Thursday, October 1, 2009


When Maggie Bell's group Stone The Crows broke up in 1973 it was time for Britain's finest female singer to launch her solo career. Since her earliest days in Glasgow, the Scots lass with the soulful voice had been impressing audiences with her powerful and passionate style. She was used to singing with bands, but now she was thrust into the spotlight on her own. It meant more freedom, but more responsibilities, and it wasn't always an easy task. She set to work on two albums (produced by the legendary Jerry Wexler), 'Queen Of The Night' (1973) and Suicide Sal'(1975), both now re-issued by Repertoire. They gave her the chance to choose her favourite material and work with the best musicians. Among the artists on 'Queen Of The Night' were Boggle Young and Cornell Dupree (lead guitars), John Hughey (pedal Steel) Chuck Rainey (bass) and Steve Gadd (drums). The Sweet Inspiration provided background vocals.

Critics and fans praised the results, and she set out on the road to promote the albums. There would be some problems along the way, as Maggie later discovered, but it was nothing she couldn't handle.

Maggie Bell was born in Glasgow (January 12, 1945) and came from a musical family. As a teenager she sang with local dance bands, then went to Germany in the mid-sixties to sing at US airforce bases. Returning to Scotland, she and the band's guitarist Leslie Harvey, formed a new group called Power which later became Stone The Crows. They were managed by Mark London and Peter Grant, the man behind Led Zeppelin. After Leslie was accidentally electrocuted on stage in 1972, the heart went out of the group. They worked for a while with fellow Scots guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, but broke up after a year. Explains Maggie: "When Leslie died, it was never the same. The band continued for a while, then we agreed it was the end of an era. Colin Allen, our drummer, was offered a job with Focus and Jimmy joined Wings. Meanwhile, Peter Grant and Mark London said they would help me to make a solo album.

The funny thing about 'Queen Of The Night' is that I made two previous albums for Atlantic in New York - one with Felix Pappalardi of Mountain and the other with Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals - which were never released."

Maggie is frank about the reasons: "The record company said they weren't good enough. I was quite upset about that! To this day I believe it was wonderful stuff. I think it was down to a load of politics".

Luther Vandross did the vocal backings and there were many other top-notch players involved with these projects. "But it wasn't to be and at this point Jerry Wexler stepped in. He told Atlantic She can sing. I'd like to take over and see if I can make an album with her. And if you don't like it you can burn the tapes!' So we went ahead and made a good album. What more can I say? Jerry had worked with Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. Just about everybody." Wexler and Bell sat down together and listened to over two hundred songs in the search for suitable material. He's very meticulous about picking the right song. It was the most important time in my life musically. It was to be my first solo album and it had to be right. We got on very well socially and of course, he had worked with Lulu and Dusty Springfield as well. He said that he couldn't believe how when some people get a chance to make an album they really dedicate themselves, while others couldn't care less. Jerry tells everyone to do their homework, including the musicians and arrangers, and that it makes it better for everyone. I learned all the lyrics before I went into the studio. No pieces of paper allowed! He said that's what made Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner so great. They really learned their songs. lf you read from cue sheets it detracts from the music. You have fo learn your craft." Maggie spent two months preparing the eleven songs on Queen Of The Night' before the first note was sung in the studio. The album kicks off in fine style with 'Caddo Queen' which has a real Confederate rock flavour. One of the songs 'Oh, My My' was written by Ringo Starr and Maggie could have had a hit with her version - if Ringo hadn't brought out his own a week earlier. (It got to Number Five in the US chart in March, 1974.) The title song was written by Ronnie Leahy, the Keyboard player with Stone The Crows. I always had it mind to do that song," says Maggie. "'Trade Winds' was another great song that has been covered by many people after I did it, including Randy Crawford. It was written by Ralph McDonald, one of the finest percussion players in America."

Another of her favourites is A Woman Left Lonely.' "That's a real woman's song and it was also covered by Rita Coolidge. It's a country and western thing, a style I'd never done before in my life."

Maggie has always loved John Prine's music and she aired his composition 'Souvenirs' hotly pursued by J.J.Cale's 'After Midnight' a song also associated with Eric Clapton. "We did a Latin American treatment on our version with lots of percussion. 'The Other Side' was done in a kind of Mae West style. 'Hey Mister - can you help me! I'm looking for a ride over to the other side.' It's got a very American, razzmatazz feel.

After all her hard work Maggie was rewarded by rave reviews. It was wonderful. People like Bette Midler said it was the best solo album from a female artist she'd ever heard, and it got great notices in the American magazines. There was even an article about me in Time Magazine! The record got to Number Ten in the charts, so it did really well." She put a new band together with Joe Jammer from Chicago and did a couple of tours of the States joined by Thunder Thighs, who did the doop de doops' on Lou Reed's 'Take A Walk On The Wild Side.'

"Everyone thought they were three black American girls, but one was Jewish, one was Irish and the other was English - from Shepherds Bush! They were a great bunch of girls and it was one of the best tours I'd done in my life." Maggie remembers doing some dates with Earth, Wind & Fire in the Deep South, when the group were at the height of their fame. "I had to open the show and the audiences were all sitting there with their mouths hanging open and doing nuthin'." She hit on an idea to break down their resistance and asked her road manager to make a wooden screen. "I told him that I wanted to sing the first song behind the screen and then come on stage just to see what the response was like. Well, the response was unbelievable! You see they couldn't accept a white woman from Scotland singing the blues. 'Scotland? Where's Scotland - is that near Alaska?' But we used the screen and then it was OK-ha, ha!" Maggie Bell toured Germany in 1975 to promote 'Queen Of The Night' and the response was so good she was encouraged to record her second excellent album 'Suicide Sal'. After some years of touring she settled down with her family and concentrated on acting roles and writing music for films and TV during the Eighties. In recent times she has returned to the road, working with the old Alex Harvey Band and also singing alongside veteran soul man Chris Farlowe.

I like to keep busy," says Maggie. "I could never give this business up!"

CHRIS WELCH, London, 1997

Tracks :

Caddo Queen
A Woman Left Lonely
After Midnight
Queen of the Night
Oh My My
As the Years Go Passing By
Yesterday's Music
We Had It All
The Other Side
Trade Winds

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Artwork Included

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