This year’s featured selection, “I’m Thankful” — originally produced by Sam Cooke and recorded for the 1961 album Jesus Be a Fence Around Me by The Soul Stirrers – was once performed live on television, and a tape of that broadcast (thankfully) still exists:
“I’m Thankful” The Soul Stirrers c. early 1960s
Billboard, in its July 3, 1961 edition, would describe the flip side of “I Love the Lord” thusly:
“A slow spiritual with a higher voice taking over the lead. The feeling of the side is in a quiet groove. Simple backing assists the lead and the rest of the group”
Ed Ward wrote a special section devoted to 45s (non-album releases) in the original Rolling Stone Record Review from 1971, with particular praise for Barbara Keith’s A-side, “Free the People”:
“You may remember Delanie & Bonnie’s version of this song, and how good it was. Well, Barbara’s the one who wrote the thing, and she does it up just as well as you might expect. It lacks the Salvation Army feel of the D&B rendition, substituting instead a deeply-felt intensity that shocks the listener into realizing that this is, after all, a religious song. ‘Rainmaker’ [B-side] fares nowheres near as well, but it isn’t quite as good a song to start with. But I feel that Barbara Keith is a talent to be reckoned with, and we’ll be hearing more from her.”
Barbara Keith would would initially sign with Verve for one album (1969’s Barbara Keith) but then switch to A&M Records in August/September,1970. On A&M Records informs us that her first single “Free the People” was “soon covered by Barbra Streisand and Delaney and Bonnie. Ms. Keith also worked on analbum for A&M that was never released.”
Billboard, in its October 3, 1970 edition, would include the 45 in its “Special Merit Spotlight” noting: “infectious original rhythm ballad with heavy lyric line has all the earmarks of bringing Miss Keith to the charts in short order.”
Barbara Keith would leave A&M for Reprise, who would issue a new 7-inch version of “Free the People” – a song that was also included on 1973 Reprise LP, Barbara Keith.
“Free the People” Barbara Keith 1972?
Bass: Lee Sklar
Drums: Jim Keltner
Percussion: Milt Holland
Electric Piano: Spooner Oldham
Piano: Craig Doerge
Pedal Steel Guitar: Richard Bennett
Winston Groovy would record a lovely “strings reggae” version for the UK market in 1971.
Such a mighty presence, a powerful singer and electrifying guitarist, with her triple-pickup solid body Gibson – so why isn’t Sister Rosetta Tharpe mentioned as a rock & roll pioneer in the same breath as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley? Elvis, in fact, would be directly influenced by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as Gayle Wald points out in the PBS documentary, Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll. Ray Charles dared to fuse gospel music with secular content – and yet Sister Rosetta would beat him to the punch (although many seem to be unaware). Firing off notes on her modernist polar white Gibson Les Paul Custom with gold hardware, she was Bo Diddley before there was Bo Diddley. Jim Dickinson hit it right on the head in Gibson Guitars’ profile of Sister Rosetta Tharpe when he observed, “A female gospel singer playing electric guitar in a spangled evening dress was pretty unique in 1955.”
Years ago I threw Al Hirt’s breezy interpretation of “Up Above My Head” on a compilation, completely oblivious to the fact the song had originally been written by Sister Rosetta. How fascinating, and amusing, to discover that Tharpe’s rocking guitar lines would inspire Nick Didkovsky — founding member of grindcore band, Vomit Fist — to play a note-perfect rendition of Tharpe’s gospel standard, “Up Above My Head,” and then break it down note-by-note for the rest of the world to learn (and hopefully one day master themselves):
Nick Didkovsky Duets with Sister Rosetta Tharpe on “Up Above My Head”
“Up Above My Head” would be also covered by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Laurie London, The Blue Diamonds, Long John Baldry, Mickie Most, Elvis Presley, The Wood Brothers, Rance Allen, Randy Travis, and Johnny Ray & Frankie Laine, among many others.
Inspiration for Sly Stone’s 1974 wedding at Madison Square Garden?