Mary Love-Lay This Burden Down-Vinyl.

Label: Kent.

For many born into poverty, music, sport and education offer an escape from the ghettos and what’s often referred to in songs as: “the poor side of town.” It’s often been romanticized by lyricists in the past, but there’s nothing romantic about what many people have to endure on a daily basis. That was the case with Mary Love.

To say that Mary Love’s childhood was turbulent and traumatic is an understatement, as she had to overcome obstacle after obstacle, and saw things that no child should ever see. However, Mary Love was a survivor, and valiantly made her way through a turbulent childhood, overcoming what would’ve broken many people. 

By the age of seventeen, the time had come for Mary Love to make her own way in the world. That was when fate intervened, and Mary Love won a talent contest. Little did Mary Love realise that this was about to embark upon a musical career which would introduce her to a very different life to the one that she was about to leave behind. 

By 1965, Mary Love had signed to Modern Records and over the next three years, recorded twelve sides that feature on Lay This Burden Down which has been issued on vinyl by Kent. Lay This Burden Down features some of the best music that Mary Love recorded during her long musical career. It was a career that offered Mary Love an escape from the crushing poverty and trauma of her early life.

The Early Years.

Mary Ann Varney was born in Sacramento, California in July 1943, when her mother Ramona Ann Hayes was just sixteen when Mary was born. Not long after the birth, Ramona’s father Manuel, insisted that her daughter’s boyfriend Lawrence Allen marry his daughter. This wasn’t Manuel’s best idea.

One day, when Mary was just three months old, and her father was meant to be looking after her, he attacked her with a bottle. When Ramona returned, this was too much. Ramona had already lead a difficult and troubled life, and she left the home she shared with Manuel and her daughter. This resulted in a sickly Mary being left in the care of her father and paternal grandmother.

Mary’s grandmother Alice discovered her granddaughter dehydrated, underweight and underfed. She also was suffering from pneumonia, and when the doctor was called, he didn’t think Mary would make it through the night. Incredibly, she did, and after that, Alice and Manuel looked after their granddaughter, bringing her up as a christian. That was until her mother returned when Mary was seven.

From a relatively settled upbringing, Mary’s life was turned upside down. In Berkeley, California, her mother lived what can only described as a chaotic lifestyle. The house was filthy, parties were a common occurrence and Ramona had a string of boyfriends. Some of these boyfriends turned out to be pimps. Whilst Ramona’s life spiralled out of control, Mary was looked after by her mother’s friends. This was a traumatic time for Mary, and sadly, was about to get worse.

By the age eight, Mary was almost homeless. Mary it seemed, came second to her mother’s latest boyfriend. Things got so bad, that when she was eleven, the authorities were forced to intervene.

This resulted in Mary being taken into care. Ironically, the care home she was sent to, was across the street from her grandparent’s house. However, by then, Mary’s grandparent’s had split up.

Meanwhile, Mary’s father Manuel was still single, but wasn’t allowed to look after his daughter. Without a suitable guardian, Mary was made a ward of court, and for the next few years, she lived in foster homes. Some proved to be better than others, but Mary knew there was nowhere else for her to go.

That was until Mary Love turned seventeen, and was back living with her mother Ramona. That was when she Mary Love was tricked into heading to Chicago by a pimp. Luckily, she was a relatively streetwise teenager and escaped his clutches. Then, one night Mary’s luck turned.

When Mary saw there was a talent contest in a local club, she decided to enter. By then, she was back living in a  foster home, and music offered an escape. That night, Mary  won the talent contest with a cover of Etta James’ Somebody’s Got A Hold On Me. This resulted in Mary being hired to sing every Thursday night and would be paid $8.

Accompanying Mary were The Vows, who she had recently befriended. They had friends in the music industry and were protective of Mary, who for once in her life, had someone looking out for her. The Vows became her de facto guardian angel.

The Vows were accompanying Mary the night that Sam Cooke’s manager JW Alexander heard her sing. With The Vows watching on, JW Alexander slipped Mary his business card.

The next day, JW Alexander and Mary met, and he offered her the chance to sing on demos. This was Mary’s opportunity to make a life for herself. 

The Modern Records Years.

Having started singing demos, Hal Davis heard Mary singing, and liked what he hear. Here was a singer potential and talent, and he signed Mary Love to Modern Records. The only problem was her name. It was Hal Davis who came up with the name Mary Love, which he thought was a better name for a singer. The newly named Mary Love signed to Modern Records and recorded twelve tracks between 1965 and 1968. 

