Miss Lorraine Ellison
Listen -Lorraine Ellison – Stay With Me – MP3
Go to Iron Leg to hear the version by Terry Reid
The end of another week approaches and although there’s s summery touch of humidity hanging in the air the sun is still as elusive as ever. I suppose I’m going to have to find a way to deal with this, but it’s still a drag.
Today sees another installment of the recurring features known as the Intersection of Funky16Corners and Iron Leg. The last time we did this, back in March of this year it was devoted to two versions (one soul, one rock) of the classic Ed Cobb tune ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ (by Brenda Holloway and the Spencer Davis Group). This time out sees a similar juxtaposition with two different versions of a song from the catalog of one of the great geniuses of 60s soul, Mr. Jerry Ragavoy.
If the name is not familiar, get down into the crates and start checking the fine print on your record labels, since Ragavoy was the composer, arranger and producer of some of the finest soul records ever made, among them Erma Franklin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’, Howard Tate’s ‘Get It While You Can’ (a personal fave), Garnett Mimms’ ‘Cry Baby’, Irma Thomas’s ‘Time Is On My Side’ and today’s selection ‘Stay With Me (Baby)’ (the “baby” in parentheses since the song is billed with and without it).
The best known version of this song, by the mighty Lorraine Ellison is rightly regarded as a high point in the history of classic soul ballads. As the story goes, Ragavoy brought Ellison into the studio in early 1966 to take advantage of some orchestra time left over from a cancelled Frank Sinatra session.
Ellison’s recording, like so many of Ragavoy’s creations is a sublime mixture of gospel inflected soul with touches of R&B grit. The “build” of the song is much like that of ‘Cry Baby’, with a slow, drawn out verse building into a dynamic, nearly overpowering chorus. The lyrics are a heartbreaking plea to repair a shattered love and Ellison’s delivery, especially during the chorus where she soars into the stratosphere (vocally and emotionally) is brilliant.
It wasn’t that long ago when I was digging down south during a DJ trip and I uncovered a copy of Terry Reid’s 1969 self titled LP. Reid was a UK rock wunderkind of sorts (making his first record at 15) , highly regarded in his homeland, known amongst the heads stateside, but never really breaking through in a big way. He is best known as having reportedly turned down the chance to front both Led Zeppelin (the original) and Deep Purple (replacing Rod Evans). He recorded a number of LPs in the late 60s under the aegis of popmeister Mickie Most, the finest of which was the aforementioned ‘Terry Reid’.
Reid was possessed of a raw tenor reminiscent of – yet more subtle than – Steve Marriot. Reid often worked in a stripped down, power-trio (with embellishments) format. While in the hands of others this was applied with the delicacy of a sledgehammer, Reid exercised a fair amount of taste and restraint, actually arranging his songs where other would have buried them in a stone wall of power chords.
Reid’s style was never better than in his own version of ‘Stay With Me Baby’ (which you can hear over at Iron Leg) which is in its own way, every bit the epic that Ellison’s better known recording.
Opening with a spare drum and bass combo, followed by a crashing wave of Hammond organ, Reid opens the verse with his voice playing against the sparest of accompaniment, hi-hat and drum stick rapping against snare rim, bass and a barely audible, almost funereal organ in the background. He sings in a delicate, near-falsetto, only introducing the rasp into his voice as he escalates the volume going into the chorus. There are those who might see what I’m about to say as sacrilegious, but I’d be willing to say that Reid’s version of ‘Stay With Me Baby’ is every bit the emotional, dare I say soulful tour de force of Lorraine Ellison’s, and in some ways, thanks to the rough backing (stripped of the orchestral embellishment) exceeds it in some ways.
As much as I love Ellison (her ‘Call Me Any Time You Need Some Loving’ and ‘Try Just a Little Bit Harder’ are big faves of mine), I find myself returning to Reid’s version much more often. That said, both versions are worth hearing, and I hope you dig them.
If I can get my act together I may roll back in here on Monday with a new edition of the Funky16Corners Radio Podcast. Until then, have a most excellent weekend, and I’ll see you all then.
NOTE: Don’t forget to fall by Viva Internet Radio Tonight at 9PMEST for the latest edition of the Funky16Corners Radio Show. You can always check out the show (and many pastshows) in the archive.