One [of] Deep City’s heaviest cuts is Them Two’s “Am I A Good Man.” This is Willie Clarke & Johnny Pearsall’s enduring masterpiece – Numero Group
A few weeks ago, as I was heading home from the office, I made a detour. I went to go look for a guy named Larry.
By my research, Larry was a tall, African-American male in his early 70s who lived in the Miami working class neighborhood of Brownsville near NW 27th Avenue. He’s not listed in the local telephone directory but I did locate an address for him so I figured I’d stop by. When I arrived, an elder Cuban gentleman and his wife were pulling into the driveway. As the motorized gate behind them closed, I jumped out of my car and asked them if they knew the Larry associated with their address. No, they said. I looked down at my notes to make sure I was at the right house. But this is the address, I said. They replied that they’d been living there for a few years and had never heard of him.
Across the street there was a middle-aged woman inside her idle vehicle talking to a young girl leaning against the car. I walked over.
I told her I wanted to interview him for a story. She shrugged her shoulders; Larry?
Yes, I said. Did you know that back in the 60s, he was a popular nightclub singer? Soul man, hit record, the whole thing.
She sat there and I’m no mind reader but I could tell she had images of Larry the Neighbor racing through her mind, trying to place him into a new, celebrity-like context. And as she did this, her mouth opened and she let out a joyful laugh. I know his sister. If you leave me your information, I could reach out for her, she offered.
I handed her a card, thanked her and headed home, knowing that I was quite possibly a step closer to finding Larry.
The aforementioned Larry is Lawrence Mobley, the sole surviving member of the Miami 60s nightclub act Them Two, a deeply talented vocal duo who 46 years ago this month, in July 1967, released Am I A Good Man.
The song is, in my opinion, one of the most profound and soulful tracks to come out of Miami’s soul scene of the 1960s. It was released on Deep City Records, the Miami independent record label co-founded by Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall. And it has enjoyed a recent resurgence of sorts: (1) It was covered by the rock group Band of Horses (Released as a single in February 2008 and now part of their live repertoire.); (2) It’s been featured on a hit television show (the pilot episode of HBO’s “Hung” in June 2009); and, (3) It’s been sampled – for better and for worse – by hip hop artists including 50 Cent and The Game.
That’s an impressive trifecta.
And another beautiful thing is that the song is all Miami, right down to the back-up singers and the session musicians in the studio that day.
Oh yes, Them Two. Do you know how they got their name?
He tells me that one night the duo was hanging out backstage at a local club ready to perform.
The M.C. wanted to know who was up next. So he asked some guy near the back, Hey man, who’s next? The guy looked back, pointed at the duo and said, them two is next.
Then the M.C. introduced them. Something like Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for … Them Two.
They liked the name so much they kept it.
Now about the song – Clarke said he knew he had something special and when he saw Them Two perform a few times, he also knew they’d be ideal for it. But getting them to record took some work.
They were working the nightclubs all the time. They were quite busy.
Clarke managed to convince them to record the song. He says the duo came in, rehearsed it a couple of times, and then nailed the song on the first recording.
I was just amazed at their poise and creativity. How profound they were. Exactly how I wanted it.
They had a style.
And style was most certainly a pre-requisite for this song, as was depth and maturity, with lyrics like:
Am I a good man? / Am I a fool? / Am I weak? / Somebody tell me… Or am I just playing it cool? / I have a woman / And I know she’s no good / Still hold my head up high… trying to do the things a good man should.
Clarke says that at the time he penned those lyrics he was married, with a young child, holding down two jobs (public school teacher and music producer) and pondering what he calls “the first adventures of manhood.”
[The song] is about a man looking in the mirror asking himself questions. It’s about the trials and tribulations of a man growing up into adult life. Are you ready for the challenge? Am I a good man or am I a fool?
After that record, which was released as a single (B side: Love Has Taken Wings), Clarke never worked with Them Two again. He says the duo got busier at the nightclubs and Deep City focused more on their rising female stars, local queen of soul Helene Smith and Deep City’s young starlet, Betty Wright.
Still, he wishes he would have worked with them again.
And then he returns to the song and it’s very essence: the core question that now, 40 years later, Clarke is ready to embrace definitively:
Hey, you know what the answer is? Am I a good man or am I a fool?
No, I said. What’s the answer?
A good man and a fool.
Endnote: I’m still hoping to interview Larry Mobley. I learned last week that he may be living in Tamarac, Florida. [To be continued.]
In the meantime, here’s the Miami soul classic:
**Update: Larry Mobley found and interviewed. Read the story here.**
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