I just got the sad news that the great soul and blues artist Robert Ward passed away on Christmas day after a long struggle with health issues. Here's the press release:
Black Top and Delmark recording artist Robert Ward passed away Christmas Day at about 3:30 PM.
He had been ill with kidney and other problems recently, and had been in failing health
since a couple of minor strokes over this past decade.
He was watching a video of a European concert appearance he had made back in the 90's with his wife, Roberta, and she stepped into the kitchen just a few feet away to grab a snack for them. When she returned minutes later, he was gone.
Roberta said he hadn't made a sound and passed in peace.
The Wards have 68 grandchildren and live in Dry Branch GA, about 6 miles from Macon. Funeral arrangements are being made. Robert was a veteran of the US Army. Donations are being accepted to assist with interment costs, they can be sent to:
Post Office Box 217
Dry Branch GA 31020
Like many, I first heard Robert Ward when his magnificent Fear No Evil debuted on Black Top in 1990 and was unaware of his earlier recordings. In fact I remember distinctly when that record came out because I was received a copy in college for my blues show. The record blew me away and became a staple of my program. Nearly twenty years since its release I think its safe to say this is a modern classic. His subsequent Black Top follow-ups, Rhythm Of The People (1993) and Black Bottom (1995), were less inspired with the latter definitely the better of the two. After a five year absence he returned to form with his marvelous Delmark debut New Role Soul (2001). I also got a chance to interview Ward in 2001 although for the life of me I can't find the tape of that conversation!
It wasn't until the Black Top records that I became aware of Ward's 1960's recordings which were thankfully collected on the album Hot Stuff (1995) on Relic. These sides spotlighted the recordings Ward cut as leader of the Ohio Untouchables (who later morphed into the Ohio Players long after Ward's departure) for tiny labels like LuPine, Thelma, and Groove City. These are fiery and soulful sides featuring Ward's trademark watery guitar playing and passionate vocals on numbers like "I'm Tired", "Your Love Is Real", "Something For Nothing" and "Fear No Evil." Also included are four classic cuts by the Falcons from 1962 sporting lead vocals by Wilson Pickett with the Untouchables in support on the soaring smash hit "I Found A Love" and "Let's Kiss and Make Up" with some sizzling guitar from Ward. Ward's trademark vibrato-soaked guitar sound was said to be the direct result of acquiring a Magnatone amplifier. Lonnie Mack was so entranced by the watery sound of Ward's amp that he bought a Magnatone as well.
During the early 1970's Ward worked as a session guitarist at Motown, playing behind the Temptations and the Undisputed Truth. When his wife died in 1977 Ward hit hard times, even spending a year in jail. Ward's resurrection began with a chance encounter with guitar-shop owner Dave Hussong in Dayton, OH, which set off a chain of events resulting in Ward's signing to Black Top and a long overdue return to the limelight.
Your Love Is Real  (MP3)
Something For Nothing  (MP3)
I Found A Love w/ The Falcons  (MP3)
Let's Kiss And Make Up w/ The Falcons  (MP3)
Fear No Evil  (MP3)