LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY-THE AWARE YEARS: LOLEATTA AND CRY TO ME.

LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY-THE AWARE YEARS: LOLEATTA AND CRY TO ME.

Although one of the most recognizable voices in music is Loleatta Holloway, many people are unaware of the two legendary soul albums she recorded for Michael Thevis Aware Records in the seventies. These were Loleatta in 1973 and Cry To Me in 1975. Instead, many people are more familiar with the music she recorded when transformed into a disco diva, releasing classic tracks like Runaway, Dreamin’ and Hit and Run. However, back in the early seventies, when Michael Thevis first spotted Loleatta on tour, all this was still to come.

Loleatta Holloway was born in Chicago in 1946, and like many future successful soul singers, including Minnie Ripperton, her talent was noticeable from an early age. Like many other soul singers, her first involvement in music was singing gospel music. She followed in the footsteps of artists like Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and O.V. Wright, becoming a member of her mother’s gospel group The Holloway Community Gospel Singers. During her time singing gospel music, Loleatta met a young Aretha Franklin who later, would influence her vocal style and phrasing. It was during her gospel career, that Loleatta first entered a recording studio, recording albums for the Gospel and Heb label. One of her recordings that gained praise and became popular was Help Is On the Way. 

After her early success as a gospel singer, Loleatta formed her own musical company Loleatta Holloway and Her Review, with which she toured for a few years. The next stage in her career was acting, when she took a part in the play Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope. It was during this time, that her future husband and manager Floyd Smith arranged for Loleatta to record her first secular tracks. This was a cover of a Gene Chandler song Rainbow 71. The track was released on the Apache label, who leased the record from the couple. Later, it was released by Galaxy, who were able to distribute the single nationwide. Her next single was Bring It On Up, originally the b-side to Sentimental Reasons. It was around this time that Michael Thevis became aware of Loleatta Holloway, who he signed for his new Atlanta based Aware label.

Once Loleatta had signed to Aware, Michael Thevis wasted no time recording her first single for the new label. This was Mother of Shame, which reached number forty-three in the US R&B Charts. The success of the single prompted the recording of Loleatta’s debut secular album Loleatta, released in 1973 and produced by Floyd Smith. On the album were a number of cover versions including the excellent Sam Dees track So Can I, Tyrone Davis’ classic song Can I Change My Mind and Syl Johnson’s We Did It. However of the ten tracks on the album, Part Time Love, Full Time Full was by far the best. Floyd Smith’s cheating tale is brought to life by Loleatta, when she gives an emotive and impassioned performance. Sadly, neither the album nor he single Help Me My Lord were a huge commercial success. 

In early 1975, Cry To Me written by Sam Dees, was released as a single. It reached number ten in the US R&B Charts and number sixty-eight in the US Billboard 100. Sadly, this was Loleatta’s only top ten US R&B single. The success of Cry To Me must have seemed like a good omen when the album Cry To Me was released later in 1975. Again it was produced by Floyd Smith and featured tracks penned by some of the most talented songwriters of the time. Sam Dees wrote or co-wrote five or the tracks on the album, including Cry To Me, The Show Must Go On and Help Me My Lord. Loleatta wrote one track, I’ll Be Gone, while the album’s best track was Casanova, an Armstead and Middlebrook penned track. With tracks of this quality on the album, hopes were high for the album’s success. However, neither the album, nor the second single I Know Where You’re Coming From, matched the success of Cry To Me. This was a huge disappointment for Loleatta, on what would be her final album for Aware.

After this, Loleatta only released one more single on Aware, Only A Fool towards the end on 1975. Like its predecessor, I Know Where You’re Coming From, the single wasn’t a commercial success. As if this wasn’t bad enough, worse was to come when Michael Thevis became a wanted man. The FBI wanted to speak to him, but he decided to go on the run. Not long after this, the Aware label collapsed, and Loleatta signed to Gold Mine Records.

Having signed for Gold Mind Records, a subsidiary company of the famous Salsoul Records, Loleatta recorded some of her best known tracks Runaway, Dreamin’ and Hit and Run. On these tracks, she was fortunate to work with The Salsoul Orchestra. Three of their most important members were the legendary Baker-Harris-Young rhythm section. Previously, they’d been part of the legendary M.F.S.B., playing on many of Philadelphia International’s biggest singles and albums. This included The O’Jays and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, as well as working with The Delfonics and founding The Trammps. Together with The Salsoul Orchestra, Loleatta entered one of the most successful and productive periods of her career. Today, tracks like Runaway and Dreamin’ are considered classic tracks, that still fill dance-floors today. 

Later, in Loleatta’s career, she reinvented herself, singing on house tracks like Crash Goes Love and So Sweet. Another hugely successful house track controversially featured Loleatta’s vocal. Black Box’s Ride On Time was the biggest selling single in the UK in 1989, reaching number one. It featured a sample of Loleatta’s vocal on Love Sensation. This lead to Loleatta’s having to successfully sue the group to receive her share of the royalties. Two years later, in 1991, Loleatta had her first ever number one US single, with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s single Good Vibrations featuring samples of Loleatta’s vocal on Love Sensation. Having sold over 500,000 copies, the single was certified gold, resulting in the only gold record of Loleatta’s career. 

Sadly, in March 2011, Loleatta Holloway died aged just sixty-four. Music lost one of its most recognizable voices and a hugely talented singer, whose music had crossed the musical genres. From soul to disco and house, Loleatta Holloway’s vocal graced a huge number of records, loved by many and even today, filling dance-floors the world over. 

Having told you about Loleatta’s career, I will now revisit Loleatta’s two albums on Aware Loleatta and Cry To Me, picking my favorite four tracks from each album, and tell you just what made them such great slices of what became known as the Hotatlanta Sound.

