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Bobby Purify Gets Better

Veteran singer finds his soul after losing his vision

After veteran soul singer Bobby Purify lost his vision in 1998, he retreated to a dark room and darker thoughts about abandoning music. But a pep talk from the late Ray Charles sparked a comeback that will culminate with the release of Purify's first album in more than a decade.

Better to Have It , due July 19th on the Rykodisc-distributed Proper Records, teams Purify once again with producer and songwriter Dan Penn, the co-author of such R&B classics as "Dark End of the Street" and "Do Right Woman."

Purify believes the new effort embodies Charles' frank advice. "He said, 'Son, lemme tell you somethin': You was born with soul. You don't need no eyes for that. Use your singin' as a crutch to help you forget,'" recalls the sixty-three year-old Purify of Charles. "He was truly a wise man."

On Better to Have It , Purify digs into a dozen new songs written by Penn, Carson Whitsett (the post-Booker T. leader of the MG's) and Hoy "Bucky" Lindsey, plus his own "What's Old to You." Famed producer Jerry Wexler contributed liner notes, and several original members of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section laid down the grooves -- making the disc sound, Purify says proudly, "just like back in the Sixties."

Back then, the Atlanta native had success in the soul duo Ben and Spence --performing under his given name, Ben Moore -- recording several Atlantic singles written by Penn. But in 1971, Moore was invited to replace Robert Lee Dickey in the R&B group James and Bobby Purify, becoming the second "Bobby Purify" -- an alias he's maintained, off and on, ever since.

The pair would enjoy British success in 1975 with "I'm Your Puppet" -- a Dan Penn/Spooner Oldham composition that was a hit for the original James and Bobby Purify several years earlier. But by the Eighties, the new duo had split, and Purify reverted to his given name for a gospel career, garnering a Grammy nomination for 1982's He Believes in Me.

Blindness prompted Purify to stop performing -- until his chat with Charles. Soon after, Purify ended up singing at a friend's party, and another guest, Bucky Lindsey, overheard his huge, unmistakable voice from another room.

"He said, 'Bobby Purify! Man, we thought you was dead!'" Purify recounts with a chuckle. "But he said, 'You sound better than you did twenty years ago. We got to make a record on you!'"

The new tunes Lindsey, Penn and Whitsett wrote for Purify -- including the brass-backed title track and the heartfelt patriotic song "Only in America" -- got the singer so excited he says he could barely sleep. "There ain't no throwaways on this record," Purify insists.

Another new song, "Forever Changed," was intended for fellow soul man Solomon Burke, but Purify refused to return the string-soaked ballad after hearing it. "I said, 'No, no, no. That's my song. I'm keepin' it,'" he says, laughing.

Purify admits he wouldn't mind following in the footsteps of Burke, who nabbed a Grammy for the surprise 2002 comeback effort, Don't Give Up On Me .

"Some people have said, 'Bobby, you might have to go up to the podium,'" he says, adding with a chuckle, "I need to!"

DAN LeROY
(Posted Jun 02, 2005)