Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sweet Sugar Pie

I'm chomping on a piece lusciously moist & decidedly decadent red velvet cake, slathered with a thick cream cheese frosting. I declined this piece at first but after the cake's journey via Fed Ex & pedigreed lineage was explained to me, I had to see what all the hub bub was about. Apparently the chunk I am working on is worth about $25, and that's more money than I have in my wallet currently...

Go figger...

Speaking of shweet...

I'm on my way out the door to catch Sugar Pie DeSanto at Yoshi's on Fillmore in san Francisco. I'll be the guy with the front row table on the right hand side of the stage hootin & hollerin'...

For those unfamiliar with Sugar Pie, she's Etta James cousin and a recording artist since 1955 when she got her start on Federal Records courtesy Mr. Johnny Otis.

Back in the day she recorded tracks with her cousin Etta and Willie Dixon that were hits on the Chess & Checker labels, and she's still going strong today with her latest CD "Refined Sugar" also on iTunes).

Sample some tracks, and download em if ya like via this widget here

I caught her last year at the San Francisco Blues Festival where she stole the set she shared with Jimmy McCracklin'. I was impressed with this aged diminutive ladie's feisty persona, and her sense of fun and frivolity.

Not bad for an old gal that's stage show with backflips was permanently curbed via lost hip movement when she was knocked over by a careless scooter operator in 2004, ( not too mention burned out of her North Oakland apartment two years later and had been left homeless...)

She's a fighter, a survivor, and a truly fun performer to be around...

Born to an African American momma with a Filipino father, she was a bi-racial celebrity long before Tiger Woods, Lenny Karvitz, Alicia Keys, Nicole Richie or Barack Obama made such circumstances fashionable.

Here's some music from her long & winding career which included early stints on R&B labels like Jody, Rhythm, Aladdin, and Music City...

Her first taste of solo success occurred in 1959 when the Veltone label released I Want To Know.

This track established her as a name in the biz, and soon she was signed to Chess in Chicago alongside younger cousin Etta. Sugar Pie wowed them on stage, being regularly compared to dynamite, but she also knew how to control herself. Despite her sexy charms, and a two year stint on the road with James Brown, who recounted in his autobiography, that she was the only female in his revue with whom he never slept.

Sugar Pie could have been a bigger star, but for whatever reason, The Chess Bros. played the protective mogul role and held her potential at bay for seven years, keeping her busy as a writer and background vocalist, only releasing one rare 1961 album by the lady.

She cut 30 sides for Chess records, most of which were shelved and never hit the streets. Occasional Sugar Pie tracks did surface, but mostly her career was a footnote in at a label with plenty bigger fish to fry like Etta James, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters etc. While sugar Pie got a $10,000 advance from the stingy Chicago honchos that ran the label when she signed on, they stiffed her on royalties for decades, even though she wrote many songs for other artists including Fontella Bass, Etta James, Little Milton and Minnie Ripperton.

Here's a Checker single

Sugar Pie DeSanto - Soulful Dress

And a sample piece of an old track she did with Etta James for Chess

Etta James & Sugar Pie DeSanto - Do I Make Myself Clear

Sugar Pie went along on the 1964 Folk-Blues Fest tour of Europe, but as the only female artist, and basically an opening act... She also let the other musicians on that run she wasn't part of the backstage buffet, telling the SF Bay Guardian in 2004

"I refused all them old goats,"

Here she is from that run backed by Willie Dixon and band on her answer song to Hi Heel Sneakers known as Slip In Mules.

Sugar Pie DeSanto w/ Willie Dixon - Slip In Mules
from: American Folk Blues Festival '64

In 1966, she got together with cousin Etta for her biggest hit splash, this being a remix edit by DJ Theo Parrish of "Down In The Basement"

Etta & Sugar Pie - Down In The Basement

Here's one she recorded after leaving Chess for Brunswick in 1967

Sugar Pie DeSanto - The Whoopee

By the early seventies she'd settled back into the San Francisco Bay Area for good, and over the next 35 some years has made some sporadic funky & bluesy tracks for her manager's Jasman Records... Here's one such cut from 1972 that was resurrected and licensed by the always fine & dandy crate digging Ubiquity label not long ago for their Bay Area Funk, Vol. 2 collection...

Sugar Pie DeSanto - Straighten It Out With Yo Man

See ya laters y'all...


check out more Sugar Pie DeSanto via iTunes

Sugar Pie DeSanto


Anonymous said...

good stuff. thanks for turning me on.

Ravel said...

Nice post! I'm always curious about Etta James duets as they are really not so common to hear nowadays.
"Do I make myself clear" is only 1:08 long, it seems incomplete.