B-side of Bread Winner
And no sooner have we said hello again to (Singin’) Sammy Ward here on Motown Junkies, then the time comes to say a final goodbye. This was Ward’s first release in two years, and after it went nowhere, Motown decided that the world had simply moved on. No more Sammy.
This is a somewhat atypical way to say goodbye. Here, Motown’s resident Southern blues man instead turns in something approaching uptempo gospel – the church was in Sammy’s blood, but he hadn’t often showed his gospel training on his Motown sides to date.
If it seems unusual that top Motown figures like Mickey Stevenson and up-and-comer Ivy Jo Hunter would write and produce for an artist so far out on the periphery, it’s easily explained: this one wasn’t originally written for him. Instead, it was earmarked for Shorty Long, before Sammy dubbed in his vocal over the pre-recorded track. Interesting to wonder if Sammy would ever have been encouraged to cut something like this from the start.
This is really out of step with the rest of Sammy’s output; apart from anything else, it sounds happy, even if Ward is as down and dirty as ever. The infectious rhythm, the jaunty opening piano, the cooing female backing vocals, not to mention that chorus right out of the church, it all feels a long way from the scuzzy, greasy blues patina that’s smeared on most of Sammy’s best records.
It’s hard to deny Sammy’s the best thing about this, too; there’s a fiercely independent bassline courtesy of James Jamerson, doing pretty much whatever the hell he feels like, but other than that the song doesn’t go anywhere – and if Sammy weren’t here, it would probably get dull very fast. As it is, and as ever, he brings the goods, salacious and respectful, and thrilling to listen to; very much the star of his last Motown bow. A trooper till the end.
This wasn’t the end, of course. Sammy did stay with the company for a while, watching his tapes stack up on the shelves without prospect of release, before eventually giving up and going elsewhere. Later, as “Sam Ward”, he later cut a single for Richard “Popcorn” Wylie at Groove City Records (Sister Lee b/w Stone Broke). It wasn’t a hit, and he died in the mid-Nineties, forgotten by both Motown and the music industry in general; a pity, as his canon is ripe for rediscovery and a long-overdue critical revival. Maybe we’ll start it here.
But his crowning achievement, for me, was cut at Motown in May of 1964 (probably at the same time as the A-side here), only the second time I’ve had to upload something to YouTube myself because no-one else had bothered to do so: the magnificent Then You Changed, an otherworldly soul excursion courtesy of Mickey Stevenson, Sammy somehow channelling both Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Otis Redding at the same time. If it’s not conceivably a hit single, then it’s still harsh on Sammy that only a Quality Control decision keeps him from racking up a of his very own, because that is incredible.
It wasn’t to be, and so this is as far as we go with Sammy on Motown Junkies – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles become the last surviving link in the Motown repertoire between the hyper-success of the Golden Age and the dark hand-to-mouth days of 1960. But You’ve Got To Change is as good a place as any to bow out. Even if it’s out of whack with the rest of his career, it’s a quirky, entertaining finish; meanwhile, there’s no doubt he could be proud of pretty much everything else he’d made. Here’s to you, Singin’ Sammy Ward.
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!)
You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
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“It’s A Crying Shame (The Way You Treat A Good Man Like Me)”
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