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Issue 1084

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Percy Sledge R.I.P.

Percy Sledge exclusive photo. Copyright: Simon Redley
Percy Sledge exclusive photo. Copyright: Simon Redley Percy Sledge exclusive photo. Copyright: Simon Redley Percy Sledge exclusive photo. Copyright: Simon Redley Percy Sledge exclusive photo. Copyright: Simon Redley

Soul icon Percy Sledge has died at the age of 74, after a long battle with cancer. He passed away early today (Tuesday 14th April) at his US home with his wife and children by his side.

His US management confirmed the sad news on Tuesday afternoon, with a simple statement: âIt is with great sadness that we must say goodbye to a true soul legend, a humble family man, and a beautiful human being. 'The King of Slow Soul,â.Percy Sledge passed away peacefully early this morning at his home in Baton Rouge Louisiana surrounded by his wife Rosa and their children after a long battle with cancer.

âJust short of his 75th birthday this November, Percy rose to international stardom in the early 60's when people around the world first heard his unmistakable voice on the timeless hit "When A Man Loves A Woman" and won the hearts of millions. Since then he continued to record numerous albums and perform for his legions of fans around the globe until early last year.

âThe Sledge Family wishes to convey they are truly grateful for all the love and support from all his fans and friends.
Funeral arrangements are in progress.â

Best known his mega hit, âWhen a Man Loves a Woman,â the classic slow soul smoocher reached the top 10 twice in the UK charts; # 4 in 1966 and # 2 in 1987, when it was used in a Levis jeans TV commercial. It topped the US charts for two weeks on its release in 1966, and the song again hit # 1 in the USA in 1991 with Michael Boltonâs cover version.

Percyâs version was the first record to have sales certified Gold status for AtLantic Records, and was the first number one to be recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama. Percy Sledge was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Percy was born on 25th November 1941 in Leighton, Alabama, and he worked in the cotton fields before getting a job as an orderly in a hospital. By the mid 60s he was touring with The Esquires Combo at the weekend and working in the hospital in the week. A former patient heard him sing and introduced Percy to a record producer, who gave him an audition and signed him on the spot. His smooth soulful but powerful voice was the perfect fit for the batch of soul ballads produced by Ivy and Martin Greene.

The first song to be cut under the contract was âWhen A Man Loves A Woman,â and it became his signature song and opened many doors for the soul great. It was followed by more classic soul tunes: âWarm And tender Love,â âTake Time To Know Her,â and âCover Me.â In the 1970s, he charted with âIâll be Your Everything,â and âSunshine,â and was in huge demand globally for concert appearances. He was here in the UK in 2011, to sing just six songs at a London charity show. Then in October 2011, he was back to appear with Sir Cliff Richard and a host of soul legends, at Arena shows around the UK, after dueting with Cliff on his soul duets album âSouliciious.â

Percy told me himself, when we met in a plush London hotel for an interview and photo shoot, that the song, âIâm Your Puppet,â that he sang on with Cliff, was the first time he had recorded a duet in his career. I broke this news to Cliff when he called me for a chat about his soul duets album from his New York apartment, and he was genuinely shocked. During his arena shows, Cliff announced this news to the audience, telling them a journalist has informed of this, before singing with Percy.

I can honestly say, that in a career as a music journalist and photographer spanning 37 years, my few hours with Mr Sledge in that hotel suite 235, just me and him, was one of the best memories I have. One of the nicest and most humble/genuine guys I have had the pleasure to meet. Very tired after his flight, he still made me feel very welcome and gave me plenty of time for the chat and the photo session.

Tammy Taylor, his former PR rep', told me today: âI still have the wonderful pictures you took. That was his last really great photo shoot and interview.â The interview, headlined âThe Way God Planned It,â ran in the October/November issue of the magazine. I met with him in the July of 2011.

Percy was on his own in his suite, dressed in white jacket with a black silk hankie in his top pocket, bright Hawaiian style shirt, black trousers and belt, and shiny patent leather shoes. Bright sunshine pouring through the windows. We sit at the table with a bowl of fruit, wine cooler with two bottles of mineral water in it, in the £500 a night suite overlooking the Thames. A far cry from the humble surroundings Percy was brought up in, and we talk about those days and his childhood on the cotton fields. He told me about how he went to the woods and sang to himself, and heard this sweet soulful voice come back at him, and how he hummed a tune that was in his always head, which eventually turned out to be âWhen A man Loves A Woman.â Years later, he added lyrics based on a lover betraying him. But despite itâs massive sales and use on many TV and movie soundtracks, Percy told me he did not make a penny from the song-writing royalties, because he signed over the credit to two struggling musician friends in 1965.

âWorst decision I ever made,â he told me. But he added that he was not bitter, and figured God must have wanted him to do what he did. He was 25 back then.

He told me he had 12 children, 15 grand kids and 1 great grandhchild. He married Rosa, a singer, in 1980. He spoke very affectionately about Rosa and his family.

He spoke about the real pain and hurt he felt when a woman he was in love with and met on a blind date, left him for another man, and how he piled that hurt and pain into the delivery of his biggest hit. He explained that the follow-ups to âWhen A Man Loves A Woman,â - âCover me.â âTake Time To Know Her.â âWarm and Tender Love.â âOut Of Left Field.â âDark End Of The Street.â âTears Me Up.â âMy Special Prayer.â â were all âthe answerâ to the "Grandaddyâ and âthe bossâ to all his songs. He told me he was upset that some people think of him as a one hit wonder, and only know him for the biggest hit of his career. And how he label at the time were reluctant to keep him on after his smash hit debut, in the mistaken opinion he could not follow such a big hit.

I asked him how he dealt with global fame. âWell, I am the type of guy that has always been the same all of my life. My class mates at our class reunion always say the same thing. They could not believe that being a world artist, I still seem like I was when we were at school together. We meet every other year. They all have grey hair.â He laughed, as he sat opposite me at 71 that November, with jet black hair and honestly looking years younger than he was. Apart from diabetes, diagnosed nine years ago, Percy was in very good health when we met, avoiding showbiz excesses and it seemed, Diva tendencies. âI keep my feet on the ground because of my roots and the way I was raised,â he told me. I believed him too.

I recall an anecdote he told me about working with soul great Wilson Pickett. âWe were in Austria. Iâll never forget that time. Me and Wilson Pickett. He was talking about who was going to go on last. So the people putting on the show wanted me to go on last. But he was getting agitated, so I told him he could.

âSo I went on with my band for the first spot and did 12 songs. I brought the kids up on the stage from the audience. We really socked it to them that night. We got off the stage and everyone started folding up the chairs and leaving. They said to Pickett, see out thereâ¦you made a big thing about going on last and everyone is leaving now. That was just terrible for such a great artist.

âBut it never matters to me who goes on first or last. Want me to open up, Iâll do it. On last, Iâll do it. I have had some say there is no way they can possibly follow me,â he laughed loudly at the thought.

Percy Sledge may have left us, but his timeless soul classics will live on forever. Our condolences to all of his family and friends, from all of us at Blues & Soul magazine.

Exclusive photos: Copyright Simon Redley
Words SIMON REDLEY

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