It was with much sadness that we learned of the passing of Lou Rawls, one of the great voices in contemporary music and a pioneer in the world of soul, R&B, jazz and pop. Much has been written about the inimitable style that made Lou such a distinctive interpreter of song. In the opening paragraphs for EMI's "Love Songs" collection released in 2005, I noted, "His voice is like no other: velvet smooth, warm, inviting, a voice that can soothe and seduce, providing the perfect backdrop for an evening of love and intimacy. As one of his many hit albums states, he’s ‘Unmistakably Lou’…Rawls, that is. On this carefully-chosen selection of eighteen songs from a plentiful catalog of music filled with classic tunes, Lou Rawls does what he does best, showcasing his richly-textured distinctive vocal artistry as only he can. Maybe it’s his gospel background as one of the singers with the famed Soul Stirrers in the ‘50s, where he was a compatriot of the late Sam Cooke (another masterful purveyor of love songs) or his skill as a musical storyteller evident from his earliest recordings for Capitol Records in the ‘60s when he moved from blues and jazz with ease, working with the likes of Les McCann and others, but whatever it is Lou Rawls has, he brings in front and center to a collection of songs that explores the many sides of love."
Love was indeed the main subject matter for many of Lou's recordings but he was also a street-smart storyteller and I recall with much fondness listening to his ground-breaking 1966 LP, "Lou Rawls Live!" which featured his famous monologues segued between such classics as "Stormy Monday" and "Tobacco Road." A breakthrough hit with "Love Is Hurtin' Thing" took Lou to new heights of mainstream R&B recognition in the '60s and he continued to be a mainstay in popular black music until the mid-'70s when Philadelphia hitmakers Gamble & Huff breathed new life into his recording career with the infectious "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine." It came as disco was taking hold and I remember well hearing the song on New York radio and then in the clubs, marveling with my good friend Gary (who loved the track) how Lou Rawls was back in stride - again!
Lou made many great albums after that initial PIR hit with the Gamble & Huff team and with their talented staff of songwriters and producers before breaking new ground with some fine work with producers Michael Cuscuna and Billy Vera at Blue Note. His live performances were a treat: I saw him at different times over the years at venues like the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and the Greek Theater in Los Angeles and Lou consistently delivered. I interviewed him a few times over the years and always found him engaging and honest. The essence of cool, Lou had style and soul and when I got the chance to create a two-disc anthology for Capitol/EMI a few years back, I was thrilled at the chance to delve into his great legacy of recordings for the label.
As recently as early November, I saw Lou onstage with Aretha Franklin in Cleveland at a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame-sponsored tribute to Sam Cooke, a man who was a good friend to and musical influence on both artists. He was in good voice, in fine form and there was nothing to suggest that he had been sick making his passing on January 6 that much more of a shock. He was one-of-a-kind and that rich baritone will resonate with me as it will with so many others the world over. A natural man, indeed." - David Nathan, January 19, 2006
"I was devastated when I learned of Lou's prognosis on the radio. The last time I saw him was about two or three years ago when he appeared in the musical, Me and Mrs. Jones here in Philadelphia at the Prince Theater. Somehow he learned that I was in the audience and sent his manager out to find me. It was a heartwarming reunion, and Lou was the picture of health. Now this. Not only was he one of the great soul voices of that era, he was a gem of a person. Dexter Wansel and I worked with Lou during our Philly International days and had songs featured on his Sit Down and Talk to Me and Let Me Be Good to You releases. We grew to love him so dearly. I will cherish his memory always and forever. Lovingly." - Cynthia Biggs (Songwriter, Recording Artist, Producer)
"What can be said.............we are losing so many of our icons of soul to that heavenly choir in the sky. Both Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett were friends and it's an understatement to say they will be missed. I guess the only thing we can always depend upon in their absence is the legacy of some of the greatest music ever!! Thank you both for enriching all of our lives and leaving us with your enormous talent to continue our ability to always remember you." - Dionne Warwick
"On "Midnight Special," a television show in the '70's, I sang a duet with the host, Lou Rawls. He chose the song "Let It Be Me" for us to sing together. From that event we did other shows and tours together. Even though I hadn't worked with him in the last 10 years our friendship was always strong. The last time he was through Jackson, MS. we had a nice long talk. He always talked with me about doing a show together again. Lou, hold a spot for me in the Heavenly Choir." - Dorothy Moore
"Lou one was cool & class, one of the best soul singers ever, I truly loved his voice and those memorable hits! I never get tired of hearing 'You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine', it's one of those songs that bring back some many, many great memories! thank you Lou!" - firstname.lastname@example.org
