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Music  >>  Vinyl  >>  Soul/R & B

Don Bryant

You Make Me Feel

Don Bryant You Make Me Feel
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In the category of soul, few artists match the intensity and fervor that performer Don Bryant does, both when behind the mic and when putting pen to paper. An auteur of love, pain, regret and exuberance, Bryant’s career as a songwriter and an electrifying personality onstage has one thread: deep, sincere feeling.

“There might be some sad stories, there might be some happy stories, might be some things you might not want to remember, but it'll bring to mind some situations,” Bryant says of his songwriting. “And, that's what I've been always trying to push and reach somebody that's been through what I had.”

The interim between Don Bryant’s debut LP “Precious Soul” in 1969 and his proper follow-up “Don’t Give Up on Love” in 2017 might seem unusually long to most music fans. But that doesn’t mean the 79-year-old singer wasn’t at work for the nearly 45 years on the sidelines of the soul scene.

“I couldn’t stop writing,” Bryant says. “Because that was my joy. It was the thing I loved to do.”

Penning songs for others, he garnered success with hundreds of compositions performed by contemporaries such as Buddy Ace, Otis Clay and his wife Ann Peebles. And when producer Scott Bomar sent former Hi Rhythm Section drummer Howard Grimes to ask Bryant if he’d be interested in returning to life as a recording artist, Bryant had folders stacked high at home of unused original material.

“That was the beginning of getting back off deep into it, you know. And now that I got that feeling back, this is where I want to be,” Bryant says. “I'm thankful to be back here, man. This is a part of me. This is the biggest part of me.”

Born in South Memphis, Tennessee, Bryant grew up in a house filled with music. All nine of his siblings sang, but Bryant looked to his father, a lead singer in traveling gospel group, as his example onstage.

While other children played outside, Don set his sights on local talent shows at fairs and leveraged an opportunity to begin singing on radio promotions as a part of local teen sensations The Four Canes.

Soon bandleader Willie Mitchell came calling, and Bryant rebilled his Four Canes as The Four Kings, as the band began fulfilling gigs as the vocal arm of Mitchell’s orchestra. Under Mitchell’s leadership the group became one of the marquee acts in Memphis’ burgeoning rhythm and blues scene, and a young Bryant began brushing shoulders with other soon-to-be soul stalwarts like William Bell, Al Jackson, Jr., and Booker T. Jones in Memphis’ nightclubs.

Bryant quickly became known as a master showman, eager to imitate whichever singers rose to the top of the pop charts. When he wasn’t singing, Don was earning the nickname “Mr. Rhythm”, dancing across ballroom floors in a routine that would put Mitchell’s red-hot band on the map in Memphis. But it was a car accident while on tour with Mitchell’s group that led the producer to focus the band’s efforts to the studio. The shakeup would also, in turn, force Bryant, the lead singer who could mimic many voices to find his own.

Following the recording of his solo debut on Hi Records “Precious Soul,” Don ascended to the label’s master songwriter, committing his real-life experiences to paper. Soon, his colleagues were using their voices to amplify his vision.

His greatest muse would come in the form of a small-statured woman with a powerful voice named Ann Peebles. Her frame became the basis for Peebles’ dynamite 1971 single “99 lbs,” which done scribed as an anthem for the soul star.

“Back in the days, when we were all gathered together in the rooms writing songs, I would always try to pick something that I see in my mind and then, try to develop it. And, she was known for being 99 pounds,” Bryant says. “And she heard it. She liked it because it was talking about ... She was talking about herself.”

Evolving as a songwriter, Bryant’s words would find their way to the public through the voices of other artists. Going on to marry Ann shortly after the release of their biggest hit together “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” Bryant spent much of the 1970s supporting her craft, taking a step back as a leading performer on the Hi label.

He’d shift his focus to gospel in the 1980s, before eventually fading into a relative musical obscurity. However, Don continued to write, awaiting the chance to return, no matter how long the music industry would take to come back around to him. He says he was always hopeful that there were fans who missed the classic R&B sound he had been known for.

Now on his second release since returning to solo soul stardom, Bryant is capitalizing off the success of his 2017 release “Don’t Give Up on Love.” On his newest album “You Make Me Feel,” he’s also reaching back into his own catalog, with a fresh take on songs he wrote long ago.

From reprises of his own songs such as “Don’t Turn Your Back on Me” and “I’ll Go Crazy,” Bryant finds new emotions within himself to share, alongside a cover of Little Junior Parker’s “Cracked Up Over You,” which Don admits he forgot he wrote after so many years of contributing to other artists’ catalogs. Most touching, however, is a new version of “99 Lbs.,” in which Don sings about his loving wife, as she no longer sings about herself.

“I'm experiencing all these things, now, that I wrote for other people, but never really had the opportunity to do it on stage myself. But now I'm getting that opportunity and it makes me feel good because all these different artists accepted that song as a song that they wanted to record,” Bryant says. “To be able to come up and do those song myself, it brings back a lot of memories. Most of them did it the way I demoed it, but on my own, they gave me the opportunity to do it like I heard and presented like I heard it.”

In addition to giving new life to his classic material, Bryant’s latest collection includes new, never released songs, such as the heart wrenching ode “Is It Over” and the soul stirring dance tune “Your Love is to Blame.”

Though he took several decades before returning to his love for soul music, Bryant says this album is a part of perfect timing for his heart, spirit and craft.

“It's just being built on what started then. Just conditionally being built, little by little,” Bryant says.

“I never really gave completely up on the music thing. I had to have music. It's a part of my life. And it kept growing and growing, and I never did give up, and here I am.”


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