Monday, September 5, 2011

Lou Rawls

I knew him first as a lounge singer. "You'll never find," the rich baritone intoned, "a love just like mine/that can love you/the way that I do." Now here was a song that crossed boundaries! My father loved it and - though I wouldn't admit it at the time - I found it arresting too.

He was a presence on the TV screen with his campaign for the United Negro College Fund. "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" was the slogan. I'd see him host telethons for this venture. The tux put him squarely in Sinatraville.

I didn't think much more of Lou Rawls until I was in a restaurant and heard his duet with Phoebe Snow on their sound system. (The song: "A Lover's Question". The CD: 1993's Portrait of the Blues. It was my first of many Lou Rawls albums.)

Lou Rawls synergized many of his predecessors. He had the smooth and liquid delivery of a Nat Cole or Brook Benton. He could perform a blues howl and holler that recalled Joe Williams in his prime with Count Basie. Given the time when he was making a name for himself, he must have provided inspiration to singers like Otis Redding. I mean, this guy delivers a lyric!

I've been grooving in my car to a 2-CD set that Capitol reissued in 2006. Black and Blue and Tobacco Road were Rawl's third and fourth albums released in the mid-1960s, and they present two strikingly different styles. On the former he dips and dives through a program on blues classics like "Kansas City" and "Trouble in Mind". He hits you hard with Billie Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday" and Fats Waller's "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue". It is a stunning set that I guarantee will hold your attention, despite the singularity of musical style.

The latter album features swingin' Lou. It's a finger-snapper from start to finish. I especially recommend "Ol' Man River" and "Rockin' Chair". My spirits are lifted immediately when listening to this one.

Sweet Lou - I am so glad that I found you as I matured as a listener. You were one of a kind!

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