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'Gate City Soul' Transports Viewers Back Into Greensboro's Historic R&B Scene

Guitarist Roy Robers is one of the artists featured in the film.
Roy Roberts
Guitarist Roy Roberts was a staple of Greensboro's thriving R&B scene in the 1960s and '70s.

As the great R&B artists of the 1960s and ‘70s traveled between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., they often made a stop in Greensboro, North Carolina. That stop meant talented, young musicians from across the state had a chance to rub elbows with — or even play alongside— famed musicians of the time, people like Little Richard and Otis Redding.

In the documentary “Gate City Soul,” filmmaker Doug Klesch speaks with the “dreamers” who were part of that scene, including guitar player Roy Roberts.

Klesch and Roberts sit down with host Frank Stasio at the Triad Stage’s Upstage Cabaret to share stories about Greensboro’s historic R&B scene.

Interview Highlights

Doug on discovering the rich R&B history of Greensboro:

I was just doing a lot of reading about that era — the Chitlin’ Circuit area [in the] 1960s [and] 1970s — and came across an occasional reference to Greensboro. Nothing was really elaborated on, but they would mention that they stopped [in Greensboro], so [I] did what any post-millennial would do and start Googling. And you know, I started coming across these record labels and saw that there was music being made here. [I] started coming across the names of the clubs and really found that there was a very rich scene that I hadn't heard about just from living here.

Klesch how a legendary drum beat emerged in Greensboro:

Part of the house band at the El Rocco [there was a gentleman called Richard Spencer playing saxophone. He was playing with Ben Collier and some of these other guys that were local. But Richard Spencer became part of a group called The Winstons. The Winstons cut a song on the B-side. It was called "Amen, Brother” … There's a six second drum break in there that is the most sampled drum break in music history ... Every hip-hop song, every commercial ... It comes right from here. It comes from Greensboro.

Roberts on how he got his big break:

We were playing in Youngstown, Ohio, [at a] place called Reed’s Arena. And I was with Solomon Burke during that time. And the guy that opened the show for Solomon didn't show up. He was drunk or something. So Solomon said: You’re gonna have to sing. Somebody gotta sing. So everybody [was] looking at me. I'm ashamed of my voice, but I said: OK, I'll give it a shot. So I sang a couple of songs by Chuck Jackson and turn the club out, man. Everybody going wild. I said: Hey, the old voice is not so bad after all.

Roberts on his need to learn the music business:

[In] 1970 I started my own record company, because I’d seen how everybody was getting beat out of their money and all of that. So I said: I'll do my own thing. So I hung out with Isaac Hayes and William Bell and Eddie [Floyd] and all of them to learn about the music business. I asked them questions, you know, and then I bought a book: Everything You Need to Know About the Music Business. And it was on then, because I taught myself the business of law and everything that I needed to know to handle my career.



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Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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