Fitting, Lay This Burden Down opens with Mary Love’s debut single for Modern Records You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet and featured the beautiful paean I’m In Your Arms on the B-Side. When Lay This Burden Down was released in April 1965, and went on to become one of Mary biggest hit singles. The single sold especially well  around the Los Angeles area, and this was enough to launch Mary Love’s career. Since then, You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet has become a favourite in the UK’s Northern Soul scene, and nowadays, is regarded as a Northern Soul classic.

Four months after the release Mary’s debut single, You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet, I’ve Got To Get You Back was released as Mary’s sophomore single in August 1965. Mary’s vocal sounds like Diana Ross on this uptempo dancer that later, became a favourite on the UK Northern Soul scene. Tucked away on the B-Side was the hidden gem Hey Stoney Face which features an emotive vocal from Mary. On its released I’ve Got To Get You Back sold well in the Los Angeles area, but failed to find an audience further afield. Sadly, this would be a familiar story for Mary Love, apart from Move A Little Closer. 

Released in October 1968, Move A Little Closer reached number forty-eight in the US Billboard 100. This was Mary’s biggest hit. Ironically, Move A Little Closer wasn’t the A-Side. This was Let Me Know which features an impassioned vocal from Mary Love. Despite that, the bluesy and soulful ballad Move A Little Closer proved more popular, and Modern Records flipped the song over. With that, a hit was born, and it was thought that was just the start of the rise and rise of Mary Love.

Mary Love’s next single was the soulful dancer Lay This Burden Down, which featured Think It Over Baby on the B-Side. It’s almost too good for B-Side as braying horns and piano accompany Mary’s hopeful and needy vocal. Despite the quality of both sides, Move A Little Closer didn’t build on the success of Move A Little Closer when was released in October 1966. Although it was hit locally, but failed to trouble the charts. This was a disappointment for Mary Love. 

So was the commercial failure of the Ashford and Simpson penned Baby I’ll Come when it was released in January 1967. It finds Mary mixing power, passion and emotion on what’s one of her best singles. Hidden away on the B-Side is another hidden gem, Satisfied Feeling. Mary Love is at her most soulful on this stomper and delivers a powerhouse of a vocal. Sadly, after this, Mary would only release one more single for Modern Records.

Talkin’ About My Man was released in July 1967. Written by Arthur Adams, here was a ballad that seemed tailor-made for Mary Love. On the B-Side was the joyous, soulful and anthemic Dance Children Dance. Sadly, when Talkin’ About My Man was released it wasn’t a commercial success. It was nearly the end of road for Mary Love at Modern Records.  

She did release a duet with Arthur Adams, Is That You. He seems to bring out the best in Mary Love, but sadly, the single which doesn’t feature on Lay This Burden Down flopped. This brought to an end her time at Modern Records.

During her time at Modern Records, Mary Love divided her time between her solo career and singing backing vocals. She was one The Ikettes, and also accompanied Vernon Garrett and Lowell Fulson. However, Mary was determined to make a success of her solo career.

The Post Modern Years.

Having left Modern Records, Mary met producers Matt Hill and Skip Layne later in 1968, She recorded the anthemic The Hurt Is Just Beginning which was released in October 1968. By then, The Hurt Is Just Beginning was being played on radio stations in Los Angeles. This just happened to be during the trial of the Black Panther’s Huey Newton. They took to singing lyrics from the song: “The Hurt Is Just Beginning and don’t let it happen.” 

Not long after this, the B-Side, If You Change Your Mind, started getting radio play. It was released nationally on Josie, reaching number forty-six in the US R&B Charts. For Mary this was her second most successful single. Despite this, another three years passed before Mary released her next single.

Ironically, it was back in Sacramento that Mary Love met John W. Cole, who was a friend of Mary’s grandparents. He was a businessman, who ran a chain of chemist and record shops. John wanted to expand his business interests and decided to enter the music business.

Fortunately, John W. Cole knew Roger Spotts, who played alongside Johnny Otis and Shuggie Otis, who were both hugely talented musicians, arrangers and producers. It was agreed that Roger Spotts would and arrange Mary’s next single Mary Love penned There’s Someone For Me, which was recorded at Ray Charles’ Los Angeles studio. 

