Eddie Floyd was unfortunately overshadowed by labelmates such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Rufus Thomas, although he managed both chart success and touring acclaim.
He not only had great hits on his own (most notably, “Knock On Wood”), but wrote songs for others, such as “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me” for Sam & Dave.
Eddie Floyd was born June 25, 1937 (not 1935 as has been so often printed) in Montgomery, Alabama. When he was six weeks old his family moved to Detroit, Michigan. During his youth he was often shuttled between Detroit and Alabama. Now, consciously or not, the best of both worlds seem to have come through in his music.
The unique thing about an Eddie Floyd record is that he combines pop sensibilities with a down-home approach and a smooth, but soulful delivery. He’s able to craft gorgeous melodies and write impeccable lyrics that surely would have made him a Motown star had he opted to stay in Detroit. But by heading to Memphis, Tennessee, where the Stax Records house band Booker T. & the MG’s plus second keyboardist Isaac Hayes and The Memphis Horns added support, and by singing every word with effortless enthusiasm, Floyd cemented himself as one of the premier Southern “Soul Men” of the Sixties. This merger of sounds may very well stem from his time growing up on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.
While in Detroit, Eddie Floyd founded The Falcons. The group set a benchmark that The Temptations, The Four Tops, and so many other similar outfits would follow. Also in The Falcons were Willie Schofield, Sir Mack Rice (who would go on to write dozens of soul classics), and Joe Stubbs (brother of The Four Tops’ Levi). It was during Floyd’s tenure with The Falcons that Mack Rice gave him the nickname “Green Tree” (as if to say Eddie was “money in the bank”). Joe Stubbs sang lead on the group’s bona fide smash “You’re So Fine”. Stubbs was later replaced by Wilson Pickett, who sang lead on the epic “If I Found a Love”. Later, both Pickett and Floyd decided to pursue solo careers, and subsequently The Falcons came to an end.
Floyd stayed put at his uncle Robert West’s Detroit-based LuPine Records. There he employed the talents of background singers Mary Wilson and Diana Ross and future members of The Ohio Players as a backing band.
Eventually Floyd wound up in Washington D.C. where he hooked up with Chester Simmons (who along with a young Marvin Gaye was in the second edition of the singing group The Moonglows) and a disc jockey named Al Bell. They produced some promising material on an artist named Grover Mitchell. This encouraged them to form their own label called Safice. The name represented the first letter of the first and last name of the three (Bell’s real last name is Isbell). Ironically, the label struck a distribution deal with Atlantic, the New York company that distributed the hot new sounds coming out of Soulsville U.S.A., Memphis’s Stax Records.
The Stax Years
Safice began to use the Stax studios in early 1965. While there, Bell and Floyd wrote “Stop! Look What You’re Doing” and later got with Stax’s ace guitarist Steve Cropper to come up with “Comfort Me”. Both were recorded by the queen of the Memphis sound, Carla Thomas. Later, Stax hired Bell to be a promotion man where he used his gifts of tenacity and charm to become a promotion machine. At the same time, Floyd’s talents as a songwriter prompted Stax president Jim Stewart to sign him to a writer’s contract under the East Memphis Music publishing arm.
The pairing of Floyd with Steve Cropper would be one of Stax’s greatest partnerships. Some time earlier, Cropper and Wilson Pickett had written what would be Pickett’s signature tune, “In the Midnight Hour”, Cropper’s and Floyd’s “634-5789” (Soulsville U.S.A.)” was an even bigger hit for Pickett. Also written by Cropper and Floyd was Pickett’s “Ninety-nine and a Half (Won’t Do)”.
Floyd’s first release as an artist for Stax was “Things Get Better”. The song didn’t catch on in the States, but it was his third chart success in the United Kingdom when released there a year and a half later. The song, in Floyd’s words, was nothing more than a demo, as was the next single Stax released on Floyd, which he and Cropper penned with the idea of presenting to Otis Redding. Jim Stewart nixed the idea, citing that the chord changes were too similar to “In the Midnight Hour”. But Cropper smelled a hit” as did Al Bell who even offered to put his own money behind it. And when Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic heard it, they distributed the Floyd treatment nationally. The song was “Knock On Wood”, and it was just the third Stax single to hit number one on the R&B charts.
