Bobby Harden and the Soul Purpose

Bobby Harden and the Soul Purpose

When Bobby Harden declares himself a soul man, it’s not some idle bit of role-playing or show biz braggadocio; it’s a straightforward description of his calling in life. There’s a reason his first solo album was titled Soul Purpose. And even though he had to go through a 16-year odyssey before finally following that album up with his new record, River of Soul, Harden has never wavered in his commitment.

The Ohio-born, New York-based singer has been all over the globe as a frontman for the Blues Brothers Band (yes, the one made famous by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd), working alongside R&B legends like Stax guitarist Steve Cropper. But for all the electrifying energy Harden pours out with them, he’s truly at his most emotionally expressive when he’s giving his all in front of his own Soul Purpose band.

It was a circuitous route that led to the creation of River of Soul. For one thing, life introduced some detours into Harden’s path. “I got married 17 years ago,” he explains, “we had two beautiful daughters, and I felt my responsibility was to my family first. No time to travel, but that was my choice. We were so ready to be parents. I didn’t’ want to miss out on the best baby memories. Now our girls are older, and more independent, which gives me and my wife a little more freedom, and me time to tour. My choice paid off. Our daughters are fantastic.”

Unexpectedly, it turns out that Harden’s choice paid off in terms of timing too, because he ended up coming across just the right collaborators for his second album. “This project all came about when I started co-writing with Brian Knox,” he says, “the music was finally coming together for the new CD.” Armed with new material, Harden enlisted the aid of drummer/producer Adrian Harpham, who has been involved with everyone from Dr. John to R&B supergroup Lucy Pearl, and soon things were up and running.

Leon Pendarvis, Blues Brothers keyboardist as well as a Musical Director for the Saturday Night Live band, soon became a crucial component of the creative process. “I had sent Leon the tracks to get his input on the material, mix, etc.,” says Harden. “His ideas were brilliant. He’s not called Leon The Lion for nothing. Leon has worked with Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, and so many other great artists. He agreed to help finish up the mixes and mastered my entire project.”

Harden has found vocal inspiration in the legends of gospel (James Cleveland, Andre Crouch), soul (Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett), and blues (Johnny Adams, B.B. King), but there’s one man whose music has truly helped make him who he is. “James Brown had the biggest influence on me,” Harden reveals, “When I first heard James Brown, I was just about 5 or 6 years old. At that time, I didn’t know I had a good singing voice, but I knew I loved to dance, and JB music would make me dance hard. When I had to learn ‘Sex Machine,’ ‘Cold Sweat,’ and ‘I Got The Feelin’’ with my first band, Heart and Soul, every bit of my gospel energy was released. I would sing and dance up a storm on that stage.”

But while Harden’s influences are deeply felt and undeniably audible in his music, River of Soul is anything but a retro effort. “I’m not one to stay stuck in the mud by thinking there’s only one way to record R&B,” he says. “But I do think the foundation of a solid R&B groove has to be there.”

The songs Harden and company have cut for this project bear those ideas out. “I think my new album definitely has a stronger groove foundation,” assesses Harden. “It makes your head move back and forth…at least mine does! It also has more of an R&B /soul vibe. My first album, Soul Purpose, still sounds good, but it had more of a pop soul thing happening.”

Indelible melodies and strong storylines are at the heart of River of Soul. “’Where Is The Love’ has one of those magnetic grooves driven by the bass line, offers Harden, “Gene Torres, my bass player, and I wrote this one. Gene’s bass line is killing. ‘Try Again,’ co-written with Brian Knox, is also one of my favorites. I think a lot of people will relate to the story line of the song because it’s all about not giving up, and the groove is funky! Another one of my favorites is ‘Not Ready,’ also co-written by Brian Knox. This song has a hook that grabs you instantly, backed with a kick-butt rhythm. It’s all about not being forced into a relationship that you’re not ready for yet. ‘You Make My Heart Sing’ is one of the very first songs I wrote when I lived in Houston, Texas. I had forgotten all about that song until my nephew asked me about it. I was shocked that he remembered it. I had recorded it in Houston but never released it. So I decided to redo it with the groove being the driving force.”

For Harden, River of Soul is not just a collection of songs; it’s a feeling that flows from deep within him to anyone willing to wade in and be washed over with the joy he takes in sharing his gift with the world.

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