There is a very special corner in American music at the intersection of Blues Boulevard, Gospel Drive and Soul Street where only select performers of the highest calibre can hang out and celebrate the convergence of those forms of music in glorious song. Not all of those artists made the Top 10, or Soul Train, but they hit some heavenly heights in their music in cramped ghetto clubs. Playing the 9pm-to-2.30am-for-15-bucks-a-man grind, spinning out heart-wrenching anthems for the faithful who follow the band, from club to club, week after week, to hear what they couldn't hear on the radio. Providing relief, consolation and satisfaction from three feet away on the stage, where crowds sometimes jostle the crackling amplifiers as they dance, requesting songs amid a tangle of microphone wires, or slide a watered-down coke onto the electric piano for the friend on the bandstand. These performers are the unsung heroes of American music.
Albert Washington was one of those special performers, consolers, friends. He brought the spirit of his birthplace in Rome, Georgia, the rhythms of gospel, blues and R&B from the victrolas and juke boxes of his youth and his own magnificently soulful sensibilities and talent with him to the haze-filled bars of Cincinnati's African American clubs and made them some of the most sacred musical places imaginable.
He covered James Brown, Sam Cooke, the Staple Singers, but really struck home most when he segued into his own songs. The instantaneous roar from the crowd when he intoned the opening words of his earliest local hit, I Haven't Got A Friend, attested to his error. Indeed, he did have friends, many in fact, who went back a quarter of a century, following him through his rich recording career with VLM, Finch, Fraternity, Jewel, Eastbound, Iris and a variety of other labels from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. We remember the soaringly sweet voice, nimble guitar playing and songwriting ability that gave us 30 years of memorable personal moments. His Fraternity and Jewel recordings are among his best, demonstrating indeed that he was of the brotherhood, a brother from the hood, with a special musical gift.
By Steve Tracy