Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Come put out the fire..
Laura Lee - Sat-is-fac-tion (1979, Fantasy/GRT) | LINK TWO
Laura Lee - Your Song (1979, Fantasy/GRT) | LINK TWO
The A-side on here is one seductive, sexy little sleeper from 1979 courtesy of Detroit soulstress Laura Lee. Born Laura Lee Newton in Chicago, as a child she would relocate to Detroit where she was adopted by the Rev. E. Allan Rundless and his wife Ernestine. The Rundlesses had also led a gospel group - The Meditation Singers, whose early lineup included none other than Della Reese, whom Lee would later replace.. By the mid 60's, she would make the move to secular music, recording for the Detroit indie and Motown rival, Golden World Records and later on with the legendary Chess label where she would record at the legendary Fame Studios.
Although a prominent Detroit vocalist, she would never actually record for the mighty Motown label, even though she would audition for them at one point, only to be turned down. Most likely her gritty, soulful style just didn't fit with the label's pop/cross-over aims at the time.. However, despite that, it wouldn't be a complete loss. Brian Holland of Motown's famed Holland-Dozier-Holland production team and an excellent producer in his own right (see Disco Delivery #1: The Supremes - Mary, Scherrie & Susaye) evidently took notice in those auditions, and would later sign her to their own Hot Wax label after Holland-Dozier-Holland's acrimonious split with Motown. It would be there where, in 1971, she would have what would be her biggest US chart success with her signature hit "Women's Love Rights."
Although gospel trained and nurtured, listening to her on "Sat-is-fac-tion," you probably wouldn't know it.. Kicked off by that hot, steamy sax; hypnotic, robotic synths shadowing the bouncing hi-hat and Laura's vampish vocals. With those sighs and whispers; regularly alternating between a tamed, simmering tension and an all-out steaming boil, Lady Laura's voice is pure sex on here. In other words: sleazy, sultry and just down-right hot in all the right places. Although slightly more stylized and subdued than usual, her vocals still bear that signature edge, providing the perfect compliment to the slick, shiny production. Along with the vocals and the overall production; just before the four-minute mark, right when the wailing sax kicks in with those great handclaps, that breakdown on here is yet another thing which totally seals this one for me. Granted, overall, it may not the most instant of disco singles, but just like that bassline in the back, it's a groove that sneaks up on you and has you hooked before you even know it..
I'm not sure how much club play this single would have gotten back in the day; nevertheless, for me, it's one elegantly striking, seductive piece of disco pleasure which remains perhaps one of her most intriguing performances on record..
The flip side, "Your Song," on the other hand, certainly lives up to it's designation, completely changing gears from the A-side.. A pleasant, though much more conventional R&B/disco-lite kind of track, parts of the melody remind me of Thelma Houston's version of "Don't Leave Me This Way," albeit without the same sense of emotional drama..
Aside from those understated string arrangements on this track, I also enjoy this one for the simple reason that much like the A-side showed a sexier side to her, this track showcased the earthy, soulful timbre of Laura's voice so well; with a rawness and a tenderness so simple and straightforward, you can't help but be engaged by it. It's that mix of grit and warmth, as this and much of her best material shows, which is undoubtedly one of her best assets..
Aside from Laura herself, this single also featured some other notable names. For one thing, both tracks on the single were produced by Don Davis, a somewhat enigmatic, yet highly prolific figure in the Detroit soul scene. Much of the material he produced and recorded on his Detroit indie labels like Groovesville and Revilot has become quite revered and collectible among soul aficionados over the years. Aside from his more obscure work on the Detroit labels, he had also produced some prominent acts over the years, including Mavis Staples, David Ruffin and The Dramatics among others as well as the late Johnnie Taylor, with whom he'd have some of his biggest success. Personally speaking, a couple of my favourite Don Davis productions that I've heard so far were for the late Jeannie Reynolds on her two highly underrated albums for the Casablanca label in the late 70s. Both excellent albums featuring yet another similarly raw, soulful voice....
