Barbara Keith’s Liberation Gospel

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 BonnieMs. Keith also worked on an album for A&M that was never released.”

Barbara Keith PromoBillboard, 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

Barbara Keith UK 45

Winston Groovy recorded a lovely “strings reggae” version for the UK market in 1971.

“Free the People”     Winston Groovy     1971

“Free the People,” fortunately, would be deemed worthy of inclusion in Rock Song Index:  The 7500 Most Important Songs for the Rock and Roll Era.

Sheet MusicBarbara Keith's Sheet Music

“Rise”: The Spirit of Sahm

It was hard not to get swept up in Ed Ward‘s enthusiasm in his October 1, 1970 Rolling Stone review of an up-and-coming Texan band (by way of Prunedale, California) that had been “discovered” and mentored by Doug Sahm.  The band’s debut, a masterpiece in Ward’s estimation, had been released on almighty Columbia imprint, Epic, and described as a curious collision of sounds — “Creedence meets The Byrds” (as others have since quipped), with horns, steel guitar, fiddles and a healthy amount of Tex-Mex thrown in — but in a unified and cohesive way, Ward assures us.

I was reminded of Ward’s original review when I read James ‘Bigboy’ Medlin’s tribute to the Texas Tornado himself – Doug Sahm – in this year’s ‘Southern Music Issue’ of the Oxford American, so imagine my complete disbelief when I switched on the Internet to learn more these renegade rockers … only to discover not a single trace of their existence!  Unfathomable.  How could this be?  Even trusty ol’ Discogs.com was bereft of any info about the one and only long-playing release by “Love and the Lovers,” as they are clearly named in the review (as well as the index of The Rolling Stone Record Review, where Ward’s piece had been reprinted).

As it turns out, heh heh, it was just a typo.  If you type the phrase “Louie and the Lovers,” a veritable floodgate of information spews forth.  At the top of the list, interestingly enough, is Ed Ward’s piece for National Public Radio about the 2009 release of the band’s complete recordings by pioneering reissue label, Bear Family, of Germany.  How fascinating to learn from Ward’s NPR piece that, after the band’s experience with Epic, Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler (at Doug Sahm’s urging) would pick up the baton.  At great expense, Wexler would fly Louie and the Lovers in his private jet – their first ever plane trip – for recording sessions in Miami, as well as Hollywood, only to release one single and then shelve a (“long-rumored”) second album that had been planned for release.

Title track “Rise” would lead off their debut Epic album on which the band would be backed by Doug Sahm’s band, The Honky Blues Band:

“Rise”     Louie and the Lovers     1970

Not to be confused with Little Louie and the Lovers, who would release one single in 1962 before vanishing.

Even with major label backing and support from A-level musicians during the Miami recordings sessions – Dr. John, Joe Lala, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, Flaco Jimenez – as Ward notes in “The Slow ‘Rise’ of a Lost Treasure,” the band’s recordings would fail to make a dent in the marketplace, a situation undoubtedly exacerbated by their decision not to tour.  Over time, however, the music’s reputation would grow — to the point that Sony UK, in 2003, would reissue the band’s debut on compact disc, followed by Bear Family’s decision six years later to release the band’s entire 27-song output.

Louie & Lovers 45