Jean Knight Says. . .
"Do Me" (Albert Savoy- Wardell Quezergue)
Jean Knight, Stax 0150, 1972
Wow. Was it really July, 2005 (Before Katrina) when I posted last on Jean Knight? Guess so. In that piece, I featured one of the records she made after her short stint with Stax. Today, we’re taking a look and listen to one side of her final Stax single, “Do Me”, produced and arranged by Wardell Quezergue and recorded at Malaco Studios in Jackson, Ms, as were all the sides she did for the label. Regular stoppers-by here will recall our many references to Mr. Quezergue, especially in reference to his work with King Floyd.
Written by Quezergue and Albert Savoy, one of the regular writers for Big Q Productions, “Do Me” has some salacious lyrics that don’t beat around the bush (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and a killer groove courtesy of the Malaco house band. Like Allen Toussaint, Quezergue developed precise arrangements for the songs his artists recorded. With the producer on keyboards, the rhythm section (Shreveport-area drummer James Stroud, bassist Vernie Robbins, and guitarist Jerry Puckett) could summon up a clockwork syncopation both hip and instantly engaging. The drum and cowbell breakdowns on this tune are sick; and the use of fuzz bass and acoustic guitar adds nice, not often heard, contrasting textures to the funk. It’s all done with a simplicity and pelvic focus that makes a very effective bed for Knight’s yearning vocal.
Although Knight’s first Stax single, the immortal “Mr. Big Stuff”, had gone platinum, selling more than three million copies, she never got much respect from the top at Stax in Memphis. They had initially passed on the song and King Floyd’s “Groove Me”, cut at the same Malaco session in 1970. So, Malaco released Floyd’s record on their own Chimneyville label. After it got good airplay in New Orleans, Atlantic picked up distribution; and it got national attention, making the top ten and going gold. Once Stax saw that those Malaco sessions could sell, they belatedly optioned Knight’s single in 1971 with excellent results. And yet, after her follow-up sessions with Quezergue in Jackson resulted in the Mr. Big Stuff album, a second lesser hit with the imitative "You Think You're Hot Stuff" and three subsequent singles, the label dropped her, following “Do Me”. Knight blames it on Quezergue’s unwillingness to use material from Stax’s in-house writers that he either thought was inferior or would cut him out of publishing royalties (or both). A now deleted CD compilation of those sessions for Stax shows that most of the Big Q material, of which “Do Me" is one of the best examples, was of decent, but not exceptional quality, and did not exactly blend with the Stax sound issuing forth from its East McLemore Avenue home.
Jean Knight, born Jean Caliste, has been a strong New Orleans soul singer since her early 20’s, when Texas shyster promoter/producer Huey Meaux discovered her singing at Cosimo’s French Quarter studio and signed her to his group of labels. Recording mostly in Texas then, she had singles on Jet Stream and Tribe during the mid-1960’s. None of those were successful; but she did get some recognition at home and along the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, a little street cred pays no bills. So, later in the decade, she was earning a living as a baker in New Orleans and singing only occasionally, until a chance meeting with a songwriter named Ralph Williams, who introduced her to Quezergue. One of the songs that they gave her to listen to was, “Mr. Big Stuff”, which Williams had co-written. At the time, Knight claims in Jeff Hannusch’s The Soul of New Orleans, the song was a ballad! She says she suggested that it be “sassed up” prior to recording. However it got that way, it served her well, giving her a big enough hit to build a long career on.
Ms Big Hair