Originally published 9 October, 2012
BILLY PAUL exploded on an unsuspecting public with the tale of "Me And Mrs. Jones," a record that sold more than 2½ million copies in the States alone, as well as achieving hit status in numerous countries around the world — including Britain, of course, where Billy topped the R&B charts for a month or so.
Now, of course, though, is the telling time for Billy because he faces the age-old problem of the follow-up. In the States, they have selected a further cut from his outstanding album, "360 Degrees of Billy Paul." It's the one entitled "Am I Black Enough For You." However, the record is running into a rather obvious barrier with some radio stations — especially (and equally obviously) the pop slanted stations, who specialise in hits and middle-of-the-road music.
Where "Me And Mrs. Jones" was ideal, "Am I Black Enough" isn't quite what they are looking for. And so, whilst the record continues its climb high into the R&B charts, it is still lurking around the lower depths of the Pop 100.
"Well, I have to be honest," Billy philosophically recounted from his hotel room 42 floors above Manhatten, "this wasn't the one that I really wanted. But the company felt I had to get over to the black audience this time round. And there can be no arguing about that — the record is one of the top sellers in the black areas and one of the most requested records around the stations. I don't really think anybody expected it to be a pop hit — that's reserved for the next one, which is the one I wanted all along — "Brown Baby"."
At this juncture, I informed Billy that Columbia's London outpost had by-passed "Am I Black Enough For You" in deference to "Brown Baby," which is already showing early signs of giving Billy a happy follow-up in this country. "I'm very happy about them doing that," said Billy, quite simply but equally emphatically.
Certainly, the success of "Mrs. Jones" has changed Billy's life quite dramatically. "That's the under-statement of the year," he laughed, seemingly a little embarrassed by it all still. "I honestly can't accept it yet.
"The other week, for example, I did a concert at Carnegie Hall here in New York (Editor's Note: That's just about the equivalent of the London Palladium) and it was packed and they called me back for three encores. They gave me a standing ovation. It was just like a championship fight for me, I was that nervous.
"Look, a few months ago I would have been excited just to go to the Hall and see somebody else appear — how do you think I felt when I saw my name up in lights outside. But it all went so well. And the audience was great.
"You know, it was a completely mixed crowd and that's one thing that I have noticed. Years ago, when a black entertainer got somewhere, he would play to an almost completely black audience. Today, though, it's different. Right now, for instance, I'm up at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem appearing with Nancy Wilson — and you would be surprised how many white folk are in the audience — right there in Harlem. Man, that really is beautiful."
Now, of course, the eager Billy Paul fans are awaiting the release of the album to succeed "360 Degrees." "Well," Billy began, thoughtfully choosing just what he should say, "I'm afraid that there will be something of a delay. As of right now, there are two sides actually completed. I have to tell you about one of them — Kenny (Gamble) and Leon (Huff) wrote it especially and it's a definite single at some point. It's called "I Was Married" and I honestly think it will be bigger than "Me And Mrs. Jones." But for me, there are still two singles from the "360 Degrees" Album — "Brown Baby" and "I'm Just A Prisoner." But, we are starting to work on the album more seriously from May 15.
"I have honestly been too busy doing shows across the country to get settled into thinking about a new album, it's as simple as that. That's why I think they have just re-leased a couple of my earlier albums again. You remember the old "Ebony Woman" and "Live At The Cadillac Club" albums? Well, they have repackaged them and put them out again. People have been asking for my earlier albums since the "360 Degrees" album and since they weren't available any longer, the company felt it to be worthwhile to put them out again. Plus, of course, there wasn't a new album to go with!
"Do I still like those old albums? Well, yes, I do, really, but they don't really hold up against say the "360 Degrees" album because I'm into a different thing now, you see. But, musically, I really believe I did some of my best work then — I still think the "Ebony Woman" album is one of my very best."
Whilst we anxiously await the next album — which is at least two months away — there is some consolation for Billy's European fans. He has a period pencilled in during August and September when he expects to be here in Europe. Judging from what the critics are saying in the States, it is a visit that will be well received here.