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Doris Troy

In 1969, Doris Troy was living in a London mews apartment near Baker Street. “I mentioned I was working with The Beatles, man,” Doris recalled later, “and I got the most gorgeous flat! It was wonderful. The Beatles... I can't explain it... it was phenomenal."

Padding around Doris’ place was her cat, Lord Krishna, and on her wall were photos of people she admired and who most inspired her. Martin Luther King was among them. Another was Billy Preston, who slept on the floor until he found a roof of his own. Another was George Harrison.

Doris was of Barbadian decent and grew up in Harlem, New York, before becoming a firm Anglophile. She first moved to Britain in 1965 after her Atlantic Records single ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’ charted here, that in turn followed the huge No. 2 success of her song, ‘Just One Look’, as covered by The Hollies.

Doris Troy loved Britain and Britain loved Doris Troy. “When she got off the plane in London, there was a red carpet, and there were kids screaming,” remembers Vy Higginsen, Doris’ younger sister and travelling companion. Doris became Mother or Mama Soul to her fans on account of her own music, and an indispensable Miss Fixit when it came to organizing backing singers for other people.

Early breaks for Doris included being talent-spotted by James Brown at New York’s soul central, the Apollo Theater in Harlem, near to where her family lived, and the deal with Atlantic, where her career as a backing vocalist developed. In Britain, too, Doris became Backing Vocal Queen alongside friends such as Marsha Hunt and Madeline Bell.

Doris’ backing vocals can be heard on some of the most famous records in popular music, including the Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can't Always Get What You Want', Carly Simon’s ‘You're So Vain’ and Pink Floyd’s 'The Dark Side Of The Moon’ album, to name but three. But it’s her own music that we’re concerned with here, and Doris Troy, her second album, issued in September 1970, showcases her lead singing, her songwriting talents and her funky-soul-R&B crossover appeal to the max.

Speaking in 1992, Doris explained how she came to record for Apple Records: “George was producing Billy Preston's album (That’s The Way God Planned It) and my girl friend Madeline Bell called me up and said, 'Come on, Doris, you want to work?'. And that's how I met Billy Preston and George.”

In an interview recorded in early 1970, George recalled: “I first met Doris on this Billy Preston session. Madeline had brought Doris one day. Doris had come over to England with a few demo tapes, because she’d decided that she wanted to live in England and try and do it from here like, I suppose, the thing that Jimi Hendrix did. She came on a session, and she’s been there ever since!”

Doris discovered that George was already familiar with her music: “He told me he had 'Just One Look' and my Atlantic album. I said, 'What? My stuff?' He said, 'Yeah. We listen to it all the time'.”

Continued Doris: “George said to me after the second session, 'What are you doing, Doris? Are you free?' I said, 'Yeah, man, I'm free.' He said 'Do you want to sign to Apple?' I said 'Sure! Are you serious?' He said, 'Yeah'. I said, ‘Well, I want to be writer, producer and artist, OK?’. He said ‘OK’.”

Apple offered Doris no fewer than three contracts, exactly what she’d asked for. They also gave her own office on the top floor at 3 Savile Row, next door to Peter Asher, then Apple’s A&R chief.

Work on Doris’ self-titled album began at Trident Studios in London’s Soho district in mid 1969 and continued until the end of the year. George and Doris worked together on the production but Doris got the producer’s credit. The sessions were spontaneous and thanks to George’s unparalleled influence, musicians gathered quickly to play on the album and to collaborate with Doris.

George was present throughout, of course, and, as Doris recalled in ’92: “We had Ringo Starr. He was one of my favourite people. He would be the first one there. He was so dedicated. I wish I could see him today and tell him how much I appreciate his enthusiasm and the way he worked, because he could play.”

If half The Beatles wasn’t enough, the guest list kept growing. “Then we had Billy Preston,” continued Doris. “Then we had Eric Clapton. And Klaus Voormann — one of my favourite bass players in the world. In fact Klaus and I wrote some songs together. And then Peter Frampton, he did his part. Delaney and Bonnie were in town and they came over. Stephen Stills came. He was here to buy a Ferrari and he heard about the sessions. And someone brought him over to my house and we became instant friends, because we're both Capricorns. I said, 'You got any tunes?' and he said 'Yeah', so he brought 'Special Care'. He sang background with me.”

Doris wanted for nothing during the recording sessions. As John Lennon had indicated at a press conference to announce Apple: “People can come and record, and not have to ask ‘Can we have another microphone in the studio but we haven’t had a hit yet’ ”. Doris: “That was the good thing about Apple Records. If you needed amps, if you needed speakers, if you needed mics… When we went to the studio, anything we needed, we got it.”

