During the 1960’s and 1970’s, rock pop, rhythm & blues, and country music sold tens-of-millions of albums. What is often overlooked is the huge commercial success of what has become known as easy listening music. Artists such as Ray Conniff, Andy Williams, and Percy Faith sold millions of albums by appealing to the generation that came to adulthood between the end of the Second World War and the advent of the rock and roll era. This all brings us to the Soulful Strings.
These types of music came together when labels and their rock and soul studio musicians would release albums in order to cash in on this easy listening market.
The Cadet label was a subsidiary of Chess and was the home to such artists as Etta James, Ahmad Jamal, The Rotary Connection, Ramsey Lewis, and The Dells. It may not have seemed like fertile territory for an album of laid back easy listening music but producer/arranger Richard Evans, (1932-2014), formed the Soulful Strings with the labels studio band including guitarist Phil Upchurch, vibraphonist Bobby Christian, organist Ordell Brown, bassist Cleveland Eaton, and an assortment of string players. They released seven albums 1966-1971, including The Magic of Christmas during 1968. That album has now been re-released for the first time.
The Soulful Strings had a slightly different approach. Instead of violins, thy used violas and cellos, which gave everything a little harder sound. Throw in some funky rhythms and you have easy listening music unlike most everything else that was being produced at the time.
“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is funk meets strings with some improvisational cello thrown in for good measure. “Jingle Bells” has some improvisational guitar excursions by Upchurch. Harpist Dorothy Ashby plucks the strings in a unique and bluesy direction, while Upchurch adds some jazzy guitar on “Merry Christmas Baby.”. “Deck The Halls” even incorporates a sitar among the lush strings. Christian’s vibes carry a traditional presentation of “The Christmas Song.”
The Soulful Strings created easy listening music but with a few twists. Not your normal Christmas background fare but perfect for when the party gets a little raucous.