SUGAR IS SWEET! Sugar Pie DeSanto Interview
Though there are many negatives to the touristy Blues club scene in Chicago, one good aspect is that if you're a gigging artist, you don't need a big name . . . people will come to see you in the name of Blues. When Sugar Pie Desanto played this spring at Legends, the hopping Blues bar owned by former Chess-mate Buddy Guy, it was almost a solid bet that 95% of the full house didn't know Sugar Pie from Sugar Ray, but she rocked the crowd all the same. While she didn't perform many of her classic Chess-label sides like "Soulful Dress" and "Slip-In Mules," she nevertheless put on an incredible show, demonstrating the dynamic stage moves and tough attitude that earned her the nicknames, "Lady James Brown" and "Little Miss Dynamite." Though the tourists may not have known it when they came in, they sure knew the name Sugar Pie Desanto when they left.
Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton sometime in the mid thirties to an African American mom and a Filipino dad, Sugar's professional career began early. Shortly after being discovered in a Bay Area talent show by the legendary Johnny Otis, she was recording singles under the name he dubbed her, Little Miss Sugar Pie! Otis, "The Godfather Of Rhythm and Blues" struck gold recording Umpeylia's childhood friend Etta James, with the hit "Roll With Me Henry," and in Sugar Pie he had found another fair skinned, beautiful powerhouse. Though she was barely a teenager, young age wasn't the reason she had to stand on a phonebook to reach the microphone during her early sessions...four feet and eleven inches was as big as Sugar was ever going to grow. But over the years she would go on to prove that mighty things come in small packages.
After recording several singles with various members of the Otis posse, Sugar Pie hooked up with Pee Wee Kingsley in 1957. Working with Bob Geddings they went on to record her biggest hit, "I Want To Know" (#4 '60) for Veltone Records. The simple, solid tune, with Sugar's fine vocals and lyrics that hint at the tough attitude she would later be known for, allowed her to tour the chitlin circuit and large Black entertainment palaces, and attracted the attention of The Godfather of Soul. She spent the beginning of the decade touring with James Brown's revue, and likely stole his thunder several times with her acrobatic stage act (backflips!). Sugar Pie eventually settled in Chicago, recording and writing for Chess Records, who picked up her contract on the strength of "I Want To Know." Artists she wrote for include Little Milton, Fontella Bass and The Dells.
Soon after arriving at Chess, Desanto's straight razor tough style emerged. It's seldom that female artists projected rough and tumble take-no-shit personas in the sixties, but what few did apparently recorded for Chess. Koko Taylor promised she'd, "love you like a woman, but I'll fight you like a man." Even when they sang ballads, Etta James and Laura Lee were hardly passive sob sisters. And Sugar Pie? Studio rats like Maurice White (later of Earth, Wind & Fire) remember her using cuss words that hadn't been invented yet. And the songs? Fierce musical threats, and bold boasts of sexual prowess. Her diminutive height wouldn't hold her back, as she shouted in "Use What You Got" (Yes I got everything I know I need to keep my man satisfied/cause if you know how to use what you got it doesn't matter about your size). Her fine threads and beauty could get her what she wanted, as expressed in "Soulful Dress" (Don't you girls go getting jealous when I round up all your fellas/Cause I'll be at my best when I put on my soulful dress) and in her classic "Slip In Mules" (a hilarious answer record to "Hi-Heel Sneakers," that reached #48 in 1964), in which she explains that in addition to comfortable shoes (high heels hurt her "toeses") she's wearing a sharp dress, "and it ain't the back that's cut too low." And if you fucked with her, watch out, as expressed in "Jump In My Chest," (Shut up when I'm talking to you...If you don't believe what I say, then jump in my chest!)
Perhaps her baddest records teamed her with old friend Etta James The two wild girls letting loose about the raucous party on "In The Basement" Parts 1 and 2 resulted in one of the best Soul/R&B cuts of its day (#37 soul, #97 pop 1967). And though she only released one LP and sporadic singles at Chess during her years based in Chicago, she toured with prominent acts, and even was featured in a European touring festival of American Folk Blues (see discography for more info). Ultimately, however, she never achieved the national success she deserved, and left Chicago and Chess for her native San Francisco. She hooked up with James Moore and recorded the regional hit "Hello San Francisco" for his Jasman label, and became a staple on the Bay Area Blues circuit through the 70s, 80s and 90s, earning the nickname The Blues Queen. And though she never reached superstar status, her legacy of toughness, rawness and power resonates in the female stars that followed her, from the toughness of Denise Lasalle to the saltiness of Millie Jackson, and subsequently Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown and the current crop of ruffneck divas.
