So, in the birthday roll call tribute of Aquarian women, next up is shadow legend… that other White Negress, Chris Clark.
Primarily known for her freakbeat Holland Dozier Holland classic “Love’s Gone Bad” she wasn’t the first white woman signed to Motown (honors there go to Debbie Dean) nor the first to reach the national charts (honors there… again, go to Dean), but she is the best known and most highly regarded before the signing of Teena Marie 13 years later.
Born in Santa Cruz February 1st 1946, and making a name for herself playing army bases somehow ended up in Detroit by late 1964, impressing Berry Gordy (knowingly) performing “All I Could Do Was Cry” (for those that don’t know was 1) Etta James first Top 40 Pop hit, and biggest R&B hit since “The Wallflower” and 2) Co-written by Gordy, one of the last Chicago hits he’d pin before Motown took off).
She debuted with the gritty “Do, Right Baby (Do Right)” a precursor to the greasy Muscle Shoals sounds that Aretha would bring to the charts in 18 months (and remarkably swamp dog blues for Motown in 1965, and the all white vocal cast on the record, as it also features The Lewis Sisters.. i.e:”The Singing School Teachers” on background).
Next came her classic “Love’s Gone Bad” That shot onto R&B stations playlists… then she was sent out to promote the record, and….promptly OHMIGODSHE’SAWHITECHICK damaged her chances in newly polarized radio playlists (mind you major R&B stations only 2 years before accepted and promotedsingles by Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, Peggy March, The Angels et al).
Undaunted, Motown released her first LP, the remarkably well done Soul Sounds(1967) That, from my perspective was perhaps the second best Female act LP release on Motown that year (only behind the splendid Everybody Needs Love from Gladys and the Pips), some of the best of the dying breed of Holland Dozier Holland Classics (“Until You Love Someone”) with “new” Motown sounding late 1960s numbers like “I Wanna Go Back There Again” and “Day by Day Or Never” make it a remarkably unified effort, showing Motown at the transition of the HDH slowdown, and new and veteran writers showing that there was life after “Classic Motown” (notably “I Want To Go Back There Again” was re-released with a few guitar and extra drumming overlays, but otherwise untouched, by Thelma Houston 6 years later).
All for nothing really, The LP became one of those “39 cents in a bin at Woolworth” sleeper LPs and got lost to history…
….then came the CC Rides Again the only LP released on Motown’s subsidiary label Weed. All I can say about it is well, it was marketed with this line: This release featured the tongue-in-cheek tagline, “Your Favorite Artists Are On Weed.”
It primarily features weird covers of late 60s songs, with the original “Can I see You In the Morning” possibly being the only redeeming song.
So, then, the music was over for Chris, so she co-wrote the screenplay for Lady Sings the Blues (receiving an Oscar Nomination along the way) and faded into relative obscurity til, you guessed it, those whacky brits and their love of Northern Soul All Nighters started dusting off her best work and spinning it like crazy, peaking with the release in that line of Motown’s forgotten, those lovely mid decade anthologies, of her, Barbara McNair, Brenda Holloway, Kim Weston and Jimmy Ruffin.
My absolute favorite from that collection is the delightful distaff Dionne Warwick “Are You There/You’ll Never Get To Heaven” spawn “I Just Can’t Forget Him” that highlights the intentions of Motown: To Have their own Dusty Springfield (although vocally Clark hems *far* closer to Supreme Mary Wilson).
So here’s a marvelous happy birthday to one of the most significant, if unheralded of Motown women… on her 64th Birthday.
Happy Birthday “other” white negress.