Every morning, Larry Mobley drives to the Tamarac Community Center to exercise. At 77 years old, he likes to stay fit. After his workout, he takes a shower. He would prefer to have his own bathroom facilities, but for now this routine will do. Since his wife of 33 years passed away in 2014 of kidney failure, Mobley has had a hard time making ends meet on his own.
Reached by phone last week, he was apprehensive at first.
“People don’t want to hear about an entertainer’s hardships that they’re going through,” he said. “There has to be some good things about good people that people can read instead of their hardships.”
Despite decades removed from the music scene, Mobley still calls himself an entertainer. And why not? His music is featured in dozens of modern musical hits, appreciated by millions of listeners. But he hasn't seen a penny.
From 1964 to 1971, Mobley and his childhood friend Larry Greene, known as the duo Them Two, were the weekend opening act at the Knight Beat Club in Overtown’s Sir John Hotel. The Knight Beat was one of the popular clubs in the black community that invited artists such as Count Basie, Sam Cooke, and Etta James to perform after they played gigs for white audiences in Miami Beach. But before those stars took the stage at the Knight Beat, Them Two warmed up the crowd using their classic Motown style.
One night, Mobley and Greene were noticed by up-and-coming music producer Willie Clarke, who along with his partners Johnny Pearsall and collaborator Clarence Reid, launched Miami’s first black-owned record company, Deep City Records, from the back of Pearsall’s record shop.
“We did a lot of shows with [Deep City starlet] Betty [Wright] before she went big. So then Willie Clarke got us over to the studio,” Mobley said.
In July 1967, Deep City released a 45 RPM record that featured “Am I a Good Man,” a classic soul cut with Them Two as lead vocals, Helene Smith on background vocals, and Arnold Albury on organ. The reissue label, Numero Group, has referred to the song as “an enduring masterpiece” of Miami’s soul music scene of the 1960s.
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Since 2006, "Am I a Good Man" has enjoyed a resurgence among contemporary artists. Mobley was unaware of that fact. He didn’t know that the song has been sampled 35 times, including by global artists like 50 Cent, Ghostface Killah, Cypress Hill, and the Game, according to the website whosampled.com, or that the indie-rock bands Band of Horses and Iron & Wine have released their own cover versions. He had no idea the Showtime series Hung featured the song in its pilot episode.
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In all fairness, neither Mobley nor his singing partner, Greene, who died in a car accident years ago, composed the music or the song’s lyrics. But asked if he thinks he deserved some compensation, Mobley answered, without hesitation, “Oh, sure. Other people got compensation back then — the person that wrote the song, the person who contributed to the whole process of making the song... There were a couple of others. They got paid for things under their umbrella. Me and Larry was under their umbrella.”
Until a few years ago, Mobley had in his possession an original pressed copy of that 45 RPM. He kept it inside a book, away from dust or decay, like an old photograph.
“I had it for a long, long time,” he said. But he doesn’t have that record anymore. It's one of the many possessions he’s lost through the years.
“It’s a shame that me and Larry didn’t profit at all from any of that. I’m not talking about millions. I’m talking about hundreds, you know.”