Sometimes no matter how much great work an artist produces there's one piece that just bursts thru the stratosphere and impacts an audience to the point that artist and the work become irreducible in the minds of folks. For Mr. Theodis Ealey that piece is "Stand Up In It". A good ole Southern Soul song with a cheeky message that's become one of the biggest hits to come out of the famed "chitlin' circuit" in the modern era. In fact it's revitalized the Southern Soul genre with countless response songs and ripoffs. But the truth is, it's not even close to the "Stand Up In It" Man's best work. Ealey is a terrific Blues guitarist and songwriter with an old school wit that defines the soul of the South.
Ealey was born 1947 in Natchez Mississippi into a musical family. He first picked up an instrument when his older brother Y Z Ealey first taught him how to play at the age of 4. Ten years later, Theodis on bass was playing at his first gig with brothers Y Z and Melwin Ealey in a group called Y Z Ealey and the Merrymakers. This brotherly trio made their debut in their hometown of Natchez at a local nightclub called Horseshoe Circle. One year later, Theodis traded his bass for a guitar and began performing with another Natchez group, Eugene Butler & the Rocking Royals.
Prior to his signing with Atlantas's Ichiban Records in 1991, Ealey's recording career consisted of scattered 45s. His first recording was a holiday tune called "A Christmas Wish" on Banshee Records. Ealey later found out the word Banshee refers to a figure related to occult mythology. "Isn't that ironic? I did a Christmas song for a label called Banshee Records!" Years later Ealey backed Little Richard's sax player Bill Hemmins and worked with producer Robert "Bumps" Blackwell for Chelan Records. The 45 was titled "Deepest Sympathy/Peace Of Mind is Hard To Find". Bill Parker recorded Ealey for his Optune label for the single "I Don't Wannna Talk About It/Was It Me?"
The first full length came in 1991, "Headed Back To Hurtsville", which was followed by three more LP's for Ichiban before Ealey started his own label IFGAM Records- an acronym meaning "I Feel Good About Myself". The acclaimed but commercially-ignored "It's A Real Good Thang" dropped in 2002. Things changed drastically for Ealey in 2004 when a single called "Stand Up In It" began picking up steam in the Deep South. Despite it's risqué subject matter, the single became a runaway smash, reaching #68 on Billboard's Hot R & B/Hip Hop Tracks (#1 on the sale chart) and the resulting album managed #54 on the R & B Albums chart- a rare feat for a Southern Bluesman. A rash of answer songs and copies followed throughout the South as the cut still remains a classic. Ealey's credits also include work in the NBC Movie of the Week "A Kiss To Die For," which starred Mimi Rogers and Tim Matheson. Ealey appeared in a nightclub scene that featured two of his songs “Headed Back To Hurtsville” and “Lil’ Brown Eyes”. Further instrumental credits include the Emmy-winning HBO special "Miss Evers' Boys”, where Lawrence Fishburne mimicked Ealey's guitar playing. Ealey & his band also make a brief cameo in the movie. The Standup In It Man also had a role in the major motion picture "The Fighting Temptations," appeared in commercials for Rooms To Go and the Cartoon Network and did some bona fide acting in a stage play called "Spunk".
He followed up "Stand Up In It" with lesser hits like "Move With The Motion", "Let Me Put The Head In It" and "Francine" but is now preparing to release his followup LP, "I'm The Man You Need", in November 2006.
"Headed Back To Hurtsville" (Ichiban 1992)
1. Old Time Blues
*** 1/2 Very strong debut by this soulful blues singer and guitarist. The mournful slow blues "Headed Back To Hurtsville Again" portends greatness. The rip-rollicking "Lil Brown Eyes" shows off his guitar skills. His soulful, tender side comes out on the lovely "I Wanna Be Your Friend". A very solid contemporary soul blues record. Another interesting fact: The musical backdrop of "I'm The Man You Need" was used for his smash hit "Stand Up In It" 12 years later.
"If You Leave I'm Going Wit'Cha" (Ichiban 1994)
1. House of the Rising Sun
**** Another high caliber release featuring the lilting southern soul of the title cut and the slow blues "Looking Up A The Bottom". Several original blues shuffles are here ("Travelin' Mind", "Wicked City Woman" & "Stop Doggin' Me Around"). The only misstep is the tepid cover of "House Of The Rising Sun" that opens the disc. Theodis is such a strong writer he doesn't need to cover an old warhorse. Nevertheless he fares better on covers of "Black Night" & Percy Mayfield's "Hard Times". In retrospect it's hard to understand why this didn't get the attention of the mainstream Blues press.