I first heard about Sugar Pie when I was ten years old, and a girl I went to school with laid a mess of ancient 45's on me that her folks didn't want anymore. One of them was "I Want To Know." My musical tastes then were fairly broad-minded, but even at that age I figured she was on to something. Years later, during my college days, I saw her live at the '86 Chicago Blues Fest. Organist Bill Doggett ("Honky Tonk") was there that day, along with Jimmy McCracklin and Johnny Heartsman. I also remember that it was 100 degrees, sizzling hot. Heartsman was wearing a double-breasted suit and a Panama hat. Even though his head was bald as a doorknob, the man looked like he was sweating bullets. And Sugar Pie, she made the most of the heat, by wearing, get this, purple hot pants! Did I mention the purple hat pants?
I was amazed, but hardly surprised. I had heard that Sugar Pie does not shy away from the spotlight. Fast forwarding to 1998, this was still fresh in my mind when I entered Buddy Guy's. Bypassing the rock-blues opening act, Roctober editor Jake and I stepped outside for some air, when from the corner of 18th and Nowhere, a cab pulled up, and who walks out but Sugar herself! I recognized her, and she was gracious enough to invite us to her dressing room, where we hung out with Sugar, her manager, and a bunch of former Chess Records studio musicians who knew her from back in the day. Rumors of Sugar's salty language were quickly verified, as she kicked back and reminisced with old friends, using language that would make Blowfly blush. After a remarkable fly on the wall experience watching these legends tell fantastic stories of the old days, Sugar kicked everyone out so as to change into her soulful stage dress. Soon the 60+ year old siren was dancing around the stage like an R&B Luvabull. Use what you got, indeed!
I caught up with Sugar one January afternoon, and she graciously took time out from her game (the NFC Final) to talk a while...
If you don't mind I kinda want to take it back to the beginning of your career. I understand that you grew up in San Francisco and you started out singing in a church group.
Yeah, in and out. I never was really very churchy. I did some singing in church. Not a lot of it.
So how did you make the jump from that to doing straight secular music?
Oh, because my mother, I learned all my stuff from my mother. She always taught me music, to sing while she played. You know, it was one of them family home things. I was singin since I was a little bitty girl. My mother was a concert pianist at the age of five.
Before you began a solo career, you were in The Peaches with Etta James, weren't you?
No not me, my sister. My sister was with the Peaches.
Oh, OK. So how did Johnny Otis come to discover you?
I used to do the talent shows here in San Francisco. They had these talent shows here every week at the Ellis Theater and I would do it maybe every two weeks, something like that an he happened to be listening. He came through, I guess looking for talent, and that's how he picked me up.
So, what was Johnny Otis like to work for?
Oh, he was real nice to work for. He's a real easy person. As a matter of fact, on February 1st, I'm doing a thing for the colleges up here and he's gonna play for me. He just sent me a letter for me to do the first with him February 1st. Him and his band.
Did you get to work with the others in his revue like Two Tons of Joy and Don and Dewey?
Two Tons, no no. I didn't work with them, I just worked with Johnny. I worked with Johnny, and then was doing my own thing.
I know he had that big traveling revue, I wondered if you were part of that?
No. I did some dates with him, on the road and then I came back home. No, uh-uh. I didn't travel with the troupe.
OK. Somewhere down the line, I think you made your first record with a guy named Pee Wee Kingsley. "One, Two Let's Rock?"
Yeah it was Pee-Wee and Sugar Pie. That's what we was known as.
How'd you hook up with him?
What happened was we hooked up. We was playing some clubs in Stockton, California and I was playing one club and he was playing another and he came to hear me sing and I checked out his thing and that's how we started out.
And was it right after then that you got your first big record, "I Want To Know."
