Over the years soul music has had its fair share of performers who bear the surname Ingram – but for real connoisseurs of the genre, it usually signifies one figure above all others: Luther Ingram. Though not a household name, Luther Thomas Ingram - who died aged 69 in March 2007 after several years of ill-health - is a colossus of Southern Soul.
The apogee of Ingram’s career was (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right, a plaintive ode to marital infidelity recorded in Muscle Shoals and released as a 45 on producer Johnny Baylor’s Stax-distributed Ko Ko label. Penned by the redoubtable songwriting team of Homer Banks, Raymond Jackson and Carl Hampton, it represented the apotheosis of the adulterous, so-called cheatin’ song that dominated Southern soul in the early part of the 1970s. Given its controversial subject matter, the record had an indelible impact on US record buyers when it was released in the summer of 1972 – and the record rocketed to pole position in Billboard’s R&B lists, where it stayed for four weeks. It also spawned myriad cover versions – Isaac Hayes, Millie Jackson, Barbara Mason, David Ruffin, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Percy Sledge are just some of the R&B stars who’ve put their own soulful spin on the song. Even Tom Jones and Rod Stewart have tried their hand at the tune - but it’s Luther Ingram’s powerful, intensely cathartic version that packs the biggest emotional punch.
While If Loving You Is Wrong may have sold best the honey-voiced singer from Jackson, Tennessee, had plenty of other good tunes in his repertoireas the other 18 tracks on the album convincingly demonstrate.
This CD includes all Ingram’s A and B-sides from the years 1971-1978 and opens with a re-recording of an earlier Ko Ko tune, Missing You. The singer’s 1967 version missed the national charts completely but the slower 1972 revamp grazed the R&B Top 30. Sales-wise, the gospel-infused I’ll Be Your Shelter (In Time Of Storm) proved a bigger R&B hit, denting the US Top 10. Other terrific tracks on the collection include Let’s Steal Away To The Hideaway; the slow, countrified Always; These Are The Things – a strong flipside showcasing Ingram’s soaring falsetto; the mellow, dreamy I’m Gonna Be The Best Thing; and the disco-inflected Do You Love Somebody, which proved to be Ingram’s last Top 20 R&B hit. Ingram’s valedictory 45 for Ko Ko was the sensual, Marvin-esque Get To Me in 1978, after which nothing was heard from Ingram until 1984, when he issued a lone single for Platinum Plus. Two years on he joined the Profile label and enjoyed a relatively successful new lease of life, scoring three chart entries for the company. After that, this former member of The Midwest Crusaders gospel group dropped off the radar completely as debilitating health problems began to dominate his life.
If the gods had been kinder, the Jackson-born singer could have been a bigger star. Sadly, fate and circumstance combined with the vagaries of the music business conspired against this. One consolation is that (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right has conferred on the singer a degree of immortality. It remains the piece de resistance of a rich and rewarding musical legacy. Three decades may have passed since the magnificent music on this compilation was recorded but it’s clearly apparent from just a cursory listen that time hasn’t dimmed the soulful lustre of Luther Ingram’s performances. For many soul fans – this writer included - Luther Ingram was an artist who musically always got it right and never did any wrong.
By Charles Waring MOJO, Record Collector and www.bluesandsoulunplugged.com