THE EARLY WORD: Have Mercy, Baby

MEcropped2.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Nobody puts Duffy in the corner. “Do you want to be my friend or not?” says the Welsh nouveau soul sensation, beneath a crisp Brit accent, after a third attempt is made to sort fact from fiction in her Wikipedia entry. “Forget all that, just talk to me.” It’s true that her first introduction to pre-Watergate musical styles came from her dad’s collection of Ready, Steady, Go VHS tapes of that British rock TV show, but it was Bernard Butler (ex-Suede guitarist and producer/co-songwriter of Duffy’s 2.5 million-selling debut Rockferry) who gave her graduate studies schooling in the verities of soul music, she says. True also that a college professor advised her to “stop messing around with the boys, quit school, go on the dole and become a singer” — which she did. But not true, she says, is the apparently apocryphal passage in her Wikipedia entry that says her stepmother put aduffycdcover_2.jpg contract out on her stepfather and young Duffy had to be taken into protective police custody until the threat passed. The story, according to Wikipedia, became a staple of the notoriously gossipy British tabloids. She denies all this, but does not elaborate. Also, she denies reports she will be singing the theme of the next James Bond movie due out in the fall.

True, she hates the “new Dusty Springfield” tag, and while she acknowledges that soul music is born of the struggles of pre-civil rights American blacks, she is adamant that skin color should never be a barrier between artists and genres. “The whole color thing is so narrow-minded,” she says with mild exasperation. “Soul is just honesty — being real with yourself. To me My Morning Jacket is every bit as soulful as Mary J. Blige.”

If there is a purity test for soul singers it is a night at the Apollo, where they do not suffer fools gladly — least of all white soul pretenders. If a soul singer can make it there, you can make it anywhere as the song goes. So it was a bit of a gamble when, on the eve of Rockferry‘s American release back in May, Duffy’s label booked her into the famed Harlem theater for her first Stateside appearance. By all reports, she went down a storm. “They were dancing in the aisles,” she says. “Probably the most exciting night of my life. I will always wear it as a badge of honor.”

DUFFY: Rockferry

Duffy plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Theatre of Living Arts, 334 South St. Tickets: $30 in advance, $32 day of show. Phone: 215-922-1010.

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