Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Long Live Irma Thomas

"...The first time I heard her do that, over 40 years ago, my throat felt tight..."

Long Live Irma Thomas

After posting pictures of Dr. John’s second line jazz funeral on this blog, it occurred to me that Irma Thomas is only one year younger than the good Doctor. Thankfully Irma is healthy.

I bow to the Soul Queen of New Orleans.

There are moments in “Ruler of My Heart” in which she deepens her voice, brings it to a lower range, intentionally makes it wobbly, with saxophones backing up. The first time I heard her do that, over 40 years ago, my throat felt tight.

Unsurprisingly, that song knocked Otis Redding on his butt. As the story goes, Irma sang “Ruler of My Heart” to open Otis’ show. Otis commandeered the song, and released it, soon after, in 1964 as “Pain in My Heart.”

Here’s one of my favorite stories about Irma. A divorced teenager with kids in the 1950s, she was working as a waitress at New Orleans’ Pimlico Club, when bandleader Tommy Ridgley invited her to sing. Singing got her fired from her waitress job. On the other hand, it got her an audition and a record deal. The “drop-out” later completed a university degree.

Irma said in an interview it pleases her that very young people are paying attention to her music. It pleases me too. Admittedly, my nostalgia is deep, my gratitude is profound. That aside, there's no escaping, something very precious will one day be lost.

The Rolling Stones planned to hook-up with Irma for the 2019 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Undoubtedly, together they would have performed "Time Is on My Side" duet style. Both released the song in 1964.  Sadly, Mick’s heart-valve surgery forced the Stones to cancel. Don’t worry, Mick is back. He recently published a video of his strenuous work-out, typical acrobatic-style gyrating and prancing around. Jumpin Jack Flash, it’s a gas!  How old will Mick be on July 26?

Irma won a Grammy Award for “After the Rain” (2006). She recently released “Irma Thomas: The Soul Queen of New Orleans 50th Anniversary Celebration CD.”

There can’t be a more poignant statement of loss than “Wish Someone Would Care.” I call up those first two drawn-out words, stretched eternally over multiple beats, Irma’s powerful voice backed up by bluesy female vocalists, the song announces deep sadness. In my opinion it rivals Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” as a raw expression of human yearning. Irma was 22 years old when she wrote “Wish Someone Would Care.”

Long Live Irma Thomas.

Irma's song posted by thecountofbasie
Contact Emile Jackson 504 249-1719

Irma Thomas 2019 The Advocate .com Photo by Sophia Germer
Irma Thomas 2018 New Orleans Jazz Fest, Photo by Scott Threlkeld
Irma Thomas 1981 Jazz Fest Photo by Burt Steel
Irma Thomas: The Soul Queen of New Orleans 50th Anniversary Celebration CD. From Irma Thomas website.
Irma Thomas Chicago Blues Festival 2007 Sun Times. Photo by Chris Sweda

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