Cult Classic: Sandra Phillips-Too Many People In One Bed,

Maverick producer Swamp Dogg, hadn’t known Sandra Phillips long before he signed her to Wally Roker’s Canyon Records where he had a production contract. Swamp Dogg was introduced to the singer by her ex-husband who let him hear a single she had cut for Epic. This was kismet.  

Sandra Phillips was  hugely talented and versatile vocalist who was blessed with a soulful, emotive voice that could make lyrics come to life. This was just what Swamp Dogg needed and would fill a void left by Doris Duke who he had previously worked with.

She was proving unreliable and had stopped taking Swamp Dogg’s calls. To make matters worse Doris Troy was missing concerts. Then there was the small matter of a Buick Estate Wagon that Swamp Dogg bought her which had been shot up by her new “manager.” Doris Troy looking unlikely to have much of a future with Swamp Dogg. This was a huge loss for both parties.

After all, Doris Troy had just released the deep soul classic I’m A Loser and could’ve gone on to become  one of the most successful female soul singers of the late-sixties and early-seventies. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. She’d gone A.W.O.L. and Swamp Dogg needed someone  to fill that huge void.

That’s where Sandra Phillips came in. Realising the potential she had, Swamp Dogg signed her to Canyon Records. He then took his latest signing to Macon, in Georgia, where with a crack band in tow, Sandra Phillips recorded her debut album Too Many People In One Bed for Canyon Records. Swamp Dogg hoped that she would fill the void left by Doris Troy. For Too Sandra Phillips this was an exciting new chapter in her career and something she had dreamt about all her life,

Sandra Phillips was born in Mullins, South Carolina and sang from an early age. She entered talent contests and sang in her church choir and when she left high school, headed to New York to try and fulfil her dream of becoming a singer.

Now living in New York, she was signed by Sue Records, releasing two singles on their Broadway imprint. When You Succeeded and World Without Sunshine were released in 1967  neither were commercially successful, but later, became favourites on the Northern Soul scene.

Next stop for Sandra Phillips  was Okeh, where she released I Wish I Had Known and I Still Love You in 1968. Neither single troubled the charts and success continued to eluded Sandra Phillips. She was no quitter though.

Not only was she confident in her own ability, and so was her ex-husband. When he met Swamp Dogg, he let him hear a single Sandra Phillips had cut for Epic. Given the problems he was having with Doris Duke this was fate. She was proving unreliable and he could no longer rely on her.

Doris Duke had stopped taking Swamp Dogg’s calls, and to make matters worse was missing concerts. The presence of a new “manager” wasn’t helping things either. He had shot up the Buick Estate Wagon that Swamp Dogg had bought her. While Swamp Dogg knew Doris Duke was hugely talented and had the potential to enjoy a long and successful career, dealing with her was proving hard work. Signing Sandra Phillips as her replacement made sense.

She was a singer who could fill the void left by Doris Duke at Wally Roker’s Canyon Records, where Swamp Dogg had a production deal. He signed her to Canyon Records and work began on her debut album Too Many People In One Bed.

For Too Many People In One Bed, Swamp Dogg wrote or cowrote eleven of the twelve tracks. Swamp Dogg as Jerry Williams Jr, penned Rescue Song, Ghost Of Myself and If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine). With Charlie Whitehead, he cowrote My Man And Me, Now That I’m Gone (When Are You Leaving) and Some Mother’s Son. They cowrote She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking) with Gary US Bonds. He and Jerry Williams Jr cowrote I’ve Been Down So Long,To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman), After All I Am Your Wife and Please Don’t Send Him Back To Me. The other track was Someday (We’ll Be Together) which was written by Jackey Beaver, Johnny Bristol and Terry Johnson. These twelve songs became the concept album Too Many People In One Bed  which was recorded in Macon, Georgia.

To record Too Many People In One Bed, Swamp Dogg took Sandra Phillips down to Macon, Georgia, where with a crack band in tow, the recording began. The band included a rhythm section of drummer Johnny Sandlin, bassist Robert Popwell and guitarist Pete Carr. Paul Hornsby played organ and piano, while Swamp Dogg played piano. Once the recording of the rhythm section and vocals were completed, Swamp Dogg headed to Philly where strings were added.

