West Grand Blog


The Queen of Soul

There was to have been another topic here today, but…

      These are memories from people who played some part in Aretha Franklin’s life and times. This is what they previously recalled for me about the Queen of Soul, how she made music, why she reigned. And, of course, she was from Detroit.


  • “I said to her, ‘I’ll bring you some songs, you bring me some songs, and we’ll agree. And in the case of a tie, you win.’ Aretha brought in the majority of the songs. It would maybe turn out to be 60/40 or even 70/30.”– Jerry Wexler, Atlantic Records.


  • “Aretha’s husband at that time asked me to write a song for her. Being my first opportunity to write for a well-known artist, best results were very important. The idea was to write an original soul message. Not knowing exactly where to begin, I decided to let vivid imagination be my guide.” – Ronnie Shannon, songwriter, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)."


  • “The material was my concern. Arif [Mardin] surely took care of a lot of the sweetening, the strings and so on. Tommy [Dowd] was generally helpful. Anybody was more than welcome to say anything on his mind – and very often, we would try everything. My theory is that if you have a singer who can also play – and I’m putting it in those terms, I’m not talking about virtuosity – then I want him on that session. Because it puts him more into the game, it’s part of his essence. If you have a great player – an Aretha Franklin, who’s a great player – you surely want her there.” – Jerry Wexler.


  • “With Aretha, it’s very easy to write sweetening parts, strings or horns, because her vocal intensity and dynamics dictate what you have to do. You have to put that string pad or horn pad under, and you have to punctuate with her. You can’t drown her, because she’s live.” – Arif Mardin, Atlantic Records.


  • “I really knew nothing about writing then. I was doing gospel music, and it just kind of came to me, singing to my brothers and sisters, ‘chain, chain, chain.’ [Later] I made the demo with me and my guitar real quick, overdubbed my voice three or four times. I took it to Jerry’s office. All of a sudden, Wexler came in: ‘Hey, man, hey, what’s that? I said, ‘Well, I just finished the song, it’s great for Otis. He said, ‘Hey, man, Aretha needs to hear this.’ And all of a sudden, she was there. ‘It sounds fantastic,’ she said. ‘That’s what I need.’” She’s the greatest pop singer of our time. It was an honour.” – Don Covay, songwriter, “Chain Of Fools.”


  • “[Carolyn Franklin and I] were very close friends. We lived about three blocks apart, and just being in the same business, we just sort of hung out together. Some of the guys in the Four Tops lived not far from her, so we all kind of congregated in that same area. She fooled around with the piano a little bit, but she couldn’t come up with anything she felt was really happening with the song. So I happened to be over one day and she said, ‘Sonny, let’s write it together.’ I said, ‘Hey, no big deal,’ so I sat down at the piano and we fooled around for maybe about 20 minutes. The song felt so great after we finished it, ‘I’m going to give this to sister ’Ree,’ Carolyn said. Aretha liked it right away.” – Sonny Saunders, co-writer, “Angel.”


  • “First, I recorded it on Stevie. Later, four or five years later, Stevie played it for her. He would always start [compositions] and get almost through with them, then leave them alone. Then I put a bridge in it and did some of the lyrics; a lot of the lyrics were written by Morris [Broadnax]. I did the structures and everything. Whatever was missing, I put in. I love Aretha’s version.” – Clarence Paul, co-writer, “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do).”


  • “I had written all of those songs for the youngsters who were acting in Sparkle. What is funny is how the depth of my writing made me think of Aretha. I should have actually released it with the kids, but I was trying to find somebody to do an album with. Somehow Aretha heard the tunes and fell in love with them, and asked if she could do them. It wasn't hard at all. She had her ways, but I had my ways, and found the way to make it work.” – Curtis Mayfield, writer and producer, “Something He Can Feel.”


  • “It’s not politically correct that grief and submission and being dominated can result in anything good, but it sure comes out in some great music. That’s what the blues are all about, and it’s also in gospel. Because of her personal angst, there were problems, marriages, relationships. Sometimes, she would be very moody and very depressed, almost morbidly unhappy. Sometimes, it would be difficult. But once she got into the studio…” – Jerry Wexler.


  • "It was all live, in living colour. We'd be there for maybe 12 to 14 hours sometimes, half the night, so they just sent food in. Everybody who was there knew each other and were friends and everything. We had been singing gospel together all our lives, so we were used to singing together. It was just an extension of what we'd already been doing – we never dreamed it would go on to the heights that it did." – Erma Franklin.


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