(Written by Andre Williams)
Well, here’s a surprise: an unexpected return to the Motown release schedules for (Singin’) Sammy Ward.
It had only been four years since Sammy, once the company’s resident blues man, had scored a vital early chart hit for the newborn label with the stinging Who’s The Fool, and yet no-one had heard from him since Someday Pretty Baby back in 1962. With everything that’s come between (almost 250 entries on Motown Junkies, for a start!), in the new world of Golden Age Motown, the world of the Supremes and Four Tops and Temptations, and even on Soul Records sandwiched between future hitmakers Junior Walker and Shorty Long, Sammy feels like a name from the almost-forgotten past.
But as soon as Ward’s voice strikes up here, the interval is as nothing; you want to rush out and greet him like an old friend. Welcome back, Singin’ Sammy, we’ve all missed you terribly.
What’s more, this brief interlude of some proper dirty, scuzzy blues is very welcome indeed, Sammy as coruscating as ever as he does what he does best and lays on the amused scorn. Cajoled along by an out-of-tune piano on which someone is banging out a series of tinkling riffs – the only thing which stops Bread Winner from grinding to a complete halt between choruses, themselves bookended by a couple of stabbed horn breaks straight off a Temptations LP – Sammy sounds thoroughly fed up. As with all his best records, he’s calling a no-good woman’s bluff: see how you get on without me, then. It’s great.
Go ahead, be the star that you think you are
‘Til the finance company come pick up the car!
In spitting out the song’s standout line (This is it! / I’m sick! / I quit!), Sammy sounds as though he really has had enough. The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 4 read this as meta-text: this single was Ward’s final effort for a company that didn’t need him any more, and that line (penned by another soon-to-be Motown castoff, Andre Williams) was about more than the narrator’s ex-girlfriend.
But those same compilation CDs, throwing in this and the other Soul singles from August ’64 cheek-by-jowl amongst all the great R&B-pop (and not-so-great C&W) on the Motown release slate that summer, highlight just how much Motown really did need a Sammy Ward; he’s like a breath of fresh air here, and knowing that Junior Walker will keep cropping up throughout the Sixties to plough his own furrow, it’s a real pity we won’t get to meet Sammy again doing his own thing too.
Not that Sammy’s the only thing going on here; after a sneaky quote from Who’s The Fool, he then goes completely missing for the whole middle third of the record, ceding the spotlight to a rich, shining-stringed Charlie Christian-style guitar solo while Ward wanders offstage to have a smoke.
The effortless ease with which he comes back in again, picking up exactly where he left off, is another indicator that this was a guy who really knew what he was doing; full of raw-throated pain his vocal may be, but he was a trouper, a showbiz veteran with consummate stage craft. Motown may not have thought there was room for him in their brave new world, and commercially they may have been right; but you can’t help but feel that in discarding such a pro – with such a knack for making good records – they’d made a bad mistake.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
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