Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song Cry Baby. This is a terrific soul song from the mid-60s. We will start with the original by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters, and then we will review covers from Janis Joplin, and also Natalie Cole.
Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters and Cry Baby:
The song Cry Baby was written by Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy. Both of the songwriters used pseudonyms on this song – in Bertrand Russell Berns’ case it was ‘Bert Russell,’ while Ragovoy used the pseudonym ‘Norman Meade.’
Berns and Ragovoy were a potent songwriting team in the mid-60s. For example, they wrote the song Piece of My Heart. The original version was recorded by Erma Franklin, and we reviewed this song in an earlier blog post.
But the most famous version of Piece of My Heart was the cover by Big Brother and the Holding Company and their lead singer, Janis Joplin. I mention this because, as we will see, Janis also produced a dynamite cover of Cry Baby.
Bert Berns also wrote a number of great pop hits, including two that were reviewed in earlier blog posts: the song Twist and Shout, which was initially a hit for the Isley Brothers and later the Beatles; and the tune Brown-Eyed Girl, the first big hit for Van Morrison.
The vocalist Garnet Mimms grew up in Philadelphia. Like so many R&B singers, his initial singing experience was in gospel choirs. Mimms was cutting records as early as 1953, but he did not experience any significant commercial success until 1961, when he joined with vocalists Charles Boyer and Zola Pearnell to form the group Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters.
At this point, their group hooked up with Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy, who were in the process of adapting gospel music to the New York soul scene. Berns and Ragovoy gave their song Cry Baby to Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters, and it was released in 1963. Above left is the cover of the album that contained this tune.
The song Cry Baby is a statement by the singer to his or her unfaithful lover. The former lover left to be with someone else, but have now themselves been jilted. The singer welcomes them back, as they return weeping to their faithful companion.
[CHORUS] Cry, cry baby, cry baby, cry baby
Welcome back home
Now he told you that he loved you
Much more than I
But he left you and you don’t, you
Just don’t know why
And when you don’t know what to do
You come runnin’ and start to,
Don’t you know nobody can love you
The way I do, take the pain and the
Heartache too, ah, honey you know I
Be around, when you need me, so go on and
Cry Baby turned out to be a very successful soul song, which rose to #1 on the R&B charts. It also proved a major crossover hit, making it to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts.
So here is the audio of Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters singing Cry Baby.
Isn’t this a moving song? Berns and Ragovoy certainly knew what they were doing in this production. The instrumental accompaniment is stripped down to the basics: a little piano; some elementary bass and guitar; but mainly Garnet Mimms and a chorus of backup singers. Mimms definitely possesses the power and soulful vocals to pull this tune off.
The gospel roots are really evident here. This is particularly true with the ‘gospel choir’ backup singers that come blasting in on the chorus, and that include the young vocalist Dionne Warwick.
Note that after the second chorus, Mimms includes a ‘talking blues’ segment. As we will see, this technique is featured in the covers of this song by both Janis Joplin and Natalie Cole.
Later R&B artists such as Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding followed along in the field pioneered by Garnet Mimms. However, over the years Mimms has not received anything like the recognition given to more renowned soul singers.
Garnet Mimms subsequently left the Enchanters for a moderately successful solo career. His last big hit was the 1966 release I’ll Take Good Care of You, which was again produced by Berns and Ragovoy.
My search for live video of Garnet Mimms singing Cry Baby was unsuccessful. But I did find a live video of Mimms performing I’ll Take Good Care of You.
As you can see from this clip, Garnet Mimms is a really fine soul singer. He has a powerful voice and makes effective use of his gospel experience.
Mimms quit the music business in the late 70s, when he
became a born-again Christian, and … later established the Bottom Line Revival Ministries, ministering to prisoners.
In 1999, Garnet Mimms received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. And in 2007, Mimms recorded a gospel album.