‘Ain’t That Cute’, which Doris described as “a hot song”, kicked off the album in fine form. This is one of two collaborations credited to Harrison / Troy, one of three if you count their inspirational gospel arrangement of the traditional ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, which closed the original vinyl LP.

As with many of Doris’ songs, ‘Ain’t That Cute’ began with a lyric, here a phrase that Doris used in everyday speech. It’s a lyrical companion to Joe South’s classic ‘Games People Play’, also present here in a soulful, gospel form. ‘Ain’t That Cute’ was released as Doris’ debut Apple single (‘Jacob’s Ladder’ was the second and last), and had been considered a stand-alone 45, but was added to the line-up once the rest of the album had been completed.

Said George in 1970: “We did her single, ‘Ain’t That Cute’, which we wrote in the studio, actually. This is a good exercise because… I wouldn’t consider going in there and just making it up on the spot, which is what we did with ‘Ain’t That Cute’. We didn’t have a song, so we made it up, and I just pinched the chords from (Leon Russell’s) ‘Delta Lady’ and away I went. We wrote that, and it’s very nice, with Pete Frampton playing guitar.”

Doris collaborated with George further on ‘Give Me Back My Dynamite’, a key figure of which is George’s own stinging guitar lines. The Troy-Harrison songwriting team was augmented on two standout tracks — ‘Gonna Get My Baby Back’ and ‘You Give Me Joy Joy’ — by Ringo Starr, and by the fortuitous presence of Stephen Stills, one corner of the Crosby, Stills & Nash triumvirate. (Stills was also about to issue his own debut solo album, which he’d recorded in London). As Doris recalled, Stephen also brought along ‘Special Care’ from his Buffalo Springfield days, which Doris transformed from its languid psychedelic original into a rollicking R&B barnstormer. Stephen would later adopt this arrangement for his own live renditions of the song.

‘I’ve Got To Be Strong’ is essentially a composition by Doris’ Apple Records label mate Jackie Lomax and shares many similarities with tracks on his Is This What You Want? Apple album. ‘So Far’, written with Klaus Voormann, is pure gospel soul, highlighted by Doris’ impassioned vocals.

‘Hurry’, meanwhile, was a remake of a song Doris wrote with her early collaborator Gregory Carroll, and which she first recorded for Atlantic in 1964. ‘Exactly Like You’ was older still, a jazz standard first heard in the 1930 musical International Revue, which also gave the world ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’ by the same writers, Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. “ ‘Exactly Like You’ is what I would call a standard song done in the Doris Troy way,” said Doris in ’92. “That's gospel.”

‘You Tore Me Up Inside’ and ‘Don’t Call Me No More’ were two songs written, but not recorded, prior to Doris’ signing to Apple. Both were collaborations with New York blues guitarist Ray Schinnery. Again, the songwriting was lyric-led. Says Ray today: “I remember we were sittin' talkin' at the table and a conversation just came up about how people can be vicious and cruel when they know that the other party is attracted to 'em. It was like, boy, if they had any idea about what they did. About one such incident I remember saying, ‘You know Doris, that tore me up inside’. And she said, 'Now there's a title', and from there the song developed. It took about 20 minutes.”

“ 'Don't Call Me No More' was part of the same situation,” continues Ray. “What would you do if you ran into these people again? We were both really locked on the same level with these two songs. We both felt exactly that way. We just talked about our feelings, so 'Don't Call Me No More' was like an extension of 'You Tore Me Up Inside'.”

Long-serving soul music writer David Nathan was a lifetime friend of Doris, and he counts her among the soulful diva élite, alongside Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. “Doris was a very kind, warm human being. Very inclusive,” says David. “She loved this album. She was very proud of it. When it was finished, she couldn’t wait for me to hear it. She was thrilled to be associated with Apple and The Beatles. She thought it was a big deal that she as an American R&B artist had been chosen to be part of Apple’s roster.

“Doris Troy is certainly her most personal work,” David Nathan concludes. “In that sense you could say that it is her best album. It is so reflective of who she was at the time.”

BONUS TRACKS
Added to the five bonus tracks from the 1992 CD reissue of Doris Troy is a previously unreleased version of ‘All That I’ve Got (I’m Gonna Give To You)’, co-written by Doris and Billy Preston, and originally released as Billy’s third Apple single in 1970. This is a different, funkier take than Track 14.
Initially to be found on the B-side of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ was ‘Get Back’, Doris’ tribute to The Beatles. “I loved that version,” she said in ‘92. “I wanted to make it as soulful as I possibly could.”
Other bonus tracks include ‘Vaya Con Dios’, the B-side to ‘Ain’t That Cute’, and two original Doris compositions that remained unreleased until 1992, ‘Dearest Darling’ and ‘What You Will Blues’, which, essentially, is an instrumental version of ‘Give Me Back My Dynamite’ with ad-lib vocals.