By John Benson
Legendary R&B vocal group Ray, Goodman & Brown is coming to Youngstown for the first time in decades.
“You know, I really have no idea why it took us so long to get back to that area,” said singer William “Billy” Brown, calling from New Jersey. “We were just never booked in Youngstown, and we had a great turnout for that show. We never played there again, for what reason is beyond me. Oh yeah, we played there years ago at a place called Reed’s Arena. That was back in the ’70s. That’s the last time we ever played there, almost 40 years ago.”
In order to discuss Ray, Goodman & Brown, one must look back to its predecessor group The Moments, which during the ’70s had No 1 singles “Love On A Two Way Street” and “Look At Me [I’m In Love],” as well as hits “If I Didn’t Care” and “Sexy Mama.” Eventually The Moments shifted its lineup, requiring the band name change to Ray, Goodman & Brown.
That act — led by Harry Ray, Al Goodman and Brown — didn’t waste any time, releasing its biggest hit to date, “Special Lady,” on its 1979 self-titled release. However, in the ’80s, the outfit’s success diminished with Ray, Goodman & Brown becoming a heritage band. Today, Brown has no regrets and is thankful for the hits enjoyed in both groups.
In fact, Brown believes the two biggest songs — “Love On A Two Way Street” and “Special Lady” — he’s been associated with in his career are tied together in the most unlikeliest of ways.
“‘Love on a Two Way Street’ was recorded by a young lady at the studio back in 1969 and she sold about four copies,” Brown said. “What happened one day we were putting out our initial album and [label owner] Joe [Robinson] said, ‘Listen to this. I don’t know what you can do with it.’ So I listened to it, learned the track and the same day went in and recorded it.”
That night, The Moments were booked on a local television show, on which they played “Love On A Two Way Street.”
“The next day, the distributor had orders for 40,000 copies,” Brown said. “It was like a throwaway tune. And now what it has in common with ‘Special Lady,’ we were on our initial album with Ray, Goodman & Brown, and they said we need one more song to finish the album. We said we have ‘Special Lady.’ We recorded it, and it wound up being the biggest single off that album. So they were like throwaways.”
Invariably, Ray, Goodman & Brown is a throwback outfit to another era where R&B music was still old-school. You know, Motown-esque and pre-hip-hop. Odds are those fans attending the group’s upcoming Youngstown show are remembering a certain mind-set that they share with Brown.
“When I listen to the music today, first of all it has no orchestration in my view,” Brown said. “Back when we recorded, we had live strings, a horn section. Everything was cut live and it was very melodic. Today, it’s just not the same. The songs maybe have a drumbeat and maybe a piano here and there. Back in the day, as they say, you could distinguish every group. They had a style that people knew and could pick out each other, but now if you listen to it everybody is doing the same thing. We didn’t do that. We sang music that meant something.”