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Forever Curtis

No word of a lie, I was listening to a new compilation called People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook when I came across this photograph of me interviewing Curtis in January 1972, during the edition of The Old Grey Whistle Test in which he and his band so memorably performed “We Got to Have Peace” and “Keep On Keeping On”. It was the first time I’d interviewed him (last year I wrote about the second occasion, which took place in very different circumstances, here) and he was as wise and courteous as I’d been led to expect from all of the songs of his that I’d listened to over the years. You’ll have to forgive me putting the photo up here; it’s a precious memory.

The 24-track album, compliled by Tony Rounce, kicks off with the Impressions’ version of “Gypsy Woman” and includes Mayfield’s “Keep On Keeping On”, but otherwise it consists of versions of Curtis’s songs by third parties. A few of them he also produced, such as Jan Bradley’s charming “Behind the Curtains”, Barbara Mason’s “Give Me Your Love”, Gladys Knight’s “The Makings of You”, the Staple Singers’ uncharacteristically lubricious “Let’s Do It Again”, Aretha’s “Look Into Your Heart”, Patti Jo’s irresistible “Make Me Believe in You” and Walter Jackson’s majestic “It’s All Over”. But some of the finest moments come when outsiders are looking in on the material.

Rounce suggests that Dionne Warwick’s version of the much loved “People Get Ready”, recorded in Memphis in 1969, is the closest to Curtis’s original with the Impressions, and he’s right, but it’s different enough to make it a marvellous complement. The Techniques’ “Queen Majesty” and the Gaylads’ “That’s What Love Will Do” are chosen to illustrate the huge impact the Impressions had on Jamaican vocal groups (I think I’d have added the Uniques’ “Gypsy Woman”, with its gorgeous Slim Smith lead vocal).

My only other suggestions would have been to find a place for the Opals’ “You Can’t Hurt Me No More” and to omit Major Lance’s over-familiar “Um Um Um Um Um Um” in favour of the lesser-known “Delilah”, his first single for OKeh in 1963, with its great piano from Floyd Morris, Al Duncan’s kicking drums and little touches of Curtis’s guitar. Lance’s first hit, “The Monkey Time”, appears in a version from the Miracles’ Mickey’s Monkey album, allowing us to contrast the significant difference in feels between Duncan’s drumming on the original and Benny Benjamin on the Motown version.

I was pleased to be introduced to the Jackson 5’s intense and long-buried 1970 version of “Man’s Temptation”, produced by Bobby “Does Your Mama Know About Me” Taylor, its lead switched between various brothers, and to Keni Burke’s “Never Stop Loving Me”, which is early-’80s Quiet Storm music at its suavest. The version of “I’ve Been Trying” by Jerry Butler, an ex-Impression, may not be quite as sublime as the group’s original — the B-side of “I’m So Proud” — but what could be? It was their finest hour.

It’s always good to be reminded of the mark Curtis left, not just as a singer and composer but as a man who believed in taking control of his own destiny when so many in his position were being robbed of it.

* The photo was sent to me by Tim Dickinson, to whom many thanks. People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Songbook is on the Kent label.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gareth Hickery #

    Already ordered, but thanks for whetting the appetite even more

    November 9, 2021
  2. Gary Booth #

    No need to apologise about including your photo with the great man. Thanks for the informative review.
    If I may make a shameless plug to a podcast I do each month (link below) this CD is the prize for the next show out next week – Ace Records kindly provide a new release for me each month. I will be playing a Curtis track ( perversely not featured here) but also two tracks from this wonderful compilation.

    November 10, 2021
  3. Lovely

    November 10, 2021
  4. Paul Crowe #

    What a memory to treasure, Richard. Certainly an is apology unnecessary…..

    November 10, 2021
    • Gary Booth #

      I was curious as to why Tony chose The Orlons ‘ Mama Didn’t Lie’ over Jan Bradley’s version – was it simply a preference? I contacted him and he explained if you compile these : ‘Songwriter Series’ albums for Ace you can only choose an artist once. He said he stretched this rule by having Curtis as well as The Impressions. But this criteria meant Tony had to play a sort of ‘musical chairs’ because he wanted to have the song ‘ Behind The Curtains’ by Jan Bradley but couldn’t have two by her he said: ‘luckily because The Orlons do a fine version of ‘Mama Didn’t Lie’ the song didn’t get squeezed out.’ And he also kindly gave me a question to win the album as a prize as I mentioned earlier.

      November 11, 2021

        Many thanks for your tip about the ‘I’m So Proud’ compilation, Gary; great info – order now placed with Shakedown Records.

        November 12, 2021
  5. Mick Tarrant #

    “You’ll have to forgive me putting the photo up here; it’s a precious memory” – No apology necessary, what a momento!

    Agreed regarding The Uniques cover of ‘Gypsy Woman’ being worthy of inclusion, Slim Smith was an exceptional singer. Pat Kelly who followed him in the group also excelled on Curtis cover versions. .

    Jamaican music of a particular period majored in Curtis/Impressions covers, there’s a great compilation on TROJAN from 1997 “I’m So Proud” (A Jamaican Tribute to Curtis Mayfield)” which is well worth tracking down.

    November 10, 2021

      Many thanks for highlighting this compilation from Trojan – it appears to be no longer available, but as you say it would be worth tracking down.

      Also recommended, ‘Curtis Mayfield’s Chicago Soul’, a compilation on Okeh that kicks off with the Opal’s ‘You Can’t Hurt Me No More’.

      November 12, 2021
      • Mick Tarrant #

        Thanks for the tip Graham, looks a great compilation, some quality artists on Okeh label.

        Meant to say in my post that Pat Kelly replaced Slim Smith in The Techniques, not The Uniques.

        November 12, 2021
      • Gary Booth #

        ‘ I’m So Proud’ is available from Shakedown Records online if you’re happy to pay £20?

        November 12, 2021
  6. Andy Fortune #

    Curtis is still the main man in the development of African/American music as far as I’m concerned (as artist, songwriter, guitarist, record producer, label owner, civil rights leader etc) and I cannot think of anyone of who has had a more profound influence in that field.
    I saw him at The Rainbow at about the same time as his Whistle Test appearance was filmed. The show was marred by poor sound and Curtis remonstrating with the hapless sound engineer, but I’m still proud to say I saw Curtis Mayfield.

    November 10, 2021
  7. jill mumford #

    I love these posts. Good job! x

    November 10, 2021
  8. Chris Charlesworth #

    Lovely post Richard, and what a handsome devil you were.

    November 11, 2021
  9. andrew pring #

    Always love the records you bring to our attention Richard – and reading your reasons why. I ordered this and am really enjoying it – though must disagree with you re “I’ve been trying”; Jerry Butler really nails it for me…
    Just in case people don’t know about it, there is a great Curtis Mayfield record – “A tribute to Curtis Mayfield – which was put together in his lifetime to help pay his medical bills. Top artists – Gladys Knight, the Isleys, Aretha, Stevie Wonder and also Bruce Springsteen, Steve Winwood do versions of CM tracks. And there are also contributions – look away now, those of a nervous disposition – from Rod Stewart, Elton John and Phil Collins, who are by no means outclassed by their soul brothers and sisters. Great record

    November 16, 2021

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