Published on April 25th, 2018 | by Brittain Thompson0
Fat Possum Artist and Legendary Songwriter Don Bryant Brings Soul to Double Decker Arts Festival
Saturday, April 28
Don Bryant has been singing since he was 5, starting in his Memphis church. He joined his father’s family vocal group, then formed a gospel quartet for a high school radio gig. Broadcasting broadened the audience and they went secular, singing pop at WLOK on Dick “Cane” Cole’s popular show. After parting with the DJ, they took a very real step toward careers when, as the Four Kings, they began fronting Willie Mitchell’s band.
Willie’s band was known for instrumental records, but when they’d play at Danny’s in West Memphis, Don’s group fronted them. But the group broke up and Willie needed a vocalist who could play with his supple, slinky funky beats, and anointed Don Bryant as his leading man.
Don could also write songs. He was still in his teens when, in 1960, Willie was producing the 5 Royales and Don handed him “I Got To Know.” The 5 Royales put it on wax. Don was hot in the spotlight and in the writer’s room.
Don cut songs at Hi Records under the Four Kings moniker (“That Driving Beat”) and as a solo artist (“Don’t Turn Your Back On Me”). He wrote songs for other Hi artists, including Janet & the Jays and Norman West. In 1969, Don was popular enough to release an album.
Around 1970, Willie put Don with the Hi label’s newest act, Ann Peebles, who burst on the scene with “Part Time Love.” They eventually co-wrote the hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain” in 1973 and were married the following year. Ann’s performing career continued, as did Don’s writing, and they began raising a family. Occasionally, Don returned to the microphone, dueting with his wife, sometimes releasing gospel material. Always, he continued to write songs.
And all the while, that voice was maturing, mellowing, until these recordings that find him, at age 74. The band is a mix of lifelong cohorts and upstart stalwarts. They understand where he’s been and where he wants to go, making his song “How Do I Get There,” a rhetorical question, because they have clearly found the way.