If you mention the name Percy Sledge to just about any music fan in the world, you'll invariably elicit a woebegone version of "When A Man Loves A Woman." That song is Percy's signature and a tune that defined the summer of 1966 and every one thereafter. Percy Sledge is, however, far from a one-hit wonder. He's had a number of significant chart hits including "Take Time To Know Her," "Warm And Tender Love," "Out Of Left Field, "It Tears Me Up," "I'll Be Your Everything" and others; his is a successful career that is now in its fifth decade.
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Nine years ago, Percy made a comeback album that received worldwide critical acclaim, solid sales, a Grammy® nomination and won The Blues Foundation's WC Handy Award for best Soul/Blues Album of the Year. It was Blue Night, an album produced by the team of Saul Davis -- who had worked on projects by Gene Clark, Mick Taylor, Lucinda Williams, Phil Seymour, Jackie Lomax, etc. -- and Barry Goldberg (Mother Earth, Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton, Solomon Burke, Bob Dylan, etc.) that brilliantly showcased Percy's commanding yet emotionally plaintive vocal attitude. The wonderful reception accorded Blue Night, combined with Percy's being awarded the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award showed that, the eternal "When A Man Loves A Woman" notwithstanding, Percy Sledge was back in the forefront of soul's resurgence.
While Percy Sledge has been touring internationally in the years since Blue Night's 1994 release, the expected follow up album hasn't been a reality until now, almost ten years later. During the intervening time, a combination of circumstances conspired to keep Percy and his production team apart. Says Percy of that time, "I was waiting and wishing and hoping things would line up and they finally did. I just knew it would be worth the wait." The result is Shining Through The Rain, an album of soul music the way it was truly meant to be. The process that begat the new album actually began more than four years ago when Percy, Saul and Barry began to marshal their resources to see if they could, once again, all work together.
Percy's relationship with his producers can only be described as, to borrow a phrase, "warm and tender." Barry Goldberg used to come to Muscle Shoals, Percy's old stomping ground, as far back as the 1960s. The two finally met in the late '80's when Barry was working on the soundtrack for "Adventures In Baby Sitting." Percy was taken with his new friend. "Everything that he talked about hit me in the heart," he confides. He's effusive and genuine about his production team. "It's so easy to fall in love with Barry and the same goes for Saul. When I met Saul, he was like an angel; he took me under his wing. Both of them just love music so much."
Barry Goldberg notes, "When I was getting my chops together playing the blues in Chicago, I was also digging the R&B of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett and, of course, Percy Sledge. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever think that I would remotely somehow be connected to such a great legacy. When Saul Davis asked if I was interested in working with him on a Percy Sledge album I was ecstatic. We had great reverence for all the people who had made the great Percy Sledge records before in Muscle Shoals and a responsibility to do our best for Percy's great voice. We were very proud of Blue Night; Shining Through The Rain was another challenge for us. We wanted to bring a little more of a contemporary vibe into the arena, without losing the feeling of a Percy Sledge record. The flavor of Muscle Shoals is there, thanks to Clayton Ivey (piano, organ) Larry Byrom (guitar) and (engineer) Steve Melton. The sensitivity of Bob Glaub on bass, and the groove solid drumming of Ed Greene, along with the other great musicians, writers and singers makes me feel that we have done our job. It's a labor of love, of course, to be working with the man himself, Percy Sledge. He's truly inspirational."
Saul and Barry used old school recording techniques and equipment -- tube amplifiers, analog machines, old microphones -- and launched an all out effort to make the album that would be Shining Through The Rain as soulful as possible. They imported engineer Steve Melton, the Muscle Shoals engineer who had worked with Percy in the past, to Los Angeles where the album was recorded earlier this year. They flew in Ivey and Byrom from Muscle Shoals and Greene from Nashville as they enlisted the aid of such friends of the project as Jakob Dylan, Paul Jones, guitar great Phil Upchurch and the aforementioned Glaub.
Vintage recording equipment, simpatico producers and great guest musicians are fine but for Percy, the song has always been the thing. He reveals his method for making material his own. "First thing, I look at the lyrics, and then I listen to the melody. If the melody gives me any kind of thrill, I work with it and try to get a feeling going. I kind of 'try it on' to see how the song fits me." Saul Davis and Barry Goldberg did their utmost to find songs perfectly "tailored" to fit Percy's musical physique. Percy had full confidence in their ability to do just that, "They really know what I'm about."
Songs by The Bee Gees, The Hollies, Jackie Lomax, Carla Olson, Steve Earle, Tonio K and others don't look like they'd work for a traditional iconic deep soul singer like Percy on paper but in life, well, that's another story, entirely. Says Saul, "I feel that I have a good sense of what songs work best for what artists and it's an easier task the second time around as in this case. Our focus, first and foremost, is Percy's voice, its range, the words of the song, the cadence. As with Blue Night, we stretched a bit. "Misty Morning" and "Road Of No Return" are pretty heavy lyrically; the subject matters are closer to some of Marvin Gaye's most intense work or some of the Norman Whitfield-period Temptations. Then there's Rubies & Diamonds which is more like a Barry White key than a Percy key - but it works. Heck, I've been thinking about this album for eight years; I had the songs in my quiver forever."
Percy offers his own critique: "I have to be honest with you; I just really like the album. When I first listened to the finished version, I couldn't help but cry." With a title like Shining Through The Rain, you just know that Percy's initial reaction upon hearing the finished product was prophetic. We asked him to take us on a tour of the songs on the album and he was more than willing to oblige.
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