Janis Joplin and Cry Baby:
Earlier, we discussed Janis Joplin in our blog post on her cover of the song Piece of My Heart with her group Big Brother and the Holding Company. We subsequently reviewed her cover of the Chantels’ song Maybe. So here we give a brief review of the life and career of Janis Joplin.
In the early 60s Janis came out of Texas, trying to make the big time as a blues singer. Like so many other young talents (e.g., Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix), Janis became an overnight sensation following her performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, as lead singer for the group Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Below is a photo of Janis performing.Embed from Getty Images
One secret of Janis’ appeal was that she held absolutely nothing back. Her singing was raw and brutal. She wailed, screamed and pleaded until her voice gave out.
Part of the reason why she was such a powerful blues vocalist was that even before she was famous, Janis was having serious issues with both alcohol and drugs, and in particular heroin. I can’t ever remember seeing an interview with Janis when she wasn’t stoned out of her gourd, slurring her words, often barely able to construct a sentence. But the addictive substances removed any inhibitions from her performances.
Janis’ breakout album with Big Brother was the 1968 release, Cheap Thrills. The album contained classic cuts like Piece of My Heart, Ball and Chain and Summertime.
Less than a year after the release of Cheap Thrills, Janis split from Big Brother. As a rock superstar, she had been urged by several people to drop Big Brother, on the grounds that they weren’t sufficiently good musicians to match her incredible talent.
On the other hand, Janis subsequently went through a couple of other backing groups, the Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie, and I have always thought that Janis was at her best as a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Janis Joplin’s live performance below is part of a fascinating tour, the 1970 Festival Express. The poster for the documentary movie of this tour is shown at left.
Buoyed by the success of the Woodstock Festival a year earlier, the organizers decided to promote a rock tour of Canadian cities. To this end they recruited an all-star lineup that included Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Band, Buddy Guy, Ten Years After and Traffic.
Instead of flying from venue to venue, the promoters chartered a Canadian National Railways train to transport the tour groups across Canada. Sounds like a great idea, right?
Unfortunately, the tour eventually degenerated into a financial debacle. The long train rides
ultimately became a combination of non-stop jam sessions and partying fueled by alcohol.
At one point, the train stopped at a small town in Ontario and bought out the entire stock from a liquor store!
The spectacle of the Woodstock festival raised fears in the minds of Canadian administrators. They anticipated bands of marauding hippies, sanitation issues, rampant drug use and – OMG – public nudity. Because of these concerns, the first scheduled concert in Montreal was cancelled, as was the final concert in Vancouver.
As a result, the tour lost about $500,000 for the promoters, and was considered a financial disaster. Plans for a movie about the tour were shelved, although a documentary was finally released in 2004.
Despite the financial issues, the concerts featured some terrific rock musicians performing at the peak of their creativity. The train journey was basically one long party for the traveling musicians, and the resulting documentary was highly acclaimed.
Here is Janis Joplin, backed by her Full Tilt Boogie Band, singing Cry Baby at the June 27, 1970 Festival Express concert in Toronto.
Isn’t this great? As usual, Janis lays everything on the line, shrieking and wailing through this tune. You can sense the heartbreak in her voice as she rips through this soul classic.
Janis was fond of songs that contained talking episodes in the middle, and she makes effective use of this convention. She describes a lover who expressed a desire to “go find myself … in Africa, or New York City .. someplace those cats are always wandering off to.”
Here, Janis is at the height of her talents. Alas, this would be one of her last public appearances.
In September 1970, Janis was staying at the Landmark Hotel in Hollywood during taping sessions for her album Pearl. Unfortunately, Joplin’s associates apparently did not realize that the Landmark was a major hangout for drug dealers, and particularly for heroin dealers.
On Oct. 4, 1970, Janis Joplin was found dead in her hotel room at the Landmark. Janis was 27 years old when she died from a toxic combination of alcohol and heroin.
The deaths of Janis and Jimi Hendrix, who passed away just 16 days before Ms. Joplin, were gigantic shocks to everyone interested in rock music. The vulnerable, doomed Janis presented rock music fans with an image of someone who bared it all, whose searing songs gave people a glimpse into her soul.
