Former singer talks success, discovering a calling
By Rachel King
Oscar Toney, Jr. is a living, breathing embodiment of a simpler time: a time when men wore three-piece suits and soul music blared through staticky radios.
The soul singer, who now works as a security guard at USA Town Center, became famous in the 1960s for his covers of genre classics like “Turn on Your Love Light,” “Never Going to Get Enough of Your Love,” and won an Album of the Year award for his “Your Precious Love” album in 1967.
“I could kick myself, I don’t even know where that award is anymore. Then it just wasn’t important,” Toney said.
Now 78 years old, Toney still clearly remembers his path toward a career in music.
It began as a teenager when he joined a gospel group called The Sensational Melodies of Joy. He later became a member of The Searchers, a platform that gave him an opportunity to make his voice heard in the secular music world.
“We started off just playing some clubs in Georgia and before I knew it the scouts had us shooting the breeze with people like James Brown, B.B King and touring Europe,” Toney said.
In the early 1960s, he began to pursue a solo career and released his first single, “Can It All Be Love,” which gained him the attention of “Papa” Don Schroeder, record producer for the well-known soul duo James and Bobby Purify.
Schroeder began using Toney as a backup singer for the duo and later it was Schroeder who helped Toney sign with Bell Records to release “Your Precious Love.”
Singles like “Down in Texas” and “Ain’t That True Love” followed but failed to chart.
Toney continued to tour England, and while the music industry was quickly changing in America, he said Britain’s love for soul music gave him a second wind.
During the 1970s, he signed with a British record label, releasing six singles and an album. After failing to make the charts, Toney said he left the secular music industry to return to gospel.
“Singing gospel is about something more, it’s about remembering the One who redeemed you.” Toney said. “You don’t get that from secular music.”
Toney’s view on the music industry today is positive, and said he understands that artists are having to change with the times.
“The music industry is being controlled by these producers … artists don’t have a lot of freedom. One thing I feel is very important for these new singers is appearance,” Toney said. “Maybe not everybody can be in a monkey suit like me, but your appearance says a lot about you as an artist and how much respect you have for yourself will determine how much respect the fans have for you too.”
For now, Toney plans to continue working, but has not ruled out the possibility of touring again one day.