Who was/is Shirley Brown ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Woman To Woman
Woman To Woman
A phone call from a sassy wife ready to fight his mistress for her straying man, with only one side of the emotionally charged conversation on public display while a Memphis band gently grooved in the background, was hardly normal subject matter for an R&B chart-topper. But Shirley Brown wasn’t your standard soul diva.
Born January 6, 1947 in West Memphis, Arkansas and mostly raised in downstate Madison, Illinois, Brown was discovered by Albert King singing at the Harlem Club in Brooklyn, Illinois (just outside East St. Louis) when she was only 14. Her gospel-trained pipes must have been pretty impressive, since she proceeded to tour as an opener for the southpaw blues guitarist despite her tender years. St. Louis saxist Oliver Sain, a former musical cohort of King’s, produced I Ain’t Gonna Tell, Shirley’s 1972 debut 45, for Abet Records, an Excello subsidiary (Sain waxed a terrific revival of King Curtis’ Soul Serenade a few releases later on the logo).Her first single pegged Brown as being strongly influenced by Aretha Franklin.
King brought Shirley to Stax Records, which was falling on hard times. James Banks (brother of better-known songsmith Homer Banks), Eddie Marion, and Henderson Thigpen opened Woman To Woman with an extended spoken rap that was Banks’ brainstorm. It was too different for Inez Foxx, who took a pass. But Stax founder Jim Stewart, who had signed her personally, and Booker T. & the MG’s drummer Al Jackson, Jr. produced Shirley on the unusual number. Along with Jackson, Stax’s Memphis house band also encompassed guitarist Michael Toles, pianist Marvell Thomas, and organist Lester Snell.
Woman To Woman was issued on Stax’s fledgling Truth logo and proved the firm’s last #1 R&B hit in the fall of 1974, rising to #22 pop and earning a Grammy nomination. Barbara Mason answered Shirley with a defiant From His Woman To You on Buddah, which escalated the soap opera vibe and made it to #3 R&B in its own right. Brown posted one more hit on Truth in 1975, It Ain’t No Fun, before Stax folded under the weight of scandal. Brown brought her daunting pipes to Arista, then a revitalized Stax, 20th Century, Sound Town, and Malaco, scoring R&B chart entries for each. She remains a glamorous Southern chitlin’ circuit staple.
- Bill Dahl -