Not too long ago, a survey was made to determine the most recognized voice on earth. Lou Rawls' voice came in third (after Howard Cosell and Muhammed Ali, if you must know). Unless you want to count Ali's one venture into recording, "Stand By Me" as Cassius Clay on Columbia in the 60's (I don't know whether to thank Mitch Miller or Clive Davis for that one), this means that Lou Rawls possesses the most well-known singing voice in the world.
And why shouldm't he? A twenty-five year string of hit singles, like "Dead End Street", "Tobacco Road", "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)", "A Natural Man", and his #1 best sellers, "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing" and "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" has kept that voice consistently on every jazz, R&B and pop radio station there is. Constant touring, both one-nighters and stints in Las Vegas, and TV appearances, including his annual telethon for the United Negro College Fund, have insured continued high visibility. And let's not forget "When You Say Bud . . ."
But back in 1962, when this album was made, Lou's rich baritone was unknown, except to a lucky few gospel music fans and Hollywood hipsters who'd caught his act at local night clubs like P.J.'s, The Troubadour, Shelly Manne's Manhole or Brother's on Santa Monica and Vine. A year earlier, Capitol A&R man Nick Venet had heard Rawls at Pandora's Box and signed him to the label. One stillborn single emerged before Lou had the brainstorm to do an album of blues and jazz standards, backed by then up-and-comer Les McCann and his trio, who were performing nearby at the Bit on Sunset Boulevard.
Both arriving in Los Angeles in 1958, Lou and Les were part of a clique of talented cats which included at one time or another Gene McDaniels, Larry Williams, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, the highly influential Jesse Belvin and Sam Cooke, who took over as leader of this pack after Belvin died with his wife Jo Ann in a 1960 car crash. McCann rose to a degree of fame in the lare 60's on Atlantic with McDaniels' angry political diatribe "Compared To What" and the juke box jazz hit "Cold Duck Time" with saxophonist Eddie Harris.
Lou's friendship with Sam Cooke went back to Chicago, where they were schoolmates, singing the latest doo-wop tunes by the Dells or the Spaniels in the lavoratory--to get the best echo.
Sam went off to sing lead with the Soul Stirrers and Lou sang with such local gospel quartets as the Teenage Kings of Harmony and the Holy Wonders. In the mid-50's, Lou helped Sam drive to L.A. for the National Baptist Convention where he was asked to join the Chosen Gospel Singers as their new lead singer.
After a while, J. W. Alexander, tenor and manager of the Pilgrim Travelers, asked Lou to replace their two lead singers who had recently retired from the group, causing their label, Specialty, to lose interest in recording them. Alexander took them to Bob Keane, who'd had great success on his Keen label with Sam Cooke's "You Send Me", ironically after Specialty had passed on it, giving Sam his walking papers (to this day Specialty founder Art Rupe says that letting Sam go was the biggest mistake he ever made).
With Rawls at the lead, the Pilgrim Travelers cut passionate sides such as "A Soldier's Plea" and "Talk About Jesus" for Keane's Andex subsidiary as well as a couple of pop songs as the Travelers.
Lou's first solo record, "Love, Love, Love" b/w "Walkin' For Miles", on Herb Alpert and Lou Adler's short-lived Shardee label didn't sell, but it got him in the game; a record release enabled him to get gigs at clubs up and down the Coast, sometimes making two and three a night in his old '47 Plymouth.
Ask Lou Rawls about influences and he'll rattle off a list of the great Black baritones of the 40's and early 50's who he heard on Chicago disc jockey Al Benson's radio show, broadcast from the window of his record shop: Billy Eckstine, Arthur Prysock, Al Hibbler, Nat "King" Cole, Percy Mayfield, the Pilgrim Travelers' Jesse Whitaker and Bullmoose Jackson, who sang and played saxophone in Lucky Millinder's band, before recording a string of hits under his own name for King Records. Although remembered today for his novelty/risque material like "Fare Thee Well, Deacon Jones" and "Big Ten Inch Record", Bullmoose's biggest records in the 40's were smooth ballads like "I Love You, Yes I Do" and "All My Love Belongs To You."
The songs Lou chose for this, his first album, included a number of standards from the blues lexicon. "They Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday's Just As Bad)", taken uptempo here, was a smash in 1947 by its creator, T-Bone Walker, who virtually invented the electric blues guitar style. Lou's pronunciation of the word "God" in Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" is straight out of the Baptist church. "See See Rider", credited to Ma Rainey, has been around so long that it seems as if its always been here. 50's recordings of it were by Chuck Willis and LaVern Baker.
Also out of the church comes Lou's uses of his falsetto, a la Louis Jordan in the latter's 1941 fave "I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town", as well as on the Leroy Carr warhorse "In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down." Lou says he gave up falsetto when so many other singers, like Johnny Mathis and Adam Wade, started using the device. Our loss, he does it so well here. "'Taint Nobody's Business", which Lou and Les swing so relentlessly, is another one of those tunes that Adam and Eve must have sung, Previous versions include: Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and the smash hit of 1949 by Jimmy Witherspoon on Supreme.
Reissue producer Michael Cuscuna has chosen three previously unreleased bonus cuts from these sessions for the CD version: "Blues Is A Woman", "A Little Les Of Lou's Blues" and an alternate take of "Stormy Monday."
There you have it, the album that got all the hipsters talking about Lou Rawls in the beginning of his career. But it was just a matter of time anyway. With a voice like his, even the squares couldn't ignore him for long.
-- Billy Vera