I Can’t Hear You – Betty Everett
you walked out on me once too often now
and I can’t take no more of your jive and that’s the truth
I ain’t about to let you run me into the ground
this girl ain’t throwing away her youth
Betty Everett 1963
The sub-heading of this blog is ‘My Life In The Gush Of Boasts’. Stand by. This is a strange, convoluted, small-world-but-wouldn’t-want-to-paint-it story. I guess the reason why we live in New York now is down to Jenny Jules my talented and beautiful wife, who played the part of Mama Nadi in Lynn Nottage‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined at the Almeida in 2010. Exactly one year later, Lynn asked Charles Randolph Wright to cast Jenny again in the production he was directing at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. Charles and Jenny spoke on Skype and the matter was sealed. After one breakfast with Charles in Washington one morning I knew he would be a friend for life. It started to feel as if maybe we might end up living on the east coast of America, rather than the west coast where we have spent so much time over the last 25 years. But we did nothing about it until 3 years later when Phyllida Lloyd‘s all-female production of Julius Caesar in which Jenny was playing the redoubtable Cassius transferred from the Donmar Warehouse in London to St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in the autumn of 2014. Jenny was housed in a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn Heights for the run, and we stepped outside one bright blue morning and swooned. “We could live here” we said, not realising that we were in the equivalent of Hampstead, and couldn’t ever afford it. Almost on whim, three months later we were here with two suitcases and a cat each. The Green Cards we already had from the LA years. All we needed was work and friends.
The work came slowly at first then more steadily. Jenny has already been in a new play by Suzan-Lori Parks called Father Comes Home From The Wars parts 1,2 & 3, and next year she will be on Broadway in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Phyllida’s 2nd all-female Shakespeare, Henry IV parts one and two combined just finished at the new St Ann’s and Jenny played Worcester and Peto, the high and the low. My work has been mainly on American TV with parts in Elementary, Agent Carter, Turn, The Blacklist and Legends. Occasionally I go back to Europe to do some work there. Work has been fine.
Friends – now making friends is harder, especially perhaps as one gets older and doesn’t socialise quite as much. I need to find another band to play with, because I miss my old gang. Our friends here are a tight bunch based mainly on Jenny’s theatrical adventures – thus writer Lynn Nottage and her husband Tony Gerber are our bedrock, with their two children Ruby and Melkamu. Actors Segun Akande, Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Babs Olusanmokun from the Ruined D.C. cast all live here, and we see them for movies, theatre-readings, and now, weddings ! Segun is marrying Lucy in January 2016. Things to look forward to!
Jenny Jules & Charles Randolph Wright 2014
Charles lives in the Village and after directing Ruined in D.C. spent the next two years putting together the mighty musical MOTOWN with Berry Gordy (!) which is Berry’s life story and the history of that great record label Tamla Motown which changed all of our lives. It opened on Broadway in 2013 (we snaffled a ticket and I will blog it on another occasion) and it is now touring the world – it opens in London in spring 2016. After we moved to New York in early 2014, Charles introduced us to his lovely friends Vicki Wickham and Nona Hendryx, who came down to Washington and saw Jenny in 2011, and loved her.
Nona Hendryx & Vicki Wickham
We are seeing Charles, Nona, and Vicki tonight for New Year’s Eve, a small but delightful group, avoiding Times Square and other large drunken gatherings. Yesterday Vicki sent me a recording of a radio show which she had made earlier in 2015 in London for the BBC. It was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of a show called The Sound Of Motown which was produced by Vicki 50 years ago ! Can you hear the soup thickening?
Vicki was then the producer on Ready, Steady, Go! which was the first pop TV show in the UK and was massively influential pre-Top Of The Pops. The proof was The Sound Of Motown in 1965 when Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas and The Supremes all made their first appearances on UK television, in the same show, with Dusty Springfield – they were all close-to-unknown acts in the UK at the time. This is despite The Beatles having three Motown songs on their first LP – the public first saw all these acts together on their black and white TV sets in April 1965 on Rediffusion.
The Motown Revue at Marble Arch, London in 1965
It was Vicki’s enthusiasm and drive and Dusty’s stardom which made it happen – they’d seen Little Stevie Wonder in Paris doing his hit Fingertips and were bowled over. Astonishingly in retrospect, the TV company only agreed to host Motown if Dusty Springfield was involved. She was only too happy to join in and sang various duets – including this song – with Martha Reeves.
