Early 1960s
Southern and country soul

Southern soul, like its northern cousin, represented an attempt to urbanize rhythm and blues. But the southern variant, usually more horn-driven and gritty, at the same time strongly recalled its R&B and gospel roots. A variation was country soul, which also featured country textures.

From very early on in their career, the Stones were interested in the new R&B being produced in the Southern U.S., which was bringing back a more gutsy, down-to-earth, gospel-tinged feel, as opposed to the more commercial black pop represented by groups like the Drifters (though the Stones covered this music too). It formed the bulk of their material along with Chicago blues and rock & roll.


Alabama-born Arthur Alexander was an early exponent of soul music in the early 1960s, whose music also betrayed country flavorings. His songs were covered by both the Beatles (Anna, A Shot of Rhythm & Blues) and the Stones, among others. You Better Move On was recorded by the Stones a year after it had been released.

Alexander's studio, Muscle Shoals, was used by the Stones in 1969 to record Brown Sugar and other songs.

GENE ALLISON  (1934-2004)

Tennessee-born Allison was an early R&B/soul singer, in the vein of Arthur Alexander, Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, that the Stones appreciated. They covered his hit You Can Make It If You Try on their first album.


Not exactly from the South, Bob Relf and Earl Nelson hailed from the Los Angeles scene. In the 1950s they were both separately involved in music, particularly in the doo wop R&B field. They formed a duo together in the early 1960s but their only real success was 1963's soul/R&B number Harlem Shuffle. The Stones covered the song for their 1986 Dirty Work album.

SOLOMON BURKE  (1940-2010)

Philadelphia-born Burke was one of the early Atlantic Records soul singers, paving the way for greats like Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, though he never achieved their level of success. Burke's style emphasized the country flavorings of soul more, though. The Stones really admired this type of music, and Burke in particular. They covered his Everybody Needs Somebody to Love for The Rolling Stones Now! and Cry to Me for Out of Our Heads, both in 1965.

Burke opened for, and performed with, the Stones onstage in Los Angeles on November 4, 2002.

I dig people like Solomon Burke, who doesn't mean much in England...

                                                  - Mick Jagger, 1964


DON COVAY  (1938-    )

Born in South Carolina, Covay is another great Southern soul singer that the Stones got some mileage from. Growing up a gospel singer in Washington D.C., he later joined Little Richard and worked with him in the 1950s, before starting his own group called Don Covay and the Goodtimers in 1964. He wrote many of his own songs, including the great Mercy, Mercy, which the Stones opened their 1965 Out of Our Heads album with.

He spent the rest of that decade writing songs for, and collaborating with, other soul artists. His career slowed down in the 1970s, but he later went on to collaborate with the Stones.

BARBARA LYNN  (1942-     )

Similar in style to Irma Thomas, Lynn is another fine but little known female exponent of New Orleans R&B whose material the Stones turned to to fill out albums. Barbara Lynn Ozen was a Texas-born vocalist AND guitarist, who cut some lesser known gems in New Orleans in the early 1960s. The Stones jumped on her recent Oh! Baby (We Got a Thing Goin') for a cover on their 1965 album The Rolling Stones Now!.

BENNY SPELLMAN  (1931-     )

Born in Florida, Spellman was an exponent of New Orleans R&B who had a few hits as a deep-singing vocalist in the early 1960s. The Stones, who seemed to have really dug New Orleans R&B and blues from this period and often covered material from this genre, recorded his Fortune Teller hit.


Like Arthur Alexander, the Staples Singers were exponents of country soul as well as gospel. Although the Stones never recorded their songs, they have often been mentioned by the band in interviews as influences. Keith has stated that The Last Time, for example, started off as a reworking of a Staples Singers song. Their sound, deeply Southern, featuring guitars drenched in reverb and soulful singing by Pops and Mavis Staples, attracted the Stones, Keith and Mick in particular. Over the year the personnel has changed, but the group has remained intact.

The Last Time... had a strong Staple Singers influence in that it came out of an old gospel song that we revamped and reworked. And I didn't actually realize until after we'd done it that we'd written it because we'd been listening to this Staple Singers album for 10 months or so. You don't go out of your way to LIFT songs, but what you play is eventually the product of what you've heard before.

                                                   - Keith Richards

 I was quite a fan of Pops Staples, and I really liked the Staples Singers from very early on. Songs like The Last Time were really very close to songs that they'd done - I'm not saying knicked.

                                                   - Mick Jagger, 1994


IRMA THOMAS  (1941-     )

We really think of the Stones, of the early Stones in particular, as a band nursing itself on Chicago blues, but when their first albums are closely inspected, we notice that the Stones truly RAIDED early 1960s R&B and soul, and particularly New Orleans R&B, and derived a lot of their hits and album tracks from the genre. No exception is their cover of Irma Thomas' Time Is On My Side. No relation to Rufus Thomas, Florida-born Irma was an exceptional soul vocalist who was known as the Queen of New Orleans in the early 1960s. She is apparently still mad at the Stones for "stealing" her best song.

RUFUS THOMAS  (1917-2001)

Mississippi-born Thomas was a greatly appreciated exponent of R&B and southern soul. From the  1940s onwards, he was a key figure in Memphis, where he became a mentor to many artists, including B. B. King and Junior Parker. On his own, Thomas started scoring R&B hits in the 1950s, alone and then with his daughter Carla. He continued to have a few dance novelty hits in the '60s, such as Walkin' the Dog in 1963, which the Stones covered for their first album. Thomas had even more hits with his forays into funk in the early 1970s, but afterwards his career came to an end.

Written by Ian McPherson, 2000-2010.
Like all files on Time Is On Our Side, it is the exclusive intellectual property
of Ian McPherson and cannot be duplicated, in any form, without his authorization.

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