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Lou Rawls With Les McCann Ltd. - Stormy Monday (1962)
Lou Rawls had one of the greatest voices in late 20th century popular
music. When he was here five years ago to tape a WHRO-produced PBS
special with Petula Clark at Chrysler Hall, he still had the goods---the
distinctive smoky-smooth baritone voice that graced hits like "Love is a
Hurtin' Thing" and "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," and gave
those Garfield specials a touch of class, was in fine shape.
Three years later, though, he was diagnosed with lung cancer (he had
smoked in his younger days) and last spring, brain cancer. When he died
on January 6th at the age of 70 (or 72; his year of birth is listed
differently in different places), he left behind a rich legacy of jazz,
soul, blues, gospel and R&B deserving of rediscovery by those who
may only know the hits, the beer commercials and the cat cartoons.
His passing was particularly poignant to me because I've been
reading a fascinating new biography of Sam Cooke called Dream Boogie, by
Peter Guralnick, in which Rawls plays a prominent role. I didn't know
that Cooke and Rawls had been close friends growing up in Chicago, and
that Lou actually took Sam's place in the teenage gospel group, the
Highway QCs, after Cooke left to join the Soul Stirrers in 1950. They
remained friends, surviving an automobile accident together near Marion,
Arkansas, while traveling between gigs in St. Louis and Greenville,
Mississippi, in November 1958. Though Cooke had only minor injuries, the
driver was killed and Rawls was left in a coma that lasted a week. It
took him three months to regain his memory and a year to fully recover.
In 1962, he began recording as a soloist in his own right. He'd been
doing background vocals on his friend's records---his is the voice
heard in duet with Cooke on "Bring it on Home to Me," both in harmony
and in the "yeah - yeah" call and response sections of the refrain. But
late on a cold January night that year, he entered the Capitol Records
studio in LA with pianist Les McCann's jazz trio and laid down the
tracks for his first album.
Released as Stormy Monday, it is one of my favorite jazz vocal
records of all time. Hearing Rawls in such a sparse, unadorned setting
is a revelation as he wraps his golden voice around the familiar words
of a batch of bluesy standards. From the swinging title track and "Sweet
Lover" to the blustery "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" and the soft
balladry of "Lost and Lookin'" and "Willow Weep for Me," he takes these
well worn chestnuts and gives them new life. It's an impressive
performance. His "God Bless the Child" is the definitive version of
Billie Holiday's most famous song.
Lou Rawls would go on to become an award winning, chart topping
singer during the golden era of `60s and `70s soul music. He would cover
many musical bases during his 40-year solo career---his last CD was
called Rawls Sings Sinatra. But for a full appreciation of his vocal
magic in its prime, Stormy Monday is a must-have.
Personnel: Ron Jefferson (drums) Les McCann (piano) Lou Rawls (vocals) Leroy Vinnegar (bass)
Tracklist: 01. (They Call It) Stormy Monday (Walker) 3.40 02. God Bless The Child (Holiday/Herzog Jr.) 4.25 03. See See Rider (Rainey) 3.08 04. Willow Weep For Me (Ronall) 5.50 05. I´m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town ((Waldon/Jacobs) 3.55 06. In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down) (Carr/Raye) 3.25 07. Tain´t Nobody Biz-Ness If I Do (Grainger/Robbins) 2.40 08. Lost And Lookin´(Jordan/Alexander) 3.07 09. I´d Rather Drink Muddy Water (Miller) 3.50 10. Sweet Lover (McFarland/Wyche) 3.05 + 11. (They Call It) Stormy Monday (alternate take) (Walker) 2.59