Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mostly Martha

mid-week gospel

Martha Bass (mother of the late Fontella) was picked by Chess/Checker to have her first LP out in early 1967 ... notwithstanding the obvious (and by this time proven) talent of Mrs Bass the fact that she got released on Checker was probably helped by the recent success her daughter had on the same label. But this needn't detract from the merits of Martha, because sometimes it needs just such coincidental and second-hand support in order to give people their due. Martha was to record three LPs for Chess/Checker in the late 1960s and on her first album, I'm So Grateful (Checker LP # 10022), we find a number of songs testifying to Martha's powerhouse voice. For a start, let's hear her overwhelmingly beautiful and heart-rending ballad »Mother's Plea« (recorded at Chicago's Ter Mar Studios, March 30th, 1966):

Martha Bass: »Mother's Plea« from the Checker LP # 10022 (1967):

(click to enlarge)

As is known, Martha Bass stayed for a little while with the Clara Ward Singers back in 1950 and she actually appears on less than a handful of Savoy recordings as member of the C.W. Singers. Afterwards she toured the churches of the South as a renowned house-wrecker. Her record contract at Chess/Checker then brought her reasonable fame even beyond the gospel circuit (and her name may have turned up occasionally before thanks to the success of her daughter Fontella). And indeed, the connection between mother and daughter was always a strong one, and they retur- ned to recording and performing together from the late 60's into the 1990s (including the 1993 CD Promises; for another recording of mother and daughter from the mid-1990s - incidentally the title song of Martha's first Checker LP - see here). Fontella even claimed that she was playing piano and singing background vocals on all of her mother's Chess/Checker recordings (a claim not fully substantiated, however).
      Nobody less than Chess's Gene Barge (who was responsible for much of the Checker output in the 1960s; see also below!) wrote the notes on the back cover of Martha's LP -  and while he did not miss to connect Martha to her then better-known daughter he also stressed, slightly enigmatically and in my view a bit out of propos, that both »sing in different categories« and thus »no problems confront them professionally.« You can read the whole bit here:

From the back cover of Checker LP # 10022
A number of songs on this album were recorded in March 1966 (including the above »Mother's Plea«), another bunch only several months later in October '66, including the traditional (?) »Everybody Will Be Happy (Over There)« and Roman Holmes's 1944 »What Manner Of Man Is This?«

Martha Bass (and uncredited choir):
»What Manner Of Man Is This« / »Everybody Will Be Happy« from the Checker LP # 10022:

* * *

Additional info:
(1) There is a re-release of this LP on CD, as recent as September 2011, on Cherry Red Records. I haven't seen it so far but the company website mentions that the CD comes with specifically written sleevenotes. These may well offer more details about Martha Bass's Checker recordings, so check there.

(2) You can listen to a 2009 telephone interview with Gene Barge, coming from the pages of Chicago's Vocalo89.5 network:

Click here for a direct link to the interview page.

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