Along with the producer, the arrangers on this single also had some notable credits to their name. Rudy Robinson was a prolific arranger, producer and musician in his own right as well as a regular Don Davis collaborator. Robinson had contributed to numerous albums by numerous artists, including the likes of The Temptations, Bobby Womack, Barbara Mason, Dennis Coffey as well as some excellent Detroit disco productions like C.J. & Co. and The Mike Theodore Orchestra. Until his death in 2002, he remained a prominent figure in the Detroit music scene as well as a keyboard player and longtime musical director for another Detroit soul legend, Bettye LaVette.
Additionally, Robinson's co-arranger on this single was none other than Disco wizard and super-producer Patrick Adams, whose prolific contributions to disco on the production side with projects like Musique, Phreek and many others (not to mention his work on the P&P labels) need no further introduction (see Disco Delivery #38: Patrick Adams Presents Phreek for more on Adams)..
Along with producer Don Davis, the A-side "Sat-is-fac-tion" was also written by none other than Motown legend Mary Wells and her (by this time, anyway) ex-husband Cecil Womack (later of Womack & Womack). Just as a gossipy sidebar; interestingly (although I might have my dates mixed up), by the time this single was released, Mary Wells had divorced husband and co-writer Cecil Womack and apparently re-married to Cecil and Bobby Womack's brother Curtis Womack. Talk about keeping it in the family...
The B-side, "Your Song" was however solely credited to Womack and Davis and later recorded by The Dells on their 1980 album, "I Touched A Dream" (1980, 20th Century), as well as The Four Tops, later into the 1980's..
During the same year that this single was released, Lee would go through a major setback after being diagnosed with cancer, from which she wouldn't fully recover until 1990. Given that, it's probably no wonder why this single only ended up being a relatively obscure one-off for her. While the 1980's had her battling cancer and essentially putting her singing career on hold, the early 80's saw Lee returning to her gospel roots, cutting two gospel albums in 1983, one of them with former flame, soul legend Al Green called "Jesus Is The Light Of My Life" (1983, Myrrh). From the late '80s and into the 1990's, she would end up would devoting more time to ministry and missionary work, performing only on occasion..
On her officially endorsed fansite/blog (a great resource, by the way; with the most comprehensive, detailed bio of her life and career out there), when asked about this single, she mentioned, somewhat dismissively, that this single was nothing more than her attempt at "going with the times". Understandably, like many artists at the time, she too had felt the need to maintain her career and jump on the disco bandwagon, yet in spite of that, this single still remains an engaging piece of disco, and along with the names attached to it, a notable meeting of figures in the R&B and disco worlds..
These days Laura maintains an active web presence through Colin Dilnot's excellent fansite/blog as well as her own Myspace site, where you can hear some of her music and see some recent photos of the lady herself (who, at the age of 62, still looks remarkable!)..
PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #38: PATRICK ADAMS PRESENTS PHREEK (1978, ATLANTIC) (THURSDAY MARCH 29, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #19: THE MIKE THEODORE ORCHESTRA - HIGH ON MAD MOUNTAIN (1979, WESTBOUND/ATLANTIC) (SUNDAY MAY 14, 2006)
LAURA LEE - SAT-IS-FAC-TION/YOUR SONG 12'' @ DISCOGS
MS. LAURA LEE - DEDICATED TO THE LADY OF SOUL MUSIC
LAURA LEE'S OFFICIAL MYSPACE
SOULFUL DETROIT FORUM - LAURA LEE
LAURA LEE @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
LAURA LEE @ WIKIPEDIA
LAURA LEE ALBUM REVIEWS @ ROBERTCHRISTGAU.COM
DON DAVIS @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
SOULWALKING - RESPECT 2002: RUDY ROBINSON
SOULFUL DETROIT FORUM - RUDY ROBINSON
CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES