Monday, April 01, 2013

Roosevelt Jamison 1936-2013

Like many of you, I was first introduced to Roosevelt Jamison in the pages of Peter Guralnick's seminal Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm & Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. The story of him working with Gospel groups in a back room at the Blood Bank where he worked, of his cutting a few raw demo tapes of songs he had written with a couple of those singers, and knocking on the door of Goldwax owner Quinton Claunch in the middle of the night with those singers (who just happened to be O.V. Wright and James Carr) in tow, and changing the course of history in the process... the tale of this visionary poet who may just have written the greatest Love Song of all time going on to become Carr's manager, confidant and, in many ways, soul-mate, helped me to understand the importance of this man in the history of this music. It is hard to imagine Memphis Soul without him.

When Preston Lauterbach and I started up the O.V. Wright Memorial Fund in 2008, we went out of our way to find Roosevelt and bring him on board with Willie Mitchell and the rest of the crew. Once we finally tracked him down, he agreed to come have breakfast with me and talk things over. As he began to speak of those days, of James Carr showing up on his doorstep broke and hungry, and quite literally out of his mind, he broke down and started to cry at the memory of it. This was the first time I had met him, and I began to truly understand the depth of spirit and emotion that this man, and the music he created, brought to this world of ours. From that moment on, I became his biggest fan.

As part of the festivities in Memphis surrounding the O.V. Wright Memorial Dedication, I had arranged for a luncheon at the Rendezvous that would bring Roosevelt and Quinton Claunch back together, just like the night they had spent on the living room floor listening to those tapes all those years ago. As it turned out, Quinton wasn't feeling up to it, but Roosevelt came and introduced everyone to his wonderful wife Linda, who was kind enough to have made these beautiful keepsake laminated bookmarks for the occasion, emblazoned with the lyrics of Jamison's song of songs... all of us who were lucky enough to be there that day will treasure them forever.

I kept in touch with Roosevelt over the years, and we talked often of those days. Here was a man who had been there and back, and had the stories to prove it. In the summer of 2011, he was diagnosed with Brain Cancer and, although he was weak, he would still answer my call and speak with me from his hospital bed. Miraculously, Roosevelt got up out of that bed, and the cancer seemed to go into remission. That Fall, he would receive a 'Note' on Beale Street, and be honored by the City of Memphis by re-naming the street where he lived 'Roosevelt Jamison Road'. He was finally getting some home-town recognition... but, sadly, the Cancer had returned. When John Broven and I got into town on the Road Trip last August, Roosevelt was the first person I called. He and Linda were kind enough to invite us out to the house and, although things didn't look good at first, with Linda's help we were finally able to make it happen...

...that luncheon with Quinton and Roosevelt we had been angling for all along. It was truly a privilege and an honor to have been able to bring these two historic figures back together one last time.
I will never forget it.
As I drove Roosevelt home from the restaurant that afternoon, somehow I knew it would be the last time I would ever see him... I told him that no matter what happened, he had written a song that will live on forever. Tears filled both of our eyes, as he turned to me and answered, "I know it."

That's How Strong My Love Is


Anonymous Paul Pollmann said...

Hi Red
Such a moving and well written story. It almost brings tears to my eyes. And what really hits me is how different he looks in the top photo than when we met him in Memphis en New Orleans.

I will never forget him.
Thanks, Paul

5:21 AM  
Blogger jazzmanchgo said...

I met Roosevelt Jamison last summer, when he received a Writers' Award from the Jus' Blues Foundation, an Atlanta-based organization that does advocacy and various kinds of p.r. work for blues,soul, and soul-blues artists. They hold an annual awards ceremony in Memphis. Jamison looked pretty frail, but I had no idea how sick he really was. It was an honor to meet him, and I told him so.

6:07 PM  
Blogger tahana said...

Thank you. I am a fan of soul music, Japanese.
A few days I was looking for articles written about Roosevelt Jamison.
Thank you for your great article.

11:53 AM  

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