On more than one occasion James Brown said that Vicki Anderson was the most talented of the several fine female vocalists he recruited into his revue over the years, which probably didn’t go down too well with Bea Ford, Yvonne Fair, Anna King, Marva Whitney, Lyn Collins or Martha High.
Reciprocally positive about James Brown’s outstanding achievements and the benefit of his patronage, Vicki has never been quite so complimentary about the man himself. On joining Brown’s revue in 1965 she opted for the warmer companionship of his longtime musical foil Bobby Byrd, whom she went on to marry – a truly united relationship (which they later dubbed Byrd’s Nest) unto Bobby’s death in 2007.
Over the last 20 years Vicki has received accolades for the funky stuff she recorded in the 70s. She did indeed front some striking funk anthems, even if they were generally recorded outside her natural vocal comfort zone and she didn’t get to perform them on stage at the time. This 23-tracker, on the other hand, finds Vicki displaying her gospel roots with her 60s soul dress on.
The earliest two tracks, recorded in her home state of Texas in 1964, were produced by Walter Whisenhunt and reputedly first released on his local Whiz label. (If you’ve ever seen a copy you must be a keen-eyed hunter.) The 45 resurfaced on US Fontana after Vicki joined Brown’s revue. Two 1968 tracks were recorded by Bobby & Vicki in NYC for ABC during a breakaway from the revue. All other tracks, a couple of them previously unissued, were recorded under the James Brown Productions umbrella, although whether JB had much to do with some of them is debatable. Band members Bud Hobgood and Dave Matthews often fulfilled those duties while the boss was otherwise engaged.
Although I’ve had most of these recordings on 45s since nineteen hundred and don’t ask, re-listening to them again in one hit on CD has been something of a revelation. They’re not all wonderful. For instance, duetting on an inappropriate upbeat orchestration of ‘Let It Be Me’ both Vicki and JB lose the plot, which I’m sure was his fault, not hers. Overall, though, it’s a real ear-opener. Particularly the slower, more romantic songs where Vicki is as soulful as you need to know and illustrates that if she’d been signed by, say, Atlantic Records, she might now be a household name.
James Brown never got around to releasing an album by Vicki Anderson. Ace Records have finally done her proud.
By Cliff White