Percy Mayfield Declines Presidency
"I Don't Want To Be The President" (P. Mayfield)
Percy Mayfield, Atlantic 3207, 1974
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Tongue firmly in cheek, Percy Mayfield teamed up with producer Johnny "Guitar' Watson back in 1974 for this musical declaration of non-service to his country as Commander-In-Chief - something about it limiting his ability to "frolic". The record was made some 20 years before Bill Clinton's unfortunate dalliance with an intern. So, besides being a great songwriter, Mayfield was a quite the political prognosticator. More likely, he just understood human nature. And, were Percy still with us, I am sure he would add a few more good reasons to the list about now. Anyway, I've always enjoyed this song, since hearing it years ago on the compilation LP, Atlantic Blues: Vocalists; and I chanced upon the 45 not too long ago, just in time for the run-up to Election Day.
Originally from Minden, Louisiana, in the north-western part of the state, Mayfield cut this tune when his recording career was well into decline. In fact, this may be his final 45. As a young man, he made his way to Southern California via Texas in the late 1940s and started an illustrious songwriting and recording career, being one the the premiere artists on the Specialty Records roster, starting in 1950, with hits and/or classics like "Please Send Me Someone to Love", "Strange Things Happening", "River's Invitation", and "Lost Mind", among many others. He sang with an evocative, smokey baritone of limited range; and his often dark, introspective lyrics earned him the title of "Poet of the Blues", although, he walked the fine line between blues and R&B. As this tune reveals, he also had a playful side. After an auto accident left him facially disfigured in 1952, Mayfield left Specialty within a few years and label hopped for the remainder of the decade, gradually turning from performing to writing for others. He penned many choice tunes for Ray Charles, including "Hit The Road Jack" and "Danger Zone". Hip vocalist/pianist Mose Allison also covered Mayfield tunes to good effect and kept him popular with the cognoscenti. In the 1960s, Charles set Mayfield up on the Tangerine label, often using his own band to back the singer on a series of first rate sessions that, unfortunately, did not have much commercial success. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mayfield recorded some fine albums that grew increasingly funky for Brunswick and RCA, always with top players backing him; but they too were lost on the public. Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, another bluesman who had started out in Los Angeles in the 1950s, was just commencing his own funky comeback when he produced "I Don't Want To Be The President" b/w "Nothing Stays the Same Forever" for Atlantic, gracing them with his own signature lead guitar work. But, Watson's touch did not re-ignite things for Mayfield, whose vocal style was perhaps too intimate and worldly-wise for a new generation of party-hardy funkateers. After this, he recorded only a few small label projects, one overseas, before his passing in 1984. Later in the 1970s, Watson covered this tune himself - but it remains relatively unknown.
While "I Don't Want to Be The President" doesn't have anything to do with New Orleans, Percy Mayfield, who I've featured once before, deserves a place of honor in the Home of the Groove (how about mayor?), both as a native son of Louisiana and due to the fact that one of his greatest latter-day interpreters was the city's own vocal treasure, Johnny Adams, as aptly demonstrated on several albums for Rounder Records, including Walking On A Tightrope, a top of the line, all-Mayfield cover project. Maybe Percy wasn't presidential material; but his music is an enduring legacy we can all be proud of, even as our so-called civilization crumbles around us.
If you live in the US, now that Percy Mayfield is definitely out of contention (for several reasons), I trust that you will do the right thing and vote for...the guy who had the funkiest convention music....and is, luckily, also the best man for the job. Not that you need political advice from a geezer-geek music blogger whose idea of domestic and foreign policy is FUNK EARLY. FUNK OFTEN. Maybe I could tell the new administration's transition team my ideas about basing the world economy solely on the value of rare vinyl records (which show no signs of a market downturn). I've also got a few suggestions for the 2012 convention mix....but, that can wait. I just hope President Obama, after four years in office, doesn't pick this one.