That came in 1959 with Bob Geddins out of Oakland. Yeah, that was Bob Geddins. But he's deceased now, he just died recently, you know, couple of months, whatever, but he recorded my first hit. That was VelTone Records.
Bob Geddins, he was kind of like, "The Man," wasn't he?
He was the man for all the blues and everything. He did a lot to help us get to our feet.
As far as Oakland blues went, you couldn't get over him, under him...
Yeah, he just had a lot of good entertainers and he loved the blues and he put all his life in it. Recorded some of us that he knew they really had it. And so, that's how I got my first start. I wrote the tune and everything but when he heard it he just went all crazy. So, that's what did it. He helped many artists in the Bay area.
I noticed that even early in the game you were kind of doing these tough girl songs, even though, "I Want to Know" is not necessarily that tough, it's got that one line "Please don't start no stuff 'cause I don't want to get rough. I want to know."
(Sings) "I want to know." (laughs)
Like you're about to jump in somebody's chest. Was that pretty ballsy for the time, did you have any problems with anybody thinking that that was a heavy thing for a woman to say?
No. It went real well. As a matter of a fact it was a smash. I was like two thousand from gold. I did pretty good. Well, five thousand from a gold. I traveled on that for years, from '59 all the way up there to '60, no '65, something like that. That's when I played with James Brown. I went to the Apollo in New York and he picked me up after seeing me appear there on my own hit record. Yeah, see me and Tina (Turner) was on the same show at the time and she had "You just a fool, you know you in love" ("A Fool In Love") and I had "I Want To Know," so we had star spots at the Apollo and that was in '59 and '60.
I know the Apollo could be really tough.
Oh man! They are too tough for me. If you ain't nothin' there, you'll know it buddy. They'll throw rotten eggs and tell you to get off. And they got a man that jumps out of the ceiling and hooks you with a cane and pulls you off, if you bad. See, cause most of them is talented. Most of them, that's looking at you can sing themselves. Church singers, you know, so you can't fool. I got out with no problem. Never did have a problem stage-wise cause I always made my own way. Everything is made up by Sugar, I just got that soul.
Etta James, she was like your childhood buddy, wasn't she?
Yes, my cousin. We were raised to together, but she was a little younger than me so she hung more with my sister...The Peaches, you know. But then again, we still all hung and sung on the back porches. We came up together, OK? We were cousins, we came up together, so we sung on the back fences and porches and whatever we could find to sing.
It looks like your career kind of took the same path. You started out doing the raunchy R&B stuff then later on you were doing really jazzy kind of things.
Right, cause see, actually my dream is to appear at Carnegie one day and be able to sing everything cause, see a lot of people dub me as the Blues Queen, but I sing more than blues. I can sing anything. And I just want my public to know that I can do it all so someday, that's my dream. To have a show where they might see the real me, not just the dancing and everything, but that I could really sing, you know. All types of stuff, I like jazz and all that. I could perform that, but I don't get a chance too much because the blues, being dubbed the Blues Queen, you know what I mean?
You actually did do some touring on the jazz circuit for a while. You were singing with Count Basie and a few other people.
Oh yeah, I did a lot with Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Temptations, Smokey and the Miracles. We just did a lot of theater gigs. With theaters like The Royal in Baltimore, The Uptown in Philly, The Apollo in New York, The Howard in D.C., Washington. It just was a whole run of stage shows in theaters. I did a lot of that.
So how did you hook up those tours with Count Basie and what not? Were you singing straight jazz in those gigs or were you doing ...
I did my records. I did my own records, but he had that big band, I had to have music, I had to have charts to all my stuff cause they didn't play nothing but with charts. Those were polished musicians. So, I did my own works but I had music for it. It was no problem for them to kick it off, you know, kick it down. I had a good time with him (laughs).
It seems like the period that you liked the biggest was during the Chess area. You were on that label for what, like five years?
Seven. I did a lot of writing for other artists as well as myself. Like Fontella Bass and Little Milton. You name em, Billy Stewart. I did a lot of writing for Sam and Dave. I wrote for everybody because I'm a good writer.
What song did you write for Sam and Dave?
