What is Deep Soul Music?

A guide to the most emotional soul music of all

Garnet Mimms, master of Deep Soul music

The subgenre of Southern Soul known as "Deep Soul" music is marked by its extreme adherence to soul's gospel roots: while all soul music can be viewed as a mixture of gospel and R&B, most early soul (Ray Charles, Sam Cooke) refined the more raw (and often, rural) side of gospel and urbanized it, making it sleek and sprightly for upwardly mobile urban blacks. Southern soul, by its very nature, was more rhythmic, less polished, and more countryfied, but deep soul takes the difference to its extreme, designing songs so that they wring every single drop of emotion from their performances.

With deep soul, pain usually trumps the groove.

The typical deep soul song is achingly slow and impassioned, features an extreme amount of vocal ad-libbing over one compelling but repetitive set of chords, and is concerned primarily with love as slow, endless, unavoidable torture -- or, when happiness is called for, secular love as a rock from which to ride out life's storms. Unlike country-soul, to which it is often compared, deep soul rejects the acceptance of everyday pain -- the blues -- in favor of some sort of redemption to be gained through obsession.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music," for example, is uptempo and uplifting, lifting its gospel roots directly from Sam Cooke's "Yeah Man," itself a rewrite of some ancient ubiquitous call-and-response. As soul became poppier in the late Sixties, and black audiences moved on to funk grooves, deep soul more or less died out.

However, it still thrives in certain Southern markets even today, and the style proved to be a tremendous influence on rock singers like Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant.

Also Known As: Southern Soul, Country-soul


"Cry Baby," Garnet Mimms

Mimms was the sadly underrespected king of Deep Soul music, possibly casting the widest net of influence as soul got heavier and whiter in the late '60s post-hippie "classic rock" explosion.

"Kind Woman," Percy Sledge

Sledge was deep soul's greatest balladeer, an expert in the art of heartbreak, and this song -- actually an early Poco cover! -- allows him to wring every single drop of emotion out of his untrained voice.

"I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," Otis Redding

Otis generally kept it midtempo, but when the Stax legend slowed it down and went back to church, he outstripped even Sledge in his ability to jerk tears.

"I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You)," Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul worked in many different styles, but the church is where she learned her craft, and you can hear that the minute her piano intro leaves your speakers.

"In The Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett

It was based off of a forgotten dance that depended heavily on dragging the backbeat out as long as possible, but the jerk of "Midnight Hour" only spurred the Wicked Pickett to really explore his amazing scream-sing.  

"Pouring Water On A Drowning Man," James Carr

Another forgotten soul man known only to purists, Carr's booming voice was actually slightly more subtle than his peers but just as emotional on songs like this stroll, a minor hit in '66.

"Slip Away," Clarence Carter

The great country-soul master broke through in 1968 with a deep-soul smash that was just slick enough to get across to the mainstream; typically for him, it dealt with the complexities of being a cheater (or enabling one).

"Mercy, Mercy," Don Covay

Blues chord changes, a clockwork groove, and a young Jimi Hendrix on rhythm guitar -- how it could it miss?

"Sweet Soul Music," Arthur Conley

Uptempo yet unabashedly church-driven, its Sam Cooke inspiration having come secondhand through the Womack brothers, a song that in turn was almost certainly based off an old call-and-response gospel number.

"When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," Sam and Dave

Sam and Dave didn't slow it down all that often, either, but when they did, they allowed for a double dose of deep-soul fidelity, a statement of love so powerful it became a belly-rubbing standard.