Friday, July 11, 2008

Jean Genies #2

Well back in business after a couple of Internetless days that turned out to be caused by the latest Microsoft security patch and Zone Alarm not singing from the same hymn book! It was my daughter who picked up on this fact before me and got us going again – I’ve taught her well!

Now, on with the show, as they say.

It must be strange to know that, quite possibly, in some way, you could live forever. Jean Caliste was born in 1943 and at 65 is, as far as I know – and hope - not about give up the ghost anytime soon. It is also true though that one day, like us all, she will physically be no more.

However, in 1971, as Jean Knight, she recorded what would prove to be just about the biggest hit Stax would ever have, the multi-platinum selling “Mr Big Stuff”. That song is proving to have a long and healthy life on the radio, in adverts, and on TV and film soundtracks. Combine that with the fact that Stax, like Motown, has become an iconic label and Jean, through “Mr Big Stuff” at least, could live forever.

In 1972 following Jean’s big hit and an album she was named “Most Promising Female Vocalist”. In fact Jean had started her recording career several years earlier. She had begun singing at her cousin’s bar in New Orleans and eventually recorded a demo of “Doggin’ Around” (at Cosimo Mattassa’s French Quarter studio?) which had been a hit for Jackie Wilson in 1960. Huey Meaux picked up on this and released it at the beginning of 1965 on his then fresh Jet Stream label. After considering Caliste too difficult to pronounce she adopted the name Jean Knight (although the B side of this single was written by her and credited to "J Caliste"). Jean would have two more releases on the Jet Stream label but strangely not until 1967/8. Singing wasn’t paying the bills it seems and Jean took a job as a baker at Loyola Univeristy. Then in 1970 her singing talents were rediscovered by songwriter Ralph Williams. And that brings us back to “Mr Big Stuff”, for which Williams has a co-writing credit. You can read much more about Jean Knight, and particularly this phase of her singing career, over at Home Of The Groove.

Jean is still performing and is once again based in New Orleans. She appeared at last years New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival. Her own website hints at a new album to be released on her own Comstar Records label.

I love both sides of Jean’s first ever single. Basically voice, organ and drums is all there is in the mix. They have a really primitive quality – completely authentic considering these tracks were probably laid down in 1964 which was close to first light in the age of Soul music.

Jean Knight – Doggin’ Around (mp3) 1965
Jean Knight – The Man That Left Me (mp3) 1965

If you can track it down both of these tracks are on "Blue Soul Belles Vol. 2"


manny said...

interesting read, thanks for posting

Davy H said...

Man, you can hear the Louisiana rain in these can't you? Or maybe its the crackles. Or maybe it's the real rain outside of my window...Swampy.

Darcy said...

You're right, and I'm reminded of Irma Thomas "Ruler Of My Heart" too (You have that Im sure Davy cos I remember you featured a CD of hers recently).

At least it would be hot in the Louisiana rain, it was bl**ding freezing here today, even when the sun dared to put its hat on for a few minutes.

Davy H said...

Lovely and sunny here all day today, but I won't gloat - I'll go and put on 'Ruler Of My Heart' : )

Darcy said...

Sunday lived up to its name here too, for the most part. Still cool tonight though. Not the temperature for sitting in the rocking chair on the front stoop.