High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On the Record: Fire and Ice ----- Garnet Mimms & Jerry Ragovoy

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if Garnet Mimms was male or female. All that mattered was that awesome sound.

I was 13 in August of 1963 when the soul ballad “Cry Baby” started burning up the boss lines. Regarded as one of the most important recordings to emerge during the transitional doowop-to-soul period, “Cry Baby” by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters took many AM radio listeners by surprise. Up to that point few people had ever heard a ballad rendered with the kind of intensity that gospel-trained Mimms summoned.

Mimms’ searing vocal performance on “Cry Baby” prompted one soul music authority to quip: “Garnet Mimms doesn’t carry a torch - he carries a flame thrower.”

“Cry Baby” picked up a bullet on Billboard and kept climbing steadily until it broke into the exclusive top 5 a couple of weeks before Halloween and about a month before the JFK assassination.

The winning formula that made “Cry Baby” a soul classic and the biggest hit of Garnet Mimms’ career was the result of a collaboration between Mimms, one of the purest and most gifted soul singers of the era, and Jerry Ragovoy, the masterful East Coast songwriter/producer/arranger who brought cool, big city polish and sophistication to the table and to the recording studio.

This isn’t the first time that Ragovoy’s name has come up on this blog and it probably won’t be the last. “Rags" was a white guy with a flair for recording black artists. He was the wizard behind the curtain on many excellent soul recordings of the 1960s including some of the Shady Dell’s greatest hits. Ragovoy compositions that shipped platinum to the Dell included “Time is on My Side” written under the pseudonym of Norman Meade, recorded by R&B vocalist Irma Thomas, and covered with much greater success by the Rolling Stones; “Piece of My Heart” by Erma Franklin, covered by Janis Joplin; “Cry Baby” also covered by Joplin; and another Garnet Mimms masterpiece and my Pick to Click, “I’ll Take Good Care of You.”

“I’ll Take Good Care of You” is a stirring soul ballad with the same ingredients that made “Cry Baby” immortal: churchy piano, churchy choir, and the raw gospel-drenched vocal styling of Garnet Mimms. From the day it showed up in the jukebox in March of 1966, “I’ll Take Good Care of You” was destined for Dell greatness. Even though the song stopped at #30 on Billboard, falling far short of the mark set by “Cry Baby” three years earlier, “I’ll Take Good Care of You” became a Dell smash - one of the most important snuggle songs in Dell kisstory. You needed a shoe horn to find a spot on the dance floor when this deep soul treasure started playing. “I’ll Take Good Care of You” maintained its popularity throughout the spring and summer of 1966, earning it a top 20 ranking on my list of the Dell’s Greatest Hits.

Inexplicably, the superb up-tempo flipside “Prove it to Me” did not play enough at the Dell to garner a reputation as a killer bee. However, its catchy Motown arrangement and irresistible dance beat made “Prove it to Me” the designated A side in the UK and a hot ticket on the northern soul club circuit.

Garnet Mimms was an extraordinarily talented yet vastly underappreciated artist. Standing in the shadow of Motown, major chart hits for Mimms were few and far between. As Shady’s Law teaches us, quality often has nothing to do with chart success.

Billboard be damned! Any Garnet Mimms album that you listen to could be considered a “best of” compilation because it’s all good!

Mimms vocals were indeed fiery; yet, I would describe his style as a controlled burn. It was never overwrought. Garnet's recordings benefitted from slick urban production achieving a clean, uncluttered sound that was never muddy or overproduced. Arrangements were often punctuated by ad-libbing guitar and spiced with dashes of Spanish Harlem for added flava. Ballads, mid-tempo songs, northern dancers - all types of songs became hit worthy if not hit bound when given the Garnet Mimms treatment.

Here are a few more examples of Garnet Mimms at his best beginning with one of my up-tempo favorites “As Long as I Have You.”

The church choir played a major role on many Garnet Mimms recordings.

Listen to his fine rendition of the Jerry Butler hit “For Your Precious Love."

On the flip side of “Your Precious Love” you'll discover a genuine killer bee entitled “Baby, Don’t You Weep.”

The Ragovoy-penned "Weep" is yet another powerful Garnet Mimms soul ballad that employs a heavenly choir as a key element.

When the disco craze swept the nation and sweet soul ballads went the way of the passenger pigeon, many music acts folded. Although disco didn’t match his balladeer style and deep soul sensibilities, Garnet Mimms nevertheless tried to adapt.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Mimms managed to turn out a disco song that was every bit as good as anything else on the market at the time. From the same work crew that gave us Brass Construction, here’s Garnett Mimms & the Truckin’ Company with their 1977 disco track, “What it is.”

Might-tay might-tay! Keep that up, Mr. Mimms, and I might learn to love disco! "What it is" is pretty damn good, that's what it is; but as promising as his venture into the wonderful world of disco might have been, Garnet Mimms soon realized that the disco glove didn't fit. And you know what they say...

if the mitt don't fit you must quit.

Garnet Mimms retired from pop music soon thereafter and became a born again Christian. Now in his mid-70s, the former soul crooner serves as pastor of a Philadelphia church. To his credit Garnet Mimms doesn’t try to distance himself from his past. Instead, he seems genuinely proud of his 1960s soul music output.

The big news of the recent past has been Garnet Mimms’ return to the studio and the release of a new CD in the summer of 2008. It was the first new material from Mimms since he left show biz in the late 70s.

Garnet...Jerry...keep on truckin'...and thanks to both of you!

Have a Shady day!

No comments:

Post a Comment

You talkin' to me?