Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sterling Harrison Sings!

I received a bulletin this week from the MySpace dedicated to the late Sterling Harrison:

New review from the October issue of Living Blues Magazine:

A headline in the L.A. Weekly once dubbed Sterling Harrison “the best soul singer you never heard of.” The Richmond, Virginia-born vocalist has been cutting records since 1955 – 45s for such labels as Vim, Smash, 4V, Astroscope, and Motown, an LP for Atlantic, a CD for Kon-Kord -- but few people had noticed. He earned his living for many years – singing mostly other artists’ hits and doing impressions of everyone from Al Green to Richard Nixon – as an opening act for such stars as Bobby Bland, James Brown, Lowell Fulson, Millie Jackson, Otis Redding and Joe Tex. Harrison settled in Southern California in 1977 and was performing at M&M Soul Food in South Central L.A. when Eddie Gorodetsky, a writer for the TV sitcom Dharma & Greg, first spotted him, in 1999. Gorodetsky recruited Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin to help him produce the remarkable CD that became known as South Of The Snooty Fox. Sadly, the singer was stricken with cancer shortly after the album was completed and died in 2005, two years before Gorodetsky finally found a label to issue it.

South Of The Snooty Fox finds Harrison still singing other artists’ songs, but they’re hardly your typical R&B cover-band variety. His gifts as a vocal impressionist are evident on such selections as Howard Tate’s "Ain’t Nobody Home," Bobby Womack’s "Surprise, Surprise," O.V. Wright’s A Nickel And A Nail," Johnnie Taylor’s "I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)," and Bobby Bland’s "There’s A Rat Loose In My House" and "I’ll Take Care Of You," yet he invests each with his own musical personality and injects more passion into his performances than was heard on many of the original recordings. The biggest surprise is Tom Waits’ "The House Where Nobody Lives," which Harrison transforms into a country-tinged deep-soul ballad worthy of James Carr or Percy Sledge. Harrison’s four-man band, led by guitarist Larry Johnson (also now deceased) and augmented on some selections by Berlin and ace studio drummer Rick Marotta, is exceptionally tight and far more vibrant than the studio bands on most contemporary soul-blues recordings. Besides the 10 masterful selections from 1999, the CD includes Harrison’s 1964 Smash single Funny Life as an unlisted bonus track. - LEE HILDEBRAND

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