What a great loss for rock music.
Natalie Cole and Cry Baby:
Natalie Cole was born in 1950 into a family she referred to as the “black Kennedys.” She was the daughter of Nat “King” Cole, the most successful black musician of the 50s and 60s.
Below is a photo of Natalie Cole as a young girl, singing along with her famous father.Embed from Getty Images
Nat Cole was an extremely talented pianist and initially achieved fame as the leader of a jazz trio. His trio consisted of piano, guitar and bass; at the time, this was considered a novel instrumental pairing, but subsequently became a template for other piano trios.
He then became a singer and scored a number of hits with his silky-smooth delivery. Starting in 1943, Cole had a series of pop hits over the next two decades, particularly his 1951 signature tune Unforgettable.
In 1956, Nat Cole became the first African-American performer to have his own nationally-syndicated TV show. The Nat King Cole Show was featured on NBC TV. Cole blazed the trail for generations of African-Americans who followed him.
Cole’s variety show featured many of the greatest black and white musicians. Unfortunately, his show lasted only a year as Cole was never able to land a national sponsor for his program.
Growing up, Natalie Cole was familiar with some of the greatest soul, jazz and blues musicians. So it was no surprise when Ms. Cole decided to become a vocalist.
However, Natalie met some resistance when she preferred R&B and rock to jazz or pop music. She was offered a recording contract by her father’s label, Capitol Records.
Below is a photo of Natalie Cole at the premiere of a 2014 documentary about her father.Embed from Getty Images
Natalie Cole’s first album, the 1975 release Inseparable, was a major success. The song This Will Be reached #1 on the R&B charts and was a top-10 Billboard Hot 100 hit. The song won Ms. Cole a Grammy for Best New Artist.
Some critics began labeling Natalie as the “new Aretha Franklin.” This was impressive for Ms. Cole’s image; at the same time, it was unfortunate because it irritated the temperamental Aretha Franklin, and caused a rivalry between the two singers.
Natalie Cole released her cover of Cry Baby in 1978. Here is Natalie Cole in a live performance of Cry Baby, on the ABC late-night TV show Into The Night Starring Rick Dees. That show lasted for one season in 1990.
Neither the audio nor video quality is very high in this clip. However, Ms. Cole is in terrific form here. She rips into this R&B classic in a most impressive way.
You can see where the comparisons to Aretha Franklin arise. Her gospel-tinged vocals are reminiscent of Aretha. While Ms. Cole doesn’t quite have the vocal power or range of Ms. Franklin – and let’s face it, nobody else does – Natalie has an impressive voice that she puts to great use here.
Probably the pinnacle of Natalie Cole’s career came in 1991 when she released the album Unforgettable … With Love. This album featured covers of a number of songs that her father had made famous. In particular, the album contained an interactive duet that paired Natalie with her father’s voice on the song Unforgettable.
That ‘duet’ was, indeed, unforgettable. The album won a slew of Grammys for Natalie Cole, and re-booted her career. She followed up that triumph with a number of additional hit albums.
Despite Natalie Cole’s commercial success, she fought a sustained battle with drug addiction. Her 2000 autobiography Angel On My Shoulder
described her battle with drugs during much of her life, including heroin and crack cocaine. Cole said she began recreational drug use while attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Her autobiography was subsequently made into a made-for-TV movie.
In 2008, Ms. Cole announced that she had contracted Hepatitis C as a result of her past use of intravenous drugs. As a result of this, she needed a kidney transplant in 2009.
On Dec. 31, 2015 Natalie Cole died of congestive heart failure. It is believed that this condition was a result of pulmonary hypertension that resulted from her kidney transplant.
Natalie Cole was a gifted vocalist. Despite her long struggle with addiction issues, she produced an impressive body of work. Her voice was extremely versatile and she could move apparently effortlessly from R&B to jazz to pop.