With "I'm Your Puppet," the duo of James and Bobby Purify gained soul immortality. The 1966 single written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham went top ten Pop and top five R&B on the Billboard charts (and No. 1 R&B on Cash Box!), sold an estimated million copies, and still gets airplay today. Now, Cherry Red's SoulMusic Records imprint has brought together all of the Purifys' recordings for the Bell Records label on the 2-CD collection entitled (naturally) I'm Your Puppet: The Complete Bell Recordings 1966-1969.
In late 1965, James Lee Purify and his cousin Robert Lee Dickey were spotted by R&B impresario Don Schroeder in Pensacola, Florida, where James was singing lead and Robert was playing guitar in the Dothan Sextet. Schroeder had a stack of songs by southern soul tunesmiths Penn and Oldham that he suspected would be right for a new duo, including "I'm Your Puppet." He booked time at Penn and Oldham's Muscle Shoals home base of Fame Studios, and cut the song with musicians including Chips Moman on guitar and Barry Beckett joining Oldham on keyboards. Even though the deep soul men felt the song was too pop and country, they gave it their all, and Schroder promptly shopped the master - credited to James and Bobby Purify - to Larry Uttal's scrappy independent, Bell. One of soul's most beloved duos was born.
The Purifys returned to Fame in fall 1966 to cut their first full-length album which kicks off SoulMusic's collection. James and Bobby Purify included "I'm Your Puppet" and its B-side, Penn and Marlin Greene's "So Many Reasons," along with nine other tracks in their pop-soul harmony style. In addition to Penn and Oldham's "Wish You Didn't Have to Go" (their follow-up single and a top 40 Pop/top 30 R&B hit) and Penn's "You Left the Water Running" (co-written with Fame owner Rick Hall and Oscar Franck), the album included covers of familiar songs with the imprimaturs of Stax ("Knock on Wood," "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)") and Motown ("Hitch Hike"). The twosome even doffed their hats to Stax's Sam and Dave with "Blame Me (Don't Blame My Heart)" and did well by Sam Cooke's anthem "A Change Is Gonna Come," aided as on every track by the tight rhythm section and brassy horns. Schroeder and Bob Montgomery's "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down" echoed the sound and style of "I'm Your Puppet" but was relegated to B-side status of "Wish You Didn't Have to Go."
A second LP was soon in the making. 1967's The Pure Sound of the Purifys, however, only featured two songs recorded at Fame: Schroeder and Oldham's "Goodness Gracious" and Penn's "Hello There." The rest of the LP was recorded at Chips Moman's American Sound Studio in Memphis including "Shake a Tail Feather," a cover of The Five Du-Tones' 1963 dancer. Featuring Reggie Young on guitar, it became the Purifys' third chart success (No. 15 R&B/No. 25 Pop). Schroeder gave the track an extra dash of soul when he brought the master to New York for vocal overdubs by a group reportedly including Melba Moore, Ellie Greenwich, and Doris Troy. Schroeder also made the questionable decision to have the Purifys cover three songs associated with Sam and Dave on the LP, leading some to feel they were mere imitators of the Stax duo. Still, the album - which went even further into country territory with its rendition of Merle Travis' "Sixteen Tons" - showed off the Purifys' alternately gutsy and sweet vocal blend on an enjoyable variety of material.
SoulMusic's collection adds all of the Purifys' non-LP singles for Bell through 1969, spreading them across both discs. These include the proto-bubblegum pop of Scott English, Jerry Ross, and Mark Barkan's "Help Yourself (To All of My Lovin'"), Joe South's "Untie Me," and Dick Holler's "Section C," with an arrangement by Bergen White. Six outtakes, first released in 2002 on the Sundazed compilation Shake a Tail Feather! The Best of James and Bobby Purify, round out the set.
By the time of the final single, however, Robert Dickey had parted ways of his partner. He was replaced on that single (the aforementioned "Section C") by Buddy Grubbs, who sings the second verse. James later replaced his cousin with Ben Moore, with whom he would enjoy a second spell of success as "James and Bobby Purify" beginning in 1974. After splitting the duo, James Purify had a couple of unfortunate encounters with the law, and Bob Fisher (in his excellent liner notes) asserts that it's believed James is living in Florida. Dickey moved to Florida and left show business, working in maintenance until his death in 2012. Today, Ben Moore is a member of the Blind Boys of Alabama.
I'm Your Puppet: The Complete Bell Recordings 1966-1969 has an attractive 20-page booklet with Fisher's liner notes and full credits for each track. Simon Murphy has remastered all tracks at Another Planet Music. This comprehensive celebration of the original James and Bobby Purify sound is available now at the links below!
James and Bobby Purify (Bell LP 6003, 1967)
- Wish You Didn't Have to Go
- So Many Reasons
- Knock on Wood
- I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
- Hitch Hike
- I've Got Everything I Need (I've Got You)
- I'm Your Puppet
- You Left the Water Running
- A Change Is Gonna Come
- Don't Blame Me (Blame My Heart)
- You Can't Keep a Good Man Down
Non-LP Singles 1967-1969
- Do Unto Me (Bell 700)
- Everybody Needs Somebody (Bell 700)
- I Can Remember (Bell 721)
- I Was Born to Lose Out (Bell 721)
- Help Yourself (To All of My Lovin') (Bell 735)
- Last Place of Love (Bell 735)
- Untie Me (Bell 751)
- We're Finally Gonna Make It (Bell 751)
The Pure Sound of the Purifys (Bell LP 6010, 1967)
- I Take What I Want
- Hello There
- Sixteen Tons
- I Don't Want to Have to Wait
- When Something Is Wrong (With My Baby)
- Let Love Come Between Us
- Shake a Tail Feather
- Soothe Me
- Goodness Gracious
- I Love You (Most of All)
- You Don't Love Me
Non-LP Single 1969
- I Don't Know What It Is You Got (Bell 774)
- Section C (Bell 774)
Outtakes (first released on Shake a Tail Feather! The Best of James and Bobby Purify , Sundazed CD SC 11096, 2002)
- Keep Pushin' Me
- Just Like Old Times
- My Adorable Ones
- The Weeper
- She Ain't Gonna Do Right
- Somebody Cares