The Soul Train Cruise 2020 sets sail in January with acts including The Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston. We spoke with Gerald about classic hits from The Manhattans, his solo work, including covers of songs by The Eagles and Sam Cooke.
By Warren Kurtz
L to R: Troy May, David Tyson and Gerald Alston, courtesy of Randex Communications
GOLDMINE:1973’s “There’s No Me Without You” is smooth soul with a catchy guitar.
GERALD ALSTON: “There’s No Me Without You” I would say is my all-time favorite. It is a love song that carries a message that we like to share with our fans on how we feel about them and their support and for radio, too, because we would not have made it without radio and our fans. We love, respect and care for our fans. That is the song that I always dedicate to our fans.
1973 Soul Train photo, Gerald Alston center, courtesy of letsjustkissandsaygoodbye.com
GM:A pleasant surprise, from your self-titled album in 1976, is your version of “Hurt,” the old Timi Yuro song. It is so smooth and fits you so well.
GA: Thank you. That record became a silver disc in the UK. We get a lot of requests for that song every time we perform.
GM:The UK loves soul music and oldies, so you take that combination and I can understand them embracing your rendition of “Hurt.”
GA: The story in the song is about being hurt and the way that it happened. As I child I was taught by my father, who was a singer, to sing songs that you believe in and can identify with. So I always learn the song to understand what the lyrics are saying. I sing songs the way I have experienced it, or if I know someone else who has gone through what the song is saying, or how I believe I will experience it, so that I am always able to tell that story.
GM:You mentioned silver. Let’s go to another precious metal and talk about platinum with “Kiss and Say Goodbye” from that same album.
GA: We liked “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” but didn’t think it was for us. Blue Lovett, from our group, wrote it, I think for Mac Davis, who was also on Columbia with us, but the people at the record company decided that they wanted us to record it. So we recorded it and I never put my planned final vocal on “Kiss and Say Goodbye.” I put a scratch vocal on it for the background, but it goes to show you that the feeling that you have when you first do a song, a lot of times, is the right feeling. We didn’t think we wanted it, but it turned out to be a perfect song. It went platinum because of the story and the feelings that we projected when we sang it.
GM:You mentioned Mac Davis, who we know as a songwriter, a favorite of my wife Donna. As a songwriter you and Sonny Bivins co-wrote one of my favorites, from my college days in downtown Cleveland, “We Never Danced to a Love Song.” I love your lines, “Disco music is fine sometimes, I want to dance to a love song. I love music, no matter what the style. I want to get close to you for just a little while.”
GA: Thank you. Sonny and I wrote that when we were in England, preparing for our 1977 album It Feels So Good. Sonny and I were in the hotel room one night and he played guitar. It is so funny on how we wrote that song. He played the intro to it and I just started singing the words. I didn’t have any words written down ahead of time. I think I sang the whole first verse before we started writing it down and the song developed from there in London while we were on tour. Sonny and I discussed that no matter how many discos you go to, that at the end of the night, everybody wants to hear a love song, a ballad, that they can get close to each other with and dance.
GM:In terms of a slower song that you can dance to, you began the 1980s with the big ballad “Shining Star.”
GA: That was written by Leo Graham and Paul Richmond. I remember being in the office at Columbia, where they played this track and Leo was there singing, “Honey, you are my shining star. Don’t you go away,” and it took us right there. We knew how he felt about the person he was in love with and it just fit like a glove and we won a Grammy for that.
GM:That was your second platinum single that was played on jukeboxes and if you played the flip side, it was “I’ll Never Run Away from Love Again.” That is one, to me, that could have been a hit as well.
GA: I wrote that one with the late Barbara Moore, one of my partners that I wrote with. We had a tendency to write songs that were more pop oriented or straight forward love songs. We had a different way of writing and that is one of the first songs that we wrote together.
Flip side: I’ll Never Run Away from Love Again
A side: Shining Star
Top 100 debut: April 26, 1980
Peak Position No. 5
GM:Later in the decade you left The Manhattans, and one of the covers that you did was The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why.” You made it so soulful.
GA: The the day that we shot the video, I had a surprise that blew me out of the water. Timothy B. Schmit from The Eagles came. He played bass on the video. Oh my gosh. It blew me away. I still love that song.
GM:I was also familiar with Timothy’s work in Poco before he joined The Eagles and I could go on about bass transitions from Randy Meisner to Timothy B. Schmit in both of those bands, but I know you look back further in time, to the 1950s and 1960s with one of your musical heroes, Sam Cooke.
GA: Oh yes. Other than my father, he was my hero. I fell in love with him and his voice, oh my gracious, when I was ten or eleven years old. When I was doing the Sam Cooke tribute album, I met his brother L.C. and he told me that Sam, as a kid, used to put popsicle sticks in the yard and he would sing to them and that would be his audience. When I was between thirteen to fifteen I had Sam Cooke concerts in my grandmother’s living room. I would put his records on and stand in front of the mirror. I would sing all of the songs of his that I knew and that would be my concert. You would think that the house had a full audience.
GM:At the time that Sam was popular, so were The Shirelles, with your aunt Shirley.
GA: I never got to see her perform at that time. We did work together once in New York when I was performing solo. I saw her on television back in the day, but together we performed in the late 1980s or early 1990s and that was the first time I saw her perform in person. I grew up with my father singing gospel songs. He started as a teenager with his uncle, his brother, his brother-in-law, a cousin, and a friend. They were called The Gospel Brothers and they sang all over North Carolina and they sang on some shows with The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. I grew up in Henderson, North Carolina and that is where it all started, singing in church, maybe at three or four years old. As I got older, my uncle, the late Johnny Fields, who was one of the founding members of The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, and his oldest son and I used to sing together. His son and I formed a group. We were The New Imperials on Fridays and Saturdays, and on Sundays we were The Gospel Jubilee, and we would just go from church to church and sing and we were inspired by our fathers. My most recent solo album is a gospel album.
GM:Were you also surrounded by beach music in the Carolinas?
GA: Yes, indeed. We used to play Myrtle Beach in the summertime, when we weren’t in school, and we would play all the way down to South Carolina and that is when we were called Gerald Alston and The New Imperials. We had a nice band, playing beach music all over that area.
GM:Now The Manhattans include you, Troy May and David Tyson.
GA: We came together when Blue and I decided to do a reunion and we couldn’t get the other original guys to come back. Blue had been working with Troy. Ron Tyson was with The Temptations and recommended his brother David to us, as a tenor. Troy and David have been really wonderful and have come through. They stepped in with Blue and I and it was like nothing was lost at all. Sadly, Blue passed about five years ago. Troy, David and I are finishing a new CD and have released a single ahead of that called “Get it Ready” by The Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston. We will be doing the song on the Soul Train Cruise 2020. The Manhattans had been on “Soul Train” many times and this will be our third time on the Soul Train Cruise. It is a wonderful cruise because you have people from all genres. We walk around the ship during the day and spend time with the fans, talking, doing autograph sessions and taking pictures with the fans. Then when we go out to perform, that touch with them brings it out even more. It takes it to another level. I hope to meet some Goldmine readers there. Thank you so much.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.