Dave Godin, the godfather of R&B
Updated: Jan 11
In memoriam: Dave Godin, one of the most important and influential figures in black American Soul music and the British Soul scene.
October 15, 2004 was another day on the planet. Soldiers and civilians in Iraq were dying in war, George Bush and John Kerry were bickering as a nation decided what direction it would take in the crucial next four years, a new film with Jennifer Lopez opened throughout the U.S.A., Britain's Tony Blair faced overwhelming criticism for taking the nation to war and Ciara hit the top of the American singles charts. And yet, it was also a day to remember the immense contribution of Dave Godin, affectionately referred to as the 'Godfather of R&B in the UK,' the man who first uttered the term 'Deep Soul,' who gave birth to the phrase 'Northern Soul' and someone who was a part of my life for the past forty years. Dave passed away on Friday morning after a period of ill health and while I was are that he had been dealing with health issues for some years, I was unaware of the exact nature of his illness. Thus, learning of his passing was initally quite a shock. But once I had time to take it in, all I could was reflect on the high jinx that surrounded the early years starting Soul City (the very first record store in Europe dedicated entirely to sale of R&B), the funny stories, the precious moments and the long history we shared together as soul music devotees.
I first met Dave around the time I had begun an appreciation society (read, 'fan club') for the great Nina Simone. The year was 1965 and my initial passion for the music of Black America had been fueled by the likes of Dionne Warwick, Martha & The Vandellas ("Heatwave" was my first Motown 45!) and others whose careers were in their infancy. Word of Dave and his Tamla Motown Appreciation Society (or TMAS) had trickled down to me through my membership of the Dionne Warwick/Shirelles Fan Club and Scepter-Wand Appreciation Society run so ably by the late Gloria Marcantonio. Gloria spoke with much reverence of Dave, explaining to me that he had really been the one responsible for bringing awareness of the music of Motown to the British media. He had campaigned for Berry Gordy Jr. to bring the Motortown Review to the U.K. and while that initial trip was far from being a moneymaker, it afford curious British music buyers their first glimpse of the purveyors of the fabulous sounds emanating from Detroit. Dave was instrumental in this process, reflecting his unending passion for the music. While he supported the hits that Motown was churning out, it was the "B" level of acts at the label that drew him in: Hattie Littles, Brenda Holloway, Kim Weston, these were the 'real' stars for Dave and his love for records that were the embodiment of what would became known as 'deep soul' was evident from the first time we met.
I was, I confess, a little intimidated when Gloria first took me over to his home in Bexleyheath. I was all of 17 years old, still attending Kilburn Grammar School, somewhat shy and not well practiced in social skills. I was being granted an 'audience' with the eminence gris of soul music in Britain and my first reaction was that Dave was just a little eccentric - in manner and tone. I had never met anyone quite like him and I confessed to Gloria that I was a little afraid! Some of the fear melted when he insisted on playing records like "Giving Up" by Gladys Knight & The Pips and "Every Little Bit Hurts" by Brenda Holloway; fortunately, Dave was impressed by my love for Nina Simone, an artist who had earned the right to occupy a place in the pantheon of R&B of the day by virtue of her original recording of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" which had been mercilessly covered by the British group The Animals and had become (as did most UK recordings of R&B songs of the day) a massive hit for the Newcastle-based group. Dave was understandably indignant that Nina's original had been lost without a trace when released in Britain and my championing her cause made he and I instant comrades in the fight to bring awareness of great R&B to the unsuspecting British record-buying public!
Transitioning from his leadership of the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society to the creation of his own magazine, "Rhythm & Soul USA," Dave gave me a chance to write a feature on Nina; he also gave me my first 'assignment' as a journalist, writing a piece on Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne's younger sister. Gloria Marcantonio set it up and I thought it went well, even though I was quite nervous! Dee Dee later complained to Gloria that I had spent way too much time asking questions about her elder sister but the bottom line was that my first real interview saw the light of day in "Rhythm & Soul USA"! It would mark the very beginning of my 'career' as a music journalist: I finally had found a way to marry my love and passion for music with my ability to write, another passion that first gained expression when I starting writing love stories at the age of six!
