You know we never got one penny for that record.
Larry Mobley is on the line. He’s called my office to follow up on a conversation we had yesterday. He wants to know again where I had heard that the rapper 50 Cent had sampled Am I a Good Man, the classic Miami soul song that he and his partner, Larry Greene, recorded more than 45 years ago.
The original record was released by the Miami label DEEP CITY RECORDS in July of 1967. According to the website, www.whosampled.com, the song has been sampled at least 14 times including by the rapper pictured here on his 2012 track Money.
50 Cent, oh Lord.
It’s a shame that me and Larry [Greene] didn’t profit at all from any of that. I’m not talking about millions. I’m talking about hundreds, you know.
Larry Mobley met Larry Greene around 1955 when they were both in junior high school in St. Petersburg, Florida and immediately bonded. After all, they both liked to sing. Greene preferred a high pitch (“like Curtis Mayfield”) while Mobley sang in a low, almost baritone pitch. They’d practice their harmonizing night after night.
People were so surprised that two voices could sound so blended together and make a sound that sounded as if it were 3 or 4 voices. That was back from sitting behind the community center in St. Pete at 11 and 12 o’clock at night, just rehearsing, just singing.
Mobley and Green would join up with three other singers and win a few talent contests at St. Petersburg’s old Royal Theater. They called themselves the El Quintos back then.
In 1962, Mobley was drafted into the Army. Two years later, he returned to St. Petersburg and reconnected with his old friend Greene. The two of them started up again, this time as a duo. After a few performances around town, they learned that Miami was the place to be.
There was a lady that was from Miami in St. Pete. She heard us sing and told us about the talent show at the Knight Beat club.
The Knight Beat was located inside the Sir John Hotel in Miami’s Overtown district. The club’s host was local legendary music promoter Clyde Killens who made the Knight Beat the epicenter of Miami rhythm & blues during the 1960s. Mobley and Greene decided to make their way to Overtown. They hitched a ride from a friend named Clifford and arrived in Miami one afternoon in 1964, heading straight to where the action was: the Sir John Hotel.
We just went down for the talent show and we were gonna come back, but people accepted us and applauded us. So we decided to stay in Miami.
Mobley and Green, who called themselves Them Two, were offered a slot on the club’s popular weekend show known as the Fabulous Sir John Revue.
They had the dancers, and they had Willena Mack…, and then me and Larry came on right before the featured artists came on. All the stars that came into Miami to sing at the Knight Beat, we opened the shows for those singers.
Clyde Killens’ club attracted the crème de la crème of black entertainment: Sam Cooke, Count Basie, Jerry Butler, Sam & Dave, Etta James.
And then there was Joe Tex.
You know he really got mad at us because the crowd…, oh man, when me and Larry got on the stage and started singing, the crowd just ate us up, you know. And Joe
Tex got a little aggravated that he had to follow us.
But he was known for that. He always wanted to be the one who brought down the house.
Mobley says Them Two didn’t perform in the hard soul, church-like style of Miami’s reigning duo Sam & Dave that was popular at the time. Them Two were more classic R&B.
We didn’t do any outrageous dances on the stage. Whenever we came on, our voices had women doing a thing in the audience.
We sang, and women loved our songs.
During the year 1967 came Them Two’s big break. Willie Clarke, co-owner of the local record label DEEP CITY RECORDS wanted their voices on a track. The music track to Am I a Good Man had already been recorded and arranged by Clarke and his collaborator Clarence Reid. Mobley and Green were brought into the studio, rehearsed it a couple of times and then once the recording light was on, they sang the hell out of it.
I’m telling you that was the only time that we had ever been to the studio. It was a nice recording and we liked it.
In July 1967, the record was released. The song has been described by music lovers as one of the “enduring masterpieces” of Miami’s soul music scene of the 1960s. But it wasn’t all that well received at the time of its release. Actually, it wasn’t well played by DJs and without radio play there was no other way of generating mass appeal.
You know disc jockeys back in those days, … payola, you know. They got money under the table to play things.
Me and Larry used to go to different radio stations and talk with the DJs and while we were there they would play it. We went down to W.F.U.N. which is a white station down in South Miami and we talked with one of the disc jockeys and he played it a couple of times on the radio.
DJs back in those days were money crazy. A lot of money was being put under the table to play songs, you know.
Mobley implies they were doomed from the outset.
Sam & Dave was the group that was out from Miami at that time. And then came Betty Wright, and after that, you know, Henry Stone, … he was a Jewish guy that had a lot of money and they had their agendas with the musicians that they catered to. So I don’t know. Me and Larry never did get on board.
Incidentally, Henry Stone has admitted to his involvement in paying DJs off in a book recently published titled “The Stone Cold Truth on Payola in the Music Biz.” Payola happened back in those days. DJs got money, girls, booze, coke. Whatever they wanted, and in return, they’d play the records. Its no secret that this was a common method to promote a black artist’s music to a white DJ in the 1960s. Some artists got their due. Others missed out.
Am I a Good Man was one of those that missed when it was first released. But artists like 50 Cent, or the Showtime series Hung (which used the song in its premier episode), or any number of creative outlets and outliers have resurrected the song for a new generation.
Mobley didn’t know any of this, at least not until our most recent conversation.
In today’s world, a multi-millionaire rap artist can use the music of an original Miami soul classic, lay down a rhyming lyrical vocal track and the video can draw 3.7 million views on YouTube. On the other side of that soul classic, there’s a man who sang the original vocal track on the song and he doesn’t even own a computer.
In 2007, Mobley and his wife relocated to a retirement community in Tamarac, Florida after a bank foreclosed on their Miami home. Every month, he receives two checks in the mail: one from the Social Security Administration and a second one from Miami-Dade County (he’s been a retired Veteran Service officer since 1991). On Thursdays, Mobley picks up groceries from the local church near his home. I’m not ashamed to say it, he tells me.
Am I a Good Man never amounted to much for Larry Mobley. Yet it remains close to him, literally. He has an original copy of the 45 RPM record in his home. He keeps it inside a book where its been stored for a while, untarnished by dust or decay, like a lasting memory.
The last time he heard the record was a few years ago when he was still living in Miami.
I used to sit and just play it over and over, turn it up loud because we had this huge Florida room and we had these big 15-inch speakers and I used to play it, over and over.
The other member of Them Two, Larry Greene, was killed in an automobile accident more than 20 years ago. Mobley was one of the pallbearers.
Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami
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.**
Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami