Over the last 30 years Spanky Wilson has become established as a successful jazz vocalist. But there is a world of difference between concert hall jazz and the hip beats producers and sweaty night clubs where she has found herself recently. Her collaboration with DJ/producer Quantic have brought her prominence with the same crowd of DJs, collectors and beat-heads that have spent the last decade and a half desperately seeking her 60s and 70s recordings.
Following her move in 1967 to Los Angeles Spanky Wilson worked with, amongst others, Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis and Willie Bobo, but her most important contact was with producer and arranger H B Barnum.
In the late 60s he founded his own independent record label, Mother Records & The Snarf Company. One of his first signings was Spanky Wilson, and her debut album for the label was the wonderful “Spankin’ Brand New”. It was the follow-up LP, “Doin’ It”, that first alerted clubbers to her work when they discovered its single You in second-hand bins in the late 80s. On her third and final Mother album she sings fabulous covers of some current hits, including Alfie and Let It Be.
Spanky’s career at Westbound Records in 1973 kicked off with her excellent single, Shake Your Head. Her album was recorded in Detroit with a crack team of session musicians arranged by David Van De Pitte, the arranger on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. It was produced by Al Kent, veteran of many classic Detroit sessions including the Fantastic Four album “Alvin Stone: Death Of A Gangster” for Westbound. The ten tracks on her album included her debut single’s B-side and nine new tracks. The music was a perfect vehicle for Spanky’s vocal style. It is an album that would fit comfortably in anyone’s collection in a space alongside Marlena Shaw’s mid-70s Blue Note and Esther Phillips’ Kudu releases of the same time.
Our trawl of the Westbound vaults turned up six unissued tracks. Harlan Howard’s He Called Me Baby ended up on the third volume of our “Living In The Streets” series, and is a great understated funky take on the song. The others are Chokin’ Kind, Mitty Collier’s I Had A Talk With My Man and the jazzy blues of Standing Room Only and Spend The Night With Me. Can’t See The Forest For The Trees, the final unreleased cut would have made a wonderful single.
After moving into the jazz field Spanky was quite unaware of her increasing cult status, based particularly upon her versions of You, Sunshine Of My Love and Kissing My Love. Beats producer Quantic’s love of her music led to an invitation to appear on two tracks on his album “Mishaps Happening” in 2005. The pair then decided to make a new Spanky Wilson album “I’m Thankful” which received rapturous reviews. When she toured the album with the full Quantic Soul Orchestra late last year, “full house” signs appeared everywhere and those who saw the shows were full of praise. The Spanky Wilson vocal magic continues to march on. Meanwhile, the recordings that she made in Detroit over 30 years ago are a wonderful moment in the history of that magic.
DEAN RUDLAND, 2007