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Fontella Bass

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The 1965 classic "Rescue Me" is widely regarded as the greatest record Aretha Franklin never made. The song in question was instead cut by singer Fontella Bass, who like Franklin channeled the power and passion of her gospel roots to create some of the finest music of soul's golden age. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 3, 1940, Bass was the daughter of gospel vocalist Martha Bass, a longtime member of the renowned Clara Ward Singers. Her grandmother Navada Carter was also a professional gospel performer, and it was inevitable that Fontella follow suit, making her church choir debut at age five. Nevertheless, during the mid-'50s she rebelled against tradition, sneaking out of the house to sing secular R&B at local fairs and nightclubs. By 16, Bass was the house pianist at the St. Louis nightspot the Showbar, and in 1961 she joined local blues great Little Milton Campbell, later marrying the band's trumpeter, fledgling jazz titan Lester Bowie. Bass first earned notice for her vocal on Little Milton's 1962 hit "So Mean to Me," soon followed by her Bobbin label solo debut, "I Don't Hurt Anymore." But when Campbell and his pianist Oliver Sain parted ways, Bass exited along with Sain, who named her lead vocalist of his Oliver Sain Soul Revue. Her second single, the Ike Turner-produced "I Love the Man," followed on Turner's Prann label in 1963. Bass then cut "Poor Little Fool," a duet with Tina Turner issued on the Vesuvius imprint. And when she wasn't performing with Sain and his group, she moonlighted as a solo act, playing gigs across East St. Louis under the alias "Sabrina."

After the 1964 release of the Oliver Sain Soul Revue's debut effort, "Heavy Sugar," the pianist escorted Bass and singer Bobby McClure to Chicago, where he produced their duet, "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing," for Chess Records' Checker imprint. The single proved a Top Ten hit, and even after Bass left the group to mount a solo career, Sain remained a close collaborator. She relocated to Chicago in 1965 and late that same year scored the biggest hit of her career with her solo debut, "Rescue Me." A buoyant dance classic made memorable by Bass' impassioned, gritty vocal as well as the percolating bass of Chess session mainstay Louis Satterfield and Gene Barge's dynamic horn arrangement, the single topped the R&B charts for a month and crossed over to the pop Top Five. One of the biggest-selling records in Chess' storied history, "Rescue Me" remains an unqualified classic of the era and is a staple of oldies radio to this day, although many listeners now mistake the record as the work of Aretha Franklin, who ironically enough did not even enter the popular consciousness until two years later. Worse, Bass never received proper credit or financial remuneration for co-writing the song, and her subsequent battles with Chess execs earned her a reputation as a malcontent. The "Rescue Me" sound-alike "Recovery" followed in early 1966, reaching the R&B Top 20, but Bass' run as a hitmaker proved frustratingly short, and after scoring a minor hit late that same year with "Sweet Lovin' Daddy," she never returned to the U.S. charts again.

With her career mired in neutral, Bass exited Checker in 1969 and with husband Bowie -- now a renowned avant-garde player best known for his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago -- relocated to Paris. There she collaborated with the group on an LP, the acclaimed The Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass, but otherwise focused on raising a family until returning to St. Louis in 1971, renewing ties with Oliver Sain and signing to the Shreveport, Louisiana-based Paula label. The superb single "Who You Gonna Blame" anticipated the 1972 release of the Sain-produced Free, a remarkably soulful set that is by far the most memorable LP of Bass' career. Attention from radio and retail was negligible, however, and after subsequent singles including "Now That I've Found a Good Thing" and "It's Hard to Get Back In" flopped, she exited Paula in 1974, not resurfacing until three years later with the Epic single "Soon as I Touched Him." Apart from occasional guest appearances with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, she spent the remainder of the 1970s and most of the 1980s as a homemaker, confining her musical pursuits to her Baptist church choir, but in 1990 she teamed with her mother and brother David Peaston for a gospel LP, Promises: A Family Portrait of Faith. Bass continued her return to spiritual music with the 1995 Nonesuch release No Ways Tired, touring Europe regularly in the years leading up to the 2001 appearance of her follow-up outing, Travellin', a collaboration with the Voices of St. Louis gospel choir issued on the Canadian indie Justin Time. In subsequent years Bass suffered a series of strokes, followed by a heart attack in early December 2012 -- she died in a St. Louis hospice on December 26, 2012 at the age of 72.

