Apart from the music, of course, the best thing about Robin Tomlin’s "Soulful Situation" show on WTJU (every Monday from noon to 2pm), is the amount of history that he provides with the music. "Bad musical history really pisses me off," he says. Tomlin moved to the States from England in 1986 to see live go-go music, and he has been here ever since. He has a Sex Pistols bumper sticker on his truck and a lot of photos of Memphis studios around the house. Just recently, Tomlin got to have his photo taken with his idol, James Brown.
Spencer Lathrop: James Brown?
Robin Tomlin: There was Motown, and there was Stax, and then there was James Brown, who was a genre all to himself. He was definitely the first soul act I ever heard—his record Live at The Apollo, 1962, which was recorded five days after I was born. The day I was born was the day Smokey Robinson and The Miracles recorded “You Really Got A Hold On Me.” I saw James Brown in Brighton in 1981 with an 18-piece band and 200 people showed up. There is a DVD called Live at Montreaux, which is essentially the show that I saw. James also has a DVD, Live in Boston, which was from 1968, the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated. They begged James to let them broadcast it live on WGBH, and it was the one city in this country where there were no riots. That is how big James Brown was. Having my photograph taken with him last month was a 25-year ambition for me. I found out where he was staying, and then met him just as he was leaving for the show. I got 15 seconds with him.
The best female soul singer was Candi Staton’s stuff from Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, 1968-1972, which was really the golden age of soul music. And I really love Betty Harris and Betty LaVette. For male singers, nobody can top Bobby Blue Bland, except O.V. Wright, who was the greatest soul singer of all time. Everyone should buy The Soul of O.V. Wright. Even his last record, when he had lost all of his teeth, still sounded great. And I absolutely adore Joe Tex. You can learn a lot about rural black American culture by listening to Joe Tex. The best of the soul groups are The Dells, and The Spinners on Atlantic, which is really high quality. I love The Dramatics, and you have to throw The Staple Singers in there because they have done it all. The more I listen, the more I love Southern soul, recorded in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. And New Orleans too, but the city is really its own country. Or was.
I consider it an honor and a pleasure to DJ on WTJU. Charlottesville is a very open-hearted town.