Recording took place at the Cameo Parkway studios, with Swamp Dogg’s favourite arranger, Richard Rome taking charge of proceedings. Then when Too Many People In One Bed was completed, Sandra Phillips had to stand in for Doris Troy who had gone A.W.O.L, again.

With Doris Troy missing in action, Swamp Dogg had a problem. He had shows booked in the Midwest and a had lot of money riding on them. Doris Duke was nowhere to be seen so Swamp Dogg convinced Sandra Phillips to pretend to be his A.W.O.L singer. This worked and I’m A Loser stayed in the top ten for two months. Sadly, Too Many People In One Bed didn’t enjoy the same success.

Canyon Records was owned by Wally Roker, and the label scheduled the release of Too Many People In One Bed for  later in 1970. The album was dispatched to retailers  before the release date, but disaster struck when the label folded. For Sandra Phillips this was a huge disappointment as her debut album lay unreleased. It was another case of what might have been?  

Too Many People In One Bed was an album that could’ve and should’ve transformed Sandra Phillips’ career? That is apparent throughout the album.

Rescue Song, which opens Too Many People In One Bed, has Southern Soul written all over it. With washes of Hammond organ and soaring gospel tinged harmonies for company, Sandra Phillips’ vocal is a mixture of power and emotion. It’s almost needy as she almost pleads for “somebody to rescue me” and it’s as if she’s lived the lyrics. Behind her Swamp Dogg’s band fuse Southern Soul with rocky guitars. It’s the perfect accompaniment to this vocal tour de force.

I’ve Been Down So Long sees the tempo dropped way down. That’s perfect for this song. So too is the wistful sounding arrangement. Again, bassist Robert Popwell plays an important part, while guitars chime, horns rasp and drums add a melancholy heartbeat. As Sandra Phillips sings: “I’ve Been Down So Long” there’s a defiance and hope in her voice. She’s not given up yet and never will. With harmonies matching her every step of the way, she unleashes a vocal dripping in emotion, defiance and hope.

Chiming, crystalline guitars open My Man And Me, before a sassy, feisty vocal struts centre-stage. Horns growl, harmonies soar dramatically and the Hammond organ adds its unmistakable atmospheric sound. The rhythm section adds a funky heartbeat and some boogie woogie piano proves the finishing touch to Sandra Phillips’ strutting, feisty vocal.

From the opening bars of To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman) it’s obvious that something special is unfolding. The song takes on a cinematic quality and pictures unfolds before the listener’s eyes. That’s down to the washes of Hammond organ, piano and the rhythm section that provide the backdrop for Sandra Phillips’ vocal. It’s a mixture of power and emotion as is accompanied by strings as she lays bare her soul. Veering between confusion, defiance, joy, melancholy and sadness, Sandra Phillips makes the lyrics come to life. Proud and defiant, her parting shot is that: “the other woman will always be the wife.”

A pensive piano opens Now That I’m Gone (When Are You Leaving), before Sandra Phillips unleashes a powerhouse of a vocal. The arrangement unfolds, sometimes just at the right time. Swamp Dogg builds up from just the piano and the rhythm section providing the heartbeat. He drops stabs of blazing horns and soaring, gospel-tinged harmonies in at the right time. They provide a foil for the embittered, angry and dramatic vocal.

Jazz-tinged is the best way to describe Someday (We’ll Be Together). Sandra Phillips scats while horns rasp, strings swirl and guitars chime. Bassist Robert Popwell is at the heart of the action, his playing intricate and thoughtful. However, Sandra Phillips plays the starring role as horns bray and blaze, strings sweep and jazz and soul unites. She transforms the song and In her hands it becomes an anthemic track. This plea for unity and togetherness could’ve and should’ve become the anthem for a generation.

After All I Am Your Wife sees a lonely and heartbroken Sandra realize her marriage is all but over. She realises this and lays bare her soul. Sadness, frustration and anger comes to the surface during this cathartic outpouring of emotion. Sung against a backdrop of lush strings, Hammond organ and bubbling bass, years of emotion come pouring out. Deep down though, she’s not over him and the clue is when she sings: “after all, you’re my life.” Whether it’s a case of love gone wrong or unrequited love there’ll be no happy ending. So convincing is Sandra Phillips’ delivery that you’ll almost share her hurt. That’s why it’s one of the highlights of Too Many People In One Bed.