"Stuck Between Rhythm & Blues" (Ichiban 1996)
1. Bluesman Lover
*** A change of direction by Theodis that hasn't aged as well. This time the focus is more on contemporary R & B than blues. "Bluesman Lover" is the best, a soul blues tune worthy of B.B. King. The funky "(Tell Me) Why I Can't Trust You" & rocking blues "Goody Sack" are also keepers. The production behind the ballad "Dreamin'" & cover of "Lonely Sunday" just sound too cheesed up by keyboard and synth. Ealey has said he was experimenting on combining R & B, Southern Soul and Blues to connect with the chiltin circuit here and later in his career he would completely master the hybrid of styles.
"Raw" (Ichiban 1998)
1. Meet Me in the Morning
***1/2 Theodis completely abandons the plastic R & B pop production of his previous release and gets down with the blues on his final Ichiban outing. The album starts with an excellent take on Bob Dylan's "Meet Me In The Morning" and culminates in a darling, sentimental acoustic tribute to his daughter ("Song For My Daughter"). High energy and aggressive guitar appears on "454-Blues" & "Stagger Lee". His Bluesiest outing.
"It's A Real Good Thang" (Ifgam 2002)
1. All My Baby Left Me Was A Note,
My Guitar and A Cookie Jar 2002
***1/2 Four years pass and Theodis starts his own label, Ifgam (acronym for "I Feel Good About Myself", which was also a song title from his debut album). The plodding "All My Baby Left Me Was A Note, My Guitar & The Cooke Jar" is re-cut from "Raw" (and improved). "If You Leave I'm Going Wit'Cha" is also updated from the album of the same name. Francine Reed joins Theodis on a duet ("Baby You Got What It Takes") as does Chick Willis ("You've Got To Hurt Before You Heal"). More solid blues via "I Want You" (an original) and a cover of Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby" .
"American Roots: Blues" (Ichiban 2002)
1. If You Leave Me,
I'm Going Wit'cha
*** Haphazard collection of some of the best from his four Ichiban records. But some of his very best are missing. Where's "Bluesman Lover" or "Lil Brown Eyes" or "Headed Back To Hurtsville Again"??? As it is- an okay sampler.
"Stand Up In It" (Ifgam 2004)
1. Stand up in It
***** Theodis finally gets his due. The single "Stand Up In It" was Number 1 for 6 months on Southern Soul charts + charting Number 1 in Billboard's R & B sales charts and number 68 on the Billboard R & B Hot 100 chart. It joins Clarence Carter's "Strokin", Marvin Sease's "Candy Licker", Mel Waiter's "Hole In The Wall" & others as one of the biggest songs on the "chitlin circuit". Finally Theodis' label got around to releasing a full album containing "Stand Up In It" (in three versions, clean, explicit & "Stand Up In It Pt. 2"). First the good news: This album is excellent throughout- Grade A soul & blues songs like "Bluesman Lover", "Lil Brown Eyes", "All My Baby Left Me Was A Note, My Guitar & A Cookie Jar", plus new songs like the dancers "Move With The Motion", "If You Keep Rockin'", "Don't You Wanna Party". There's also duets with Francene Reed ("Baby You Got What It Takes") and Chick Willis ("You've Got To Hurt Before you Heal"). The only (semi-) bad news is that if you bought his 2002 cd "It's A Real Good Thang"already have half the songs on "Stand Up In It". Only 4 songs are new to this project but they make it a necessary purchase
Theodis Ealey & Friends "Let Me Put The Head In It: Blues & Soul Mix" (Ifgam 2005)
Let Me Put The Head In It Theodis Ealey
*** 2004 was a big year for Mr. Theodis Ealey, his single "Stand Up In It" and subsequent album of the same name were huge hits. Where once he was a respected bluesman he has now become a major player in the Southern Soul realm. This new 10-track release is actually a sampler of artists on Ealey's Ifgam label. There's three Theodis songs here- the new sure-to-be smash hit "Let Me Put The Head In It", plus "Don't You Wanna Party" (from "Stand Up In It") and an older track called "This Time I Know". Also included is a hit by a new singer named Lebrado. On "I'm Missin You Babe" he evokes some Sir Charles Jones and Stevie Wonder comparisons on a very strong vocal. Willie Hill's current hit "I'm A Man On A Mission" is here- sounding very much like a Theodis track- an upbeat dancer with candied keyboards, stomping rhythm and memorable hook. A female Diva-in-training named Rasheeda makes one of the most impressive showings with "You Gotta Kiss It (Like You Miss It)", a funky bass heavy track with honey-dipped vocals. The song is another entry in the book of "how to please a woman". Husky-voiced Freddie Hughes released a 1997 disc on Ifgam but his two songs here appear to be new. He does strong covers of Ealey's "Headed Back To Hurtsville" and "Wicked City Woman". Also notable is bluesman Doc Blakey's "Think It Over". Overall this disc is a commercial for the Ifgam label, but also stands up as an enjoyable "Blues And Soul Mix" just as it promised.
"I'm The Man You Need" (Ifgam 2006)
1. Sumpin' Sumpin'
***1/2 "Stand Up In It" energized the Southern Soul market. That colossal smash was a much needed commercial breakthrough for the genre (#1 on Billboard's R & B Singles Sales Chart) and has become no little source of inspiration for the countless answer songs that have followed. The Stand Up In It man is now back to set the record straight on the monumental issue- the universal question- the unparalleled mystery- the sacred secret (okay, too far)- of what women really want in the sack.
On the cheeky opener "Sumpin' Sumpin'" he explains that he was only the messenger delivering a message the "little old lady" had given him. The cut's an inevitable concession to the endless parade of risqué sex songs popular on the circuit. He even nicks the bridge from a classic ("Candy Licker") by the godfather of sex songs Marvin Sease. I can't wait to hear the next chapter in the saga. Whatever the case, it's an upbeat ditty as is track 2, "Pop That Middle", one of those catchy keyboard-driven dancers Theodis and co-producer Bruce Billups are now known for (think "Francine", "Move With the Motion", Willie Hill's "Man On A Mission", Lebrado's "I'm Missin' U Babe"). This gives way to the first single, a sugary sweet Tyrone Davis-inspired Soul pleader called "Please Let Me In", which cleverly inverts the hook on Davis' own "Let Me Back In". Hitsville. The next couple tracks are a surprise but for different reasons. Those who've followed Ealey's career from the beginning know "Stand Up In It" was based on the music of an earlier song of his, "I'm The Man You Need". Well, now "Man You Need" is back in a newly recorded version (thus, the title track of this record) while it's cousin "Stand Up In It" returns as a remix without that same backing music! Call it a Hip Hop version. Another surprise is Ealey doing Marvin Gaye. Gaye's own "Let's Get It On" is perfect. The aching voice, the backing, the arrangement- perfect. You simply can't improve upon it so why is Ealey covering this song? Because he can and because it's been a concert staple of his for years. Besides, "Let's Get It On (Medley)" is quite good in it's own right. Ealey intersplices it with Freddie Jackson's "Rock Me Tonight" and a little of Gaye's "Sexual Healing".
While "I'm The Man You Need" is mostly Soul/R & B, Ealey hasn't abandoned the Blues as he lays down a definitive version of his slow Blues "Looking Up At The Bottom" and includes an instrumental "Theo's Groove" (from the album "It's A Real Good Thang"). As a bonus there's a stripped-down holiday song, a duet with Lebrado, called "The Reason For The Season". And there you have it- a blockbuster sequel.
"Live" (Ifgam 2009)
1. Blues Is Alright, The
*** Modern Southern Soul is not known for live musicianship so there are very few live albums released. This is different for the Stand Up In It man is really an old Blues cat from the beginning. His albums for Ichiban Records featured more Blues fare than what would be considered Southern Soul (especially his album, "Raw") so "Live" is a guitar-driven set of Blues shuffles and his big Southern Soul hits.
"You And I Together" (Ifgam 2013)
What's Up aka Shut The Puck Up
"Blues Is Calling My Name" (Jus Blues 2018)
1 Blues Is Calling My Name