From that first fateful opportunity, Dave Godin's path and mine became inextricably bound for what would be at good five years or so. He knew of my experience in working in record stores (at first just a way of earning pocket money while I soaked up the sounds of R&B on Saturday mornings) and he felt that a record store specializing in R&B would fulfill a void for the small but ever-growing number of faithful soul music fans in London and beyond. With his friend Robert Blackmore, we started Soul City in the autumn of 1966. The true story behind how we came up with the initial funding (a hilarious story of great intrigue!) will make far better reading in a future book I definitely intend to write but to suffice it to say, it was the start of a wonderful adventure for all three of us. Launched at 21 Deptford High Street in South London with parts of both my and Dave's record collections, the shop made an initial impact. But Dave's vision was that we could reach far more people if we moved uptown - or more specifically to the West End. 17 Monmouth Street would become our home for the next few years and it would take pages and pages (all to be revealed in that future tome I'm promising to write) to tell the whole story! Suffice it say that we had many adventures! The 'state' visit of Big Maybelle, the constant battles to keep the store in business by begging our suppliers to give us credit, the time we were hired to help promote the UK launch of Sly & The Family Stone, the launch of the Soul City label, the run-ins with U.S. record executives, the drama with recording artists when we decided to release original product, the crazy plan to start the Deep Soul label and all manner of personal drama much of which may never be revealed!
The folks I met...Vicki Wickham, Dave Kapralik, our faithful importers Mr. & Mrs. Shapiro...the times we had - Nina Simone's visit, the call telling us that Aretha Franklin and then-husband-manager Ted White wanted to know our store hours so they could come buy some records! The Christmas bonus that led me to speak with Aretha in December '66 and Dave to speak with Big Maybelle that same day. Working in the shop, helping to do the release sheets and publicity for the records we released by such folks as The Staple Singers, Thelma Jones, Erma Franklin, The Emotions and Roy Hamilton while keeping creditors at bay was all part of the rough and tumble of life at Soul City but as the pioneering team we were, we didn't mind for it was all in the cause of the music that had so touched our very souls.
Dave and I had our differences - including a contentious fight over the authenticity of Lorraine Ellison's over-the-top emoting on her classic "Stay With Me" which he considered 'contrived' and I considered 'real'! We weren't of the same mind on many subjects such as his strict vegetarianism and atheism and we had our share of arguments and disagreements - like the time he locked my sister Sylvia and I out of Soul City claiming we were trying to maneuver a takeover of the shop with then "Blues & Soul" editor John Abbey. But all was forgiven and much forgotten as Dave took the lead in writing wonderful columns for "Blues & Soul," giving honor and exposure to so many of the obscure and little-known artists whose music had been such a vital part of what we had created at Soul City and through the Soul City and Deep Soul labels. Of course, our paths would diverge, Dave moving to the North of England where his status as a legend on the scene had been set from the day he first gave a name to "Northern Soul" as a specific genre of music, I making the trek westward to live in New York.
During those early years after I had moved to the U.S. in the '70s, we didn't have much contact but as the '80s and '90s rolled around and once e-mail became an essential mode of communication, Dave and I were in touch much more frequently. I was heartened to see that he was finally getting his due for the tireless work he had done as a champion for black music from back in the late '50s by virtue of the great series that he did for Britain's Ace Records, the appropriately-titled "Deep Soul Treasures - Taken From The Vaults," the fourth of which was just issued in the U.K. weeks ago. It was brilliant that with the creation of CDs, Dave got to use his unlimited knowledge and life-long love for the music once more in bringing back the precious music of folks like Loretta Williams, Jean Stanback, Jimmy & Louise Tig, Toussaint McCall, Bessie Banks, Jaibi, Doris Duke and Jean Wells.
I had the privilege of contributing to the liner notes of Volume 3 in the series and I quote myself in saying "thank you" to my good friend Dave Godin for introducing me to the great artists who gave birth to the music that has become my own lifeblood and helped give me my career in the biz.
Fortunate are those who know the contribution they have made to others during their lifetime and there is no question that Dave Godin knew the impact he had made through his work as a writer, reissue producer and historian, a man who helped put R&B and soul music on the map in Britain and beyond. I remember now with much humor and fondness: he was truly one of a kind and it gives me much pride and joy (to quote Mr. Gaye) to say that I could call him a soul-to-soul lifelong friend.
David Nathan, Los Angeles, October 17, 2004
Original tribute by David Nathan can by found on his site:- www.soulmusic.com
Visit Soulful Kinda Music for an archive of Dave Godin's regular columns.