A decade after her sweetly innocent Yes, I’m Ready nearly paced the R&B charts, Philly chanteuse Barbara Mason confirmed that she remained primed for action and then some with a far steamier Shackin’ Up, a #9 R&B entry during the spring of ’65.
Born August 9, 1947 in Philly, Mason fell in love with Motown and Curtis Mayfield as she listened to WDAS-AM radio. She competed in playground talent shows with her amateur singing group, catching the ear of Weldon A. McDougal III, bass singer of Philly’s Larks. He convinced her to go solo after she sang Moon River at a local club. “I told him I couldn’t do it, ‘cause I thought we were gonna be big, like The Supremes,” says Mason. Weldon’s wise counsel prevailed. Barbara possessed real writing talent and composed her ’64 debut Trouble Child for Crusader Records, produced by McDougal, as well as her initial single for WDAS deejay Jimmy Bishop’s Arctic label, Girls Have Feelings Too, which became her first hit in ‘65.
Bishop assumed Barbara’s managerial reins and was part of the team along with McDougal and his partners, Johnny Stiles and Luther Randolph, that helmed Yes, I’m Ready. Once again, she wrote it herself. “I was a real avid admirer and fan of Curtis Mayfield. And Curtis had written at that time ‘The Monkey Time’ for Major Lance. And I loved the hook in there where he said, ‘Are you ready?’ So I borrowed a little bit,” says Barbara. Bishop made a crucial change to the hook. “He decided that we needed to make ‘Are you ready’ the singalong, and make it into a first-person title: ‘Yes, I’m Ready.’ Again, it was a truthful song. And I knew a lot of other young kids would like it, but I didn’t know that the older adults were gonna like it. I was just writing whatever I felt in my heart to write. I still do that.”
Yes, I’m Ready leaped to #2 R&B/#5 pop in the spring of ’65. “I was just going on 18 then,” she says. “I was home one day, and the next day I was on the road.” Arctic’s flagship artist kept the hits coming, Bishop eventually taking over the production reins altogether: Sad, Sad Girl later that year, I Need Love in ’66, 1968’s Oh, How It Hurts. When Arctic folded, Bishop moved Mason to the National General label, distributed by Buddah. “I think they were more into movies than they were the musical end,” she says. “When they folded, I automatically just went on Buddah.”
The sultry Bed And Board was Barbara’s first Buddah charter in 1972, followed at year’s end with the #9 R&B seller Give Me Your Love, which gave her the chance to work with her hero Mayfield. “Jimmy and I went into Chicago and he gave me the track, and I did it in one take,” says Mason, who answered Shirley Brown’s Woman ToWoman (see our previous volume) with an equally sassy From His Woman To You, a Memphis-cut #3 R&B smash that hit the streets in late ‘74.
Ex-Stax producer Don Davis gave Barbara the forthright Shackin’ Up, written by southern soul singer Jackie Avery. “We were in the studio cutting in Detroit. You know how people sometimes come in the studio and want to kinda like peddle this song? So this guy came to me,” says Mason, “and asked me if I’d like it. I said, ‘I love it!’ We just cut it.” Barbara left Buddah but dented the R&B charts into the mid-‘80s, her 1978 hit I Am Your Woman, She Is Your Wife reuniting her with McDougal. Whenever she surfaces to perform or record, she’s still ready.
- Bill Dahl -
Various - Sweet Soul Music 24 Scorching Classics From 1975