Something about "Come on..." It was called "Come On," or something like that. I can't even remember, it was so long ago. I did some things for them. I did a lot of writing for the artists. I was hot with my writing then.
You were reunited with Etta James, you did some duets.
"In The Basement."
Yeah, I did the writing and we went on back to Chess and just cut some doubles. Cause we both recorded for the same company and we do sound a lot alike.
That brings me to my next question. Which one of you takes the lead on "In The Basement?"
OK, so you're singing back up, right?
No no no. I'm singin a line, she's singin a line, I'm singin a line, she's singin a line. You understand what I'm talking about?
No no no no no. I got just as much as she do, baby. She's says, "Where can you go when your money get low?" and I say "in the basement." And I come back with another line. So, no. We were even on that. We were even on all our songs.
I was the writer. Oh, by the way, I was nominated for the Bammie Awards. (Note: the Bammies are the Bay Area Music awards, for Bay Area musicians initiated by Bam magazine, a local music mag.)
Who you up against?
I don't know, it's some more people, I don't know who they are, not really. To be honest I had never heard of them really, but I know that I'm up for it.
Best of luck.
I received an award from Atlanta, Georgia. They had a big thing there a couple of months or so ago. I couldn't make it but they sent me my award. And then I had another award from Canada. They called it the Blues and Soul Summit Conference of '98 and they gave the legendary artist and songwriter award to Sugar Pie Desanto. August the 15th is when I got it. I also got honors from Canada and London is calling. I'm gettin hot, my brother, gettin hot. (laughs). I want to come back to Chicago to Buddy's club but they hadn't called me yet but I'm sure they will this year. Hopefully.
Did you know Buddy when you were at Chess Records?
Oh yeah. Sure, I've been knowing Buddy over thirty years.
Were the blues guys still around when you were there?
Oh yeah, but he was mostly gone then. He stayed a couple years, but then he was gone. He went to do something else, gigging for something else. Recording or whatever, cause he left. But he was there, you know what I mean? I did know him from there. That's how I met Buddy Guy.
So what was the Chess family like to deal with?
They were cool. They were two brothers and a son. It was Leonard and Phil Chess and their son Marshall. They were pretty cool people. I will give them credit. Only thing I didn't like that they did, they didn't give me my propers, like uh, give me my rewards and stuff.
Right. What's happening now, my lawyer, my manager is suing MCI or MCA, whoever they are. Suing them for my royalties. We had to take them to court. They bought all the things from Chess. They had the gall to throw my shit out overseas and didn't tell me anything about it and I'm just spinnin' in London and shit. So we come to find out, so my manager's got em under suit...to get me my money.
So what about that one album that Chess put out here, not the one back in the 60's but the one in the 80's, "Down in The Basement." Did you get paid for that one?
No I did not. Yeah, they kinda wasn't cool either cause what they had, they had this brother, Billy Davis, that was the producer for the company. He was black and the brother was cool and everything but he didn't take care of the right business. I just recently got some bread from them cause they owed me so much over the years and hadn't gave me nothing. They just closed the mouth. so my manager got a lawyer. It's costing, but hey, its worth it cause the checks are beginning to come in. Give me my proper dues, brother. I worked for all of that.
What about the one record Chess put out back in the 60's? It was an album and it had stuff on there that was already 5 or 6 years old.
What was the name of it?
I think you only had one LP on Chess in the 60's, I've never seen it. I've just read about it.
Oh yes, "Slip In Mules." The answer to "Hi-Heel Sneakers." Tommy Tucker had "Put on Your Red Dress" and I told him my red dress was in the cleaners. And that was a pretty big one for me too.
About that "Slip In Mules," was that your idea to answer Tommy Tucker?
Billy Davis of the Chess Company, that was his idea. Buy some big ol shoes. And then I helped him just think about it. That record was on Chess too, so that kind of gave the idea...It was a big one for me. That kept me traveling.
You mostly released singles in your career, but your releasing more full length albums now...
In March England is releasing a new CD on me of all my old stuff, but redone and what-have. And I'm happy over it but, then again, me and my manager, we're in the process of gettin me another CD now. Cause I got Classic Sugar, that's my last. I want to go over seas. I'm tired of over here. I'm ready to go now. (laughs) You know what I'm saying? I'm ready to go now. Can I go now? That's what's happening. I'm up for the Bammies in February and then February 1st I'm singin with Johnny Otis like I said at this college and I got weddings up and all kind of crap. That's my thing. So I'm still in it.