LOLEATTA-LOLEATTA (AWARE RECORDS 1973).

One of my favorite tracks from Loleatta is We Did It, a track written by Syl Johnson, who recorded a number of albums for Hi Records in the seventies. It’s a fast paced groover of a track, with blazing horns accompanying the rhythm section and guitars before Loleatta’s powerful and joyful vocal enters. She’s accompanied by female backing vocalists, whose voices soar emotively in unison. Behind her, chiming guitars, a driving rhythm section and occasional bursts of braying horns complete an arrangement that’s fast and dance-floor friendly, and perfect for Loleatta’s emotionally charged rendition of Syl’s lyrics. However, what makes this such a great track is Loleatta’s emotive and explosive vocal, made all the better by the addition of the backing vocalists.

Only A Fool is a much slower, but hugely atmospheric track. The growling introduction sees a mixture of the rhythm section and dual guitars combine slowly and moodily before Loleatta’s vocal enters. When it does, its a powerful and defiant vocal, accompanied by rasping horns. They combine with the guitars and rhythm section to provide a wonderfully, repetitive, moody and atmospheric backdrop for Loleatta to sing about her dysfunctional relationship. Again, female backing vocalists accompany her, their voices providing a contrast to Loleatta’s much stronger vocal. The success of the track is due to the arrangement and Loleatta’s vocal which is full of emotion, frustration and defiance. 

Sam Dees provided a number of songs for Loleatta during her time on Aware. He wrote So Can I a lovely slow track, with a lush string lead arrangement. It’s chiming guitars, piano and lush strings that open the track before a much more restrained from Loleata enters. Her vocal is full of emotion and pride at being able to live without her cheating partner. Meanwhile, the arrangement isn’t without an understated sense of drama, provided by the strings, guitars, piano and rhythm section, either separately, or together, during the song. As the song progresses, Loleatta’s vocal grows in strength and passion, as she brings Sam Dees’ brilliant lyrics to life during one of her best performances on the album. Add to this a stunning arrangement from Floyd Smith that’s a melodic masterpiece and it’s easily one of the best tracks on Loleatta.

The only track that surpasses So Can I, is Part Time Love, Full Time Full, written by Floyd Smith. It’s a track that combines one of the most impassioned, emotive reading of lyrics you’ll ever hear with an arrangement that’s drenched in emotion and atmosphere. Against a slow backdrop of wailing organ, piano, rhythm section, guitars and gently, rasping horns Loleatta gives a realistic rendition of the lyrics about a cheating husband. Female backing vocalists subtly accompany Loleatta, their addition just the finishing touch on what’s not only a hugely, moving track, but one of Loleatta’s best recordings on Aware. 

Listening to Loleatta, it seems strange that the album wasn’t a much bigger success. The album featured some excellent tracks penned by a number of hugely talented songwriters. Ashford and Simpson, Sam Dees and Van McCoy either wrote or co-wrote tracks on the album. Loleatta brought these tracks to life using a combination of emotion, passion and power. Her manager and husband Floyd Smith produced the album, with his arrangements of the Sam Dees penned So Can I and Part Time Love, Full Time Full which Floyd wrote himself, being two of the best arrangements on the album. One wonders whether Aware was maybe the wrong label for Loleatta Holloway, and whether she might have been better on another label who could’ve promoted her music much better and more effectively. After all, Loleatta was a hugely talented singer and songwriter whose music deserved to be heard by a much wider audience. Standout Tracks: We Did It, Only A Fool, So Can I and Part Time Love, Full Time Full

LOLEATTA-LOLEATTA (AWARE RECORDS 1973).

LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY-CRY TO ME (AWARE RECORDS 1975).

One man who played an important role in Cry To Me, was Sam Dees. he wrote or co-wrote five of the tracks on the album, including the opening track Cry To Me, which was Loleatta’s most successful US R&B single, reaching number ten. A piano plays slowly as Loleatta’s half-spoken vocal enters, accompanied by chiming guitars and rhythm section. Her vocal is devastatingly sad, as she sings about her relationship breaking up, her man packing his bag and heading for the door. As he leaves, she sings if he needs a friend he’s got her. By now both her vocal and the arrangement have grown in power and drama. Strings sweep in, while the rhythm section add drama and backing vocalists accompany Loleatta hugely powerful, emotive vocal. Over nearly six minutes, Loleatta sings her heart out, accompanied by one of the best arrangements on the album. It’s almost impossible to listen to the track without getting caught up in the emotion and sadness of Sam Dees excellent lyrics. A quite brillant track.

The Show Must Go On is another slow, Sam Dees track that has similarities to Cry To Me. There’s a half-spoken drama laden introduction where chiming, shimmering guitars, swirling strings and the rhythm section combine before Loleatta’s dramatic, powerful vocal enters. Like before, she’s accompanied by gospel tinged backing vocalists as she sings about her turbulent relationship and the pain and sadness it’s caused her, but vows that the show must go on. The interaction between Loleatta and her backing vocalists works really well, so does the applause that cuts in, while lush strings sweep and swirl and horns blaze. Together, the combine brilliantly to help create a dramatic backdrop for Loleatta’s defiant and dramatic vocal.

Curtis Mayfield wrote Just Be True To Me, another slow, drama laden track, with strings at the heart of the introduction. They swirl grandly, while flourishes of drums, braying horns and guitars combine, to accompany a thoughtful vocal from Loleatta. Her voice is a bit more restrained, while behind her a full, dramatic arrangement unfolds. Stabs of keyboards, swirling strings and percussion play important parts in the arrangement’s success.

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    1. Loleatta Holloway : Loleatta (1973) | Mr. Moo's What Da Funk

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