that easy swaying spark of “Come What May”. But of course Mann’s vocal is still impeccable.
Terry also leased out a track to West Coast music man Joey Jefferson who put out the disco beater “Show Me Girl” on his California Gold label in 1985. The following year Expansion in the UK put out Mann’s version of the Spinners brilliant “I’ll Be Around”, which sounded as though it could well have been cut at the same time as the California Gold 45. But unfortunately this song was also aimed at the disco crowd, and Mann’s wonderful voice was pretty submerged under the sledgehammer synths. And that seems to have been his last vinyl outing so far. But although the last couple of his tracks weren’t up to par, his previous output more than makes up for them. A very talented singer indeed.
You can find a discography at my friend Soul Dennis' excellent blog here. Dennis has got some more details of Clarence's life and career as well.