Arthur Conley

Singer of 'Sweet Soul Music'

Arthur Conley, singer: born Atlanta, Georgia 4 January 1946; died Ruurlo, The Netherlands 17 November 2003.

When the soul music legend Otis Redding discovered Arthur Conley in 1965, he told his manager, Phil Walden, "I've discovered the most dynamic talent I've ever heard." Redding produced Conley's international best-seller, "Sweet Soul Music" in 1967, but his death later that year stymied Conley's career. Although he made several more records, Conley never regained his momentum or, for that matter, the quality of his first LP.

Conley was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1946 and grew up singing in church. He joined a gospel group, the Evening Smiles, and then formed a secular band, Arthur and the Corvets, which opened for soul acts at the Royal Peacock Club in Atlanta. They made some records for local labels, ("I'm Going to Cry" for Moon and "Poor Girl" for Na-R-Co), which did not sell at the time but are highly prized by collectors today.

By 1965 Otis Redding was having hit records and his manager, Phil Walden, suggested that he should do something with his money. As Otis knew about music, they developed a label, Jotis, featuring new artists who would be produced by Redding at the Stax recording studios in Memphis. He heard one of Conley's records on a visit to Atlanta and decided to record him. The first singles, "I'm a Lonely Stranger" and "Who's Fooling Who?", did not convince the public; Redding's other protégés, Billy Young and Loretta Williams, also failed to sell.

In 1967, when the Stax studios were not available, Redding recorded Conley at Fame in Muscle Shoals. Sam Cooke had been killed in 1964 and Conley was intrigued by a track, "Yeah Man", on a posthumous album. The song, a celebration of dance music, was incomplete but Conley suggested that they turn it into a tribute to soul music. With Otis Redding's backing musicians and Redding himself on guitar, Conley celebrated the talents of Lou Rawls, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown, and called the song "Sweet Soul Music".

His performance was so exuberant that the record soared up the charts, making No 2 in the United States and No 7 in the UK; in both countries Conley's record had been more successful than anything by Redding himself. Sam Cooke's publisher was not amused and threatened to sue for plagiarism. The matter was settled out of court, with Redding agreeing to record some of Cooke's songs, which was no hardship.

Sweet Soul Music was a fine début album, and Redding wrote in the liner notes,

Being an A&R man is still a new thing for me. Arthur makes the job exciting through his great artistry. I feel he's in

the early stages of a sensational career as a recording and in-person performer. Listen to him on this new album and see if you don't agree.

Conley came to Europe, supporting Redding and Sam and Dave on the Stax-Volt Revue. Although he could not compete with their dynamics, the audiences warmed to his stage performances. When Redding was killed in a plane crash in December 1967, Conley was devastated. Redding had been planning to record with Solomon Burke, Don Covay, Ben E. King and Joe Tex, as the Soul Clan. Conley took Redding's place but the resulting single, "Soul Meeting" and "That's How I Feel", was a mess and sold few copies.

Conley had further success with "Funky Street" and "People Sure Act Funny", both from his album Soul Directions (1969), and he also recorded a soul version of the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", which was backed by his tribute to Redding, "Otis Sleep On". But on the whole, Conley's career suffered from the loss of his mentor. He moved to Capricorn Records in 1970 and became a parody of himself with "More Sweet Soul Music" and a soul version of "They Call the Wind Maria".

Even after he stopped having hit records, he was still a popular club act. Billy Butler, the DJ at the Mardi Gras in Liverpool recalls,

We put him on in the Seventies and he was really good. He did three or four encores and mixed with the crowd, signing autographs and quite happy to talk about Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin rather than himself. "Baby Help Me" and his version of "Dark End of the Street" were big Northern Soul records. Even his version of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was popular in the clubs.

Conley preferred Europe to America and in 1980 settled in the Netherlands.

Spencer Leigh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor