Freddie Scott ranks among the greatest soul singers. That’s all you really have to know.
It was some time in the early 60s when I first came across copies of Scott’s emotive ‘Hey Girl’ and his inspired, slow-burning version of ‘I Got A Woman’, both of which resided in a dumper box. I purchased them, lovingly placed the gold-labelled Colpix singles on my aged Garrard deck and was instantly blown away. Things haven’t changed much in the past 40 years or so. Every now and again, I pull the records off the shelf to remind myself, or others, of these moments in sheer soul supremacy.
Everything I’ve since learnt about Freddie Scott has set me wondering why the man from Rhode Island failed to become a star of some magnitude. I read somewhere that, on one occasion, he had even failed to win a Harlem Apollo Amateur Night contest. It must have been one hell of a contest that evening! There were moments of triumph. In 1968 his gritty rendition of ‘Are You Lonely For Me’ on Bert Berns’ Shout label topped the US R&B chart. A few other chart singles by Freddie emerged but the death of Berns at the age of 38 in 1967 led to Shout’s early closure.
Luck and Freddie Scott were often not the best of companions. In a way, “Mr Heartache” is a document of further failure, for it spans the period that Scott spent with Columbia following the demise of Colpix and prior to his arrival at Shout. During this stay he logged not one chart record, but great music cannot be considered purely in terms of chart success. Freddie Scott rarely delivered anything less than superb music. Columbia dubbed him “The Million Dollar Baby” and urged him to try his luck as a sepia Sinatra. “I actually wanted to be that kind of pop singer,” Freddie confessed, “That was my idea.” Certainly he could be whatever he wanted to be. Easy-listening classics such as ‘Everything I Have Is Yours’ and Johnny Mercer and David Raskin’s fabulous film theme ‘Laura’ have rarely sounded so rich, so heartfelt.
Freddie Scott could sing anything and make it matter, whether organ-backed soul-sated songs like ‘Blow, Wind’, the Spanish-tinged ‘Lonely Man’ or more Nashville-inclined fare like Freddie’s own ‘One More Time Before I Go’ – a creation which acts as a reminder of a songwriting ability that once linked him to the Brill Building and the opportunity to provide material for such as Paul Anka, Bobby Darin, Jackie Wilson and Aretha Franklin’s sister Erma, whom he also produced.
Though his name virtually disappeared from the mainstream following some activity in the 70s and 80s – “I sort of took off for a while” he confessed – covers of ‘Hey Girl’ by Billy Joel and others plus a Jon Tiven-produced blues album in 2001sought to revive Freddie Scott’s position in the soul firmament prior to his death at the age of 74 in 2007.
Now “Mr Heartache” has arrived to confirm that Freddie Scott ranked among the greatest soul singers. Which is where we came in.
By Fred Dellar, Mojo Magazine