An R&B Legend in Tampa Bay and a Tribute to Ray Charles


August 14, 2019 | By Eric Snider

Saturday, August 17
The Palladium Theater

Soul Survivor

After a Star Turn in the mid-‘70s, R&B artist Latimore
has Maintained a Steady and Satisfying Career

Latimore turns 80 next month, but he still has a lot of performing left in him. “I love it,” says the R&B singer, keyboardist and songwriter, who has lived in Riverview with his wife Yvonne for the last 10 years. “If I get to the point where I don’t feel I can bring my best, I’ll stop. But right now I’m not feeling anywhere close to that.”

Benny Latimore — just Latimore, professionally — still does weekend gigs as far away as California, and occasionally performs on weeklong blues cruises, where he gets to bring Yvonne along. “We might do four sets over the course of five or six days,” he says, “so it’s like a paid vacation.”

Otherwise, he limits his gigs to a few days at a time. No tours. “I don’t like the traveling anymore,” he says. “But it’s part of it. I enjoy being onstage, but once I hit the last note, I wish I could make like Star Trek and beam myself back home.”

Here Latimore lets out a big, rumbling laugh, something he does often.

Given those ‘druthers, he’s especially enamored of his next performance — on Saturday night at the Palladium’s Hough Hall, the venue’s 850-seat mainstage space. He’ll perform with his regular four-piece band that’s based out of Chicago. Latimore may not beam his way back home, but the 45-minute drive back to Riverview shouldn’t be too taxing.

Latimore says he and his group will perform selections from throughout his solo career, which dates back to the early ‘70s when he signed with the Glades label, a subsidiary of TK Records, founded by Miami music mogul Henry Stone. Driven by his deep-throated baritone and silky piano chops, Latimore landed on the R&B charts with “Stormy Monday” and “If You Were My Woman.” His breakout hit came in ’74 with the sultry, mid-tempo “Let’s Straighten It Out,” which he wrote. The tune topped the Billboard R&B chart and reached No. 31 on the Hot 100 pop survey.

Latimore still gets royalty checks for that and other tunes he penned. “Oh yeah,” he says, proudly. “My deal with Henry Stone’s company gave me 50 percent of the publishing.”

Although the Tennessee “country boy” (his words) and Blues Hall of Famer (he was inducted in 2017) enjoyed a successful recording career, he never crossed over to a mass audience, but rather maintained a largely African-American fanbase. He’s good with it. “I just made the music I made,” he says. “It didn’t fit neatly into a category that would have made me a bigger commercial success.”

One of those categories was disco. About the time “Let’s Straighten It Out” made its mark, TK Records jumped feet first into the new dance music that had emanated from New York City and would soon make noise all over the world. The company released The Hues Corporation’s seminal disco hit “Rock The Boat” in May of ’74. TK struck gold — make that platinum — with its marquee act, KC and the Sunshine Band.

There’s little question that the rise of disco stunted Latimore’s career. But it was a train he was not about to jump on. “I think the music was unnatural,” he asserts. “It’s the same thing every time. The beat never changes. The human heart may run at 72 beats per minute, but it might go to 74. If you get excited it might go to 94.”

Latimore doesn’t say it outright, but the point is clear: To him, disco had no heart.

Neither did it sit well with Latimore that nightclubs could bring in DJs to spin records rather than hire bands. He wrote and recorded a kiss-off song titled “Discoed to Death,” which begins, “You’ve got his mind so confused / Can’t play no rhythm and blues / Got to keep that same old beat / While the children got that heat.”

The tune came out in 1979 and was not a hit. But that was the year that began the disco backlash and led to its fairly quick demise.

“You’re timing was good,” I tell Latimore. “Maybe you had at least a symbolic hand in killing disco.”

He lets out another hearty laugh. “Nah, nah, no one heard the tune,” he says, but you can tell he likes the idea.

The St. Pete Florida Blues Band will open for Latimore, playing a set celebrating Ray Charles (who spent some of his young years in St. Pete). Latimore, a Brother Ray fan, released an album in 2013 titled Latimore Remembers Ray Charles. The closing track is “St. Pete Florida Blues.” There’s reason to believe that Latimore will join his opening act for a version of that tune.

Opening Act – Tribute to Ray Charles

Last November, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman learned from writer, teacher and journalist Roy Peter Clark that music legend Ray Charles, whose Tampa Bay roots figured largely in his nascent career, wrote and recorded a song called “The St. Pete Florida Blues.” A few short months later, The City of St. Petersburg officially proclaimed February 15 “Ray Charles Day.”

As part of that celebration, The St. Pete Florida Blues Band was born and at their sold-out spring concert at The Studio@620, the group performed from the seminal repertoire of the man who, by the time of his 2004 passing, “was one of the most famous performers on the planet, uniting diverse audiences with his special ability to master musical forms: gospel, jazz, blues, soul, country, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll,” says Clark.

The St. Pete Florida Blues Band is comprised of Clark on keyboards, NPR’s Eric Deggans on drums, the Palladium’s Paul Wilborn on keyboards, J. J. Pattishall and Dave Scheiber on guitar, joined by a chorus of women led by vocalist Lillian Dunlap, will open the Latimore show with an encore performance.

And with his burnished baritone vocals, Latimore join them onstage for a special rendition of Ray Charles’ “The St. Pete Florida Blues.”

– courtesy of The Palladium Theater

Click here for more about the show and to get tickets.


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