Arthur Conley was a soul singer from Atlanta who managed to put a few records in the pop top forty in the late 60's.
Arthur Lee Conley was born in McIntosh County, Georgia in 1946 and raised in Atlanta. As a teenager he was a struggling soul singer around the Atlanta area. He first recorded with his group Arthur & The Corvets for the National Recording Company label. Conley made a demo recording of I'm A Lonely Stranger which was picked up by Otis Redding in 1965, who was just coming into his own as an established recording artist with Stax/Volt, and a re-recording of the song by Conley was released on Otis' fledgling Jotis label. Redding had been doing some recording work in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and in 1967 took Conley there with him.
Sam Cooke had written a song he called Yeah Man. Conley and Redding re-wrote the song, updating it to mention the names of a number of prominent soul singers who had been or were currently prominent, and re-titled it Sweet Soul Music. Among those mentioned in the lyrics are Lou Rawls, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown. Conley's vocals on the record were reminiscent of Cooke, and the background brass gave it the feel of a Stax/Volt hit. Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley was released on the Atco label early in 1967 and went to #2 on the pop music chart. It was well-suited to the times, and established his name in Europe where it was a huge hit as well.
From 1967 to 1970 Conley put seven entries in the top 100 on the R&B chart and two more records in the top forty pop chart -- a remake of Big Joe Turner's Shake, Rattle & Roll, and Funky Street. Conley also recorded an interesting soul version of the Beatles' Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. He performed briefly with Solomon Burke, Don Covay, Wilson Pickett, Ben E. King, and Joe Tex in a group known as the Soul Clan.
In late 1967 Otis Redding lost his life in an airplane crash in Madison, Wisconsin; Redding had provided Conley with invaluable artistic advice as well as his business acumen in the recording industry. Conley continued recording but suffered without his mentor. By 1971 the hits stopped coming. Conley switched to the Capricorn label but it didn't help much. He moved to Europe, living in England, Belgium and the Netherlands in the 1970's, finally settling in Ruurlo, the Netherlands, where taking his mother's maiden name, he changed his name legally to Lee Roberts. He was active as a music producer/promoter and as a designer of furniture. In the 1980's he put a band together and performed as Lee Roberts & the Sweaters. He suffered from intestinal cancer and died in Ruurlo in 2003.
Sweet Soul Music remains as one of the great dance records of the 60's and it is for this record more than anything else that Arthur Conley is remembered by fans of 60's pop music.
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