In this ‘Rare Cut’ Haff takes a look back a delicious groove from 1984, the product of a Northern Soul icon and current member of the Four Tops.
Time to let you into a little secret: I love Ronnie McNeir. As a teenager shunning human interaction and modern music, I spent countless hours listening and researching soul music, particularly Motown acts such as The Temptations and The Four Tops. In fact, in 2007 I persuaded my Dad to take me to see them perform at the Royal Albert Hall, and for months I eagerly anticipated the day. During this research one name cropped up: Ronnie McNeir. Having a tendency of being slightly obsessive with artists for periods of time, Ronnie McNeir was one such example this and looking back at his career now it’s easy to understand why.
Ronnie McNeir was born in 1951 in Alabama, and quickly took an interest in music and learning to play the piano. In 1966 he won a competition and had a single made of his first composition, the Northern Soul favourite ‘Sitting In My Class’. In 1971 McNeir would then relocate to Los Angeles in the hope of kick starting his music career, being taken in by Motown’s Kim Weston as her musical director, and helped secure him his first record signing resulting in his first albums: two self-entitled albums, one in 1972 and one in 1975. Whilst these recordings failed to largely gain much attention, he became known as a producer, writer and keyboardist: he worked on the Four Tops lost gem ‘The Show Must Go On’ (which has recently become a part of the current Tops’ setlist), we recorded at Motown with Teena Marie early on in her career, and became the Four Tops musical director for a period of time.
One of the most intriguing parts of his story is his work with former Temptations David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. After they left The Temptations for good after the 1982 Reunion tour, the two went on tour together (later with Dennis Edwards as well) and will new ‘blue-eyed’ soul stars Hall & Oates. Thanks to Hall & Oates the pair were re-introduced onto the music scene and got a contract with RCA and recorded their final work, an eighties-sounding album which is actually pretty good to listen too. Ronnie McNeir was one of the main producers of that album, and worked on the lead single, the up-tempo brilliance of ‘I Couldn’t Believe It’. McNeir’s involvement in the album is intriguing, and as far as we know he has not said much about it.
He continued to record and release his own material; in recent years he has released new solo works Ronnie Mac & Company and Living My Life. Yet his name became a household name for many due to his further involvement with the Four Tops. His best friend, original member of the Tops, Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson had been in contact with McNeir about joining the group when lead singer Levi Stubbs was about to retire due to illness. In 2002 McNeir joined the Tops temporarily when Stubbs fell ill; and when the great man retired a few years later McNeir became a permanent fixture. When the time came, McNeir joined the group taking over other new recruit Theo People’s vocals, whilst People took over Stubb’s lead. McNeir’s inclusion in the new line up of the Tops is a great one: his infectious smile and stage presence is a delight to witness, and his leads on songs like ‘Ask The Lonely’ are great. He has remained with the Tops since, and as a result a new legion of fans have been introduced to his other work.
One of his best solo works is this rare cut: 1984’s ‘Keep Giving Me Love’, from his album The Ronnie McNeir Experience. It’s an eighties groove affair, and the album in the UK is revered by many on the scene. McNeir’s soft vocal is a pleasure on the ear, and the production is pretty tasty as well; combining both together, it is a mystery why this song and this album did not make bigger inroads to commercial success. The song also features a rather catchy lyric; one that’s actually quite infectious after a few listens. How this song went rather unnoticed is a real wonder, one can only hope that someone or some company re-releases this lost gem in the near future.