Soul Serenade: Joe Simon, “Drowning In The Sea of Love”

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

When the conversation turns to great soul singers, Joe Simon’s name is not mentioned nearly enough. Ken Shane makes the case for the legendary hit maker.

Joe Simon was no one-hit wonder, and yet he is another one of those soul music heroes who seems to have been lost to the passage of time. Even a casual listen to his music reveals that he deserves better.

Simon was born in Louisiana, and moved to northern California with his family in the late 1950’s. Like so many of his contemporaries, he got his start singing in his father’s Baptist church. He formed a gospel group called the Golden West Gospel Singers. The group soon followed the path of their major influence, Sam Cooke, and turned to secular music.

Before long Simon was on his own, and signed to Vee Jay Records where he had his first hit in 1964 with “My Adorable One.” A year later he had another hit for Vee Jay with “Let’s Do It Over,” which made it to #13 on the R&B chart. Then Vee Jay folded, leaving Simon on his own.

A Nashville DJ by the name of John Richbourg became Simon’s manager and moved him to a subsidiary of Monument Records called Sound Stage 7 in 1966. There Simon began a string of hits with “Teenager’s Prayer” (#11 R&B). Over the next two years the hits came fast and furious and included “(You Keep Me) Hanging On,” and the Harlan Howard-penned soul classic “The Chokin’ Kind,” which was on the charts for 12 weeks, and had sold one million copies by the summer of 1969. Simon won a Grammy in 1970 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. And he wasn’t done yet.

Richbourg moved Simon to Spring Records, a Polydor affiliate, where he was hooked up with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The team scored a major hit with “Drowning In The Sea Of Love” in 1971, hitting #3 on the R&B chart, and did even better the following year with “The Power of Love” which topped the R&B chart. Both songs crossed over too, each reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The R&B hits continued well into the ’70s, but by the end of the decade, Simon had decided to leave the world of secular music, and return to gospel. He even became an evangelic preacher in Illinois. He continued his music career as a gospel music artist and producer through the late ’90s.

In all, Joe Simon had three #1 hits on the Billboard R&B chart, and many other hits as well. In 1999, he was honored with a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. He may not be as widely remembered as he should be, but the sound of his soulful voice is unforgettable for anyone who has heard it.

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