Intriguing to discover that the one-time host of soul music TV show – Soul Street – once released a quirky 45 on famed blues label, Chess (“Keep on Walkin’ Baby“) that would have been a fine and fitting addition to the Nuggets box set of 60s garage band singles.
I was also amused to learn from Chris Burgan‘s informative liner notes that “Lord, What’s Happening To Your People” — first issued in 1971 on Goldspot and then picked up in 1972 for national distribution on General American — was “written to cash in on a particular trend that Kenny describes as the ‘Jesus-rock era'” [see “God Pop on the Charts: Early 70s“]. Kenny explains, “It was just a market or a trend that was going on at the time, so I thought it would fit.”
“Lord, What’s Happening To Your People“
While “Lord, What’s Happening To Your People” may not have burned up the charts, management at General American Records, nevertheless, had big plans for Smith, who was picked to be not only the label’s Publishing Director, according to Burgan, but also a TV host, incredibly. Cincinnati Enquirer‘s May 11, 1972 edition included this news item about a new television dance program for black youth, Soul Street:
WKRC-TV and General-American Productions will co-operate in an ambitious project to produce an hour-long black music-dance show for youth, Soul Street, beginning with the shooting of a pilot Sunday. Intentions are to syndicate it. The host will be Kenny Smith, Kennedy Heights, well-known local composer-singer. Two Channel 9 staffers, Jim (Oscar) Welch and Ron De-Morales, will serve as producer and director, respectively, on a free-lance basis. Bob Lanier, GAP vice-president/general manager, will be executive producer. Pilot guests include the Four Tops, Funkadelic, Bill Doggett, and Tommy Sears. James Brown has agreed to co-host every fifth show, starting with the second, Lanier said. Guests for succeeding shows include Gladys Knight and the Pips, Eighth Day, Chase, Carla Thomas, Soul Children, Major Lance, Emotions, and Chi-Lites. Kenny Smith’s GAR single, ‘Lord, What’s Happening to Your People?‘ is scoring well. He penned The Platters’ ‘Think Before You Walk Away.’
Soul Street with Kenny Smith
Little Royal – “Soul Brother No. 2”
Smith wrote the opening and closing themes of the show, which was broadcast in thirty-six markets nationwide, says Burgan. Smith hosted nine of Soul Street‘s ten episodes before the show folded due to financial insolvency, sadly.
1972 Soul Street ad
KOMU-TV Channel 8
A few years after the song’s original run at the charts in the US, “Lord, What’s Happening To Your People” became a celebrated track in the UK’s Northern Soul scene, notes Burgan, particularly at the famed Blackpool Mecca, where “it became an anthem.” Kenny Smith was even tracked down in 1976 by an unscrupulous soul music dealer/producer from France – Simon Soussan – who paid $300 for the right to reissue the song with future royalties to be paid, Burgan explains; unfortunately for Smith, the 1,000-1,500 “promotional copies” that Soussan pressed and distributed to interested parties almost certainly killed the market for “commercial copies” for which royalty monies would then had to have been paid.
Original 1971 release
Smith’s 1973 single release, “Everybody Knows I Love You” — a massive northern soul hit in the UK, according to Kay-Dee Records — should have been a much bigger radio hit here in the US, with its galloping trumpets and exuberant drum fills:
“Everybody Knows I Love You“
Kenny Smith (1973)
“Everybody Knows I Love You” is Kenny Smith’s rarest 45, according to UK’s Soul Source — “Kenny himself had no copies, and the widow of the producer also had no copies. I know of only a handful, less than five, that have ever turned up.”
Kenny Smith –
Excerpts from Chris Burgan’s liner notes —
Kenny’s first singing group was called The Enchanters and was composed of a group of friends from Withrow High School, from which Kenny graduated in 1956. Kenny sang second tenor, and the group had a slot opening for Tiny Bradshaw on an eastern tour. The Enchanters won a talent contest on the local Harris Rosedale variety television show, the grand prize being a Longine’s wrist watch. Unable to figure out how to divide the prize four ways, the group sold it and split the profits. Reputedly, the group recorded for DeLuxe, a subsidiary of Cincinnati’s King label, filling in for and using the name of the popular R&B group, The Charms.
His first, true forays into the music industry came at Castle Farms, a legendary venue that played host to local performers such as The Drivers, The Casinos, and the aforementioned Charms. Carl Edmondson from Fraternity Records heard Kenny perform at Castle Farms and told him that he liked the way he sounded. “Deep In My Heart” on Fraternity, Kenny’s first release under his own name, soon followed. Produced by Carl Edmondson and written by Kenny himself, the disc is much prized by collectors of the early group R&B sound.
Having gotten his foot in the door with Fraternity, Kenny started writing and producing for the label as well as recording. He wrote and produced songs for the Charmaines and the Casinos, as well as being co-arranger with Edmondson on “Hey-Da-Da-Dow” by the Dolphins, which made it into the Billboard charts.
Kenny is modest about his singing talents, and considered himself more a songwriter than a vocalist of any merit. “You know, it’s funny. I realized my voice limitations early on, and I … wanted to write. And in doing so, I didn’t have enough money to pay somebody to sing it and I wound up doing the same thing with the accompaniment, the guitar. I couldn’t afford to pay anybody to play it, so I wind up learning how to play guitar myself so I could do my own stuff.”
Kenny would go on to write and produce for many other acts in the years to come including Albert Washington, Leroy And The Drivers, Gerri Diamond, The Casinos, Win Mennifee, Eddie Whitehead, Soul, Inc., and basketball legend, Oscar Robertson. Through circumstances now lost to the fog of memory, his name even appears in the credits of an obscure garage 45 by The Checkmates on the Injoy Life label from 1967. One of Kenny’s proudest achievements was his song “Think Before You Walk Away.” The song was originally recorded by Kenny’s friend Herman Lewis on Stone Blue records. Lewis, a.k.a. Herman Griffin, was at one time married to Motown singer Mary Wells and was intimately connected with the Detroit music scene. Through Herman’s efforts, “Think Before You Walk Away” was re-recorded by The Platters, one of the biggest vocal groups of the day. Kenny’s own recorded output for Fraternity comprised of numerous singles including tracks leased out to majors Chess and RCA.
LINK to Soul on Zero to 180