"I find it hard to find the perfect words to describe my feelings about the loss of Lou Rawls. He was the sweetest voiced I can think of. The perfect gentleman loved by all. I am truly sorry for the friends and family he left behind. To those people I would like to Offer My Prayers and Offerings. He will be in our hearts forever. Please Accept My Sincere Sympathy." - Judy Caffrey (Montreal, Canada)
"One of the best voices ever in soul music. We'll never find... As long as we live some one as great as he was. His music will forever live on , and as an ex d.j i know many a nights when one of his ballads had all the lovers in the house fill up the dance floor." - Peter Edwards
"One evening I was at the Strand visiting Motown legend Martha Reeves. From her hotel next the the Strand in Redondo Beach, I saw Lou Rawls RV park up at the stage door at the Strand, he was to perform that night; and I told Martha, "Hey, there's Lou Rawls, I'm gonna go ask him for a Bud," he was doing the TV commerials at that time, and Martha told me, "You better not, Spookey." I got Martha to go down with me to say hello to Lou Rawls because if she wasn't going, I was !! We greeted him as they musicians were setting up and I asked Lou for a bud, I knew Martha Reeves would be killing me but I did, not only did Lou get me a bud but also ordered drinks for Martha !! I asked him, "Lou could you please sing us 'Groovy People,' and he went up on and sang it for me. Lou and Martha had such a good time, Lou invited Martha to be in his next TV special where she sang GOD BLESS THE CHILD. Well, God Bless Lou Rawls. He will surely be missed." - Manuel "Spookey" Esparza, www.chicano-magazine.com
"Mr. Lou Rawls, Mr. Wilson Pickett, it`s so sad to have lost such great soul singers in such a short time, but I`m truly grateful that I`ve known their music which has played an important role in soul history." - Cynthia from Holland
"It is with great sadness that I have heard about the passing of yet another soul icon. I have loved Lou's music for many years the wonderful Blue Note material as well as his great work at Philly International. The world has lost another wonderful deep soulful voice. My sincere condolences to all of you close to Lou." - Jim Hughes (Glasgow, Scotland )
"One of my earliest musical memories, courtesy of my parents, was the Lou Rawls "Live" album from 1966. Though I was just a kid, Lou's voice and those songs made such an impact on me.It planted in my mind what a "live performance" was about, especially since his manner was so conversational and everything song told story - from St. James Infirmary (which frightened me at age 6) to the classic "Street Corner Hustler's Blues/World of Trouble " medley (which I didn't completely comprehend, of course). And it was swinging, which was fun to me as a kid. My favorite was his take on "The Girl From Ipanema" when he sings "I was lookin' back to see if she was lookin' back to see if i was lookin' back to see if she was lookin' back at me, but she wouldn't look back at me. As she walks down to the sea." That use to just knock me out every time. Also, to this day one of my favorite songs is "The Shadow of Your Smile". Lou gave the definitive performance on this album. I haven't heard any other - Sarah Vaughan's is close, though. I DJ'd my father's 70th birthday party last May and I played some tracks from the album. I actually have his original copy, which is always on my personal playlst. Of course, it blew him and his friends away.
Finally, I had the pleasure of attending Lou's final hosting of the UNCF Evening of Stars which just aired last weekend, the day after he made his transition. It was recorded in early September and Lou showed no signs of slowing down. His presence on stage was as beautiful as ever. His performance of "It Was A Very Good Year" was masterful that night., as each verse took on a different arrangement. He was humorous and friendly when I met him and his wife and their baby after the show . So classy. That's Lou." - Michael Lewis, Los Angeles
"I met him once several years ago at Buddy Guy's club in the South Loop here in Chicago. Real cool guy, very flirtatious with the ladies and they loved it. He was always one of my favorite singers." - email@example.com
"I first heard of Lou Rawls, by name, in the very early 80's; Jo Wallace (mentioned, as a CD compiler, in your Website), played a track by him, at a Soul Night. I bought a compilation, of his "Stateside" work, and appreciated that bluesy, moody Voice. All I can say, is that he will be remembered, and even live on, through his art, his songs." - Sean Delay (U.K.)
"Dear soulers, Lou Rawls was one of those artists who opened my heart and soul to black music. I was lucky to see him live in Antwerp. Belgium and it was a marvelous experience... Lou found finally his "Dead End Street" but he will always be in our minds and his music will never leave us because "You'll never find another" one like him.......Soulfully yours." - Eddy
"I was saddened to hear of the passing of Lou Rawls. I first encountered him around 1967 when I purchased , on impulse, a (long lost) LP which included 'Let's Burn Down the Cornfields' and 'You've Made Me So Very Happy'...found out about his gospel links, wondered at his resurgence with Gamble and Huff and had spent the weekend watching him interviewed on the excellent Sam Cooke 'Legend' CD, where he comes over as a wonderful man, a great raconteur, but also sensitive and considered. Although Lou had the sophistication and touch a jazz singer he always sang as if he meant it, felt it, and we have lost a great soul man." - Ian MacDonald
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.