Martha Reeves,the Vandellas, Dusty Springfield
So I’m sitting listening to this radio show with Paul Gambaccini, that motormouth media man interviewing Vicki and alongside her the great Berry Gordy, (now in his 80s !) founder of Motown, writer of ‘Money‘ and best friend of Smokey Robinson (see My Pop Life #3) and there the BBC are trying to recreate some of the songs that featured on that night in 1965 with modern artists. Thus we get Lamar singing My Girl for instance. And I’m thinking – all these connections – Charles and Vicki – and suddenly Gambaccini announces I Can’t Hear You No More “and here to sing it for us is Lucy Jules !“
the great Lucy Jules
Could have knocked me down wiv a fevver guv. Lucy of course is Jenny’s sister, my sister. She is a professional singer. She’s a brilliant singer, always has been. She is very dear to me, naturally, I’ve watched her sing over the years, I’ve accompanied her, she has sung with my band and there she is on the radio doing connections singing ! She kills the song, so do the house band. But it lights a living echo within. The amount of coincidences and small-world shrinkage shuffles is starting to ‘do my head in‘ as they say in London, but hear this : the song Lucy Jules is singing is one which I owned back in my 20s, back in my soul-music-odyssey days, a tremendous song called I Can’t Hear You, or sometimes called Can’t Hear You No More, depending on who is singing it. And I haven’t heard it for 30 flipping years. I had it on a 45rpm 7-inch vinyl single by the great Betty Everett. It was her follow-up to the huge Shoop Shoop Song which I also had on 7-inch :
“if you wanna know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss : that’s where it is !”
I think the reason why I had some singles by her was down to Elvis Costello covering her 1965 hit Getting Mighty Crowded in 1980 as an out-take of the personal favourite Get Happy LP – which appeared on Taking Liberties, an album of out-takes and B-sides. For a musical archeologist like me there were plenty of clues there, back to the time when soul music was made out of soul. I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down (original by Sam & Dave) was one of the singles from that tremendous LP.
Betty Everett in 1963
Betty Everett was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago in her early 20s, signing a deal with Calvin Carter and Vee Jay records (the first US label to sign The Beatles). Her second single “You’re No Good” is also a tremendous blues/pop song and was a hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1975. But this one was always my favourite. So to suddenly hear it on the radio, sung by MY SISTER was ridiculous. As I say, I hadn’t heard it since 1985 when I finally at the 3rd attempt left my girlfriend Mumtaz and made the mistake of leaving my record collection behind. I never saw any of those records again. All the punk singles in picture sleeves, LPs from my teenage years, soul 45s, african records, everything. It hurt, but I guess Mumtaz hurt more – she thought we were to be married. But we weren’t to be married. And so I started again, aged 29, both in Love and with a Record Collection. But I forgot many of the records which I used to own. Bound to happen. And so now and again I get the joy of rediscovery, a tingle of recognition, and in this case a full circle of musical joy through Motown, Ready Steady Go!, my family and our new friends.
I looked the song up and found that Helen Reddy had a big disco-esque easy-listening hit with it in the 1970s, Lulu covered it, Alan Price and of course, so did Dusty Springfield, calling it I Can’t Hear You No More and singing slightly behind the beat, but still sounding like a black soul singer like she always did. I guess it was her choice to sing it on the Motown Revue show – but it never was a Motown song. Except that night when she duetted on it with Martha Reeves.
I think the Betty Everett song was picked up by the Northern Soul DJs in the early 70s and gathered a whole new set of fans – it had that fast beat and passionate vocal that they liked. The classic pop feel comes from the writers Gerry Goffin & Carole King, she wrote the music, he wrote the lyrics. Interesting when you know their story :
“This girl ain’t throwing away her youth”
Carole King & Jerry Goffin
Jewish New Yorkers, they married when she was 17 and pregnant and he was 20, and during a reportedly turbulent ten-year relationship they created many top hits for different artists : Take Good Care Of My Baby, (Please) Don’t Ever Change, Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow, One Fine Day, The Loco-motion, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Oh No Not My Baby, Up On The Roof, Natural Woman and many many more.
Credit where credit is due.
Happy New Year everyone, thanks for reading.
Ralph Brown 2015