[Al Goodman of The Moments, from the back cover notes of "A Portrait of Linda Jones"]
Linda Jones was born in Newark, New Jersey, on January 14, 1944, and she first sang in public in her hometown at the age of six. She cut her teeth in church, regularly treading the gospel path as part of The Jones Singers, a group comprised of her whole family.
Through this background Linda developed and nurtured her most predominant vocal technique: the melisma, the art of spreading a word or syllable over several rapid notes up and down the scale. In later years she took to singing spirituals every morning to exercise her voice.
Linda's childhood was plagued by a severe history of diabetes, and this condition only worsened during her adulthood. Small wonder her artistry reflected the desperate determination to triumph over pain and loneliness.
As her prowess developed, she moved towards the secular field, and soon began to accumulate trinkets and trophies from winning a host of talent shows and amateur nights. This trend continued until she grew into her teens, and the talent show medals began to metamorphose into dollars and dimes from gigs at local nightspots.
This presumably led to what is reputed to be her first recording under the name Linda Lane: "Lonely Teardrops", a cover of a song originally performed by Jackie Wilson in 1958, backed with "Cancel the Celebration", was produced by Bill Cook, manager of Roy Hamilton, and was released sometimes in 1963 on Cub Records, a subsidiary that MGM Records started in the late '50s for Rhythm and Blues releases.
Linda's short-lived but musically powerful career began in earnest when producer/songwriter George Kerr entered her life around 1964. Kerr, who had a brief stint as a member of Little Anthony & The Imperials, met Linda through a mutual friend, songwriter Gerald "Jerry" Harris, when she was performing at a local club. At the time Linda was working at a pie factory, and Kerr soon became her mentor, using his connections to secure a short term record deal with Atlantic.
On October 19, 1964, Linda went into the Atlantic Studios on Broadway in New York City and cut three songs composed by Kerr and Harris: "Take the Boy Out of the Country" and "I'm Taking Back My Love", which were released as a one-off single on Atco in 1965, and "I Need You", an unreleased track likely lost to posterity due to the infamous Atlantic Records warehouse fire in February 1978.
In 1966, Kerr and his new protege mad a brief stop at Leiber & Stoller's Blue Cat Records, a subsidiary of Red Bird Records, for another one-off single which included the songs "Fugitive From Love" and "You Hit Me Like TNT", once again both penned by him and Harris.
Later on, Kerr gave Linda a shot at a song written by friend Richard Poindexter (one of the Poindexter Brothers along with Robert: both would go on to have success with The Persuaders in the early '70s) together with Gloria Florence Spolan.
With a vibrant and emphathetic Richard Tee arrangement, the legendary emotion-packed "Hypnotized" was recorded in one take during April 1967 in New York, along with "I Can't Stand Lovin' My Baby". As the story goes, Linda was just learning the song, but Kerr told the engineer to hit the record button and the touching performance was preserved.
"Hypnotized" proved to be a turning point for both Linda and her producer. A promo man at Brunswick liked it but the label was busy, so he directed Kerr to Loma, a Rhythm and Blues label that Warner Brothers had just started. Jerry Ragovoy, head of Loma, instantly detected the song's potential and a deal was easily arranged.
The single entered the charts in June 1967. Within weeks Linda was signed to Ruth Bowen's famous Queen Booking Agency, and with some new photos and a new wardrobe, she was ready to hit the road. Working with promoter Henry Wynn, known for producing multi-act R&B packages that would criss-cross the U.S., Linda did shows with all manner of artists including Jackie Wilson, The Vibrations, The Chantels, The Bobbettes and others.
With her highly emotive style, Linda literally had audiences hypnotized and, as she toured, the "Hypnotized" single kept rising on the charts, finally reaching #4 on the Billboard R&B Chart and #21 on the Hot 100. This proved to be the label's best-selling record and Loma asked Kerr to do an album.
Linda Jones, promotional picture, circa 1967 - The cover of "A Portrit of..." is clearly based upon this picture.
Over two sessions in New York City, on June 21 and August 4, 1967, Linda cut a total of nine songs. Kerr masterminded the sessions while famed keyboardist Richard Tee provided arrangements. Players like guitarist Eric Gale and drummer Bernard Purdie added their musical magic and the Poindexter Brothers did all the background vocals.
