Souls stars come and go and but some have a permanence that betrays real commitment to their art and often a belief that God has given them something quite special to share. In that last category is veteran soul man JOE SIMON…. “The Reluctant Superstar”.
Louisiana born Simon is a true soul survivor. His career started in the church, singing gospel. He switched to the Devil’s Music when he signed to Hush Records, scoring a hit with ‘My Adorable One’ in 1964. His career really took off in 1966 when he signed to Sound Stage 7 where his hits included ‘My Special Prayer’, ‘No Sad Songs’ and ‘The Chokin’ Kind’, which remains a country/soul classic.
A move to Spring Records eventually saw Joe working with Philly legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and the result was the groundbreaking long player ‘Drowning in the Sea of Love’ which married uptown slickness with good old southern soul flavours. The title track and cuts like ‘I Found My Dad’ and ‘Pool Of Bad Luck’ were big hits.
More hits followed but in the mid 80s Joe quit secular music and rediscovered his religion. Joe says; “I had everything a man could want in life, in a material way, but it didn’t fill this certain void I kept experiencing. After a period of intense bible study and preparation; I preached my first sermon as a minister to 4,500 people in Alexandria, Louisiana on Saturday, August 6, 1988. I continue to travel and minister to this day with my Evangelistic Community Crusades. Today I can attest that my greatest joy in life was the day I met Christ.”
Joe was eventually ordained a bishop but still the secular awards kept coming. In 1999 he received the rhythm and blues foundation pioneer award and this April he was awarded a very special “Phillies” award – an honour set up to celebrate the work of Gamble and Huff in Philadelphia. Previous winners include Teddy Pendergrass, Patti Labelle, the Delfonics and Jerry Butler. Kenny and Leon made the award to Joe on Friday June 17th at the Phillies baseball team’s home ground, Citizens Park.
Bishop Simon was absolutely delighted but is adamant that he can’t be tempted back to make secular music. He’s happy and fulfilled in his ministry and, yes, he still records… gospel songs obviously. His latest single, credited to Bishop Joe Simon, is the driving, testifying ‘Lord They Said I Wasn’t Gonna Be Nothing’. Tight soul beats propel the tune but the highlight is Joe’s still strong, world-weary voice. A diligent internet search will lead you to the track.