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Soul man

Scott Wallace gives the music a little R.E.S.P.E.C.T.


You've heard "Bernadette" by the Four Tops, "Back Stabbers" by the O'Jays, and "Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin more times than you can count. You probably think you know soul music pretty well.

            Think again. What you know are the relatively few soul tunes that have made it into the Top 40 over the decades.

            What about all those hits on the r&b chart that never even cracked the pop chart? Think of all the album cuts that have fallen into obscurity. To hear the full, vast scope of soul, you've got to tune into Scott Wallace's Rejuvenation.

            Every Friday evening from 7 to 10 p.m. on WRUR 88.5 FM Wallace plays all the songs you missed. And I do mean all the songs. Wallace arrives for each show with 12 binders. Each binder holds 100 CDs. Each CD contains 25 tunes. Do the math and you'll come up with 30,000 songs.

            "I love this music," says the 45-year-old letter carrier by day. "There are so many soul tunes out there, I'll never hit bottom."

            Growing up in a Navy family, Wallace spent his childhood as far west as Minnesota and as far east as Rhode Island. But he spent the largest portion of time in Elmira. And while other kids were getting their motor skills together, Wallace was refining his knowledge of soul.

            "I got into music really early," he says. "Records were always around the house. When I was a couple of years old I listened to Ray Charles night and day. I couldn't touch the record player, so when the album ended I would ask my mom to put the needle back at the beginning of the record."

            It didn't hurt that his grandmother worked for a family that owned a record store. In the 1960s, Wallace and his cousin Donny could go there and listen to whatever they wanted. The rest of the country may have been conquered by the British invasion, but Wallace and his cousin focused on the Modern Jazz Quartet, Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis, and Ruth Brown.

            While listening they would scour the album covers on the inner sleeves of Blue Note and Atlantic records, fantasizing over the albums they would buy if they had the money. His cousin, who was a year and a half older and always a step ahead, turned him on to albums by Tower of Power, Les McCann, Eddie Harris, and others.

            The boys would sometimes accompany Wallace's uncle to a bar around the corner from their home. "He'd give us orange soda and we would listen to the jukebox and see what music people were into --- Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff." Donny, who died a few years ago, went on to sing in bands in Elmira and in Florida.

            Wallace believes his father was most responsible for his education in soul. "He liked Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Jr. Walker & the All-Stars," he says. "When I'm trying to get ideas about where I'm going to go with the next tune, I think of these things."

Wallace caught on early when it came to acquiring records.

            "When I would go shopping with my mother, I learned that if I was good, I could come out of the store with a 45," he says. "And if I had to go through some trauma, say a dentist appointment, I could come out of it with an album."

            His affinity for radio came early, too. By the time Wallace was 6 or 7, he was never without his transistor radio.

            "I listened all the time," he says. "Providence had a great jazz station. And this was a time when Top 40 radio was great. You just have to look back at those times and smile."

            When his father retired in 1969, the family moved to Rochester. Wallace scanned the radio dial until he got to the far end, where he found Lou Paris's show on the old WHEC 1460 AM. Musically, Paris was right on his wavelength. To this day, in homage to Paris, Wallace begins his show the way Paris began his, with "Kool & the Gang," the funky instrumental by the group of the same name.

            Wallace began his radio career on a fluke in 1982. He ran into a high school friend at Record Archive and began talking about a mutual friend in radio. Stan Merrill, a WRUR staffer who was working in the back room, overheard the conversation.

            "He asked me if I did radio and if I was interested in volunteering at the station," Wallace says. "I said no to both questions and went home. I forgot about it, but I must have mentioned it to my wife because she said, 'You might want to give it a try. If all these other people can do it, you can do it.' So, basically, I said yes because lightning doesn't always strike twice. I figured this might be my only opportunity."

            He began by doing news and sports on Sunday mornings. To learn the ropes, he sat in with Talik Abdul Basheer, a professor of his at Monroe Community College who was hosting Black Classical Music at the station.

            A few months later, when Bop Shop owner Tom Kohn stepped down from his Friday-night oldies show, he asked Wallace to take over the time slot. That show eventually morphed into Rejuvenation.

