musicology #492


SoulBoy #11

(Doris Troy – Please Little Angel)

Ladies with Soul … Lots to choose from; Aretha Franklin, Carla Thomas, Candi Staton, Randy Crawford, Millie Jackson, Mary Wells, Gwen McCrae, Vicki Anderson, Marva Whitney, Lyn Collins, Barbara Lewis, Etta James, Dee Dee Warwick, Fontella Bass, Minnie Ripperton, Marie Knight, Dee Dee Sharp, Mitty Collier…as well as contemporary kittens such as Angie Stone, Brandy, India Arie, Beyonce…and those are just the ones off the top of my head !

As difficult as it was to choose..today’s cut, (courtesy of Doris ‘Just One Look’ Troy), has ALL the right ingredients; Vocals, Lyrics and Production..

Bronx born Doris Higginsen begun her career singing Gospel in her fathers choir but it was as a songwriter that she scored her first hit ‘How About That’ recorded by Soul pioneer Dee Clark in 1960. Three years later she was spotted by James Brown working as an usherette at the Apollo and in that same year she wrote and recorded the Mod/ernist classic ‘Just One Look’. Not sure how or why but Doris didn’t go on to receive the critical acclaim that her talents deserved. Employed by the Beatles at Apple as Artist, Writer and producer Doris sung backup and worked with some of the UK’s most established musicologists, (The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and The Moody Blues), but failed to make a commercial impact as an artist in her own right. After a few years in the wilderness Doris’s story became a successful stage show ‘Mama I Want To Sing’ which is scheduled for a cinema release this month? I didn’t know that before researching for today’s cut but musicology works in mysterious ways so it makes complete sense to me.

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5 thoughts on “musicology #492

  1. her voice is so good…it has just that right mix of smooth n soulfull that I like..its surprising as you say that with all her conections and the FABULOUS ‘Just one Look’ under her belt she isn’t better known..

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  2. “Ladies with Soul … Lots to choose from; Aretha Franklin, Carla Thomas, Candi Staton, Randy Crawford, Millie Jackson, Mary Wells, Gwen McCrae, Vicki Anderson, Marva Whitney, Lyn Collins, Barbara Lewis, Etta James, Dee Dee Warwick, Fontella Bass, Minnie Ripperton, Marie Knight, Dee Dee Sharp, Mitty Collier”

    What a list! A roll-call of (black) America’s finest female musicians from the epochal sixties and misrepresented seventies! And, apart from the colour of their skin, most – if not all – of these great singers had something else in common i.e. a tale of discrimination, exploitation and abuse.

    Let me to zero-in on just one of the ladies mentioned and who knows, maybe we’ll uncover some common denominators to… “Not sure how or why but Doris didn’t go on to receive the critical acclaim that her talents deserved”… Better still, rather than my ramblings, here, from the horses mouth so to speak, is the true story behind a piece of Soul history….

    “I went upstairs and Raynard was in one of the rehersal rooms and he was playing. So he say, come on, come on in, I got this great idea. I said well good, let me hear it and I said well, why don’t you do this or why don’t you do that, you know, I put my input in and he said, “Oh ya, well that’s great.” So we just worked on like a rhythm but the actual melody was not there. In those days that’s the way records were recorded. They would come in and somebody would give you some paper with some lyrics and they would play the rhythm and you could put any melody you wanted over those rhythms . . . So that’s writing and a lot of artists, not only I, but a lot of artists wrote songs that way. . .”

    “The song featured a crack horn section led by soul tenor Gene Barge. It boasted heated call-and-response vocals, with Minnie Riperton among background singers. And it was driven by a crack rhythm section including drummer Maurice White (pre-Earth, Wind and Fire) and bassist Louis Satterfield, whose monster riffs are frequently credited with the song’s success.”

    And what a hit this “lady with Soul” achieved. The song topped the R&B charts for a month and crossed over to the pop Top Five. Of course, she was thrilled with her success but the music business was a different animal back then and success came with its share of dissapointments,

    “I had the first million seller for Chess since Chuck Berry about 10 years before,” she recalls. “Things were riding high for them, but when it came time to collect my first royalty check, I looked at it, saw how little it was, tore it up and threw it back across the desk.”

    “At the time, these were things women singers rarely asked for but I really thought I could change that as part of a new breed. What happened really snatched my heart out.”

    She approached her manager, Billy Davis, about signing the papers for the song she co-wrote only to be told not to worry about it. Even after the record came out and her name was still not on it she was told it would be on the legal documents. It never happened. She made a fuss for a couple of years but admits, “It actually side-stepped me in the business because I got a reputation of being a trouble maker.”

    From there on in it was a one-way street. She couldn’t explore her musical creativity and her husband (jazz musician Lester Bowie), who was then experimenting in avant-garde jazz, sympathized,

    “Lester was getting as disgusted as I was with the music scene, so in 1969 we moved to Paris with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.”

    I’d intended to leave her heroic tale at that (i.e. like Doris Troy and others – exiled in Europe) but just couldn’t bring myself too ….

