YOU’LL NEVER FIND: A TRIBUTE TO LOU RAWLS
Lou Rawls, who died today at the age of 72, was a wonderful artist and a great human being. Though never a jazz singer, per se, though he recorded with a number of giants through the years, and helped introduce millions of people to jazz who might not have listened to it otherwise. The presumption is that if folks felt that “Lou Rawls was a jazz singer” then jazz “has to be good.” He opened the doors for singers and instrumentalists like George Benson and dozens of others, never misrepresented his talents, and while he did experience the hit records, “You’ll Never Find” among them, I don’t believe he ever subverted his talent for the sake of sales.
His work on behalf of the United Negro College Fund was legendary, and if memory serves, only Lou Rawls was able to get a certain Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra to appear on the then fledgling UNCF telethon, only a struggling syndicated operation at that point. Such was the charm and the talent of Lou Rawls.
He had almost a reassuring voice, some would say maybe an outgrowth of King Cole and Billy Eckstine, with none of the excesses that we hear—okay, I hear—of today’s alleged, jazz and jazz oriented singers, male and female.
Lou Rawls, to his credit, was pretty much free from scandal and the gossip column and tabloid mongers through the years. He must be one of the few. On a personal basis, and that’s the only way I’m able to measure a man accurately, I can report that Lou Rawls was quite special.
He was performing in the main room of Atlantic City’s famed Golden Nugget, circa 1984. This was during the “golden age, “ at least entertainment-wise, of Atlantic City. It’s difficult today to realize that it existed. Think of it: the main stages were populated by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Don Rickles, Steve and Eydie, Vic Damone, Eddie Fisher, Diana Ross, Al Martino, George Carlin, Alan King, Shecky Greene, and yes, Lou Rawls. But the real action, for those “in the know,” was in the lounges. It was unbelievable , as this “free” lounge entertainment included talents like Keely Smith, Chris Connor, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, Buddy Greco, Billy Eckstine, Billy Daniels, Joanie Sommers, Sam Butera and The Wildest, Dakota Staton, Frankie Randall (also the Nugget’s Entertainment Directoror) and dozens of others. Incredible. You should have been there.
I had a wonderful association with Atlantic City back then, both playing in the lounges with the likes of vocalists Connie Lesem, Sonny Averona, Joy Adams and my own combinations; as well as writing a regular column for Atlantic City Magazine, entitled “Backstage.” What a time.
At this particular time, I had become enamored, and there is no better word, of one of the female singers working the Golden Nugget Lounge. Trying to make an impression and win her over, I became something of her gopher/messenger/pr person/major domo, be it carrying her music, rehearsing the band, running interference with the front office, etc. I had no idea of how much I was embarrassing myself.
That’s when Lou Rawls stepped in. One fine evening at the conclusion of all the Golden Nugget Lounge show, circa 2 a.m., yours truly was waiting, outside the lounge with hat in hand, truly dejected, and with said singers’ music in my other hand. It appeared, literally and figuratively, that I had been left holding the proverbial bag while Ms. Big Time Lounge Singer was off to party with the big wigs. And who should appear out of thin air at that moment? Lou Rawls.
“You don’t need this, kid,” Lou said to me. “You’re a talent in your own right; playing here, writing your column. I’m telling you not to do this. You’re bringing yourself down. Get rid of her, man.”
“How did you know what’s going down?” I asked Lou.
“Everyone can see it,” he replied, “and Frankie Randall asked me to talk to you.”
Things changed after that. Atlantic City has never been the same. Nor have I. It was a magic time. People cared about entertainment then. People cared about people then. Lou Rawls took the time to talk to a sad, lovesick youngster and set him straight.
And Lou, it worked. May you rest—and keep swinging soulfully—in peace.
In other assorted matters, on behalf of Joy, Judy, my brother Joel and yours truly, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the condolences and good wishes we’ve received from all over world on behalf of the late, great, Frances Klauber. She was and will always will be a one of a kind.
The good people from one of this world’s most stellar record labels, Mosaic, have released an astounding boxed set of Buddy Rich’s small group work for Verve and Argo from the early 1950s through the early 1960s. We will be writing about this in detail shortly, but let it be said that this among Buddy Rich’s most important and inventive work. Though he was known at the quintessential big band drummer, BR’s work with small groups–especially his own–has been overlooked for years. This is a must have.