"Arthur was indeed one of the greatest soul singers of that era, and he was so much better in the later days of his life! Such a pity the world did not witness this... My friendship with Arthur, or Lee as he called himself mostly in those days, started in '97. Around 2000 I started to write more 60's inspired soul music which Arthur liked a lot and plans where made to record a new album as well as a show around this new music. It was not easy, as Arthur had a great fun side, but was also in a struggle with his personal demons. His experiences in the music industry still affected him a lot.
"He and I were very close, and he told me some amazing stories, for instance; 'I was relaxing on this bed in a hotel room. Then through the closed door came a huge black guy built like the old slaves, and behind this big man my late grandmother walked. She came to me, lying frightened and astonished on the bed, and bending towards me she pointed her finger at me, saying 'Boy, you're gonna have a big hit - A biiiiiiig hit!' and then the two left walking straight through the closed door out of my room. A few days later I went into the studio to record Sweet Soul Music with Otis Redding at Fame... and the rest is history'
"The first person to say that he thought Conley would become a star was Rufus Thomas. Arthur was young and had not even met Otis yet. He maintained contact with Rufus until he passed away in 2002. After the death of Otis, which was a huge blow for Arthur, the only one who cared enough to call him was Little Richard.
"Arthur told me that he was in the middle of writing a song called 'We Gonna Rock This World' with Tom Dowd when Jerry Wexler came in. He made them stop and record 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da', the Beatles song. The idea was to cut a crossover... but I think all of us would rather have heard the other song!
"Another time he was in a studio session, and they wanted him to sing a song that he really hated... so he refused to sing it. The 'producer' put a gun to his head and told him 'Sing Motherf**er!'
"There is a friend of mine and Arthur named Alwin Mutgeert with whom Arthur wrote some songs, 'May' and 'Soul Heaven'... May is just stunning, mainly because of the superb lyrics and the beautiful singing of Arthur. At his funeral three songs were played, I'm A Lonely Stranger, Sweet Soul Music and May. This is so, so Arthur Lee Conley. Actually, I think Arthur was his whole life a lonely stranger in a certain way...
"Soul Heaven was recorded just a couple of months before Arthur was hospitalized because of his illness... I said goodbye to him just a few hours before he passed away. I'll never forget the words we said and the look he gave me. I was very close to Arthur and I lost a friend. Such a pity that such a great talent did not shine more for this world..."
And so, courtesy of Arthur's friends from Holland, it is an honor and a privilege for me to be able to present to you these achingly beautiful unreleased Lee Roberts songs in their entirety... he was, quite simply, a Superstar.
An opinion that is apparently shared by Ace Records in the UK, who will be releasing a killer compilation of Arthur's more soulful material this week. Simply a must-have, I applaud Ace for the sheer persistence it took to make this happen.
In The Same Old Way
Oddly, one of my all time favorite Conley recordings isn't on there... it doesn't appear in the track listings of their soon-to-be-released Fame Sudios Story 1961-73 either (although it's crankin' A Side does). This just wasn't making sense until I realized that it had already been included on Sweet Inspiration, the Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham edition of their Songwriters Series that was released earlier this year. You guys have been doing a cracking job lately, man... thanks!
According to Roger, there is more unissued Lee Roberts in the can. He said that much of this material was offered to Solomon Burke in the Summer 0f 2010, and he was definitely interested, but passed away before anything was finalized. I think the time has come for it to be heard.
A special thank you goes out to Roger, Alwin, and their good friend Lee Roberts. You have made this world a better place.