WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ALICE CLARK?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ALICE CLARK?

 Far too often, hype and image has triumphed over talent. Meanwhile, commercial success and critical acclaim eludes truly talented artists. Chastened by the experience, many of these artists turn their back on the music industry. They’re content to return to civvy street, free from a world populated by A&R executives, PR companies and radio pluggers. At least the artist knows that they gave it their best shot. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Now they begin the first day of the rest of their life.

This is what happened to Brooklyn born soul singer Alice Clark. Her career began in 1968, and was over by 1972. During that four year period, Alice Clark recorded just fifteen songs during three recording session. This includes two singles and her 1972 album Alice Clark. After commercial success eluded her, Alice Clark career turned her back on music. Since then, Alice Clark has remained  one of the soul music’s best kept secrets.  She’s also one of music’s music enigmatic figures.

Very little is known about Alice Clark. Indeed, her story is almost shrouded in mystery. All that’s known, is that Alice Clark was born in Brooklyn, and shared the same manger as The Crystals. It was her manager that introduced Alice to singer-songwriter Billy Vera. 

The meeting took place at April-Blackwood Music, who at the time, were Billy Vera’s publishers. That afternoon, Billy spent time teaching her some songs that he had written. These songs would be recorded in 1969.

By the time the recording session took place, Alice Clark had taken to occasionally phoning Billy Vera. However, Alice who seems to have been a private person, only ever made small talk. Despite this, Billy remembers: “I got the impression her home life wasn’t that great.” He remembers that Alice: “had kids and belonged to a religious order.” These are the only thing Billy can remember about Alice. However, what nobody who heard Alice as she made her recording debut will forget is…her voice.

For the 1969 session, Jubliee’s studio was chosen. Billy Vera who wrote and would produce the three tracks put together a tight and talented band. The rhythm section featured drummer Earl Williams, bassist Tyrell and guitarists Butch Mann and Billy Vera. They were augmented by trumpeter Money Johnson and backing vocalist Tasha Thomas. This was the band that accompanied Alice Clark on You Got A Deal, Say You’ll Never Leave Me and Before Her Time. Alice Clark delivered confident and assured performances. Two of these songs became Alice’s debut single.

With the three songs recorded, the Rainy Day label decided to release You Got A Deal in January 1968. It was a driving slice of soul, with a feisty, vocal from Alice. Horns and harmonies accompany Alice as she’s transformed into self-assured soul singer. The flip side was Say You’ll Never, a quite beautiful ballad. A number of radio stations began playing the song. Despite this, Alice Clark’s first single wasn’t a commercial success. It was an inauspicious start to Alice’s career.

Nothing was heard off Alice Clark until March 1969. By then, Alice had recorded her sophomore single. This was the George Kerr, Michael Valvano and Sylvia Moy penned You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me). On the flip-side was Arthur Mitchell and Eddie Jones’ Heaven’s Will (Must Be Obeyed). The two songs were produced by George and Napoleon Kerr. This GWP Production was released on Warner Bros. Alice Clark was going up in the world.

Alas commercial success continued to elude Alice Clark. You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me), which became a favourite on the Northern Soul scene, features an impassioned, hurt-filled vocal. Just like Alice’s debut single, the B-Side was a ballad Heaven’s Will (Must Be Obeyed). It features a heartfelt vocal where the secular and spiritual collide. Just like You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me), Heaven’s Will (Must Be Obeyed) Heaven’s Will (Must Be Obeyed) showcased a truly talented singer. Sadly, very few people realised this. Alice Clark was one of music’s best kept secrets.

For the next couple of years, Alice Clark was cast out into the musical wilderness. Then Bob Shad at Mainstream Records decided to take a chance on Alice Clark. Mainstream Records were moving into the soul market, are were signing artists. He decided that Alice Clark fitted the bill, and signed her to Mainstream Records.

