The late “President of Soul,” Rockie Charles, was a tugboat captain in New Orleans. Like too many musicians who needed to resort to a “day job,” Charles never got too many lucky breaks, but he did get a few. This CD was a result of a classified ad that he placed seeking a few gigs to play during his time off. The ad caught the attention of Orleans Records’ producer Carlo Ditta. As their conversations unfolded, Ditta learned—as you will when you listen—that Charles was a splendid soul singer in the vein of Al Green, a solid guitarist, and a songwriter. When Ditta also found out that Charles was building a forty-foot boat out of scrap lumber in his backyard, he knew he needed to sign him.
The album was first issued in 1996 but is now being re-issued in multiple formats for the first time. Yet, this was essentially the first of the last three albums he made before passing in 2010. Alfred Charles Merrick, better known as Rockie Charles had several regional single hits and gained the nickname “President of Soul” from his own hit in the mid ‘60s. Indeed, his vocals will croon and caress, somewhat like ZZ Hill but much smoother. After all, he is a Crescent City cat.
Yet, as good as the tugboat captain is as a back story, Charles’ pedigree is astounding. in his own words in the liners he wrote, “In the late 1960s I moved to Nashville because that’s where I was being booked out of. I backed O.V. Wright, Percy Sledge, Little Johnny Taylor and Otis Redding on the road. You see any record I hear I can play but I have my own style of playing for myself.”
All 11 tracks here are Charles’ originals. We made the reference to Al Green before, but you can hear some of those other iconic soul singers in his voice too. These tracks could have just as easily been laid down at Stax or Hi. He has a range that can go from baritone to falsetto, but the latter seems to be his signature style. He comments, “My style works off the blues, but it’s not confining, and I don’t mean that in a negative way,” Charles said at the time of Born For You’s original release. “I’ve had to play a lot of different types of music because of the situation I was in. I incorporated those styles into what I write. That means taking the blues a step further.”
The album took two years to complete, probably because his tug boat duties got in the way. Charles opens with the upbeat title track but recedes into slow soulful ballads like “Old Black Joel,”” Don’t Let Me Go,” and “Something Is Wrong With Our love”—the essence of deep soul. Horn-infused, upbeat tracks include “I Like to Make Love When It’s Pouring Down Rain,” and “I Need Your Love So Bad I’m About to Lose My Mind.” Those will get you dancing, but Charles digs into some blues too, on “Oh My Darling Look What You’re Doing to Me” and “There is a Rainbow Hangin’ Over My Shoulder,” with the appropriate line “like a ship out on the rocky seas.” It best epitomizes Charles’ “in the pocket” blues guitar.
This “President” is sure to garner approval ratings far better than the one currently sitting in the White House.
--- Jim Hynes – Elmore Magazine February 9, 2018