Thursday, April 18, 2019

What?!: Be Thankful For What You Got

William DeVaughn: Be Thankful For What You Got

Sometimes, when there’s a theme with almost limitless possibilities, the best course is to jump on the first song that jumps into your head. If that were the case here, I’d be writing about The Buzzcocks’ “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life.” But I’m not (yet, at least). My second thought was “(What’s So Funny) ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding,” since I heard Nick Lowe sing that live the other day. But I have already written about that song in detail at Cover Me. (Did you know that Cover Me has a Patreon site? Check it out!)

Scrolling through the official J. David iTunes library (yes, I still have one. And an email address. Proves I’m an early adopter), I came across a bunch of possibilities, but stopped cold when I came to “Be Thankful For What You Got.” You know, that great, smooth, 1970s soul song, with the memorable line, “Diamond in the back / sunroof top / digging the scene with a gangster lean," sung by….by….Curtis Mayfield? Nope. The singer is William DeVaughn, who wrote the song, originally as “A Cadillac Don’t Come Easy,” while working full-time as a government draftsman.  Luckily, he changed the title, or I couldn’t be writing about it here.

DeVaughn took the song to Omega Sound in Philadelphia, maybe a step above a vanity studio, and paid $900 of his own hard-earned money to record it. Omega Sound, however, had connections with members of the MFSB group of studio musicians, who backed up many great acts, including Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the O’Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners, Wilson Pickett, and Billy Paul, and had hits on their own, notably “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia).” MFSB sax player John Davis liked the song, suggested a jazzy, smooth, soulful arrangement, booked Sigma Sound Studios and enlisted some of his fellow MFSB members to play on the track.

What they created was something truly special, a song that became a huge crossover hit, and which has been covered, referenced and sampled by artists as diverse as Parliament-Funkadelic, N.W.A., Rumer, Gabor Szabo, Arthur Lee and Love, Rihanna and Massive Attack.

DeVaughn, a Jehovah’s Witness, had a couple of minor hits after “Be Thankful,” but appears to have not fully committed to a music career. Which is a shame, because he has a great voice, and could really write a song.

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