My love and respect for LaVern Baker is so big, I find myself challenged to find the words to accurately express my feelings. She was a pioneer in multiple ways, being a top R&B artist prior to exploding into a hugely successful career as one of the first female stars of rock n roll. She was also one of the first victims of "whitewashing", a practice in which Black artists' records were covered note for note by white artists for "safer" airplay. LaVern fought this musical thievery all the way to the supreme court. Although she lost her legal battle, she won the war in the eyes of history. Today any music fan worth their weight in vinyl views Georgia Gibbs (the woman who ripped off three LaVern Baker records) as a hack, while LaVern has been crowned the Empress of Rock n Roll and the 2nd woman to be inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
So on this 85th anniversary of her birth, I'm making "Trouble In Mind" by LaVern Baker the Record of the Day. It's a good representation of the way she approached life and the many struggles she faced. I also think it's a nice tribute to the classic blues singers who preceded her. The song was originally recorded in 1924 by Thelma La Vizzo and became a standard of the classic blues genre recorded by Georgia White and Victoria Spivey in the 1930s, Rosetta Tharpe and Julia Lee in the 40s, and Dinah Washington in the 1950s (among countless others). I appreciate this record as a thread tying LaVern to the powerhouse female performers who paved the way for her. In turn, she would pave the way for so many more women who followed in her footsteps.
Listen to LaVern carry the song into the rock n roll/early soul era with gusto! Admittedly, it follows the formula of Baker's previously released updated version of "See See Rider", but it's still a solid side all on its own!
*** Also worth noting on this Veteran's Day, LaVern's career in the States was brought to an abrupt end while traveling with a USO show in Vietnam. It's a pretty interesting story actually. There are a couple of versions online that state that Baker divorced her husband prior to joining the tour, however Bio.com tells a different story (also featured in the book Icons of R&B) :
In 1966, LaVern Baker traveled to Vietnam for a USO tour to entertain American troops. She fell ill with pneumonia early in her trip but continued performing until her lung collapsed. Baker was immediately airlifted to a hospital in Thailand where she spent three months recuperating. By this point, in early 1967, her USO tour had returned to the United States leaving Baker alone in Thailand with no American contacts. She described the fantastical saga that ensued: "I didn't know what to do, who to go to. The tour was gone and I was in a strange country where telephone service was practically nonexistent. I hitched with farmers on wagons to Bangkok…. I'd had to slog through rice paddies in water up to my shoulders in some places to get to Bangkok, so by the time the Marines got me to the base I'd had a relapse." She was then airlifted to a hospital in the Philippines where she spent another four months recovering.
In the meantime, Baker's husband, a comedian named Slappy White whom she married in 1961, had given her up for dead. He had her death declared official, got a divorce and assumed managing rights to Baker's entire portfolio of songs. Baker described her efforts to contact her husband from the Philippines: "I tried and tried to call my husband, but never got through. I don't know to this day if it was the radio system or he just wasn't answering or what… For all I know he heard my voice and hung up. Probably did, the no-good &%@S#!!" Eventually, Baker decided to embrace her situation and make a new life for herself running a nightclub in Olongapo City in the Philippines. She lived there for 21 years until finally deciding to return to the United States in 1988.
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!