If any one city can claim to be the spiritual home of soul music, it’s Memphis, where R&B, blues, and gospel have been commingling for generations. Memphis native Gedeon Luke is a student of his hometown’s soulful history, and with his band the People he makes music—like their recent full-length debut Live Free & Love—that not only replicates classic soul’s rich, organic tones but also the crucial blend of spirituality and sensuality that’s fueled the genre’s most important works. Ever an energetic proselytizer for the form, Luke made EW a primer on the soul and gospel music that inspires him.
Al Green – “Let’s Stay Together”
I have to start off with this song because it takes me back to when I was about four or five years old listening to records with my father. It’s a pure, simple, honest song and most importantly, it puts the woman on a pedestal which is where she always should be. I call it the greatest love song ever written.
Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”
This song is relevant still today and will continue to live and breathe on because of the lyrical content. We continue to try to find a way “to bring some lovinʼ here today”.
Sly & The Family Stone – “I Want to Take You Higher”
Here’s a song where gospel, soul, funk, rock, and sex merged together. You can’t help but feel uplifted and at the same time—you just got to get on your feet and get down!
Bob Marley – “War”
This is my “Out The Box” pick. Marley deserves to be on this list. His gospel inspired lyrics coupled with sexy, reggae grooves proved to be its own form of soul music. The lyric on this song still rings loud and clear today.
Otis Redding – “Try a Little Tenderness”
You can’t talk about gospel and soul without Otis. He’s one of my favorite singers of all time. This song is a lesson in soul singing, and a very valuable lesson on how to treat a woman!
Sam Cooke – “A Change Is Gonna Come”
This was actually released as the B-side to Cooke’s other hit song, “Shake”. Originally written about a personal hardship the band experienced, this song turned into an anthem for the National Civil Rights Movement.
The Staple Singers – “I’ll Take You There”
Being from Memphis, Stax Records is a huge part of my history. This song is the epitome of gospel and soul. The incredible Mavis Staples simply asks us all to seek heaven. What’s more gospel than that?
James Brown – “Sex Machine”
Real, raw, funky, sexy, groovy, and electrifying. Often imitated but never duplicated… “The Godfather of Soul.”
This song undoubtedly comes from the church but has political and social undertones. It’s been covered many times and will continue to be covered because of its relevance. Mayfield was on to something and he wasn’t afraid to tell you about it. He was a believer in love, peace, and soul!
Jimi Hendrix – “All Along the Watchtower” (written by Bob Dylan)
Dylan referenced the Book of Isaiah in writing this song. I love and respect the original but Hendrix’s version does something to my bones that I can’t explain. It’s chilling, moving, and spiritual.
Z.Z. Hill – “Down Home Blues”
This is another song that reminds me of growing up in Memphis. When I hear it I can almost smell my mamaʼs bacon eggs and grits on a Saturday morning. Released on Malaco Records, it’s considered to be a true blending of gospel and the blues.
Aretha Franklin – “Respect” (written by Otis Redding)
How can you say the word gospel without speaking of Aretha? Her version of this song has become the definitive version. You can’t get more soulful than “The Queen of Soul” herself. It’s all about the R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Gedeon Luke & The People – “Live Free”
This song is the most Memphis soul inspired song on Live Free & Love and it was influenced by so many on this list. We infused a big gospel chorus, funky Memphis horns, and lyrics of peace & love, with some good old rock ‘n’ roll. The last minute of the song is a straight up gospel love celebration!