Ace’s catalogue of southern soul CDs holds many glittering prizes. Few deserve more acclaim than those of Luther Ingram – a peerless soul man who should have been as consistently big as any of the great names to record in the south, but whose career was consistently hamstrung by poor management.
After a few promising early releases on Decca and Smash (including the original version of ‘I Spy (For The FBI)’), Luther joined Johnny Baylor’s KoKo label in time to enjoy a small hit with ‘Missing You’ in 1967, shortly before Baylor hitched KoKo’s wagon to Stax’s star and moved his sole artist’s recording activity down south. Luther charted consistently between 1969 and 1973 as a songwriter (the Staple Singers’ ‘Respect Yourself’, for instance) and as an artist, his success cresting with ‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right’ in 1972.
After a few more good-sized R&B hits, Luther’s career got caught up in the demise of Stax and, in particular, the going-to-ground of the notorious Baylor. More than three years separated the release of his final Stax-affiliated KoKo single in 1973 and the first in a new run of independently distributed KoKo releases that emerged from the label’s New York office in 1976
The company address might have changed, but the music and Luther’s singing were as strong as ever. The two later KoKo albums were as sublime as you would expect any mid-70s Muscle Shoals-recorded southern soul to be, but they arrived at just about the same time as disco and reached a smaller mainstream audience than they ought.
Over ten years passed before Luther’s next and final album, released by the New York dance and hip hop label Profile. The excesses of a typical 80s production notwithstanding, Luther showed that his talent was unimpaired by long periods of recording inactivity and the increasingly poor health that would plague him for the rest of his life.
Luther’s KoKo recordings are all currently available across four Kent CDs. If you know the man for ‘I Don’t Want To Be Right’ and not much else, there is much to recommend on all of these releases, but his catalogue is perhaps best sampled initially across the two volumes of singles. When you hear the work of this stupendous singer, you will marvel at its consistency and rue the fact that he spent his best years as a singer under the managerial thumb of a man whose personal agenda took precedence.
By Tony Rounce