In 1997, I took a temporary ( well, that was the plan) post room job in the West End, when my working life in the Print, came to an end. The hours were 7am till 10am, so a regular early start, but the money earned paid the mortgage, whilst I DJ’d and ran events with the rest of time, I had available during the day/evening.
My co-worker on those early shifts was Gordon Roberts, who many will know from Facebook. Fair to say we got on well and those early shifts soon rocked to the sound of Northern Soul CDs being played at full volume, which was basically how us two stayed awake as we sorted the bags of mail.
Myself and Gordon bonded over many things, but the music was the mainstay to it . One day he stopped me in my tracks when he revealed that in a previous life, he had help run a club in Soho where they had regularly booked Doris Tory as the headline act. Now, I loved a bit of Doris, mainly from her singles in the 1960s, like ‘Just One Look’ and a personal fave of mine ‘I’ll Do Anything (He Wants Me to Do)’ both of which Doris co-wrote. Her music from then on, was on heavy rotation, no doubt delighting the property agents who’d occasionally pop in to ask us to ‘turn the noise down a bit , there’s good chaps.’
Doris Elaine Higginsen was born in the Bronx in January 1937. Her father, Barbadian by birth, was a local Pentecostal minister. Doris would later drop her born surname and take the name Payne instead from her grandmother. With R’n’B music frowned on at home by her parents, young Doris instead sang in her father’s choir. All that changed when she picked up a job as an usherette at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, and one night witnessed James Brown on stage. Inspired, she took to writing songs and sold one to Dee Clark for $100 called ‘How About That’ in 1960.
So, she was off and running and soon began working as a backing singer for Atlantic Records as well as part of the original line up of The Sweet Inspirations alongside Cissy Houston and Cissy’s nieces, Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick. Doris also worked with The Drifters, Solomon Burke and the great Chuck Jackson, under her stage name, inspired by Helen of Troy, from the world of Greek mythology.
In 1963, she wrote her biggest hit ‘Just One Look’ which went top ten in the national chart and was later covered famously by The Hollies and many others . She found herself back at the Apollo, though this time, on stage with the likes of Rufus Thomas and Otis Redding, instead of showing people to their seats.
Doris arrived in London in 1964 and instantly loved the ‘swinging’ vibe at the time. Her backing band on her visit in 1965, included one Reg Dwight, later better known as Elton John a few years later. In 1969, she signed for the Apple label, owned by, and the home of, The Beatles of course, who happened to be huge fans of Miss Troy.
Doris – ‘George was producing Billy Preston’s album (That’s the Way God Planned It) and my girlfriend Madeline Bell called me up and said, ‘Come on, Doris, you want to work?’ And that’s how I met Billy Preston and George.’
George ‘I first met Doris on this Billy Preston session. Madeline had brought Doris one day. Doris had come over to England with a few demo tapes, because she’d decided that she wanted to live in England and try and do it from here like, I suppose, the thing that Jimi Hendrix did. She came on a session, and she’s been there ever since!’
Doris ‘He told me he had ‘Just One Look’ and my Atlantic album. I said, ‘What? My stuff?’ He said, ‘Yeah. We listen to it all the time. George (then) said to me after the second session, ‘What are you doing, Doris? Are you free?’ I said, ‘Yeah, man, I’m free.’ He said, ‘Do you want to sign to Apple?’ I said ‘Sure! Are you serious?’ He said, ‘Yeah’. I said, ‘Well, I want to be writer producer and artist, OK?’. He said ‘OK.’
Her 1970 Album, ‘Doris Troy’ was recorded at both Trident and Olympia studios, and produced by Beatle George and Doris herself. The line-up of the band included Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, and Peter Frampton. She then went on to release the live album ‘The Rainbow Testament’ in 1972 and ‘Stretching Out’ in 1974, as well as playing gigs at Ronnie Scott’s.
Once her solo career began to peter out somewhat, she’d still be in big demand for sessions, and sang on some of the biggest songs of that era, including ‘You Can’t Always (git) What You Want’ by the Stones, ‘You’re So Vain’ by Carly Simon ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd ‘My Sweet Lord’ by George Harrison, as well as the soundtrack to the film ‘Loot’ backing up Steve Ellis, and with Nick Drake on his song ‘Poor Boy,’ Dusty Springfield , Humble Pie, Viv Stanshall and a host of others.
She moved from England in 1974, back to the States, where she continued to play casinos and a variety of clubs in Las Vegas, though she revisited the UK many times and would eventually become a big draw on Northern Soul scene, adored by her many fans.
‘I got to tell you, it was heaven,’ she told a Los Angeles Times writer in 1987. ‘I was a queen over there — royalty. I travelled all over Europe. I was hanging out with the stars. I even went to Mick Jagger’s wedding in St. Tropez. People loved me. I had no competition over there. I was the big American black singer. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was heaven, I tell you, just heaven.’
She then co-wrote the hugely successful 1983 musical, later to be made into a film, ‘Mama I want to Sing’ with her sister Vy, a popular DJ in New York at the time. The London production of the show, featured Chaka Khan playing the part of Doris.
One constant through all the years, was the royalties from ‘Just One Look.’
‘When I recorded that song in a little basement studio in New York, I asked God to keep that song alive forever,’ she later said, ‘And you know, he answers prayers.’
Known to her many fans as ‘Mama Soul,’ Doris Troy died from Emphysema at her home in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2004, aged 67.
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