Something From The Other Mayfield
"Painful Party" (Percy Mayfield)
Percy Mayfield, from Percy Mayfield Sings Percy Mayfield, RCA, 1970
I’m calling a change-up and slipping in a Swamp Side, which is what I call Louisiana related songs from outside of New Orleans featured on HOTG. They usually have nothing to do with actual proximity to a swamp, as is the case with this album cut by one of my favorites, Percy Mayfield. No relation to Curtis, he was born and grew up in Minden, LA, located in the northwestern part of the state. A prolific and gifted songwriter in the sophisticated, urban blues idiom, whose compositions have been covered by many artists over the years, he had a laid back, at times, lugubrious baritone voice that could convey both pain and playfulness. As a popular recording artist in the early 1950’s in Los Angeles, he introduced the world to some of his most enduring songs such as “Please Send Me Someone To Love”, “River’s Invitation”, and “Lost Mind”; but a serious auto accident left him facially disfigured, more or less ending his performing career. He continued writing and recording, though, and, in the 1960’s, worked with Ray Charles as a songwriter (“Hit The Road Jack”) and made outstanding sides for Charles’ Tangerine label with Ray’s band (and Ray) backing him. By the early 1970’s, Mayfield was recording for RCA in New York with fine session players, doing funk-tinged original blues captured on at least three albums: Weakness Is A Thing Called Man, The Blues And Then Some, and Percy Mayfield Sings Percy Mayfield, from which our featured cut comes.
I’ve always dug the groove on “Painful Party”. About all I know for sure of the players on this album is that Seldon Powell is soloing on sax and Eric Gale is on guitar. Some of his other RCA sessions had such greats as Bernard Purdie on drums, and Chuck Rainey on bass; so, I suspect they could be on this record, too. In his after-hours, worry-weary, somewhat stoned vocal tone, Mayfield lays out the sad tale of the birthday party he threw for his woman, who didn't show up for it. It’s the kind of conversational style story he does so well, augmented by the hip, loose, low-key funk arrangement.
I highly recommend Percy Mayfield’s early Specialty recordings, available on CD, and the recently released Rhino Handmade compilation of his Tangerine and Atlantic sides. Also vital is New Orleans singer extraordinaire Johnny Adams’ fine album of Percy Mayfield covers, Walking On A Tightrope. Mayfield’s own album by that name from the late 1960’s has been reissued on CD in the last few years, as well. I guess his stuff can seem a little too downbeat at times, as his subject matter poetically plumbs the darker shades of the blues. But attentive listening will reveal a soulful, consummate craftsman at work. And those somber tones serve to make his upbeat songs that much more fun to hear by contrast. He’s always impressed me as a class act who deserves much wider recognition and appreciation than he’s gotten. So, if the music of this Mayfield is new to you, I hope you’ll seek more.