The first ever legal CD anthology of Lula Reed, featuring every important recording by King's First Lady of Chicago R&B - including the original versions of 'Rock Love' and '(I'll) Drown In My Own Tears'.
By Tony Rounce
Ace has enjoyed its own 'special relationship' with the good people at King Records for many years now - and, earlier this year, several of my A&R colleagues and I had the pleasure of spending time at King's Nashville-based tape archive, reviewing and transferring masters for future Ace releases. You will have already seen (and, hopefully, enjoyed) the first 'end products' of our visit last month, in the shape of Rob Finnis' King Rock'n'Roll set and my own Complete King-Federal Platters + Linda Hayes package. This month we are delighted to add two more first class, King-derived releases to our catalogue, both of which draw further on the stockpile of masters we transferred back in May 2003.
My colleague Peter Gibbon can be found elsewhere in this issue of RT, rightfully extolling the virtues of Ace's first multi-artist dip into the vast quantity of King doo wop recordings - an absolute must for every group collector's selection, in my opinion. And on behalf of my friend and co-compiler Billy Vera, I'd like to say how happy both of us are that we can finally welcome I'LL DROWN IN MY TEARS - the definitive anthology of Lula Reed's 50s King sides - to an Ace compact disc near you.
Like many UK R&B/Soul fans I first encountered Lula - miscredited as 'Lulu' - in the mid 60s, when Pye International released her stellar Argo recording (and original version) of Anything To Say You're Mine on one of the many R&B compilations they put out during the period. I immediately wanted to hear more - and, as luck would have it, shortly thereafter found a copy of Ember's "Rhythm And Blues Blue Beat Style" EP, which contained her Federal duet with Freddy King on It's Easy Child (so, apparently, did Birmingham's Moody Blues, who subsequently recorded the song and put it on the flip of their version of Go Now!)
These were the only two Lula Reed records I knew and owned, then sometime at the end of the late 60s, a friend hipped me to the Sonny Thompson original of a Ray Charles classic I'd been crazy about for years. Once I heard Lula sing I'll Drown In My Tears I knew I had to have everything she'd ever cut. Decades later, it's still a privilege to be extolling its virtues, and to be instrumental in bringing it, plus 23 of Lula's other great King sides, to what is in every way an ace CD!
For one who made a considerable number of recordings, which include at least two certified R&B milestones in the original takes of Drown In My Own Tears and (not included in our set, as it wasn't a King recording) Let Them Talk, Lula sadly remains an obscure artist. Of, it must be said, largely her own volition - like so many of her contemporaries she now leads the Christian life and has no wish to discuss her pre-God finding activities with the world. Thus we only have her recordings to judge her on. And what recordings they are, for the most part! It was very difficult to omit even one of her King recordings from the period covered by this CD, and it was only with extreme reluctance that Billy and I forced ourselves to select just what we felt were the best two dozen. We hope that Lula, if she ever gets to see and hear a copy, will feel that we've done her full justice with what we chose.
Although she seldom troubled the R&B charts, Lula was a consistently good seller for King during her first tenure with the label, and R&B fans of the day regularly wore out copies of her 78s at home or on jukeboxes. This can be judged from the amount of nigh-on unplayable copies that still turn up on her biggest ten-inch records. She came close to a chart hit a few times, with Watch Dog, Bump On A Log and the original version of the much-recorded Rock Love, but inexplicably the real big time never beckoned for this pretty and talented thrush. Even so, she was a regular on record for well over a decade, and in that time she recorded nothing that wasn't at least worth a listen - and most of it was worth a great deal more than that, as you'll hear here.
It's fair to say that Lula Reed was a true prototype for the next decade's ladies of soul. Although owing something to Dinah Washington - as did so many of her contemporaries, from Shirley Pixley (Shirley & Lee) to Little Laurie Tate to Little Esther - Lula had a warm, nasal style that was not directly influenced by anyone or anything. Her husband and mentor Sonny Thompson simply encouraged her to sing 'em how she felt 'em, and the results were usually ten times more torrid than most anything else around at the time. Soul fans who've never heard these great sides should think Mable John with a slightly rawer edge. They should also buy this CD immediately, and consider it an essential component of their "Roots Of Soul" collections!