Stabs of piano provide a dramatic backdrop to her vocal on Ghost Of Myself. Her vocal isn’t as powerful as on other tracks. It’s as if she’s singing within herself and that’s no bad thing as the listener  hangs on her every word. Her heartfelt, impassioned vocal is truly compelling as she sings about how relationship is over and she’s a “Ghost Of Myself.” Swamp Dogg’s arrangement reflects this heartbreak and drama as a Hammond organ, swathes of strings and the rhythm section accompany the vocal  Later, she unleashes a vocal that’s a fusion of  power and emotion and with harmonies for company, this proves the perfect way to close this heart-wrenching, confession.

Gospel-tinged harmonies sweep as If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine) unfolds. Straight away, Sandra Phillips’ vocal is defiant and dramatic. Delivered against a backdrop of quivering strings, Hammond organ and meandering bass the angry vocal takes centre-stage. Harmonies drift in, adding to the drama and emotion of the feisty vocal. With a combination of defiance and heartbreak her parting shot is: “If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine).”

Bluesy horns open the melancholy She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking). With a slow, thoughtful arrangement where horns, piano and swathes of lush strings combine a quite beautiful song unfolds. A song about a two-timing, good-for-nothing guy, Sandra Phillips delivers what’s easily her best vocal. It’s not just the way she breathes life and emotion into the lyrics.  It’s that she resists kicking loose and delivers a tender, wistful and heartbreakingly beautiful vocal.

Please Don’t Send Him Back To Me bursts into life as Swamp Dogg’s band and the backing vocalists spring into action. Sandra Phillips’ vocal is sassy and feisty, oozing confidence. Harmonies accompany her, soaring above the arrangement. Meanwhile, horns growl and the rhythm section add a driving beat. As for Swamp Dogg he unleashes some of the best piano playing on the piano. It’s the finishing touch to this slice of good time music. 

Some Mother’s Son closes Too Many People In One Bed. Moody, broody and dramatic describes the arrangement. Then it’s all change. Stabs of grizzled horns, searing guitars and probing bass join the piano as Sandra Phillips seems determined to close the album on a high. She does, delivering a needy, hurt-filled vocal. Her lovelorn vocal is a mixture of loneliness, emotion and hope, that one day, Some Mother’s Son will be the one.

Too Many People In One Bed could’ve and should’ve been the album that launched Sandra Phillips’ career. She was a hugely talented singer who was capable of bring lyrics to life. Songs take on a cinematic quality in Sandra Phillips’ hands and pictures unfolds before the listener’s eyes. The characters within the twelve songs become very real and they end up sharing their hurt and pain. Not every singer can make music come alive like that. However, Sandra Phillips could. 

Too Many People In One Bed is like a twelve short stories. Tales of betrayal, heartbreak, loneliness and love gone wrong, it’s all on Too Many People In One Bed. A whole range of emotions come pouring out. We also hear the different sides to Sandra Phillips. One minutes she’s heartbroken, the next defiant, feisty or sassy. Whether her vocal is powerful or tender, it’s equally effective allowing Sandra Phillips to breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics on Too Many People In The One Bed. It’s a soulful and funky concept album which should’ve launched Sandra Phillips’ career.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. When Wally Roker’s Canyon Records folded in 1970 the release of Too Many People In One Bed was pulled. After that, Sandra Phillips’ musical career petered out.

She retrained and enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim as an actress, even portraying Bessie Smith, The Empress Of The Blues, on Broadway. However, Sandra Phillips’ life and career could’ve been very different, if Canyon Records hadn’t folded. Maybe then, she’d have enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim that later came her way as an actress?

In 2013, Too Many People In One Bed was belatedly released and this long-lost Southern Soul concept album was finally available. It’s a musical masterpiece and a tantalising reminder of one of Southern Soul’s best kept secrets, Sandra Phillips, who could’ve and should’ve gone on to enjoy a long and illustrious career if Canyon Records hadn’t folded and her concept album Too Many People In One Bed had been released in 1970. Who knows what heights she might have reached? Sadly, the Sandra Phillips’ story is a case of what might have been?

Cult Classic: Sandra Phillips-Too Many People In One Bed,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: