If obscurity were the hallmark of fame in
R&B, Lula Reed would be a household name. As it is, she has become a
puzzle - a true enigma in a field overun by sleuths and archaeologists.
Lula Reed has managed to disappear without a trace quite a distinctive
feat. But, as anyone who has heard her sing can attest, being
distinctive is no stranger to Ms. Reed.
What little is known of
Lula Reed's professional life follows the course of her association with
pianist/bandleader Sonny Thompson. With Thompson's assistance, Lula
made about a dozen records for King in the early to mid-1950s. She moved
from Syd Nathan's King label to record briefly for the Chess brothers
around 1957. One sample of her work (credited to Lulu Reed) appeared on
the Chess blues anthology 'Walking By Myself'. Still later in the 1950s,
Lula returned to King-Federal, recording both solo and in duet with
Freddie King. Commercially speaking, nothing much came of any of it.
a surprising number of R&B artists, Lula's very first record
enjoyed more success than just about any of her later work. 'I'll Drown
In My Tears' made it to the number 5 position in Billboard's R&B
charts in 1952. 'Drown In My Own Tears' has since become associated with
Ray Charles, whose retitled version owed a debt to both Lula and
pianist Sonny Thompson. The debt was repaid in the early 1960s, when
Lula made an unexpected appearance on Charles' own Tangerine label. As
far as discographers are concerned, that was Lula's last entry into the
recor-ding archives. Sleuthwork continues and perhaps there will be good
news to report in time for Volume 2 of this collection. But for the
present, the lovely and memorable music on this album is our best
evidence of Lula Reed's life and very special talent.
brings together some exceptionally fine music. Lula was fortunate to be
associated with composers as talented as Titus Turner, Sonny Thompson,
or A&R man Henry Glover. Whether such material was written by them
or purchased from unknowns matters little at this point. What does
matter is that many of the songs Lula recorded were standouts in a field
that often unleashed throwaway material on its consumers.
'Watchdog', Lula turns in a strong reading of a surprisingly
proto-feminist lyric. Her vocal is, as usual, anything but ordinary.
Lula's phrasing is individualistic and her tone has a delightful nasal,
almost hillbilly quality. But Lula is no country singer. There is enough
melisnia in her vocals to bring any self-respecting country church to
its feet. Clarence Kenner's acoustic guitar intru-des an almost country
blues sound into an otherwise uptown R&B arrangement.
Key Don't Fit No More reveals some gentle sexual sym-bolism, although it
is decidedly mild by R&B standards. Key is a standout track showing
Lula's affinity for deep blues with churchy chord changes. Within two
years, Ray Charles would build a career on material like this. once
again, Lula displays her gift for melisma ; she simply can not leave a
ono syllable word alone. Her octave reach on the word 'changed' is a joy
Without Love recorded in November 1954, features some
exceptional instrumental support. The alto/tenor sax voicings behing
Lula's vocal are reminiscent of the arrangements Maxwell Davis wrote for
Percy Mayfield's best records. Sonny Thompson's piano work is worth
special attention. His fills around Lula are quite daring for R&B.
They owe a passing nod to jazzman 'Photo-nious Monk, whose avant garde
piano style was hardly the stuff of R&B in 1954.
'I'm Gone, Yes I'm Gone', recorded at the same session, is the simplest
song on the album. It has all the irrestable innocence of Fats Domino's
best work, much of which it predates. The track features an extended
guitar solo and a bottom heavy backbeat that was node to propel( its way
across a smoky juke-joint from the speakers of a vintage Wurlitzer.
'Three Men' is an altogether excellent record, a catchy and clever song
that deserved a bigger slice of the 1956 R&B sweepstakes. Lula's
vocal is distinguished as ever, but it has lost some of the youthful
charm evident just three years earlier when she cut 'Going Back To
Mexico', the earliest track on this album. Lula Reed never earned the
recognition accorded to her co-temporaries like Ruth Brown, LaVerne
Baker or Dinah Washing-ton. Even singers like Faye Adams or Willie Mae
Thornton, who enjoyed a single hit record, have become visible footnotes
in the history of MB. Lula's music has remained until now a virtual
stran-ger to the reissue industry. This album is both welcome and long
overdue. Hank Davis, March, 1988