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Billy Price, Otis Clay back making soul together in Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
David Blackwell
Billy Price performing on stage.
The cover of the new album 'This Time for Real' from Billy Price and Otis Clay.
David Aschkenas
Duke Robillard, Otis Clay and Billy Price

It's not that Billy Price lost his way. But the longtime Pittsburgh-based soul singer admits his last few album were more “rock-blues oriented” than soulful.

Price was determined that his next release would be a return to his roots, something like his 1997 album “The Soul Collection,” which featured relatively obscure soul songs. Little did he realize that he would record it with one of the genre's most venerated vocalists, Otis Clay.

Clay had just returned from a R&B cruise, where it was suggested he make an album with Price.

“Otis called and said, ‘It's time, let's do an album together,' ” Price says.

The album “This Time for Real,” will be released on May 19. Featuring Price and Clay, with Duke Robillard producing, the music echoes the Hi Records sound pioneered by Willie Mitchell, the producer whose recordings featured artists Al Green, O.V. Wright and Ann Peebles.

Price met Clay in the early 1980s, and the vocalists first performed together at Desperados in Washington, D.C. The next night they played another gig at Mancini's, the former night spot in McKees Rocks, and a friendship was forged.

Clay, whose hits include “Trying to Live My Life Without You” and “All Because of Your Love,” is constantly in demand, so the odds of making an album together were slight. Then, Price received another unexpected phone call, this time from Jack Gauthier, an engineer and musician from Rhode Island who'd previously worked with Price.

Gauthier and Robillard wanted to make a record with Price and Clay.

“All of these things kind of converged,” Price says, smiling. “I said, ‘OK, Otis and I together and we do something like I intended to do for “Soul Collection Two,” but we do it as a Billy Price and Otis Clay album.' ”

For Price, who has an almost-encyclopedic knowledge of soul music, compiling a song list was relatively easy. The tracks include covers of “Somebody's Changing My Sweet Baby's Mind” by Johnny Sayles, and “Don't Leave Me Starving for Your Love,” written and recorded by the legendary Motown team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland.

But getting the principles together in one room was logistically impossible, so Robillard (one of the co-founders of the original Roomful of Blues), Gauthier and other musicians recorded the music in Rhode Island.

Price admits he had doubts the music would mesh with his vision.

“I thought they were New England blues purists,” Price says of the Ocean State musicians. “But they blew me away with how they nailed that Hi Records-Memphis sound.”

Price and Clay recorded the vocals over two days at Riverside Studios in Chicago, and the singers trade lead duties throughout.

“We've been doing that whenever we perform live,” Price says. “We know where each other's going to go. Some of those decisions were made afterwards in the mixing process with Duke, because in some cases we would have a full vocal of both of us and just decide who would go where.”

Perhaps the most amazing track is the Joe Tex song “I'll Never Do You Wrong.” Price takes the lead vocal and is backed by what sounds like a chorus.

“It sounds like a background vocal group, but it's Otis doing three parts,” Price says.

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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