Born: August 12, 1920 | Died: August 11, 1984 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
If Percy Mayfield had done no more than compose “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” he would merit a decent footnote in the history of popular music. A classically proportioned 32-bar blues-ballad with a deceptively simple melody and a lyric that subtly links an individual's yearning for affection with the troubled state of the world, Mayfield's song has been a favorite of saloon-bar singers for the past half-century. Singer-songwriter Percy Mayfield was known as Poet Laureate of the Blues, and his widely recorded compositions, have become standards in American popular music.
Born in Minden, Louisiana, Mayfield wrote poems as a boy and set them to music, but because his mother didn't approve of blues, he sang only in church. He left home at 15 and hoboed around the country on freight trains before settling in Los Angeles in 1942.
Several years later, in 1947, he took his blues song Two Years of Torture to Supreme Records with the hope that Jimmy Witherspoon would record it, but he ended up cutting it himself. The hits began to flow, including his signature 1950 #1 for Specialty Records, Please Send Me Someone To Love. Then, in 1952, Mayfield was involved in a horrible car accident, leaving his face disfigured. He struggled through the '50s, releasing unsuccessful singles for Chess, Cash, Imperial, and 7 Arts before leaving Los Angeles for his Louisiana home. During this time Mayfield wrote one of Ray Charles signature songs, Hit The Road Jack.
This led him to be signed by Brother Ray for his Tangerine label as an in house songwriter, and artist. . He wrote custom material for his legendary label boss; Hide Nor Hair, The Danger Zone, My Baby Don't Dig Me considered some of his finest.
Aside from his songs for Ray Charles, Mayfield did have some success on his own. He also cut two albums of his own for Charles's Tangerine label. Among the gems are River's Invitation (1963), whose Gerald Wilson arrangement helped Mayfield back onto the R&B charts. Stranger In My Own Home Town (1964) was subsequently recorded by both Elvis and Mose Allison. The harrowing My Bottle Is My Companion (1968) chronicles the artist's bouts with alcoholism in the period following his accident. Ha Ha In The Daytime (1968) was his last Tangerine side. Among the many other artists who've recorded Mayfield songs are Johnny Adams, Brook Benton, B.B. King, Junior Parker, Houston Person, Esther Phillips, Elvis Presley, Johnny Guitar Watson, and Nancy Wilson.
After leaving Tangerine in the late sixties Mayfield, recorded “Walking on a Tightrope,” for Brunswick in ’69, which are stellar sessions, and a number of sides for RCA Victor in 1970; “Percy Mayfield sings Percy Mayfield,” “Weakness is a Thing Called Man,” and “Blues and then Some.” Mayfield's writing and voice were in great shape, and he was surrounded by both crack and sympathetic studio talent on these sides -- Eric Gale, Chuck Rainey, Pretty Purdie, Snooky Young, and Richard Tee to name a few -- as well as full horn sections and female backing vocalists.
He did some fine sessions for Specialty in 1972, reissued as “Memory Pain,” and he surfaced again in 1974 and recorded some memorable dates for Atlantic.
He continued to perform and record and the reissue of “Live Mayfield,” material is culled from performances between 1981 and 1983, the twilight of the singer's blues career, he remains in fine, laidback voice throughout.
Percy Mayfield passed away on August 11, 1984, one day shy of his sixty fourth birthday.
Johnny Adams recorded “Walking on a Tightrope; The Songs of Percy Mayfield,” in 1989 for Rounder, and it is a remarkable tribute to this mans music. The material covers a broad spectrum of Mayfield’s career, from the early Specialty hits through his mid’60’s Tangerine era, and into his work for RCA in the ‘70’s. Johnny Adams recreated a collection of songs with considerable richness, depth and class. Highly recommended.
In retrospect, he was one of many R & B performers who hit their creative peak for the most part in the years before the music became the sound of mainstream America. Because of that it was always a struggle to gain recognition as one who had paid his dues rather than one who was trying to achieve his big break among the hordes of hopefuls.
Source: James Nadal