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  3. Returning home in 1973, she spent the rest of the 70s and most of the 80s dedicating herself to raising her children. She slowly began to perform again in public in the late 80s, working on occasion with Oliver Sain, doing European tours . . . While she was away from the popular-music scene, she also rediscovered her love for gospel music.

    1990 proved to be a turning point in her life. Despite the fact that she’d co-wrote and sang what many consider Soul’s 1965 signature tune she didn’t begin receiving credit or royalties until 1990. Why did it take almost 30 years for this to happen? She cites two reasons, the first being racism and the second, money. It’s no secret that blacks, particularly black females, were taken advantage of in the music business. She’d talked with people about getting due credit for the song but she didn’t take any legan action because, in her words, “I didn’t have any documentation. I scribbled some words on a piece of paper when I recorded it but I threw the paper away. Besides, things were different in 1965. Integration was just starting. I had to sleep in homes because blacks were not allowed in hotels. I had to go in the service entrance. When I was touring, I was one of the first blacks to stay in the Howard Johnson in Pulaski, Virginia. I say stay, not sleep. I was too scared.”

    In an interview with fellow musician, Papa Ray, the two concure about the music business of days gone by: “people have to be reminded, especially black artists in a business predominantly controlled by white people, that the idea that artists can have autonomy and control over themselves was just unheard of in the past.” She also admits, “You can be aware of things that go on but you still have to exist, you still have to work, you know, and you still have to make a living for your family.” And although the money was never as much as it should have been, money was coming in, enough to put her gripes on hold: she said there is one more reason she didn’t pursue the songwriter’s credit in 1965: “I was living in a housing project for $40 a month. All of a sudden I was making $125 a weekend for playing the piano. And $50 or $60 in tips. For 1965, that was big money.”

    The music business has come a long way since then, however, and today she feels that she, and others like her, paved the way, “I think we were pioneers when it came down to talking about royalties and about money up front”

    Finally, she did fight back. Although it’s not clear what finally gave her the proof she needed to reclaim her song, she was able to make a deal with MCA, which owns the rights to the Chess catalog. In 1990, when she heard American Express using her song in a TV commercial for an ad campaign that ran in 1990 and 1991, she was finally able to fight back for her royalties. That day marked a turning point for her and the song and she remembers it with great detail:
    
”It was a very hard winter for me. This was a winter of just ice all over St. Louis and the home that I live in here now, I needed a new roof, I needed a furnace, I needed a hot water tank, I needed many, many, many things. As a matter of fact, my children . . . all came home for Christmas. And they said ‘Mom,’ you know they gave me a pep talk, ‘you’re gonna have to do what you know to do, you’ve taught us everything that you can teach us, we know, we understand, now it’s time for you to be “…….. ….” again and stop trying to be Mom.’ That sort of snapped me back into it. And when everybody left, my youngest daughter stayed. And I was so out of it that morning, it was January 1, 1990 and she said ‘Let me make you a cup of tea.’ And she did, and when she made the tea, we had this little 12″ black and white TV set up in the kitchen because there was no furnace in the house and we had the gas stove on for heat. And she said ‘Let’s cheer the New Year’s in, things could be worse, we have our health, we have our strength.’ Now there she is, teaching me all the things I used to tell her, right? And I heard that opening line da da, da da, da, da da, da da and we had our cups in the air and our heads went to the TV . . .”

    And so, wrapping this Lady of Soul’s tale, I’ll fast forward to the near-past and introduce Hemiet Bluiett, a member of the World Saxophone Quartet:
    “I’ve known her since I was a kid . . . and she’s a friend of the family, so she’s always somewhere at the top of my brain when I’m thinking of vocalists. While working on our last album, Breath of Life, I went to (Nonesuch general manager Bob Hurwitz) and said I wanted to use a vocalist on the album and asked him what he thought, should we get a male or female. He said, “Well, saxophones always make me think of a woman. Who do you have in mind?” I said, “FONTELLA BASS,” and he turned around in his seat and looked at me and said, (excitedly) “Do you know her? Can you get her?” I just jumped on the telephone and that was it.”

    Lump in throat?

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  4. Ooops, I forgot…..

    “Rescue me
    Take me in your arms
    Rescue me
    I want your tender charm
    ‘Cause I’m lonely
    And I’m blue
    I need you
    And your love too
    Come on and rescue me

    Come on, baby, and rescue me
    Come on, baby, and rescue me
    ‘Cause I need you by my side
    Can’t you see that I’m lonely”

    P.S, In 1993, a suit was filed against American Express Corporation and its advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, for more than $50,000 and punitive damages. “The suit alleges that American Express and Ogilvy & Mather violated an American Federation of Television & Radio Artists agreement governing the commercial use of music to which Chess was a signatory. According to the action, the AFTRA contract requires parties licensing a performer’s recordings to also obtain the performer’s consent.” American Express and Ogilvy & Mather apparently didn’t bother to get consent even though they were supposedly aware they had to do so. Although she was in desperate need of the money, the law suit meant more than that to her. It meant that she had control over her song for the fist time ever and now-a-days, she says, “the song is going great for me.”

    acknowledgement/gratitude Cheryl Andryco

    Sorry that was so long-winded…. it didn’t start out like that… it just took over!

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