J Blackfoot: Southern soul singer who took 'Taxi' into the charts in 1984

 

The southern soul singer J Blackfoot made some of the most enjoyable and enduring rhythm and blues records of the late 1960s and '70s as a member of The Soul Children, the vocal quartet whose tenure at the legendary Stax label was overshadowed by the crossover success of the family group the Staple Singers and the emergence of Isaac Hayes as a worldwide superstar.

A vocalist with a distinctive, earthy timbre and an engaging, easy style, Blackfoot went solo and made the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1984 with "Taxi", a ballad co-written by Homer Banks and Chuck Brooks, which he demoed for Johnnie Taylor.

"I knew the song was a hit when I first heard it," recalled Blackfoot of what became his signature song as well as a mainstay of quiet storm radio programmes in the US. "I put the whistle on it and told Homer, 'if you're gonna send that to Johnnie, don't send my whistle. I don't want to give him that good an idea.' We sent it and Johnnie was slow responding, so we recorded it. Later Johnnie told me, 'Hey, I'm glad you got that song, because I've had so many hits.' It was the first time by myself, and I needed that one."

Born John Colbert in 1946, he didn't like to wear shoes as a toddler and was nicknamed Blackfoot by a childhood friend in Memphis. In his teens, he attempted to emulate local favourites The Dixie Nightingales and formed a gospel group. However, he drifted away from Sunday school and the church, fell into petty crime and served three years at the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville. "When you live in poverty in the ghetto, you tend to get into trouble when you're young, " he said in 1993. "I don't know too many people who didn't get into trouble at a young age. I rehabilitated myself, and people have to look at me now."

He shared a cell with Johnny Bragg, who had founded The Prisonaires with fellow inmates and cut "Just Walkin' In The Rain" for Sun Records while on day release in 1953, and had been sentenced to another term for a parole violation. They sang together and he too was allowed out to make his recording debut as John Colbert with two self-penned compositions, "Congratulations" and "Surfside Slide", in 1965.

Following his release two years later, he was spotted singing behind a liquor store near the Stax studio at 926 East McLemore Avenue, by David Porter, Hayes' songwriting and production partner. An audition was arranged and Blackfoot impressed everyone with his renditions of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" and Wilson Pickett's "I'm In Love". When Otis Redding and four members of The Bar-Kays died in a plane crash he helped the remaining Bar-Kays relaunch the outfit but didn't record with them.

Hayes and Porter had other plans. When Sam & Dave became Atlantic artists in 1968, the writers and producers hit upon the idea of making Blackfoot the focal point of a group with a male-female dynamic, The Soul Children, and enlisted Anita Louis, Shelbra Bennett and Norman West to join him. Over the next decade the quartet scored 15 R&B hits, including the gospel-infused "The Sweeter He Is" in 1969, as well as the funky "Hearsay" and "Don't Take My Kindness For Weakness" in 1972, both co-written by Blackfoot. They featured intricate interplay and gorgeous harmonies from all four members, though Bennett was the lead on their biggest crossover, "I'll Be The Other Woman", in 1973.

"I was happy being with Stax," said Blackfoot. "You woke up in the morning and you wanted to go to Stax, just to be in the building." Along with Hayes, Taylor, the Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas and other Stax artists, The Soul Children appeared at the Wattstax concert in Los Angeles in 1972 but their set was cut short. They're represented on the Wattstax album but absent from the Mel Stuart-directed documentary film of the Afro-American Woodstock. Along with Stax's Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1975, this may explain their lower profile with soul fans outside the US.

Despite a few minor hits on Epic and the briefly-revived Stax, The Soul Children disbanded in 1979, though Blackfoot and West relaunched the group in 2007 with two new female vocalists. In the intervening years, Blackfoot issued a dozen solo albums but couldn't better the bullseye that was City Slicker, his 1983 debut which featured "Taxi" – a track so ubiquitous on US R&B stations that Anne LeSear recorded "Take Him Back (Taxi)" in response – and the excellent follow-up single "I Stood On The Sidewalk And Cried".

"What I remember more than anything about him was his naturalness," Porter said about Blackfoot. "When I first heard him, there was naturalness in his phrasing, in his charm, that was unique ... He was a person who was at home on stage, he was an entertainer and a true one. He was a tremendous talent, he had a signature all his own. When you would hear him, you would know it was him instantly."

John Colbert (J Blackfoot), singer and songwriter: born Greenville, Mississippi 20 November 1946; died Germantown, Tennessee 30 November 2011.

News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape