Veteran Memphis songwriter Don Bryant recently released his first album in nearly four decades, leading to declarations that “he has returned … with a killer album that marks him as a rising star” at 75 years young (Paste magazine). “It feels just as good now as it did then,” he told Rolling Stone—and it sounds just as good, too. This is no exaggeration.
Memphis has long been a crucible for uniquely American sounds, from Beale Street blues to Sun Studios rockabilly. When soul and R&B topped the charts beginning in the late 1950s, the city produced a stylish and urbane variant that came to be known as “Memphis soul.” Less hard-edged than some other regional manifestations, the Memphis sound, and its main studios, Stax and Hi, launched the careers of scores of legendary performers that included Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Al Green, and The Staple Singers.
Like so many of his peers, and indeed the genre of soul music itself, Don Bryant first came to music through the church, where he was a stand-out singer starting at age five. He went on to sing in his father’s vocal group, and then in a high school gospel quartet that went secular as The Four Kings. Bryant’s big break came when bandleader Willie Mitchell brought him on as lead singer, and recognized Don’s natural talent as a songwriter. By age 18, Don Bryant was writing for Hi Records, and his songs were being recorded by some of Memphis’s biggest stars. His greatest collaboration started in 1970 when he began writing for newcomer Ann Peebles. In 1973, they co-wrote the hit single “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” which solidified her status as a soul legend. They married in 1974.
Don continued singing, primarily as a gospel artist, but for decades he was best known as a songwriter, with over 150 titles to his credit. That changed when he released his first solo recording since 1969, the 2017 release entitled Don’t Give Up on Love. The album is a tribute to his beloved Ann, who retired in 2012, and has brought much-deserved attention to Don’s central place in the pantheon of great Memphis soul singers.
Don Bryant brings with him to Richmond an outstanding five-piece band featuring members of the Bo-Keys, an intergenerational ensemble keeping the classic Memphis sound alive today. Founded by bass player and producer Scott Bomar, the band includes Kirk Smothers on saxophone, guitarist Joe Restivo, Tom Clary on trumpet, and drummer Dave Mason, as well as organist Archie Turner, one of the original members of the historic Hi Records house band.