Billy Paul Part Two
In Billy Paul Part Two, I’m doing something different. If I like what I’m doing, then Billy Paul Part Two will be a start of something new. I’m going to have quotes from my favorite artist, and see how you like it.
Army Years And Resumption Of Professional Career
Paul’s career took an unexpected turn when he was drafted into the Armed Services. He recalled:
I went in, in 1957, and I was stationed with Elvis Presley and Gary Crosby – Bing Crosby’s son. We were in Germany and we said we’re going to start a band, so we didn’t have to do any hard work in the service. We tried to get Elvis to join but he wanted to be a jeep driver. So me and Gary Crosby, we started it and called ourselves the Jazz Blues Symphony Band. Some famous people came out of that band; Cedar Walton, Eddie Harris and we toured all over Germany. Elvis didn’t wanna join us. I used to see him every day but he drove the jeep for the Colonel. He didn’t want to join our band. He wanted to get away from music for a while, while he was in the service you know.
Paul and the other members of the 7th Army Band including Don Ellis, Leo Wright, and Ron Anthony used the service to further their musical careers as best they could—ones they knew would continue once they returned to civilian life. Paul said: “I sang in the service, I sang with a jazz band. So when I came out I sang Jazz, going to clubs and so forth.
Paul also did some boxing in the Army – a sport he had grown up with as he explained in a 2012 interview: “Yeah we had a gym and all my friends from my neighborhood were boxers. Even during my army days I boxed as well as singing. Actually I still go to the gym; both me and my wife have trainers… Miles Davis would always say: ‘Come to the gym! I’m gonna beat your ass!’ Then one time I got hit too hard and I said no I’m going to sing!… That made my mind up.”
After his discharge, Paul formed a jazz trio with hard bop pianist Sam Dockery and bassist Buster Williams. In 1959 he joined the New Dawn record label and released the single “Ebony Woman” backed with “You’ll Go to Hell” (New Dawn 1001) both written by Morris Bailey Jr. In 1960, Paul recorded “There’s a Small Hotel” (Finch 1005, written by Rodgers and Hart) backed with “I’m Always A Brother” (Finch 1006, written by Leon Mitchell and Charles Gaston). None of these songs charted but Paul would resurrect and re-record both “Ebony Woman” and “There’s a Small Hotel” in later years.
I always saw myself as a solo artist.
Paul was a brief stand-in for one of the ailing Blue Notes with Harold Melvin. Paul remembered: “Well, I didn’t want to dance so Harold Melvin fired me (laughs). I had a six month stay with the Flamingos – I was with The Flamingos for a while.” It was around this time that Paul established a lifelong friendship with Marvin Gaye—both singers filling in with other groups. Paul recalled: “I was one of the Blue Notes at one time and Marvin Gaye was in the Moonglows…. We were such good friends. We never did a record together and that would have been one of my dreams. And you know what one of my fascinations is? What we would be doing if he were here today. I think about Marvin every day. The love I have for this man is unbelievable. We were close, we were like brothers. When I would go on the road out in California, he would go round to the house – he and Blanche (Billy’s wife),would, make sure Blanche’s mother would take her insulin because she was a diabetic. I would heavily depend on him to make sure she ate and took her insulin. That’s how close we were. You know sometimes, even today. I wake up and hope it was a dream, but it’s real – it’s real you know.”
Philadelphia Soul Years
In 2012, Paul was asked how important the city of Philadelphia is to him and what the Philly sound is: “It’s very very important to me. I was born here and so many great and influential artists come from here as well. Its a city of its own and has its own sound. I think what makes it different is the drama; you know how they say everyone marches to their own beat? Well i think Philly has its own beat as well, and it’s distinctive. It sounds easy, but it’s hard to play.”