Shirley & Lee - Now That It's Over (ALLADIN 3338)
Now That It's Over
As you may have noticed, we've been focusing on the "NOLA in LA-LA" crowd over here quite a bit lately. I walked into the local Salvation Army thrift store here last week, and this 49 year old record was staring me in the face... there are no coincidences. I got the message - it's Shirley's turn!
Shirley Goodman grew up in the 7th ward down in New Orleans, singing with her neighborhood pals every chance she got. They wrote a song together, and would walk over to Cosimo's studio and pester him to let them "make a record". He finally relented, and for $2.00 he cut them a demo of their tune. Cosimo played it for Eddie Mesner of Alladin Records and he went crazy, beggng him to "get me that girl!". When they finally tracked the kids down, Eddie auditioned several of the boys before deciding on the rich-voiced Leonard Lee as her partner.
Dave Bartholomew produced the session they did on the kids' song with the legendary house band, and "I'm Gone" just took off, climbing to #2 on the R&B charts in 1952. Shirley was 15.
Aladdin billed them as "the Sweethearts of the Blues", and followed with a string of releases that chronicled their supposed romance. Songs like "Shirley's Back", "Lee Goofed", and "The Proposal" were like an ongoing soap opera that kept them in the charts. They worked the "chittlin' circuit" relentlessly in support of these records and became enormously popular in the South.
By 1955 (the year Shirley married her real sweetheart, Calvin Pixley), the romance angle was wearing thin, and the great "Feel So Good" (with vocal backing by The Spiders) hinted at the new direction the duo was taking. Shirley and Lee actually wrote their own material (although only Lee was credited on the records!), and in 1956 they took something a fan had hollered at them at one of their shows and came up with the amazing "Let The Good Times Roll".
The record was very suggestive for its day, and although many radio stations refused to play it, they just couldn't kill this monster of a song. It ate up the R&B charts, then crossed over and smashed into the Top 40 (settling in at #20)... white America's worst nightmare!
Shirley and Lee were now dubbed "the Sweethearts of Rock & Roll", and were playing to a whole new audience. They toured the country with the biggest acts (read: Elvis), and were among the first to truly integrate the music scene in the 1950s (so much so that they got caught up in the Little Rock riots in 1956 and had to be evacuated by helicopter!). They were a HUGE success.
Today's B side is the flip of "I Feel Good", the follow-up record to their smash hit, and also cracked the Top 40 that year, landing at #38. Check out that Sugar Town roll, that incredible Cosimo's studio sound that literally defined music in the 50s. Word.
A few more singles were to follow, but none that would reach the heights of these two. (A CD of most of their Aladdin tracks is available, but our current B side isn't on there...) By 1959 Imperial records had taken over Aladdin, Eddie Mesner was dead, and the new management (Lew Chudd) showed no interest in recording the couple. They signed with Warwick, and released a few minor records with them before breaking up the act in 1962.
Shirley moved to the west coast to raise her newborn son shortly after that, and stopped singing for a while. It wasn't long before Harold Battiste found out she was available and started using her on some sessions. This was when she got paired with Jessie Hill and recorded a number of sides on the Wand label (although these records didn't do much at the time, I just saw one go on eBay for $100!). She also did a few things with Brenton Wood, but the duet concept was no longer happening.
It was her backround vocal work during this period that just blows me away. As a founding member of "The Night Trippers", she added her own special magic to the early Dr. John records. Mick Jagger had sat in on the European sessions for Rebennack's Sun, Moon, and Herbs album (the tapes of which were mysteriously sabotaged later on), and asked the Night Trippers to provide background vocals during the Exile On Main Street overdub sessions in Los Angeles in late 1971. Dust off yer copy and give a listen to the incredible "Let It Loose"... Man! I'd put her in the freakin' Rock & Roll Hall of Fame if all she ever did was like the last minute of that song and Walk On Gilded Splinters!
But Shirley wasn't done yet.
In 1974 she got a call from old pal Sylvia Robinson (she of another fabled duo, Mickey & Sylvia) about recording a song she had written. Goodman took a day off from her job as a receptionist at Playboy Records and flew to New Jersey to lay down the vocals. Sylvia had envisioned Hank Ballard as Shirley's male partner on the song, but when that fell through they went with a studio musician named Jesus Alvarez and nailed it on the first take.
Shirley flew back to work, Sylvia plugged the record through her radio connections in New York, and within a week Shame, Shame, Shame by Shirley & Company was a million-seller. The album cover, with Shirley chastising a recently resigned Richard Nixon was everywhere you looked during that summer of 1975. It was great. The song topped the R&B (as well as the new Disco) Charts, and made it to #12 Pop.
Shirley was back on top, with TV appearances, a European Tour, the works. She was a shoo-in for best R&B female vocal performance that year and was awarded a long overdue Grammy.
By 1979, Shirley Goodman-Pixley had returned home to New Orleans , and the only singing she was interested in doing was as a member of the choir at the Genesis Missionary Baptist Church. In 1988 she won a Federal Court case that finally awarded her half the royalties from the songs she wrote with Leonard Lee (who had been felled by a heart attack in 1976), but the decision was continually appealed by his widow.
In 1994, Shirley suffered a stroke and moved back to California to live with her son. She died there at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles on July 5th of this year.
She was 69 years old.
Rest In Peace, Sweetheart.