"What Have I Done (To Make You Mad)" was issued in October 1967, with "Make Me Surrender" as its flip, and became another top 10 R&B hit but only struggled to #61 on the Pop listings. A third single, "Give My Love a Try" backed with a version of The Soul Sisters' "I Can't Stand It" was released in January 1968 and enjoyed moderate sales, struggling to #34 R&B and a dismal #93 on Pop. On the strenght of its title track, the "Hypnotized" album actually made it to the R&B Top 30.
Culled from a session recorded earlier during that year, Sammy Turner's "My Heart Needs a Break" was issued as a single sometimes during Spring '68 backed with "The Things I've Been Through". It peaked at #50 in the R&B charts, becoming Linda's final charted entry during her two-year tenure with Loma.
On the same session Linda also recorded "What Can I Do (Without You)", another Turner co-penned tune arranged by Robert Banks (also known for his work at the time with Thelma Jones), and a version of The Beatles' "Yesterday", which were released as a single in 1968. These two songs, along with the other two mentioned below, are available as part of a previous post I wrote some time ago.
Linda's last single for Loma consisted of two tracks recorded in August 1968 at Broadway Studios in Manhattan. Side A surprisingly offered Poindexter Brothers' "It Won't Take Much (To Bring Me Back)" while a stunning version of "I Who Have Nothing" - previously recorded by the likes of Ben E. King, Dee Dee Warwick and Shirley Bassey - was relegated to the flip side...
Unfortunately Loma folded early in 1969. During the same year Warner Brothers released a single with the two songs Linda recorded in March at her last session for the label: "I Just Can't Live My Life (Without You Babe)", written by George Kerr, backed with "My Heart (Will Understand)" by Linda's brother Eddie.
During the same year, a different version of "Fugitive From Luv", another song recorded for Loma back in August 1967, was released by Cotique as a split-single which offered Bessie Banks' "Go Now" on the other side.
Linda Jones, another promotional picture taken during the same session, circa 1967
In mid 1969 George Kerr signed Linda to Neptune Records, a label owned by Philadelphia's Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff which was the forerunner to the Philadelphia International Records hit factory. The first Neptune single, "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow / That's When I'll Stop Loving You" revealed a more aggressive, even hysterical-sounding vocal.
Never a singer noted for restraint, Linda's style became increasingly volatile and fraught with desperation and urgency as her career progressed. Making fewer concessions to the demands of the Top 40 programming, Linda's attack was wildly exuberant, her desperation bearly overwhelming, her phrasing with melismas, shrieks and gasps. Her second and last Neptune release, "Ooh Baby You Move Me / Can You Blame Me?", continued the progression.
While "Hypnotized" found Linda taking a relatively subtle approach to her music, her subsequent sides captured her at full strength, and though soul purists (especially Northern Soul collectors in the U.K.) treasured her records, she never had another major hit.
In 1971, by the time she had changed her base from New York to New Jersey to sign with All Platinum's Turbo subsidiary, Linda was in a bad way. Her medical condition was deteriorating as her illness began gaining the upper hand.
Aware of her problems, All Platinum's owners Joe and Sylvia Robinson put her on the staff payroll and gave her liberal studio freedom, thus helping to ensure her a reasonable, regular diet to combat the illness. Linda took to going to the studio almost every other day as music was a mean of forgetting the pain she was often in.
Despite the dismal sound reproduction of the three Turbo album releases ("A Portrait of Linda Jones", issued early in 1972 and the subject of this post, "Your Precious Love" and "Let It Be Me", both released the same year after her untimely passing), Linda's frantic overwrought vocals sharply reflected her torment.
As Russell Gersten wrote in Rolling Stone, "Singing became a life and death matter for Linda at her last few recording sessions... Whatever little poise and restraint she at one time had, disappeared." Gersten also wrote that listening to the singer's final sides made him imagine "someone down on her knees pounding the floor, suddendly jumping up to screech something, struggling to make sense of a desperately unhappy life."
Linda Jones as pictured on the cover of "Your Precious Love", circa early '70s
Early in 1972, Turbo's single "Your Precious Love" brought Linda back to both the R&B and Pop charts, Many consider this to be the ultimate rendering of the old hit by Jerry Butler and The Impressions.
British critic Ian Hoare regards it as "the quintessential Deep Soul record", even beating out Lorraine Ellison's masterful "Stay With Me". He accurately describes it as a "spine-chilling piece of histrionic desolation". After the song's spoken introduction, which has an intense sermon-like quality, Linda explodes into a one-woman vocal hurricane, the like of which is not to be heard elsewhere.
