Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


PURIFY, James & Bobby

Soul vocal duo of cousins James Purify (b 12 May 1944, Pensacola FL) and Robert Lee Dickey (b 2 September 1939, Tallahassee). At the height of the glorious era of soul music, between November 1963 and January 1965, there was no black chart in Billboard, because the whole country was listening to the same music. This was still true a few years later, when James & Bobby Purify got together to have nine soul hits '66-8: nearly all crossed over to the white pop chart. The biggest was a Dan Penn/Spooner Oldham song, 'I'm Your Puppet.' When Dickey left the duo he was replaced briefly by Buddy Grubbs, who drowned in a swimming pool accident; James also worked as a solo, then Ben Moore, also from Pensacola, left the duo Ben & Spence, who'd recorded for Atlantic, to join James in 1971, and became the third Bobby Purify. The new duo had a hit in Britain with a remake of 'I'm Your Puppet,' plus a USA Top 30 with 'Do Your Thing' in 1974.

When James left the business, Ben/Bobby carried on a solo career as Bobby Purify and a parallel career singing gospel under his real name (Ben Moore's album He Believes In Me was nominated for a Grammy in 1982). But despite having one of those beautiful soul-era pitch-perfect voices, he began to slip under the radar, and in 1994 to suffer from glaucoma. By 1998 he was blind and seriously depressed. But that year he got a phone call from Ray Charles, who told him that he still had that soul inside him and that's what counted. So Ben/Bobby went back to work, using both names; and singing at a private party in Pensacola, one of the other guests was Hoy 'Bucky' Lindsey, Dan Penn's writing partner, who said, 'I gotta get somebody down here to listen to you, 'cause you sing better now than you sang 30 years ago!' When Penn heard Bobby, 'He was singin' R&B just like they did in the '60s, which is the only kind of R&B I know and you just don't hear that no more. What they call R&B nowadays, that ain't the real thing.' Penn had produced Ben & Spence in the old days, including their biggest seller 'You're The One For Me,' as well as writing and/or producing dozens of soul classics; now he found a record deal and started writing songs with Lindsey and Carson Whitsett, and they brought Bobby to Penn's basement studio in Nashville, with a vintage two-inch 16-track tape recorder, and a vintage attitude to making great music. It wasn't easy at first, Penn said, ' 'cause it's not the same start headin' for 1965 and you've gotta turn a few knobs in your brain.' But finally, 'After we got started, I didn't think Muscle Shoals, Memphis, New Orleans or nothin' -- we just cut this guy.' The album, Better To Have It on Proper Records, came out in 2005 and got wonderful reviews, and at least one Purify was back in business.