True to the nature of Stax at the time, “Knock On Wood” was a team effort. Floyd came up with the rhythm on the intro, imagining Native American tom-tom drumming. After Floyd sings, “I’d better knock … “, Al Jackson “knocks” four times, an idea the great drummer got from Steppin Fetchit’s “Open the Door Richard”. The second time around it’s Stax songwriter David Porter’s voice answering Floyd’s “I better knock … “singing, “Knoooock!” The horn lines on the bridge came courtesy of Porter’s songwriting partner Isaac Hayes. This collaborative atmosphere allowed so many great things to come out of the Stax studios, and Floyd felt right at home, quickly becoming one of the guys. Though intended as a demo, “Knock On Wood” typified the Stax sound as much as any single the company ever released.
In 1967, the label embarked on the now legendary “Hit the Road Stax” tour of Europe. Headlined by Redding and Sam & Dave, the tour also featured Floyd riding the success of his new single “Raise Your Hand” as well as The Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the MG’s, who also played behind the vocalists. The tour was hugely successful, and Floyd’s cool grace and confidence won over fans from all parts of the globe.
While at Stax, Floyd’s songs quickly became in great demand. Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge cut Eddie Floyd numbers, as did Stax’s dynamic duo Sam & Dave. On what turned out to be good timing on Floyd’s part, he peeked his head in the door of the studio right as Sam Moore was beginning to ad lib on the intro to “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me”. Seeing Eddie, Moore exclaimed, “Eddie Floyd wrote this song! … this is what Eddie told me to say … “. The song was one of the pair’s greatest outings, but inexplicably is one of so many almost forgotten great records to come out of Stax.
All of Stax’s stars benefited from Floyd’s pen. From soul star Johnnie Taylor to blues great Albert King to Rufus Thomas’s number two R&B smash “The Breakdown”, Eddie Floyd proved he could write for anybody.
Booker T. Jones, the organist and namesake of the Stax house band began writing with Floyd. This partnership proved to be as successful as the team of Floyd and Steve Cropper. The beautiful Otis Redding song “I Love You More Than Words Can Say” was a Floyd/Jones composition, and is an often overlooked gem in Redding’s catalog.
But nobody enjoyed the fruits of the Floyd/Jones team more than Floyd himself. While on tour of England in December of 1967, Floyd found out that his friend and label mate Otis Redding had been killed in a plane crash. Floyd’s own flight back to the States for the funeral was delayed, and while sitting in the airport, he came up with the song “Big Bird”. What he now refers to as his “Rock ‘n Roll” record featured co-writer Jones playing guitar and bass, and the overall effect is like Jimi Hendrix with The Memphis Horns. A spectacular record, it has become an underground soul classic.
The next Floyd and Jones single was co-written with Al Bell. So excited were the three that they woke up Al Jackson at two in the morning and convinced him to come to the studio. The multi-instrumentalist Jones again played everything but drums, and later wrote out string arrangements and directed the players. Jones’s string arrangements were the most tasteful in soul, and the record “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” went to number two on the R&B charts.
Next up was Floyd’s cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”, which did even better on the pop charts than “I’ve Never Found a Girl”, reaching number seventeen.
The last Floyd/Jones single was 1970’s “California Girl”. Jones had left Stax and moved to California. Floyd went to visit, and Booker T. and his wife Priscilla Coolidge (Rita’s sister) greeted him at the airport. Priscilla’s dress (one that Floyd didn’t think she could get away with wearing in Memphis) inspired Eddie to come up with the idea for the song, and the result proved that he and Jones could still work magic together.
Through the mid-Seventies Floyd released top-notch material. But the once mighty Stax faced mounting financial and legal troubles and the truth is, like so much other deserving Stax product, there was little or no promotion.
On December 19, 1975, a day etched in Eddie Floyd’s memory for more reasons than one, his two-year-old daughter shot herself with his pistol. Floyd called the company to get his Medical insurance details. He remembers, “The lady told me, ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t get off into that right now because the Federal Marshals are here and they’re closing up the place”. The greatest soul label of them all was no more. For the record, Floyd’s beautiful daughter Nicole is now married with a child of her own.
The following years would see Amy Stewart have a massive disco hit with “Knock On Wood”. And Floyd watched the influence he and his Stax compadres had. Just witness Paul Young as giddy as an English school lad when meeting Floyd in England. Or Floyd being generous enough to come and say hello to a young fan and his band while they performed in Memphis. That fan was Bruce Springsteen who later cut “Raise Your Hand”. Floyd also performed dates with Paul Young and his Q-Tips and duetted with Welsh Soul Man Tom Jones and Italian superstar Zucchero.