That's your money.
Yeah, I'm still in it brother.
I'm looking at this back cover of the "Down in the Basement" LP. Looks like you were wearing leather pants long before anybody even thought of it.
What were these pictures from?
That's years ago. I can't quite remember when we took them but I know that's me and they got a blue shirt, right?
Multi color blue and green shirt, yeah.
Got a long sleeve shirt? I know it. I was wearing leather then baby. They hadn't even thought of leather pants.
They must of loved at the Apollo and The Regal when you walked on stage like that.
I tore it up, that's all there is to it. They dubbed me Lady James Brown. The shit get back. Yeah, she cool. Weighed about 95 pounds. And I'm now about 105. I still little. I don't want to be big, cause I need that for my strength for stage. I don't need to be no big woman cause I move a lot. I don't need to be having no heart attack. So go head home.
In the liner notes it says Maurice White, who ...
He's the drummer for Chess but then he used to sing a little bit on the side and then later on he left and went with this group, Earth, Wind and Fire.
That's right. And Ramsey Lewis too.
Yeah, that's my buddy. He was Ramsey. He was a bad drummer, man. What the hell he was singin for cause he drummed! He didn't play.
Maurice says that you'd be cuttin up in the studio. You'd be cursin him worse than the Chess brothers.
He's right. Cause I want it correct.
You want to get paid.
Not only that, I'm a perfectionist. It's just my way. If it can't be done right, then I don't want it done at all. Cause I'm dealing with pros, so they say, and that's what I want to deal with, pros. I don't want no side nothing. Cause I've been in it over 40 years so you know I know my thing.
So why did you leave Chicago, the whole time you were with Chess you were living here...
Right, 7 years.
After the Chess contract you went back home to San Francisco. Wasn't Chess already dead by then?
No no, he was still living when I left. Died later on after I was gone. But I stayed in Chicago 7 years, I did my traveling. But I had my home base there. At that old Southern Hotel, and then I had an apartment on West Evergreen, Jackson Boulevard. I loved Chicago, it was just too cold for me.
I understand. So after the contract ran out, that's the main reason why you went back to San Francisco?
Uh-huh. Not that it ran out, I could've stayed, but I just chose to do something different back home. I was homesick by that time. 7 years was enough to be away.
You jumped around a little bit. You were on this label called Soul Clock...
Yeah, that was Ron Carson out of San Francisco. He cut a couple things for me and then I was with Don Bastille of the Boston Celtics, he played basketball. He was my manager and recorder for a while. So I did a lot of jumpin in them days. I don't jump as much no more. I'm jumpin, but I have my thing set up, I don't get so tired. After all, I'm 63, OK? There's a difference now. I take care of myself, lay off the booze and off the weed and off all that bullshit cause I really want to do a thing this year and I want to be able to really hit it when I hit it. I also wrote to Oprah. I don't know if she gonna answer, but I'll find out.
Wrote Oprah about getting you on the show?
That's right. And gave her all my background so she'd know who I am and I am legendary, you know. And who knows, she might help me. She helped a lot of people. She might give me a play. I go on her show that's all I need. Plus these Bammies I'm fixin to do. That's televised and that's how you come up with gigs and stuff. Know you're alive. I know some niggers run up on me and tell me "Oh my goodness, I know you, I thought you were dead!" I said, "Nigger, do I look dead?" You know what I'm saying honey, how can I be dead and I'm standing here talking to you? That really just blew my mind. That blew me up. I said, " You're kidding. You didn't ask me that." "It's the Sugar." I said, "You're damn right its the Sugar, what you mean 'Is it the Sugar?'" You lookin at me!" "Yeah but I heard you..." I said "Well if you see me, how could I be dead?" Oh man. But I came a long ways, my man. I really have.
You hooked up with Robert Geddins again after you got back to San Francisco. You had a local hit, "Hello San Francisco."
Yeah yeah, but that wasn't him. That wasn't Geddins, that's my manager, Jim Moore. That's who I hooked up with when I got back. Me and him been together like 30 years.
