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The musical artists of each era have acknowledged the debt they've owed to those who've gone before but few have worn their influences so conspicuously and consciously on their sleeves as Kevin Rowland and Dexys Midnight Runners...

Kevin Rowland has always been quick to acknowledge the influence that other artists have had on his music. When formulating the "Dexys sound" Rowland soon realised (with a little help from manager Bernie Rhodes) that his own vocals had to sound as distinctive as the group's instrumentation and, in finding his own voice, he was heavily influenced by Chairmen Of The Board singer, General Johnson:

"My voice had a sort of “crying” quality to it and that made it sound more emotional. I was aiming at a similar sound to General Johnson who sang with Chairmen Of The Board."

The material covered in Dexys' early shows and records came from a wide range of American Soul artists such as Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, The Bar-Kays, Cliff Nobles & Co, Chuck Wood and Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon - as well as songs recorded by their British counterparts including Cliff Bennett and Zoot Money.

"If you STILL haven't heard about Zoot Money, consider this an education..."

 
Whilst introducing the group's songs during Dexys Midnight Runners' earliest live shows, Rowland would often name-check other performers:
 
"...and here comes another, yet typically arrogant Dexys statement: Geno Washington was the greatest soul singer that ever lived"

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The subject matter of the group's second single "Geno" (a tribute to soul singer, Geno Washington) served to reinforce Dexys' debt to the classic soul sounds of the Sixties - as did the liner notes to debut album "Searching For The Young Soul Rebels".

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"Bill Withers was good for me, pretend I'm Bill and lean on me."
 
With the release of "Plan B" in 1981, Bill Withers became the second soul singer to receive a name-check on a Dexys single. "The Projected Passion Revue" shows which followed may have featured a new line-up of Midnight Runners but the old soul and funk influences were still clearly audible alongside some jazzier inflections and a sense of "Spiritual Passion", as evidenced by the list of inspirational records featured in the tour programme:

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During these "Projected Passion Revue" shows Kevin Rowland developed a monologue around the influence which soul singer Al Green had on him: "I find myself looking in the mirror, pretending I'm Al Green when he sings 'So Tired Of Being Alone' and stupid as it may seem, that's exactly what I feel like - pretending I'm Al Green". One of the enthralled audience members at these live shows was none other than Adam Ant who was himself inspired by these words to write his Number One hit single "Goody Two Shoes". 

By 1982, Van Morrison's influence was clearly audible in the Celtic Soul of "Too-Rye-Ay", underlined by Kevin Rowland's decision to cover "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile"). Although it was not mentioned at the time, Rowland would later concede that the recordings made by former band-mate Kevin Archer with  The Blue Ox Babes were an equally important inspiration for the "Too-Rye-Ay" sound.  Despite its Celtic components, Soul music was still a vital element of the new Dexys album, with two of its tracks featuring the word "Soul" in their titles and one of the genre's leading lights referenced in the liner notes:

"Too bad to know better, too much to fit in, full of Redding's kind words, they could have changed anything"

The group's own  unique interpretations of Otis Redding's words - and music - were released on vinyl shortly afterwards when a live recording of "Respect" featured as a B-side to the 12" single of "Let's Get This Straight (From The Start)". When asked in an interview around this time who his musical influences were, Kevin replied that he didn't listen to a lot of music but he did like older artists such as Ray Charles or Nina Simone.

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Kevin Rowland has also credited Van Morrison as a major inspiration for Dexys' following album,  "Don't Stand Me Down", explaining that the way in which the songs flow on Van's live album "It's Too Late To Stop Now" was a big influence on the Dexys master-piece. "The record was an inspiration for me as it turned pain into something beautiful. At the time it wasn’t rated much – maybe because it’s a live album – but it gave me a glimpse into what music can do and the power it has". In an interview with Record Collector in 2002, Kevin Rowland revealed some of the other, less obvious influences on the musical direction of "Don't Stand Me Down":

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"We played the musicians 'Blonde On Blonde' and 'Highway 61 Revisited'. We'd bought those albums and a couple of Beach Boys LPs. We wanted that feel."

The lyrics to the reflective ramblings of "Reminisce Part Two" once again saw Rowland name-checking the songs and artists which had provided the sound-track to his formative years. "We decided we should adopt a song, a song that was current. She wanted "I'll Say Forever, My Love" by Jimmy Ruffin, I wanted it to be "Lola" by The Kinks."

The range of musical influences continued to broaden with the release of Kevin Rowland's solo album, "My Beauty" in 1999. The collection of cover versions recorded for that project included material popularised by artists as diverse as The Monkees, Bruce Springsteen, Squeeze and Whitney Houston. When asked by Q magazine in 2001 to name his musical hero, Kevin Rowland again surprised many by choosing Bryan Ferry, citing Roxy Music as a major influence on both his music and his fashion sense.

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Rowland's appreciation of both Bryan Ferry and Van Morrison was reaffirmed in December 2003 when he was asked to select ten of his all-time favourite tracks for Ken Bruce's "Tracks of My Years" on BBC Radio 2. The diversity of songs chosen once again demonstrated Rowland's eclectic tastes:

Let's Get It On ~ Marvin Gaye
God Only Knows ~ The Beach Boys
Madame George ~ Van Morrison
Into The Mystic ~ Van Morrison
Beauty Queen ~ Roxy Music
Just Like You ~ Roxy Music
Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands ~ Bob Dylan
Once Upon A Time In America ~ Ennio Morricone
Can't Help Falling In Love ~ Elvis Presley
Wooly Bully ~ Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs

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In March 2005 Kevin Rowland performed at a reunion for seminal Seventies 'art rock' band Deaf School, explaining that they had been another big influence on his musical career. He was accompanied on-stage by Suggs from Madness (above) along with former Deaf School members at The Magnet in Liverpool. Deaf School, formed in 1975 in Liverpool, proved to be a fertile breeding-ground for musical talent, launching the careers of (amongst others) singer Betty Bright and gutarist Clive Langer who went on to produce Madness and Dexys Midnight Runners!

 

 

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Rowland revisited his Soul roots once again in September 2007 when a compilation of classic Motown tracks hand-picked by himself was released as part of the "Made To Measure" series. The collection included Jimmy Ruffin's "I'll Say Forever, My Love" alongside Marvin Gaye's "If I Should Die Tonight" which would later receive a name-check on the Dexys recording "It's OK, John Joe" featured on the 2014 album "One Day I'm Going To Soar".
 
 
 
 

 

 

For details of songs covered by Kevin Rowland and Dexys Midnight Runners, see:

"SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW"