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Chicago singer Lou Pride ‘was naturally soul blues’


Updated: July 9, 2012 6:15AM

There are no medals for Chicago soul singers. The emotive, gospel-based music has always been overshadowed by the city’s blues scene.

On a cold Saturday night in March 2011, Lou Pride stood tall on the stage of the tiny American Legion Hall Post 42 in Evanston. He was a majestic vocalist who sang with the playful grit of Clarence Carter and the curling, jazzy sway of Bobby Bland.

Mr. Pride, who lived in Waukegan, had been booked independently into the American Legion hall as part of a periodic Bluegrass & Legends series. When you sing soul, you find your little corners of the world.

Mr. Pride died June 5 of natural causes while in hospice care in Chicago. He’d lived 68 years, though, like all soul singers, he measured time with each drop of a tear or nod to the sky.

“Lou was naturally soul blues,” Mr. Pride’s friend and fellow singer Johnny Rawls, said Thursday. “Other people try to work at that, but it came natural to him.”

Born George Lou Pride on May 24, 1944, in Chicago, he grew up on the North Side. Mr. Pride first sang in the choir of the First Baptist Church in Chicago, a church pastored by the Rev. E.J. Cole, the father of singer Nat King Cole.

After seeing a live performance by B.B. King, Mr. Pride switched to blues and soul. He cut his musical chops on the Chitlin’ Circuit, the mash-up of soul, country, gospel and good humor.

Some of Mr. Pride’s best-known soul singles were “Twistin’ the Knife,” “Long Arm of the Blues” and “Love From a Stone,” all of which Mr. Pride performed that night at the American Legion hall in Evanston. The hits were written by the late Bob Greenlee, a Chicago native who moved to the Daytona Beach, Fla., area in the 1960s. A bassist for the band the Midnight Creepers, Greenlee meshed soul with a melodic surf-blues sound that was later embraced by Duane and Gregg Allman.

“I was surprised Lou didn’t have a higher profile around Chicago, he was so great,” said Chicago blues guitarist Dave Specter, who is also a co-owner of the S.P.A.C.E. music club in Evanston and booked Mr. Pride last summer on a bill with J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound. “He was a classic, tough, soul-blues singer but had a real smooth edge as well. A great performer, too.”

Chicago soul-gospel legend Otis Clay befriended Mr. Pride in the 1960s.

“Lou was a darn good singer,” said Clay.

Mr. Pride moved to El Paso, Texas, and also lived in New Mexico before returning to Chicago in the late 1980s when he connected with the late Chicago soul great Curtis Mayfield. In 1990, Mr. Pride recorded “Gone Bad Again” for Mayfield’s Curtom label. He later recorded for a number of other labels, including doing several albums for Ichiban in the 1990s.

Most recently Mr. Pride recorded for Severn Records in Annapolis, Md. A June 2003 complilation of his early singles and unreleased tracks called “The Memphis/El Paso Sessions (1970-73)” includes songs recorded at Willie Mitchells’ Royal Recording Studios in Memphis. Mr. Pride was backed by the Hi Records house band, which included Tennie Hodges on guitar and Charles Hodges on organ, and the Memphis Horns.

Mr. Pride had been recording a new album, “Ain’t No Love in this House,” which will be released in the fall. The album includes a cover of the Simply Red hit “Holding Back the Years,” and horn charts were done by legendary Chicago arranger Willie Henderson.

“Lou lived his life through his music,” Severn Records president David Earl said, “and through his belief that love is always the solution to any worldly problems.”

Mr. Pride also wrote his own ballads, such as “I Had a Talk With My Baby,” and a hard Memphis groove dictated his “Bringin’ Me Back Home,” from which snippets were used in the 2007 Morgan Freeman film “Feast of Love.”

At his American Legion hall show, Mr. Pride, dressed in a natty pinstriped suit, sang with intense eyes while facing a World War II flag and a Korean War flag from 1950. He told the audience of 150 people that he had just returned from a festival in Europe, where the “Northern Soul” that’s emblematic of Pride’s music is much more popular than in Chicago.

“We played for 5,000 people in Switzerland,” said Mr. Pride. “We’re doing the same show for you that we did for them.”

College-age kids danced in the back of the hall at the Evanston show. A handful of American Legion vets sat with their wives on metal folding chairs. Hambone, the host of “Hambone’s Blues Party” on WDCB-90.9 FM, passed out cans of Miller High Life beer.

It was Saturday night in America, and, as always, Lou Pride knew where to find the heart of an audience.

Mr. Pride is survived by daughters Kala Pride, Monique Pride and Robyn Horten; a son, Don Pride; a brother, Jerry Pride; and a sister, Diane Pride. He was preceded in death by another son, George Pride Jr., and brothers Curtis Pride, Robert Pride, Jimmy Pride and Kenny Pride.

Funeral services are planned for June 13 at Westgate Funeral Home in Waukegan, with a viewing from 3 to 5 p.m., a wake at 5 p.m. and a service at 6 p.m.

Mr. Pride appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival in June 2009. Rawls, Mr. Pride’s friend, will be singing soul and blues with his band at 4:30 p.m. Friday on the Juke Joint Stage at this year’s festival and plans a tribute.

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