What year was that, 71?
Yeah somewhere around the 70's, early 70's, uh-huh. So then I recorded the "Hello San Francisco." I'm with the Jasman label now. I've been with him almost 30 years. So I don't do nothing big time unless he gets out there from me and take care of it. He's been my manager that long. His name is Jim Moore. Do you have a computer?
Yes, I do.
OK well put this down then, cause you can get me up on it. It's www.jasmanrecords.com. And you can get me. You can bring me up, all my history, everything. Me on the website.
Alright, that'll work.
You can get a lot of history from that too. I've just discovered computers, web sites and all this crap.
I don't know if you remember this. I saw a picture of some guys in a car in a driveway...and there's you and somebody else pushing the car.
Yeah, it's The Radiants. That's Fontella Bass and Jackie Ross pushing with me.
Whose house is that and who's car is that and how was it set up?
The company just did that. It was just Chess records. And they used on of the brother's cars. Just set it up. Billy Davis really did that. He's the big man of Chess records, big producer. He always took all care of all the business. That was Billy's idea undoubtedly.
So did you ever get to do any of those TV shows, like The!!! Beat!!! or any of those other TV dance party shows that were on in the 60's and 70's?
No I did not. I should have.
You're long overdue.
Right. Long overdue. That's why I'm writing everybody, trying to hang in here, show them I'm clean, I'm ready to roll. Basically, my man, I'm still hanging in there. I'm working hard as ever. Oh, also I have my brother's band. It's called Domingo and Friends. Whenever I play a big gig he comes out the woodwork and bring his 7 pieces. He bad, too.
Domingo and Friends?
Domingo and Friends, that's the name of the band. Them niggers is bad. Got me down to the T. My brother got me. So that's why I want him to go on the Bammies with me. I'm going to do a number but I want the full band, like 7 pieces. So when we slam, you know, we slam dunk. We'll show you how to slam dunk. Cause that boy got a bad band. He does. He been plying about 30 years himself.
So you been doing that Bay area blues circuit since you came back right?
Right. I do the full circuit everywhere, Phileo, Jay Jay's, San Jose. I just do it all.
And of course you've done the San Francisco Blues Fest quite a few times.
We just did that one. And I just did the Fort Mason thing. Oh yeah, I been on all that.
You had a kind of homecoming in '86 when I saw you at the Blues Fest. you were on with Jimmy McCracklin and Johnny Heartsman and all these other San Francisco blues people.
Yeah, I sung at his (Heartsman's) funeral. I tore it up. Them people sitting up there... Oh Lord, when I got through they forgot about his funeral. everybody was up there. Can you believe that, at a funeral? But, hey that's the way I bring em.
Johnny Heartsman knew a lot of people.
Oh yeah, and a lot of people knew Johnny Heartsman. He was a modern man to music. A lot of these guys out here, he taught em. Cause the brother could play more than five instruments. Very talented man and I had known him for about 40 years. We did things off and on over the years. I hated that, but hey, that's the way it is. It's kinda bad, but thank God I'm living. And in pretty good health.
You were telling me earlier that a lot of people think you dead. You sure wasn't dead when I saw you at the Blues Fest in '86. It was really hot. You know what I remember? You coming out there in the purple hot pants.
We were kickin. Don't put me on no stage cause I'm something else. That's where I belong, That's where all my energy...
You gonna burn that stage down.
That's right. So, you live in Chicago?
Yeah I do. I'll let you get back to the game and thanks for talking to me.
It's always nice to have good people. And also I want to come back to Chicago. Put a word in for me.
You got it.
Alright You take care bro. Bye Bye.
Though Sugar Pie Desanto released a number of singles on , Aladdin, Brunswick, Cadet, Check, Checker, Federal, Gediton, Jasman, Soul Clock, Veltone and others, her Chess material is most easily available in reissue form today. Here are some of her albums for you to seek out:
Sugar Pie (Chess, 1961) Good luck finding this one. Though highly sought by collectors, this record surfaces less frequently than it should, and will cost you a bundle if it does. And it may not be worth it. Though Sugar Pie's only smash hit, "I Want To Know," was recorded with Bob Geddins in San Francisco, it is not evocative of her strongest, tuffest material that was still to come. Most of this LP was recordings Geddins had made before Desanto moved to Chi-Town, and as much a I love it, an LP of 12 "I Want To Know"s wont satisfy my Sugar jones..
