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Real Music - Driving Otis - August 2016


Real Music - Driving Otis - August 2016

by Robert Feuer

Imagine you’re 17, and driving Otis Redding on his early Southern tours, sometimes opening Redding’s revues along with artists like Sam & Dave and Joe Tex. Over 50 years later, Frank Bey, our protagonist, will be appearing at a free show, Aug. 9 in the Healdsburg Plaza at 6 p.m., with master guitarist Anthony Paule and six other Bay Area virtuosos on keyboards, bass, drums and three horns. The Bey Paule Band, fresh from a Bottle Rock appearance, is flying high now with a CD release, “Not Goin’ Away,” that has brought the highest accolades from the blues establishment.

“I grew up singing,” Bey says. His mother was a gospel singer, and he began singing in church in his hometown, Millen, GA at age four, with the Rising Son Gospel Singers, consisting of “just kids,” relatives a year or two older than him.” Soon after, he began singing with his mother at local gospel shows that included the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and the Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke. When he saw the Soul Stirrers’ shiny chrome 1956 Pontiac Starchief, Bey decided, “That’s the life I wanted.”

Bey learned blues while singing with a streetcorner bluesman, but, at 14, he joined a high school R&B band, because blues wasn’t popular with his age group. “I couldn’t get a girlfriend,” he says. Soon, he left Millen, hooking up with Redding who needed a driver and “was just comin’ out strong then. It was a real gaining experience for me.” After parting from Redding, Bey toured with his own band.

Suddenly, his career went off the tracks for 17 years after a dispute with his mid-‘70s band, Moorish Vanguard. According to Bey, James Brown, while visiting their studio, heard a recording they made and took it with him to New York for promotion. Four months later, the band heard the song on their car radio, cited as a James Brown production. The group blamed the incident on Bey, and when he woke up in a Florida hotel while touring, they were gone. Devastated, he moved to Philadelphia where he still resides.

After 17 years of frustration and legal battles “to clear myself,” he says, Bey sang again, taking the stage in 1996 in a Philadelphia bar he had purchased. “The bug bit me then and started me back – it mushroomed.” He’s still singing with the Swing City Blues Band, a Philly group that began in that nightclub. 

In the late ‘90s, Noel Hayes of San Francisco’s KPOO invited Bey to the coast where he got Paule to put together a backup band. Now, Bey travels to the Bay Area for frequent gigs with the Bey Paule Band.

Bey considers his music soul/blues. “It’s a new baby,” he says; blues, with the southern black music he grew up singing. Don’t miss a chance to see an original, archetypal Southern soul man, backed by a powerhouse band. As Bey says, he has “a magic, a gift.

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