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!
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.