-- Jason Ankeny of All Music Guide.

Rescue Me Rescue Me
Don't Mess with a Good Thing w/Bobby McClure Don't Mess with a Good Thing w/Bobby McClure
Our Day Will Come Our Day Will Come

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The New Look1966The New Look
With Fontenella Bass1970The Art Assemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass
Free1972Free (The Paula Recordings)
From the Root to the Source1980From the Root to the Source
Promises, A Family Portrait1991Promises, A Family Portrait of Faith with Martha Bass
Sister of Soul1991Sister of Soul
No Ways Tired1995No Ways Tired
Now That I Found a Good Thing1996Now That I Found a Good Thing
Live in Italy2003Live in Italy


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1966 The New Look

01. Our Day Will Come
02. How Glad I Am
03. Oh, No, Not My Baby
04. Rescue Me
05. Gee Whiz
06. I'm a Woman
07. Since I Fell For You
08. Impossible
09. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
10. Soul of the Man
11. Come and Get These Memories
12. I Know

1970 The Art Assemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass

01. Pt. 1: How Strange/Pt. 2: Ole Jed
02. Horn Webb

1972 Free (The Paula Recordings)

01. To Be Free
02. Hold On This Time
03. I Want Everyone To Know
04. I Need To Be Loved
05. Talking About Freedom
06. I Need Love
07. Wiping Tears
08. Now That I've Found A Good Thing
09. Who You Gonna Blame
10. It Sure Is Good
11. I'm Leaving The Choice To You
12. Home Wrecker
13. It's Hard To Get Back In
14. My God, My Freedom, My Home
15. Rescue Me (New Version)

1980 From the Root to the Source

01. Something Down Inside Of Me
02. He Touched Me
03. The Whole World In His Hands
04. I Feel A Change
05. I'm So Grateful
06. God Is So Good (to Me)
07. In The Garden
08. God Has Smiled On Me
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1991 Promises, A Family Portrait of Faith with Martha Bass

01. A Loving Mother
02. Behold Thy Son... Behold Thy Mother
03. He'll Be Coming Back
04. The Voice of the Lord
05. Promises
06. No Ways Tired
07. Something Down in Me
08. What the Lord Told Me
09. When the Gates Swing Open

1991 Sister of Soul

01. Our Day Will Come
02. How Glad I Am
03. Oh No, Not My Baby
04. Rescue Me
05. Gee Whiz
06. I'm a Woman
07. Since I Fell for You
08. Impossible
09. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
10. Soul of the Man
11. Come and Get These Memories
12. I Know
13. Recovery
14. Don't Mess Up a Good Thing
15. I Want to Know
16. Going Back to Where I Belong
17. Maybe Youll Be There
18. Can't Let You Go
19. Ask Me
20. She's Got Everything
21. Soulful Dress
22. Use What You Got
23. Slip-In Mules
24. Do I Make Myself Clear
25. Mama Didn't Raise No Fool
26. In the Basement, Part One
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1995 No Ways Tired

01. The Light of My World
02. You Don't Know What the Lord Told Me
03. No Ways Tired
04. Everlasting Arms
05. What the World Needs Now
06. All My Burdens
07. I Surrender All
08. Lean on Me
09. This Place I Call Home
10. This Little Light of Mine
11. I Must Tell Jesus

1996 Now That I Found a Good Thing

01. Rescue Me
02. To Be Free
03. Hold on This Time
04. I Want Everyone to Know
05. Now That I Found a Good Thing
06. I Need to Be Loved
07. Talking About Freedom
08. I Need Love
09. Wiping Tears
10. Who You Gonna Blame
11. My God, My Freedom, My Home

2001 Travellin'

01. Mandela
02. Travellin'
03. It's Alright Now
04. Special Lady
05. Walk With Me
06. Waiting
07. Round & Round
08. DB Blues
09. In The Garden
10. Thank You Lord

2003 Live in Italy

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Graphics by YSM

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