Something Else! Featured Artist: Soul singer Shirley Brown

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NICK DERISO: One of Shirley Brown’s early hits was called “Love is Built on a Strong Foundation,” produced by Oliver Sain for the Abet label.

Same with her career. Born in West Memphis, Ark., Brown started like so many great sizzling soul singers do – in church. Not until her teens, after the family moved to St. Louis, did Brown leave gospel for the clubs.

Legendary blues guitarist Albert King heard those fiery early sides – “Strong Foundation,” and “I Ain’t Gonna Tell,” probably – and helped get her signed to Stax. He also put in a word with Al Jackson, an equally legendary producer.

Result: The seminal “Woman to Woman,” a heart-breaking 1974 confession song (embedded below) that went to the top of the rhythm-and-blues charts. (Later, by the way, it was a crossover country hit for Barbara Mandrell.)

The tune became a kind of theme song for Brown. Sadly, though, her dominance on the R-and-B charts lasted about as long as the then-struggling Stax Records did. She moved on to Arista in the late 1970s and offered some of her best songs. Not many were listening.

So she got raw. Working with Homer Banks, Brown issued “Intimate Storm” in 1984. Still nothing.

Everything finally started clicking once she signed to Malaco in the late 1980s. She’s since roared back to fame on the old chitlin circuit of deep-fried soul saloons, scoring jukebox hits with the appropriately named albums “Timeless” and “Joy & Pain.”

She turns heads, even now, with her tongue-in-cheek salaciousness (see 2000’s bawdy “Sweet Lips, Big Hips”) while continuing to offer these great feminist calls to arms (2004’s “I’d Have To Be Stuck on Stupid).

Shirley Brown is as tough as she is sexy, a true Southern character.

 

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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