Lou Rawls - vocals; Reg Powell - piano, musical director; unknown - guitar; unknown - bass; unknown - percussion; unknown - drums
Lou Rawls' silky rich, resonant baritone voice first insinuated itself on the consciousness of the American mainstream following his November 6, 1966 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. By that time, he had already scored a string of successful recordings for the Capitol label, beginning with 1962's Stormy Monday and continuing with 1963's Black and Blue and 1964's Tobacco Road, all of which helped to establish the Chicago native as kind of younger, sexier Joe Williams. By the time of this 1972 Newport Jazz Festival appearance, Rawls was a bona fide star whose soulful style on pop and R&B hits made him a household name. Headlining this Sunday evening bash at Yankee Stadium, Rawls closed out a full slate of performances by Herbie Mann, Les McCann (whose trio had appeared on Rawls' Stormy Monday debut for Capitol 10 years earlier), Dizzy Gillespie, and Roberta Flack. A consummate professional, Rawls wowed the crowd with his superb voice, soulful instincts, and streetwise charisma.
Backed by a quintet led by his regular pianist and arranger Reg Powell, a Welsh musician who first hooked up with the singer on a tour of US military bases in Germany, Rawls opens with an earthy reading of "Every Day I Have the Blues," which was a 1955 hit for Joe Williams with the Count Basie Orchestra. A master monologist, Rawls then demonstrates his ability to rap like a virtuosic street poet in a hip recitation about life in his neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago on "Street Corner Hustler's Blues," which had appeared on his 1996 album, Live! (Rawls won a Grammy Award the following year for a similarly insightful spoken word recitation on "Dead End Street" from his 1967 album Too Much!).
This bit of gritty proto-rapping by Rawls pre-dated Gil-Scott Heron's experiments with mixing street poetry and music (which he premiered on 1970's Small Talk at 125th & Lenox) by four years. Rawl's sly rap about a "neatly dressed man with immaculate attire who would always be seen wearing the very popular silk mohair continental cut-to-the-bone $250 hustler's suit that he had just gotten out of the pawn shop," and who was "heavily conked to he bone, looking quite patent leatherish about the head," is very reminiscent of Benny Golson's description of a similar ne'er do well on his classic 1960 tune with the Jazztet, "Killer Joe." It leads into the bluesy lament, "World of Trouble," which is backed by Powell's churchy piano and some urgent, bent-string, bluesy guitar lines by an unnamed player (possibly Eric Gale, who had played the previous set with singer Roberta Flack).
Switching from earthy to sublime, Rawls next dives into a soulful reading of the stirring Billie Holiday staple "God Bless the Child," which opens as an intimate duet with pianist Powell before the full band enters midway through. Powell's piano solo here is brilliant. (Catch his quote from "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at the tag). Returning to the blues, Rawls and company deliver an up-tempo swinging rendition of the T-Bone Walker blues classic "Stormy Monday," the title track of Rawls' 1962 debut for Capitol Records. He lets his gospel roots shine on the churchy blues "Ain't Gonna Beg." (Rawls was a member of the Pilgrim Travelers gospel quartet from 1954-55).
On his records at the time (like 1972's A Man of Value and Silk & Soul, both on MGM), Rawls focused primarily on popular tunes by the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Carole King, and Leon Russell. But on this night at Yankee Stadium, he delivered the real-deal straight-up blues in strictly un-cut fashion.
Following his appearance at the 1972 Newport Jazz Festival, Rawls left MGM Records and signed with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's legendary soul imprint Philadelphia International. He managed to successfully reinvent himself in the lush, orchestrated Philly soul idiom, scoring a triumph in 1976 with the platinum-selling All Things in Time, which contained the massive radio play hit, "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," a tune that catered to the emerging disco market. He followed in 1977 with the smooth hit "Lady Love" from When You Hear Lou, You've Heard It All.
Rawls became a high-profile spokesman for the United Negro College Fund, and toward the end of the '80s made some "comeback" recordings for the Blue Note label, including the Grammy-nominated At Last in 1989. In 2003, he paid tribute to Frank Sinatra with the release of Rawls Sings Sinatra on Savoy Jazz. At age 72, following a two-year fight with cancer, he died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 6, 2006. (Milkowski)