Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Charlie Rich- When Something Is Wrong With My Baby

Charlie Rich was a unique artist, a country singer who really wanted to be a jazz musician but could sing a country song like a soul tune. If you want to hear real country soul then you can't go past the material Charlie recorded for Hi Records in the late 60's. He only recorded for the label for about two years, one album and a couple of singles was all that emanated from the partnership. When something Is Wrong With My Baby is a southern soul classic, in the hands of Sam and Dave they transformed the song into a powerhouse of raw emotion, a testament to standing strong, mixing it with gospel fervour against the backdrop of a rhythm section that had an irresistible groove. The song in the hands of Sam and Dave and Booker T & The MG's constantly builds, creating a platform for the soaring vocals of Same Moore who just tears it up.

You would think that another version of that song would pale in comparison, that it would be too hard to capture the essence of the song without a bold soaring vocal and rhythm component, but in the hands of Charlie Rich anything is possible. By the time Charlie reached Hi Records he was well and truly a journeyman, he had cut some seminal rockabilly records at Sun in the late 50's into the early 60's. He then recorded for the RCA subsidiary Groove label from 1963 until early 1965, he then signed with Smash Records where had a hit with Mohair Sam but he was unable to follow up with anything substantial. It seemed with Charlie nobody knew what setting to record him in, and I think Charlie himself was unsure of what direction he should go in.

In 2008 ACE records released a three cd boxed set called Take Me To The River which covered the golden era of southern soul music from 1961-1977, on this collection was perched this gem of a cover. In fact Charlie recorded When Something is Wrong With My Baby a week before Sam and Dave but his version was never released at the time. There isn't a lot of info about the sessions, it's stated that the track was produced by Seymour Rosenburg who was a well known music identity in Memphis, he was the business of partner of Chips Moman for a while and helped to set up American studios in 1964. I suspect that the sessions were recorded at American studios, it has a familiar sound. What is striking is the stripped back sound, the focus is on Charlie's vocal, there are some nice piano and guitar parts in the verses. As the song approached the chorus the horns come in as Charlie's voice begins to boom. There are very few singers who can sing of heartbreak and troubles like Charlie Rich, it's a tender version and you can hear the power in his voice. His voice also has a bluesy flavour to it which gives the song a certain contrast, it's forceful in it's own way even though it differs greatly from Sam and Dave. There is a certain melancholy edge that Charlie brings to the song, and it backed musically by the faint piano triplets that dot the song. The Sam and Dave version was a testament of intent, there is a strength and conviction in their message.

At the end of the day we are lucky to have two amazing version of a soul classic, I think it would have been difficult for an independent like Hi to release Charlie's version as a single because it would have been difficult to market it. It wasn't a straight country song it would have probably had trouble breaking in the mainstream country market, and it was too country sounding for the R&B market, so like a lot of his early releases it would have fallen through the cracks. With the help of the great Peter Guralnick, Rich was eventually able to record his jazz album, Pictures and Paintings was released in 1992, it was his last release.

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