That day the great Ray Charles took charge of engineering and helped out as Mary Love delivered a beautiful, soul-baring vocal on There’s Someone For Me, which featured Born To Live With Heartache on B-Side. Both sides of this 1971 single, which was released on Elco are among some of Mary’s finest work. Sadly, history repeated itself when the single flopped. This resulted in Mary taking time out from the music industry.

It wasn’t until 1975 that Mary Love returned to music full-time. For the past four years she had been raising her family and sometimes sang in nightclubs. However, during this break from recording, Mary Love had hung out with Lou Rawls, Barry White, Willie Hutch and Dennis Edwards. Through her friendship with comedian, Rudy Ray Moore, Mary landed a part in the Blaxploitation movie Dolemite. 

Appearing as herself, Mary Love sings When We Start Making Love and Power Of Love which were part of the soundtrack released on Generation Records. That would be the last we heard of Mary for a couple of years.

When Mary Love returned, she was featured in another film. This time it was Rudy Ray Moore’s Petey Wheatstraw-The Devil’s Son-In-Law. Mary Love penned five tracks for the film soundtrack, which was released on the Magic Disc label. The songs ranged from  included the gospel-tinge Joy and Loving You to the disco inspired Petey Wheatstraw. Still commercial success still eluded Mary Love. This resulted in Mary moving in a different direction,

Over the next few years, Mary Love toyed with disco, and  released Dance To My Music in 1979. Although it wasn’t a hit in America, Dance To My Music gave Mary Love a hit single in Italy.

After this, Mary spent three months living in Osaka, Japan, where she was part of Ah Sweet Tastes. They released a single Keep On Dancing, where Mary sings in Japanese and English. 

On her return home, Mary Love released a cover of Tit For Tat in 1982. This was followed two years later by Save Me in August 1984, which marked the end of era for Mary Love as she turned her back on secular music.

By the time Mary Love turned her back on secular music, she had been to hell and back, several times. She had become addicted to cocaine, crack and alcohol. Mary who was by then forty-one, had been addicted to alcohol since her late-twenties. This she used to douse the flames as the demons rose from within. However, this wasn’t enough.

Since she was thirty-seven, Mary Love had been addicted to cocaine and crack. Mary Love was trying desperately to block out the demons that haunted her every waking hour. By then, Mary Love had been raped, molested and a victim of a series of abusive relationships. However, Mary Love was a survivor and somehow, came through all of this, and turned her back on secular music. The Price of fame was too high for Mary Love.

The Gospel Years and Commercial Success.

Turning her back on secular music, Mary Love became one of America’s most successful gospel singers. When Thankful was  released in 2000, it was certified platinum, while 2002s Incredible and 2005s Mary, Mary were both certified gold. Somewhat belatedly, Mary Love was at last enjoying the success her voice and undoubtable talent deserved. 

This commercial success was on Mary’s terms. By then, she’d long overcome her addictions and was living happily. Mary Love had survived to tell the tale and enjoy the commercial success that came her way. Sadly, Mary Love passed away on June the ‘23rd’ 2013, aged just sixty-nine.

That day, soul music had lost one of its greatest female vocalists. Although Mary Love didn’t enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim her music deserved, her music is popular throughout the world, especially in Britain, where Mary was always a welcome visitor and is sadly missed. 

The recent release of Lay This Burden Down on vinyl by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records, is a welcome addition to any record collection. It features the twelve sides Mary Love recorded for Modern Records and two songs from later in her career. This includes 1987s Come Out Of The Sandbox and 1988s The Price which closes the album. That is ironic.

Mary Love had paid The Price for her pursuit of commercial success during her career as a soul singer. She had become addicted to drink and drugs, which she used to block out the demons that haunted her. However, this was slowly killing her, and she knew she had to chance her life. 

To do this she turned her back on secular music and embarked upon a career as a gospel singer. Somewhat belatedly Mary Love was enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. Despite that, Mary Love released the best music of her career at Modern Records. It features on Lay This Burden Down which is fitting homage to one of soul’s finest female singers, Mary Love soul survivor.

Mary Love-Lay This Burden Down-Vinyl.

1 Comment

  1. Pepper Gomez

    Absolutely amazing first paragraph to intro a great historical and musical review. What a beautiful picture and Diva hair. Thank you for this story of a life in music!

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