Saturday, September 08, 2007

Sterling Harrison - South Of the Snooty Fox (2007)

I'm going to assume you have never heard of Sterling Harrison. Until a few weeks ago neither had I. Harrison was a rhythm & blues singer working out of Los Angeles who had a long career performing in low rent bars and nightclubs for the last couple of decades. Over the course of fifty years he made only a handful of records. The first was recorded in 1955, at age fourteen, before John Lennon met Paul McCartney and before Elvis Presley became a star. His few opportunities to put his voice on vinyl for posterity never produced anything worthwhile yet many who saw his live act swore Harrison's showmanship and vocal skills made him the greatest hidden treasure rhythm & blues ever produced.

In the 60s Harrison opened for Sam Cooke, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson, and Otis Redding. While he was performing in Nashville Jimi Hendrix was a member of his band. His music has been described as "deep soul" and his voice conjures up aural images of Redding and Wilson Pickett. Bobby "Blue" Bland's wife was so impressed she made sure Harrison never opened for her husband so he wouldn't be upstaged.

Harrison's CD, South Of The Snooty Fox, was released on August 21, 2007 by Hacktone Records and it has a very interesting back story. He was discovered by Larry Gorodetsky, writer for the TV series Dharma and Greg, and actor Thomas Gibson, the show's male star, while performing in a rundown Los Angeles club. Soon thereafter Gorodetsky brought Steve Berlin, the sax player for Los Lobos, to see a Harrison show. Both were so impressed that they decided to produce an album for him, so in 2001, Gorodetsky and Berlin worked with the vocalist on a ten song disc with the goal of finally making him a star.

Unfortunately, and typical of Harrison's career, luck wasn't about to be a lady. Sadly, the singer was diagnosed with cancer shortly after work on Snooty Fox was completed and he died in 2005. The CD went into limbo until Hacktone, the label who loves to resurrect lost discs, rescued this soul masterpiece from oblivion.

On Snooty Fox Harrison fronts a four piece rock band featuring guitarist Larry Johnson whose lead lines support every song. Johnson is outstanding and his tasteful playing never upstages Harrison's performance. Individually the band members worked with all-stars such as Marvin Gaye and Barry White.

Harrison is neither a musician nor a composer so he put all of his efforts into being a stylist who interpreted other people's songs. There are rave ups, ballads, dance tunes, and even some fairly conventional pop-soul. There are a few of Harrison's concert standards including "There's A Rat Loose In My House," "I Believe In You (You Believe In Me), and "I'll Take Care of You." He covers Brook Benton, Bobby Womack, and Bland. Gorodetsky brought in a Tom Waits song, "The House Where Nobody Lives," to help make the sessions more contemporary.

Sterling Harrison performed live for almost fifty years and loved every minute of his career. Singing was virtually the only job he ever knew. He didn't drink, smoke, or use drugs because he was afraid they would be harmful to his voice. He should have been an R&B giant but he never acquired any of the rewards usually associated with a man of his talent.

You can listen to some audio clips on Hacktone's website to see for yourself what the world has been missing.

1 comment:

  1. Quite a story. While not identical, there are some obvious parallels with Eva Cassidy. Thanks for posting this.

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