Two Lady Shouters Extraordinaire: Rock & Roll RePast

Posted: August 9th, 2018 | Filed under: Music, Ruminations | 2 Comments »

One of the great uses of rock & roll in a movie soundtrack — my personal favorite — comes in Martin Scorcese’s portion of the otherwise forgettable three short films released as one feature in 1989, “New York Stories.”

I frankly have no recollection of what Woody Allen’s “Oedipus Wrecks” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Life Without Zoe” portions of the film trio are about. And have but faint recollection of Scorcese’s contribution titled “Life Lessons.”

Except for this one scene.

Nick Nolte’s an artist who has taken comely Rosanna Arquette, twenty years his junior, under his wing to teach her, understand, “life lessons.” To be his, uh, muse, giving lip service to the development of a deep and meaningful relationship. Truth be told, as best as I recall, what he wants is for her to be available as a hot young thing on his arm at gallery openings and be around when he’s ready for the down and dirty.

I forget the details, but that’s the gist of it. Their relationship is tempestuous. To say the least.

Finally there’s a breach. Either he sends her packing. Or she stomps out after telling him she’s had enough.

He’s in his studio, where the showdown played out, pissed, full of sexual frustration, and intent on working out his roiling anger on canvas.

Before grabbing his brush and palette, he punches his paint splattered cassette boom box to Play.

Here’s what blasts from the speaker, the perfect song for the moment.

This rendition from a live outdoor concert in Atlanta in ’59 is incendiary enough from the get go. That sax intro says this ain’t no lullaby. Ray was not singing about deep and meaningful conversations with a significant other after the lights go down low.

This song was steamy enough already, but when Miss Marjorie Hendrix helps him out on the vocals — an understatement in Ray’s intro if ever there was one — make sure the bedroom door is closed and the kiddos are asleep. The whole deal went XXX. From the first “Baaaaaaaay Baaaaaay,” Ms. Marjorie had her way. Pheromones filled the air, turning the place orgasmic.

(Already in a fervor, that crowd morphed bonkers when as a follow up Charles debuted “What’d I Say” for the first time in concert as a fully formed tune. The show’s emcee was so taken, he grabbed the mic in the middle of the tune and proclaimed Ray, “The High Priest.”)

Miss Marjorie Hendrix holds back nothing. Without any restraint, she belts out orgiastic.

This is not Aretha, mellifluous, rounding out the edges. Even shouters Etta James and Patti LaBelle sound relatively refined in comparison. Janice Joplin with her ever attendant raspy exclamations might have come close, but is still a cut below.

Ms. Marjorie lays everything bare.

I know little of the background of the song or how it came about.

I do believe one Mary Ann Fisher had been the featured solo vocalist with Charles’s touring big band earlier in the 50s. And she was by most accounts Ray’s inamorata. Until Hendrix came along, after which Fisher moved on.

(My favorite story about Ray and the many women in his life is how he sized them up, got a sense of a lady’s physicality. He’d touch them on the wrist, run his hand up their forearm. You could get by with that in the 40s and 50s, I suppose, if you were blind, and especially a star of the magnitude of Ray Charles.)

What I do know for absolute certain is the power of Miss Marjorie Hendrix singing on that particular live rendition of the R & B classic. I knew the song for years, having worn out that live LP. And when Scorcese used it in that scene with Nolte, it brought goose bumps.

So enraptured was I by hearing the song for the first time in years, I simply can’t recall how the scene with Nolte ended, or the rest of the Scorcese short film.

Excuse me while I wipe my brow.

 * * * * *

So, while we’re talking about such matters, there’s another tune in the rock & roll pantheon worthy of mention.

It’s Merry Clayton joining Mick on “Gimme Shelter.”

I shall refrain from ragging you with my firm and oft stated belief that the Stones have been an oldies act for decades, going through the motions while selling lots of merch at their big stadium sing alongs. But there was a time long ago far away when they were indeed the best rock & roll band of all.

When they were young, full of piss and vinegar, crafting incredible rock anthems. Doing nifty things like using the London Bach Choir to open “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Or punctuating this stunner with a shouter like Merry Clayton:

How Ms. Clayton’s stirring, incendiary contribution came to be is one of the great bits of rock & roll anecdotia. Here’s Clayton in the to be seen if you haven’t already documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom” talking about how it came to pass:

I mean really. She was preggers. In curlers and silk pajamas. And threw a mink coat over the garb, headed to the studio and gave the Stones a couple takes that shall not be forgot.

 * * * * *

So let us now give thanks to Marjorie Hendrix and Merry Clayton for these innervating moments, both excitations as raw and propulsive and electrifying as they were they were when these incredible singers let ’em rip.

— c d kaplan


2 Comments on “Two Lady Shouters Extraordinaire: Rock & Roll RePast”

  1. 1 Dough said at 5:22 pm on August 9th, 2018:

    Somethin’ got a hold on you and yeh, it must be …!

  2. 2 Dood said at 11:55 pm on August 13th, 2018:

    The first song that I played, on the first night I was on WLRS, at 1 am, was “The Night Time…”


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