Carla Thomas, “the queen of Memphis soul”, is often, sadly, treated as a footnote in soul histories. Given her track record it’s hard to understand why. Maybe it’s because after her hit-making time at Stax she only worked sporadically and consequently her profile suffered in comparison to people like Aretha, Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle. Hopefully this new wonderful 4 CD, 94 track compilation of her work at Stax between 1960 and 1968 will rectify the situation and restore Ms Thomas to a status more befitting her talents and her contribution to southern soul’s evolution in general and the rise of Stax in particular… because, of course, it was her 1961 recording of ‘Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)’ that got the ball rolling for the fledgling label. Then known as Satellite, the success of ‘Gee Whiz’ brought in the royalties to allow the label to expand and, as importantly, secured Stax a distribution deal with Atlantic that was hugely and mutually successful.
The seminal ‘Gee Wizz’ is one of the focus tracks on ‘Let Me Be Good To You’ but all Ms Thomas’ big tunes bear repeated hearings. Everything she recorded at Stax is here and, usefully, the music is sequenced by chronological session. You can enjoy everything from Carla’s four solo albums and the wonderful duet collection she made with Otis Redding . Then there’s all the A and B sides of the singles alongside non-album cuts, her duets with her dad, Rufus, and live recordings from 1967 concerts in London and Paris when she was part of the Stax Revue.
Amongst the countless highlights are ‘I’ll Bring It On Home To You’ (an “answer song” to Sam Cooke’s big hit – “answer songs” were popular in the early 60s), a searing Redding duet cover of Sam and Dave’s ‘When Something Is Wrong With Baby’ and a Southern soul treatment of Barbara Mason’s ‘Yes, I’m Ready’.
This collection has been put together by SoulMusic boss, David Nathan (the acknowledged expert on soul divas) while the comprehensive sleeve notes come courtesy of my esteemed SJF colleague Charles Waring so you know that they will be both informative and entertaining. With that duo in her corner Carla’s reputation is surely assured!