Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Percy MAYFIELD - His Tangerine And Atlantic Sides 1962-1974
2003 Issue. RHM2 7828
The songwriter behind ''Hit the Road Jack'' was Percy Mayfield (1920-1984). In 1952, while he was on the charts, he had a disfiguring automobile accident. ''His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides'' (Rhino Handmade) collects songs Mayfield began recording a decade later, between 1962 and 1974. As he sings in an understated drawl, these songs turn blues phrases about lost love into confessions of loneliness, alcholism and suicidal misery. The music looks back to suave 1950's R & B, but it's no shield against the desolation of ''You Don't Exist No More'' or ''My Bottle Is My Companion.''
If Percy Mayfield had done no more than compose Please Send Me Someone to Love, he would merit a decent footnote in the history of popular music. A classically proportioned 32-bar blues-ballad with a deceptively simple melody and a lyric that subtly links an individual's yearning for affection with the troubled state of the world, Mayfield's song has been a favourite of saloon-bar singers for the past half-century, and exists in recorded versions by singers and instrumentalists ranging from Dinah Washington, Jimmy Witherspoon, Etta James, BB King, Jimmy Smith and Peggy Lee to Jeff Buckley, Fiona Apple and Sade, who recorded it for the soundtrack of the film Philadelphia.
The definitive version, however, was created by Mayfield himself in 1950, and it gave him the first success of what proved to be a sadly brief career as a hit-maker. His soft-edged baritone voice, tender but virile, unassuming but authoritative, was the perfect expression of the song's ruminative eloquence. With Please Send Me Someone to Love, he found a way to make a kind of sophisticated big-city blues that retained the directness and emotional honesty of the music's origins.
Mayfield was one of a group of singers who bridged the gap between the blues and jazz in the 1940s and early 1950s. Others were Roy Milton, Joe Liggins and Charles Brown; the best known by far would be Ray Charles, who added the call-and-response fervour of gospel music to the formula and thus speeded the metamorphosis of rhythm and blues into soul music. And it was in collaboration with Charles, for whom he wrote Hit the Road, Jack, a worldwide hit in 1961, that Mayfield found success in the second part of his sometimes troubled career.
He was born in 1920 in Minden, Louisiana, and a certain southern stoicism never left his voice. After developing a fondness for writing poetry in high school, he moved to Los Angeles in 1941 and worked at various occupations - driving a taxi, working a laundry press - while trying to establish himself as a songwriter. His break came, in the time-honoured way, when he pitched a song he thought suitable for Jimmy Witherspoon and was instead offered the chance to record it himself.
Those first efforts led to an offer from Art Rupe, the boss of Specialty Records. After selling a quarter of a million copies of Please Send Me Someone to Love and respectable amounts of such follow-ups as Lost Love and Cry Baby, Mayfield was travelling home to Los Angeles from a gig in Las Vegas one night in 1953 when a car accident almost killed him. He survived, but at the cost of a disfigured face which radically altered the prospects of a man who had shown the potential to rival Billy Eckstine and Slim Gaillard as a black matinee idol.
Disheartened, he went back to Minden. But his return was not a happy one, to judge by the tone of Stranger in My Own Home Town, which he admitted had an autobiographical basis (and which was later recorded by Elvis Presley). Other songs, such as My Jug and I and My Bottle is My Companion, reflected his problems with alcohol. Towards the end of the decade, however, he made it back to Los Angeles, where he became a staff writer for Charles's Tangerine label and resumed his own recording career, which continued sporadically for the next 20 years.
Pain and desolation were Mayfield's special subjects, and few songwriters have explored them with greater insight and delicacy. His lightness of touch keep Memory Pain, Life Is Suicide, Nightless Lover and The River's Invitation from being engulfed by their own gloom. And in the great Danger Zone, which prompted one of Charles's finest performances, he created the most heartfelt and unhysterical of protest songs.
When Mayfield died in 1984, aged 64, he had fallen back into obscurity. His early recordings are now relatively well known, thanks to a pair of wonderful CDs, Poet of the Blues and Memory Pain, released by Ace Records several years ago. Some of the best of the post-accident recordings are collected on His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides, available over the internet on Rhino's limited-edition Handmade series (www.rhinohandmade.com). Recorded between 1961 and 1974, most of these 28 tracks feature razor-sharp arrangements performed by a small band drawn from Charles's own crack troops, including the saxophonists Hank Crawford and Fathead Newman, with Charles himself making a significant contribution on piano and organ.
By this time Mayfield's voice has traded some of its smooth patina for a greater emotional depth, rather as Frank Sinatra's did when he entered middle age. These versions of Memory Pain and The River's Invitation are arguably superior to the Specialty originals, which means that - like the whole set - they represent a certain era of the blues at its most poetic and persuasive
Percy Mayfield- Piano, Vocals
Marcus Belgrave- Trumpet
Hank Crawford- Sax (Alto)
Teddy Edwards- Sax (Tenor)
Sonny Forriest- Guitar
Al McKibbon- Guitar (Bass)
David "Fathead" Newman- Sax (Tenor)
Chuck Norris- Guitar
Billy Preston- Organ
Howard Roberts- Guitar
Milt Turner- Drums
Johnny "Guitar" Watson- Guitar
Edgar Willis- Guitar (Bass)
01. Ha Ha in the Daytime 3:00
02. Never No More 2:02
03. I Reached for a Tear 2:28
04. Memory Pain 2:27
05. Never Say Naw 2:56
06. Life Is Suicide 2:20
07. Baby Please (Lost Love) 3:03
08. River's Invitation 2:21
09. Cookin' in Style 1:59
10. The Hunt Is On 2:01
11. You Don't Exist No More 2:43
12. My Jug and I 3:02
13. Stranger in My Own Home Town 2:41
14. Way Down Home on the Farm 2:18
15. Maybe It's Because of Love 3:23
16. Stand By 2:16
17. Fading Love 2:19
18. Give Me Time to Explain 1:45
19. My Bottle Is My Companion 2:49
20. It's Time to Make a Change 2:46
21. We Both Must Cry 2:43
22. My Love 2:21
23. Don't Start Lying to Me 3:13
24. Long as You're Mine 2:55
25. Ha Ha in the Daytime 3:06
26. Pretty-Eyed Baby 2:53
27. I Don't Want to Be President 3:15
28. Nothin' Stays the Same Forever 4:29