Soon, work began on Alice Clark’s debut album. A total of ten tracks were chosen. This included a trio of Bobby Hebb songs, Charms Of The Arms Of Love, Don’t You Care and Hard Hard Promises. Among the other songs were Jimmy Webb’s I Keep It Hid; Petula Clark and John Bromley’s Looking At Life; Leonard Caston’s Don’t Wonder Why; Juanita Fleming’s Never Did I Stop Loving You and Earl DeRouen’s Hey Girl. The other songs chosen were John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Maybe This Time and Leon Carr and Robert Allen’s It Takes Too Long To Learn To Live Alone. These songs became Alice Clark.

With the material chosen, producer Bob Shad set about putting a band together. Apart from guitarist Ted Dubar, the identity of the rest of the band are unknown. However, Ernie Wilkins was drafted in to arrange the songs on Alice Clark. When it was recorded, the release was scheduled for later in 1972.

By then, three years had passed since a record bearing Alice Clark’s name had been released. You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me) had disappeared without trace upon its release in March 1969. Everyone must have been hoping that history wouldn’t repeat itself. Alas, it did. 

I Keep It Hid was chosen as the lead single, with Don’t Wonder Why featuring on the B-Side. On its release, I Keep It Hid sunk without trace. Worse was to come. When Alice Clark was released, the album failed to find the audience it deserved. Very few copies of Alice Clark sold. That was a great shame.  

During the three years that Alice Clark had been away, she grown and matured as a singer. Despite this, there was to be no followup album. After Alice Clark failed commercially, Alice turned her back on music. Never again did this talented and versatile vocalist return to the studio. Alice Clark was lost to music.

During her four year career, Alice Clark had recorded just fifteen tracks. They’re a mixture of beautiful ballads and uptempo songs. On each and every song, Alice breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. Her delivers veers between heartfelt, impassioned and soul-baring, to assured, hopeful and joyous. It seems when Alice Clark stepped into a recording studio, she was transformed. 

No longer was Alice Clark the quietly spoken young mother that Billy Vera remembers. Suddenly, the God-fearing Alice Clark disappeared, and was replaced by one that wore her heart on her sleeve. She was comfortable sings songs about love and love lost, and could breath life and meaning into songs about hope, hurt, heartbreak and betrayal. Despite her ability and versatility, Alice Clark commercial success and critical acclaim eluded Alice Clark.

Chastened by the experience, Alice Clark turned her back on the music industry. Nobody seems to know what happened to Alice Clark? Mystery surrounds this hugely talented singer, who should’ve gone on to enjoy a long and successful career. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

By 1973, You Hit Me (Right Where It Hurt Me) became a favourite on the UK Northern Soul scene. Apart from that, very few people had heard of Alice Clark or her music. It would be a  while before this changed.

As the years passed by, a few copies of Alice Clark found their way into bargain bins. Curious record collectors who chanced upon a copy of Alice Clark decided to take a chance on this little known album. Having paid their money, they discovered one of soul music’s best kept secrets,..Alice Clark. They were the lucky ones. 

Since then, Alice Clark has become a real rarity. Anyone wanting an original 1972 copy of Alice Clark on Mainstream, will need to search long and hard. If they can find a copy, it will take at least $500 to prise it out of the hands of its owner. It feature a truly talented  singer who could’ve and should’ve enjoyed widespread commercial success and critical acclaim. Sadly, for Alice Clark that wasn’t to be.

Instead, commercial success eluded Alice Clark, and in 1972, she turned her back on music. Since then, nothing has been heard of Alice Clark. Mystery surrounds Alice Clark’s life after she turned her back on music. She seems almost to have vanished into thin air. That’s a great shame. Especially given the resurgence in interest in her music and Ace Records recent release of The Complete Studio Recordings 1968-1972. Belatedly, Alice Clark’s music is finding the wider audience that it so richly deserves. What her newfound fans would like to know is whatever happened to Alice Clark?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ALICE CLARK?

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