Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Fourth Sweet Inspiration

I didn't plan to write a fourth »Sweet Inspiration« today, but then it just happened. It doesn't really connect, chronologically, to the previous posts, but that can't be helped as well. We'll come to that. Today, I wanted to draw your attention to a recent music documentary which features, among others, the Sweet Inspirations. Directed by Victor Mignatti, it was released a few months ago and is available now on DVD. Check it out here (click on the banner):

Many interesting things there and, most relevant for our purposes, an interview with Estelle Brown (read it also here).
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from left: Cissy, Myrna, Estelle, Sylvia
While you're checking out that page you can stay tuned in here and listen to the most successful (chartwise!) song the Sweet Inspirations ever recorded. It is entitled, with just a little lack of fantasy, »Sweet Inspiration«. The song was recor- ded in Memphis on August 24, 1967 (see also below) and first released on their self-titled Atlantic LP (# SD 8155). However, the song wasn't at first put out as a single. On the contrary, Atlantic opted that this tune would be only their third single (Atlantic # 2476), released in spring '68. It then rocketed to #5 r&b and, likewise remarkable, to #18 pop.
     Part of the success of this song might have been its distinctly C&W flavor, cer- tainly the most countryish song the Sweets ever recorded (not in the middle part, though). It is often reported, and can therefore be taken at face value, that Elvis had become aware of the Sweets via this tune. Being himself much inclined to C&W harmonies, Elvis had taken a liking to this song and, according to Myrna Smith, he even performed the tune during one of his shows: »It was later on that we discovered how much Elvis liked our song Sweet Inspiration and that that was the catalyst. ... One night he even surprised us by singing our song Sweet Inspiration on stage. We didn't know that he knew it. Elvis just broke into it and so we started singing background and he was singing lead and we were shocked. It sounded good« (read the whole interview here). And if you were ever in doubt why Elvis liked the Sweets' »Sweet Inspiration«, listen to his »Suspi- cious Minds« (recorded some 17 months later in the very same recording studio!) ... or rather, you don't have to listen to »Suspicious Minds«, you'll hear it right here in the first bars:

The Sweet Inspirations: »Sweet Inspiration« from the Atlantic LP # SD 8155 (1967):

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»Sweet Inspiration« was penned by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham (officially, and as noted on the back cover of the LP, Wallace Daniel Pennington and Dewey Lyndon Oldham). Peter Guralnick in his book Sweet Soul Music (New York 1999) tells the story of how the song was recorded in Memphis (pp. 297, 299):
»In August of 1967 Jerry Wexler had booked the American studio for the Sweet Inspirations, with Tom Dowd producing. ... It was a hot summer's day, the session hadn't been going very well ... "I had worked with the Sweet In- spirations with Aretha,", says Spencer Oldham, "and gotten to know 'em and loved the way they sung, so I couldn't wait for them to get a record on their own. So I went to the session that night at Chips's [i.e. Chips Moman's Ameri- can Sound Studio]. I don't think I was on the session for some reason; I don't know why, maybe I'd been out of town.
     But anyway Dan [Penn] was sitting there, and we were watching all this go down, and they did two songs - awful stuff - and my heart started sinking, and I said to Dan, 'Let's go next door and try to write a song.' [p. 299] We star- ted walking upstairs, and he said, 'I ain't got no ideas,' and I said, 'Let's just take off on that 'sweet inspiration,' and we hit the old guitar, and we come back down there in a little while, and they were still moaning and groaning. And we played it to 'em ..., about the second time Dan ended up on the board, and I was playing guitar."
     "You know," says Dan, taking up the story, "I think it was one of the high- lights of my career. Just as we bring our little tape down and the Sweet In- spirations fell in love with it, and all the musicians are going nuts, them stupids called a damn lunch break. Right in the middle of our song. And Spooner had this damn lick down so good the musicians wouldn't even go eat, they wouldn't leave because they knew by what was happening we could just cut it. And the girls were already singing it. And I'm standing there watching all this shit going down. ... I did my mix on the first take, and when they come back from lunch, I said, 'Boys, we done cut you a record."
     The record made #5 on the soul charts, and Jerry Wexler asked Spooner for a third of the royalties, since he had given the group its name. What were the writers' reactions? "We didn't comment," says Spooner with his dry chuckle.«
For the record: Atlantic LP # SD 8155 was manufactured and scheduled for release in late '67 but was, for all we know, only shipped in February '68. Trade magazines are aware of the album only after this date.

To be continued ...

Check out the previous parts of this series:

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