Wallace has never taken up an instrument himself.

            "I just play records," he says. "I look for people's reactions. I like that angle."

            Wallace's core audience consists of members of Rochester's African-American community. (He doesn't ask, but callers often tell him what neighborhood they live in.) This is significant because, in a lot of cases, he finds that the audience in general for soul music is white. "The show has been able to get in on the pulse from the get-go."

            The requests he gets are often fascinating.

            "They might request a hit from a jukebox in a town in Alabama where they grew up, that was popular in a 200-mile radius," Wallace says. "Eighty percent of the time I've got it."

            Wallace bemoans the fact that in an age of media conglomerates, grass-roots regional hits are no longer possible. "That's a thing of the past," he says. "They've made up their mind who's gonna make it and who isn't."

            With 30,000 songs at his fingertips, you might think Wallace is an obsessed music fan who must have every last record by the artists he likes.

            "I'm not compulsive," he says. "Having that piece of plastic is not nearly as important to me as having the song."

            When he encounters rare records, he transfers them to CD to preserve them. Most of these obscure tunes won't be reissued any time soon.

            After a long search, he recently scored an old favorite, The Intruders' "I'll Bet He Don't Love You." But he's still searching for the original recording of "The End of the Rainbow" that McKinley Mitchell did for the Wonderful label. And, if you know anyone in possession of "Darlin' Darlin'" by Ty Hunter on Chess Records, call him at the station Friday night (275-9787).

On some jazz, blues, and soul shows DJs celebrate birthdays by playing sets of music by a particular artist. Wallace enjoys that approach as a listener, but he will never do it on his show. He prefers a straight-forward variety-show approach, focusing on the best soul music, most of which was recorded in the 1960s and 1970s.

            Although most of the artists he plays are black, Wallace holds several "blue-eyed soul" groups in high esteem, including The Magnificent Men, The Rascals, and Tower of Power.

            "They cut great records," he says. "I'm certainly going to give them a spin."

            But, he reserves his highest praise for more roots-oriented r&b.

            "Stax is unquestionably the greatest soul label ever," Wallace says. "It was like the control model for all the other southern labels. They all wanted to do what Stax did: real raw southern soul music. The funny thing is that Stax struggled to get popular enough to be like Motown."

            The songs Wallace plays --- from Stax, Motown, Philly, Chicago --- may not be complex harmonically, but great soul songs from that era are little slices of the zeitgeist. You've got Johnny Taylor worrying about "Who's Making Love." There's Phillipe Wynne of the Spinners philosophizing that "Love Don't Love Nobody." It's a rich world that has all but disappeared.

            Wallace has ideas about what's happened to black music over the decades: the rise of disco, rap, and hip-hop, the advent of drum machines, long-established groups breaking up...

            "People gave up on hoping for the next big thing," he says. "They went back and listened to the old stuff. Even the songs that aren't so great sound better than anything that's coming out."

            Wallace believes hip-hop DJs have been a somewhat positive force in bringing back the old music. But he can't say he listens to a lot of black radio today.

            "The percentage of stuff that might appeal to me isn't high, and the price of the CD is so high, you don't get much bang for your buck."

            Among the contemporary crowd, he likes Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, and Macy Gray, with reservations.

            "I like a couple of songs; there's a lot of filler. The standard has gotten a lot lower," he says. "The praise is too high for people like Alicia Keys. After one record, she gets a TV special. Video has been a tremendous negative because, if nothing else, it's very expensive so the money that a company puts into artists, and the range of artists, is down. Video has made people lazy. They don't listen to music anymore, they watch it."

            Wallace and his wife, Amy, have a 21-year-old daughter, and three younger children. As parents, they are not fans of gansta rap.

            "Generally, when bad language is coming across, I tune right out," he says. "The Isley Brothers have succumbed to that. I find it disturbing, but they're selling a lot of recordings. Gladys Knight came out with a pretty good album a couple of years ago; I know that didn't sell like the Isley Brothers record. I'm not into censorship and I believe that people should be able to express themselves, but it used to be you could say what you had to say and it would be clean."

When it comes to programming, Wallace is indebted to Greg Townson (known for his work with the Hi-Risers) with whom he hosted Rocket - 88 Saturday nights from 1995 to 1998.

            "Our concept was to change the mood every three minutes so nobody could figure out what kind of a show it was," Wallace says.

            One night, when Townson called and said he wasn't coming in, Wallace panicked. He decided that he was not going to talk. He would simply play four songs, say what they were, and go on to the next set. He found he was able to concentrate and sneak in an extra set of songs. Thanks to that panic attack he stuck with four-song sets on Rejuvenation.

            Wallace also learned a lot from doing the open-ended show with Townson.

            "A good jock has to know what he likes, but a good jock has to be willing to come out of his comfort zone and hear other ideas and suggestions," he says. "Somebody might ask me to play a song and because they like the show, they just assume that I'm open to it. But I might say to myself, I'd rather not go there. If I have it, ultimately, what I'll do is work it in and either put something in front of it to set it up or put something behind it to make it a little bit stronger. You can make it work."

            Wallace's show has a subtle structure in which the first two hours are a set-up for the last hour.

            "The happier people are, the more comfortable they are, the more I can push the boundaries," he says. "You're always playing that yin and yang. You want to push it, but you want to bring it back in." That's why late in Wallace's show, you might hear more challenging tunes by Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Harris.

            Through the years Wallace has seen a lot of his heroes live, and he's met several of them. But nothing has thrilled him more than getting to know Alphanso "Country" Kellum, who played rhythm guitar for James Brown from 1963 to 1970 (the most significant years), and lived in Rochester until his death three years ago.

            "I shiver when I think of his significance. Country's part, the rhythm, is the final glue holding James Brown's tunes together," Wallace says. "A lot of people think about who they'd like to meet in this life and they think about some dignitary or some sports star, maybe a big, big rock star, but for me it could never get any higher than meeting and knowing Country. He was always available to talk. I never asked him about James Brown. I wasn't interested in that. But I did want to know Country's guitar part, how he worked up the part."

            Ultimately, that's what Wallace's show is about. While the headliners and hottest selling records get 99 percent of the attention in our culture, Wallace has an ear for all the subtle ingredients that liven up the mix.

Scott Wallace's soul top 10

"Drown In My Own Tears," by Ray Charles

"This live version is the Rosetta stone of soul recordings."

"Dedicated To The One I Love"

5 Royals

"A really forward-leaning tune by the unsung heroes of 1950s soul."

"I'm So Proud"


"A Curtis Mayfield tune that always seems to floor me."

"A Change Is Gonna Come"

Sam Cooke

"An epic tune."

"My Girl"


"Even through all the exposure it still comes across."

"In the Midnight Hour"

Wilson Pickett

"A southern soul tune just right for the time."

"Knock on Wood"

Eddie Floyd

"The back beat on it is great."

"Cold Sweat"

James Brown

"The song that pushed him into the future."

"Soul Man"

Sam & Dave

"The best Stax tune, more raw than Motown could ever hope to be."

"La La Means I Love You"


"This might have the greatest hook ever on a soul tune."

Scott Wallace's obscure soul top 10

"I'll Understand"

The Soul Children

"So raw. It's a cheating song, but it's also right out of the church."

"Cry Me a River"

Bettye LaVette

"A beautiful tune, a knockout performance."

"He'll Be Back"

The Players

"A song about the Vietnam War, influenced by the Impressions."

"I'm Goin' For Myself"

Eddie & Ernie

"A hard-hitting southern soul tune."

"She Broke His Heart"

The Just Brothers

"A real doo-wop-influenced harmony tune on the cusp of turning into full-blown soul."

"So in Love"

The Festivals

"A Philadelphia group-vocal tune that modernized itself into a soul tune with a little more melody and rhythm."

"Got No One"

The Delacardoes

"One of the most gorgeous tunes I've ever heard in my life."

"What Can You Do When You Ain't Got Nobody"

The Soul Brothers Six

"A local reworking of 'I Found a Love' by Wilson Pickett."

"I'm Counting on You"

Freeman Brothers

"A great southern gospel soul tune."

"On a Little Island"

The Enchanters

"Another example of doo-wop moving into the soul era."