Bessie Banks was born Bessie White on February 8th 1938 in New Bern, North Carolina.That means it was Bessie Banks birthday yesterday*. And what dropped through my letterbox yesterday? A Bessie Banks 45. A very interesting one, of which more in a minute.
As far as I can tell this is the first time Bessie’s birth date has ever been mentioned on the Internet. It is a fact I could add to Bessie’s Wikipedia page (along with her place of birth, which I have only found one mention of elsewhere). It would be the first time I have ever been a Wiki contributor, but as the author of the Bessie Banks article there has specifically asked for information on her birth date I suppose I really should do it.
How do I know these facts? Because I found it an article I was reading the other day that John Abbey penned about Bessie that appeared in an old (1975) copy of Blues & Soul magazine. The article itself referred back to an even earlier piece written by none other than Deep Soul aficionado Dave Godin in the Rhythm & Soul USA magazine. That provenance is good enough for me.
Why was I reading this article? Because I was trying to find out more information on the record of hers I have just bought.
I’m quite excited about this record. Rather like Bessie’s birth date I can find absolutely no reference to it on the Internet (apart from a few links that all end up in what I think is the same place – a sales listing for, I think, the actual copy of the record which has just dropped through my letterbox).
For someone blessed with such a great voice Bessie Banks unfortunately released very little material. She is probably best known for her original take on the song “Go Now” which was too soon covered by the Moody Blues and ended up establishing the Moody Blues’ career and robbing Bessie of a deserved big hit in the process. Following 1964’s “Go Now” she had a handful of singles issued on a number of different labels sporadically through the 60s and 70s but, incredibly, only on the Private Stock distributed Quality label did she have more than one release and these, in 1976 proved to be her last. Quality 503 was the fantastic double sider “Don’t Worry Baby”/”Try To Leave Me If You Can”. “Try To Leave Me” was itself a re-release, the song originally appearing on the Volt label in 1974/75. This Volt release was current at the time of John Abbey’s B&S article and he, quite rightly, was waxing lyrical about it. He was also looking forward to more material from Bessie now she was on a good, seemingly solid, Soul label like Volt which was, of course, a Stax subsidiary. It was funny (well, sad actually) reading that article with the benefit of hindsight: Stax would soon go bust and Bessie would once more be in search of a new label. That label turned out to be Quality, although the B&S article was written before that happened. It gets more poignant - the article was entitled “Never Can Say Goodbye” but not much more than a year after it was written Bessie Banks would have her final record release.
The article went on to talk about Bessie’s involvement with Clyde Otis’ writing workshop and teaming up with Herman Kelly and Frank Green to write “Try To Leave Me”. That arrangement evidently survived the demise of Stax/Volt because Bessie’s second and final(ever) Quality release credits Kelly/Green on the A side writing credits and Otis on production.
Ah! The second Quality release – 508. Now here’s an interesting thing. Until a couple of weeks ago I had only ever seen demo copies of this release number pictured or referenced, and the demo copy has the same song on both sides – “Baby You Sure Know How To Get To Me”. But what dropped through my letterbox yesterday was an issue copy of Quality 508, with a B side “Do You Really Want To Be Right?”! Written by Otis Smith (the same Otis Smith who had a release on Perception in 1970? the same Otis Smith who founded Beverly Glen Records, and ‘discovered’ Anita Baker?), the song is about a couple finding themselves in the divorce courts, with the woman questioning if it is really finally the end of the road.
There is no mention of this song in Bessie’s discography at the excellent and usually exhaustive Soulfulkindamusic. Furthermore the sleeve notes of Ace Records “Larry Banks’ Soul Family Album” have extensive notes on Bessie but again no mention of the song. Could this just be a lost Bessie Banks side? Rare as a hen’s tooth?
*I am assuming Bessie is still alive, I can certainly find nothing to suggest the contrary and the above mentioned Ace Records CD sleevenotes (released in 2007) talk about Bessie in the present tense.