Lovin' Touch (Diving Duck, 1987) This is an amazing collection. Though it doesn't contain her two signature tunes ("I Want To Know" and "In The Basement" w/Etta James) what it does present is Sugar Pie at her most powerful! "Go Go Power," "Jump In My Chest," "Do The Whoopee," "Slip In Mules" and others contain the growl and spunk and kick ass attitude that grabs the listener by the shoulders and shakes til you recognize her power! There's also some more Motown-ish straight Soul-Pop (the classic, "Mama Didn't Raise No Fools"), and some slower jams that show off her enchanting (when it wants to be) voice. But truly enchanting is the beautiful black and white picture of Sugar Pie on the cover. It made me fall in love! If you see this one, grab it.
Down In The Basement (Chess, 1988) This LP (and later CD, with bonus tracks, "Use What You Got" and "Ask Me") is a nice compliment to the Diving Duck record, as it features her big numbers and an unreleased track. However, like many Chess reissue packages, it skimps (10 tracks on the LP, and the CD is only a hair over half an hour) and leaves you a bit hungry. They colorize the photo from the Diving Duck LP for the cover, by the way. The back cover has the awesome leather pants photos, though! Getting both records is your best bet.
Hello San Francisco (Jasman, 197?) I've never seen this one, but I understand it contains her title track hit and a number of other tracks she recorded with her manager James Moore after she returned to SF in the early 70s. I'm assuming this is mostly fairly straight Blues, as she acquired the local nickname The Blues Queen during this era.
Sugar Is Salty (Jasman, 1993) What you get with the mature Sugar is a seasoned voice, dripping with experience, that is just as attitudinous as the young Sugar's, though in different ways. Buried in here is a reissue of her solid regional hit, "Hello San Francisco" (parts 1 and 2), but the bulk of this album is new recordings. Perhaps in an effort to shed The Blues Queen moniker, in addition to straight Blues, there are also tracks in Jazzy and even Rap(!) styles. There's some real unusual and progressive decision making here, and I love her voice on this. While this CD doesn't capture the magic of her better singles, it's certainly bold, and sincere.
Classic Sugar Pie (Jasman, 1997) Recorded in New Orleans by Wardell Quezerque (what's that worth in Scrabble?), the bulk of this offering has Sugar Pie re-recording her classic songs and others she wrote back in the day. You won't mistake these for 1960s Michigan Avenue recordings, but this is solid 1990s Blues Club stuff, and Sugar's mature voice has a lot of oomph to it. And Sugar adds long spoken parts here and there that are the things that contemporary black Blues radio audiences eat up (she actually adds a monologue to "Jump In My Chest" where the jumping is initiated by her disgust at her man's TV remote techniques!) The more I listen to this, the more I like it.
SUGAR PIE TRACKS ON COMPILATIONS
American Folk Blues Box (Evidence, 1995) "Baby What You Want Me To Do,"(prev. unreleased) "Slip In Mules" (NOTE: These are not reissues of old studio recordings. Sugar Pie Desanto was the only female vocalist to tour Europe with the "American Folk Blues Festival" in 1964, with such legends as Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson and Sleepy John Estes. This outstanding box set documents the best of these live sets from 1962-1965).
"Best Of Chess R&B Vol 1" (Chess, 1987) "I Want To Know"
"Best Of Chess R&B Vol 2" (Chess, 1987) "Soulful Dress"
"Chess Rhythm & Roll Box" (Chess, 1994) "I Want To Know"
"Chess Soul" (Chess, 1997) "Soulful Dress," "Do I Make Myself Clear"
"Etta James-Her Best" (Chess, 1997) "In The Basement Part 1"
"The Essential Etta James" (Chess, 1993) "In The Basement Part 1," "Do I Make Myself Clear"
"James Brown's Original Soul Sisters" (Polygram, 1998)"A Little Taste Of Soul" (w/Nat Kendrick)
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