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Top Five R&B/Soul Singers I'd Love to Accompany on Guitar

Space Orphan is a Denver-based psychedelic funk band with a brand-new record, Shut Up About the Sun, coming out September 30—and streaming exclusively on Relix September 27. You can check out their first single, “Superphonic,” below and also read about “The Top Five Soul Singers We’d Love to Accompany on Guitar.” Enjoy! 

 

RAY CHARLES

One of the reasons Ray’s on this list is the fact that his music is so diversely influenced. In his catalog—and often in just one song—you can hear the deep influence of blues, jazz, gospel and country. For a guitar player, this means keeping things fresh harmonically and being able to play different styles throughout a show. His live recordings can put me in an absolute trance even though I’m merely listening on my home stereo. Imagine getting to be a part of it in real time! I particularly love the dramatically slow ballads that highlight his vocal character and ability. Check out “Drown In My Own Tears,” live in ’59.

 

SAM COOKE

As if getting to listen to the smoothest voice in soul night after night wouldn’t be enough, this would be a great guitar gig because there Sam has quite a few songs where the guitar plays a more “out front” role than in other soul music of the time. Sam’s band was usually smaller than Ray’s, and there was more room for beautiful guitar work to shine. Not necessarily soloing, of course, but comping and filling in a way that really adds to the melodies Sam sings.  Here’s one of my favorite examples, “That’s Where It’s At.”

 

DONNY HATHAWAY

Vocal perfection aside, Donny had another thing going for him that would make playing in his band incredible: jamming! Any listen to Donny’s live recordings makes it obvious he was very gracious to his band members. Everyone would have a solo or two by the end of the night—not necessarily standard protocol for R&B singers of the time—and it often was the big finish of the show to highlight the band. Donny knew how to share the spotlight. I’d also get to play with bassist Willie Weeks, and that’s a whole other dream for anyone interested in learning about groove! Check out the tasty guitar fills in “Jealous Guy.”

 

ARETHA FRANKLIN

From the greasiest Muscle Shoals recordings to the upbeat gospel stomps recorded live in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Aretha’s music had style and spirit. I’ve tried for years to cop the swampy tremolo guitar vibe of the former and the spirit and slightly pushed grooves of the latter. Backing Aretha would mean playing with drummer Bernard Purdie, which would be another massive lesson in groove and rhythm. Check out this track and its transition from subtle funk to straight-up gospel stomp: “Spirit in the Dark.”

 

JAMES BROWN

We all know that the J.B.s changed funk as we know it and gave soul music a whole new sound. James was certainly not easy to work for, according to accounts from former band members, but getting to be a part of a sound that was that influential would likely be worth it. Playing alongside Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Bootsy Collins and the like is enough for me. Also, even if James was hard to work for, they didn’t call him “the hardest working man in show business” and “the godfather of soul” for nothing. The guy put on a hell of a show, made groundbreaking music and sang his ass off all the way to the end. Check out “It’s a Man’s World.”

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