Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Me And Mrs Jones Still Got A Thing!

Billy PaulCover of Billy PaulBy Richard Quindry

I'm thinking back to a cold day in December when the future seemed open to every possibility and I was the new father to my eleven month old daughter. That was the day I first heard this song, Me and Mrs. Jones. While I drove down snow-covered streets, thoughts of my child warmed me more than the heater of my old hoop-dee ever could. We had less "stuff" in those days, but we had each other. With the radio set to my favorite station I listened in fascination to this new talent.

Having been a Motown fan since its beginning in the tumultuous Motor City of the 60s, I was as likely to be listening to Smokey Robinson, The Temptations or The Four Tops as I was to the Beatles or the Stones. What the heck, I was even a closet Country & Western fan back then (the 60s) - I finally came out in the late 70s - and would even listen to Johnny Cash, Conway Twitter and Eddy Arnold. At a low volume with the bedroom door closed, that is. I didn't want to get a ribbing from "Joe Mama." Big brothers can be a pain in the ass.

This is the same guy who later stole all my classic vinyl, when I went away to the Air Force years later. Along with my tools and whatever else I left stored in Mom's garage. Getting back to the point; Billy Paul didn't exactly have a stellar career.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Paul Williams began his singing career at the age of eleven. With the help of neighborhood friend he was able to get a spot on WPEN which led to a string of local performances. His style soon developed along the lines of R&B, Pop and Jazz. This was no doubt due to the influence of his mother, who collected such greats as Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington.

Trained and educated in the art of music he attended Temple University, West Philadelphia Music School, and Granoff Music School. He became known as Billy Paul when it was necessary to change his name to avoid confusion with the Temptations lead singer, Paul Williams. He quickly became an underground sensation around "Philly" and after gaining national recognition he was performing in concert with such greats as Sammy Davis, Jr., Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, the Impressions, and Roberta Flack.

He cut his first single for Jubilee records as part of a trio he had formed. It was titled "Why Am I" and was not the huge success that this "Grammy Winning" song later turned out to be. He was drafted into the military shortly afterward. Following his discharge, he did a stint with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and was once compared with Teddy Pendergrass for his "saxophonic baritone."

His first album, Feelin' Good at the Cadillac Club, flopped like a fish out of water. It wasn't until he released 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, his second project (his fourth) with Philadelphia International Records, that he charted with Me and Mrs. Jones. It went on to hold the No. 1 spot for the last three weeks of 1972 and sell more than 2 million copies, which gave it platinum status as a single. "I knew it would be a hit before it was even released," said Paul.

Yeah, there are some songs that you know as soon as you hear it that they are to become legendary. I recall how it was with Satisfaction when the Stones released it in '65. I first heard it on my funky little transistor radio I carried around everywhere that summer before high school.

Paul's career continued to falter with the release of Am I Black Enough, which was considered too controversial. It was shunned by many program directors and consequently it received very little air play, fading after just five weeks. He was then able to score a repeat Top 40 appearance with the ironically titled Thanks for Saving My Life in the spring of 1974. He continues performing after nearly 50 years.

By the way, that neighborhood friend we can thank for helping Billy get his first big break? That was none other than Bill Cosby. Thanks Bill!

Richard Quindry writes fiction and non-fiction on his website. He can be contacted via email at the email address shown below. He accepts free lance assignments and enjoys researching topics of every sort. He is an avid reader of many other Blogs and likes to share ideas with other writers. His favorite books include mysteries, science-fiction and biographies. He also enjoys writing poetry, a talent he acquired from his grandfather.

Richard Quindry

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