In the Eighties, Floyd released an album on Seasaint Records, the label owned by legendary New Orleans producer Allen Toussaint and partner Marshall Seahorn, and another album on Stax singer/songwriter William Bell’s WRC Records. In 1989, Floyd was part of a spectacular soul show put on by the late Lee Atwater for George H. W. Bush’s Presidential inauguration. After Floyd’s performance, Steve Cropper and MG’s bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn asked him to perform some shows with the newly reformed MG’s. This led to Eddie Floyd being the star attraction with Cropper’s and Dunn’s Blues Brothers Band. Although Floyd has performed with Dan “Elwood Blues” Aykroyd at various House of Blues venues across the United States. The Blues Brothers Band is a non stop enterprise that features Floyd and other singers including Larry Thurston. They draw record crowds anywhere in the world they go to this day. Floyd in 1980 also released material on the UK label, I-Spy Records owned and created by UK act Secret Affair. In 1990, Floyd, along with the MG’s and The Memphis Horns, Carla Thomas, and Sam Moore filmed Back to Stax in Cannes, France. Floyd had the crowd on their feet from beginning to end. His energetic performance lit up the screen, and he finished with a show-stopping version of “Big Bird”.
The Blues Heritage Society gave Floyd the prestigious Pioneer Award in 1996. The honor was bestowed on him not just for his work in R&B, but for his influence in all forms of music. There’s no clearer evidence of that than the fact that “Knock On Wood” alone has been covered by well over sixty different artists from Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald to Buddy Guy, Toots & The Maytals (Floyd, by the way, has Jamaican roots), and David Bowie. Floyd was later recruited to be part of a tribute album to Van Morrison, on which he decided to sing Morrison’s “Crazy Love”.
Floyd then got a chance to do what many of his peers had done. Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and now Wilson Pickett, Sam Moore, and Floyd himself, got to shine on the big screen courtesy of The Blues Brothers franchise. Blues Brothers 2000, released in 1998, had former Falcons Wilson and Eddie starring as Ed and Mr. Pickett, the proprietors of “Ed’s Love Exchange”. The phone number, 634-5789. The lifelong friends/rivals duetted on what was perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie.
Floyd received the 2002 Memphis Sound Award at the annual Blues Ball, joining previous winners The Memphis Horns, Carl Perkins, and legendary Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell. That night Floyd said, “I’m gonna show ya why they gave me this award.” On a show that included Memphis luminaries such as The Bar-Kays, Sam the Sham, Carla Thomas, and Isaac Hayes, Floyd, as usual, proceeded to basically steal the show and walk away with everyone in his back pocket.
The joy Eddie Floyd has on stage is contagious. He’s done it for almost fifty years and he’d do it for fifty more. As he says, “I’ve never been one for sitting at home, and I don’t think I’m going to be converted otherwise. You see, being a ‘Soul Man’ is a full time occupation. “
After performing twenty-eight straight nights in Japan with The Blues Brothers, Floyd flew home to Alabama on an unusually cold January night. With less than twenty-four hours rest, the sixty-five year old strutted back and forth across the stage like a teenager, electrifying the crowd with “634-5789”, “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)”, and had the Governor of Alabama knocking on wood. That night the man who now calls Montgomery his home was inducted into the rich Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Effective May 2, 2003, 926 East McLemore Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, was alive again. The Stax Museum of Soul Music had its Grand Opening housed in a rebuilt Stax Records. As part of the week long festivities, Floyd and other Stax greats, with Solomon Burke and AI Green, delivered the concert of a lifetime. Dubbed “Soul Comes Home”, the concert was filmed at Memphis’s Orpheum Theatre to be broadcast on PBS in August 2003 and to be released on CD and DVD.
Summertime 2003 means back to Europe with The Blues Brothers Band and an appearance with B.B. King in Spain in a Stax special in Italy.
In 2004, Floyd joined the Bill Wyman the former bass player of the Rolling Stones group on tour though Europe and the UK. He has continued to tour once a year with Bill until present.
Floyd joined the Stax group June 2007 for the 50th Anniversary of Stax in Memphis at the Orpheriuim with Isaac Hayes, William Bell and Mavis Staples.
Eddie has also joined Poncho Sanchez at Latin percussionist in recording one of Floyd’s old tunes “Raise Your Hand”. Eddie and Poncho are singing vocals on “Knock on Wood” also. On one the session was Steve Cropper, Booker T. Jones and Maceo Parker and of course Poncho Sanchez’s Band.
In 2008, Floyd returned to Stax Records which is now owned by Concord Music Group. His first new album in six years, Eddie Loves You So was released on 29 July 2008.
Edited by promisedeyes on 22 Apr 2013, 20:09
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