The history of many soul groups and duos is often complex. Egos, health issues, fallings out and musical disagreements led to regular personnel changes and in some cases you end up with various iterations of the same combo chasing the deals and the big bucks. The history of JAMES AND BOBBY PURIFY isn’t as complicated as most but it bears a brief retelling.
The original duo were formed in 1965 and consisted of James Lee Purify and his cousin Robert Lee Dickey who became James’ musical “brother”. Signed to Bell Records their biggest hits were ‘I’m Your Puppet’ and ‘Let Love Come Between Us’ – both still regarded as soul classics. In 1971 Dickey (Bobby) retired from music citing health issues and James pursued a solo career. In 1974 FAME studio producer Dan Penn (who’d written, produced and recorded ‘I’m Your Puppet’) introduced James to southern soul man Ben Moore. Impressed by Moore’s passion and commitment, James Purify recruited him to the team as a the new “Bobby Purify” and they went on the road and re-recorded some of their hits. Real success was hard to find though and by 1980 the Purifys were no more. Maybe “Bobby” has seen this coming and released his own solo LP ‘Purified’ in 1979 – still using the Bobby Purify monicker, though.
Sadly, in 1998 he went blind and that was almost that, till 2005, when he was reunited with Dann Penn who, encouraged by the then current renaissance of old soul stars like Solomon Burke, decided to record an album with Ben Moore/”Bobby Purify”. The LP, ‘Better To Have It’ was critically acclaimed and Ben/Bobby was meant to tour the recording but two successive hurricane seasons and his blindness put an end to those aspirations — despite a Blues Foundation nomination for Comeback Album of The Year.
By the end of 2007 it was clear that despite some sales success with the record, Bobby was simply not able to tour on his own, so when a position was offered to him for a place in the Blind Boys of Alabama, it was an easy choice to make. He continued to tour and record with that band until he died in 2022.
Fairly quickly, the original ‘Better To Have It’ album was deleted and it’s long been out of print. So, Southern soul collectors will be delighted to learn that the album is all set for a reissue … and a very special reissue at that. You see, The Last Music Co have licensed not only the original ten trac LP but have also been given access to Dan Penn’s original demos of the songs. Thus, ‘The Inside Track On Bobby Purify’ is a wonderful 20 tracker that offers a remarkable insight into the whole music making process.
Penn’s ten demos make up the first part of the disc; they’re simple and uncluttered – often it’s just Penn’s voice and piano or organ. The fullest demo production is the quite lovely ‘Things Happen’, so no surprise, that the finished Bobby Purify take on that on is amongst the set’s highlights. Again, it will come as no surprise to learn that the music mood is mainly sombre, melancholic balladry. ‘I’m Qualified’ is a whole lot jauntier, though, while the closing track (both demo and finished), ‘Somebody’s Gotta Do It’ is classic southern style funk. Indeed “classic” is the word we need to keep coming back to here. With Dan Penn in the chair, musicians like Spooner Oldham, Reggie Young, David Hood and Wayne Jackson in the studio and the world weary, old school voice of Ben Moore, classic southern soul could be the only outcome.
Dan Penn, ‘The Inside Track On Bobby Purify’ is released on February 16th via The Last Music Co and it comes with an extensive booklet containing the complete story of the recordings with interviews and photos from the sessions. It’s a fitting tribute to one of the great lost voices of the southern soul genre…”Bobby Purify”.