The single entered the charts in February 1972 and began climbing, peaking at just #74 on the Hot 100 and a more respectable #15 in the R&B list. Linda's diary was full of work and she was actively promoting the single just weeks before she died.
After a matinee performance at the Apollo Theatre in New York in March, Linda went to her mother's house in Newark to eat dinner and take a nap before playing her evening show, but when her mother tried to wake her, she discovered Linda had slipped into a diabetic coma. She was rushed to the hospital but she didn't regained consciousness and died on March 14.
Because of her remarkable ability to transmute her own pain and suffering into Soul singing of a most astonishing and uncompromising quality, it could be argued that Linda Jones was to Soul what Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Judy Garland were to other forms of music.
"A Portrait of Linda Jones" contains the following tracks:
01. When the Hurt Comes Back (3:32)
02. Hypnotized (3:28)
03. Don't Go (I Can't Bear To Be Alone) (3:15)
04. If Only We Had Met Sooner (3:32)
05. Behold (2:42)
06. Stay With Me Forever (3:34)
07. I Love You (I Need You) (4:05)
08. I've Given You the Best Years of My Life (3:24)
09. I Can't Make It Alone (3:20)
All tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in June 2016 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with complete artwork reconstruction and printable PDF files.
Please have a look at the comments for the download link.
"A Portrait of Linda Jones" was released by Turbo Records sometimes in early 1972 with catalogue number TU-7004. I am uncertain if this LP should be considered a proper album or a compilation: half of the recordings that it contains were still unreleased then, but a few of them had already been recorded - and released - previously... The audio quality oscillates between bad and almost good; it seems quite clear that these nine cuts were recorded in different sets, a couple of tracks are even mono mixes...
As Linda signed with Turbo in 1971 and the album was released the next year, common sense would suggest that the recordings took place during that time span, but I can't help feeling that some of them seem to be older.
The cover of the album aptly features a portrait of Linda Jones inspired by one of her promotional pictures that you can see somewhere else in this post. I will refrain from getting to the heart of the artistic matter but, hey, this really looks like a budget release...
In 1991 most of the tracks included on this album - and on the two other albums Linda recorded for Turbo - were released on CD as "Your Precious Love" by Sequel Records in the U.K., but unfortunately many of them were left completely unmastered and the original fade-outs were shortened for unknown reasons... As a last note, and before getting in the usual track-by-track review, I beg you to believe me: this has been the most difficult remastering work that I embarked on since I lauched Stereo Candies almost five years ago.
Side 1 begins with "When the Hurt Comes Back", a song written by Gerald Harris and Wilbur Henry. On the spoken introduction Linda offers her 'fool's advice' to young girls before exploding in a more than desperate ballad. The drums on this track sound like they were recorded in a box and an unexplained hiss keeps on flowing up and down through the mix.
A completely re-recorded version of Linda's most successful and memorable song, "Hypnotized", is second in the playlist. Althought this version can't compete with the original for many reasons - the too much slow tempo comes to mind first - the vocal delivery is powerful and clear. Strangely enough, Linda's voice is almost completely panned on one side of the stereo mix; I really can't find a good reason for this choice... The same recording was also inclued months later on the album "Let It Be Me"; this time vocals were correctly placed in the mix.
"Don't Go (I Can't Bear To Be Alone)" was written by Al Goodman of The Moments - who is also responsible for the short notes that appear on the back cover of the album - along with Nate Edmonds and Sharon Seiger. Before its inclusion on this LP, the song had already been released as flipside of the single "I Can't Make It Alone" in 1971. The arrangement and mixing of this track are far better than those of the previous numbers; althought it doesn't reach the pinnacle of the 1967 Loma album, it is a step in that direction. Produced by Al Goodman, the song was also included later on the album "Your Precious Love".
"If Only We Had Met Sooner" is another re-recorded track that originally belonged to the "Hypnotized" album released back in 1967 by Loma. The song was written by George Kerr and Gerald Harris, and features The Whatnauts on backing vocals. For this version someone at the mixing desk has probably thought that it would be cooool to have the horns and strings sections moving quickly from one channel to the other. Well, the effect is not so cool in my opinion...
The first part of the album closes with the short and excellent "Behold", a song written and produced by Sylvia Robinson whose arrangement, melody and more relaxed vocal delivery harks back to Linda's earlier output. A few months later this track was also included on "Your Precious Love".
Side 2 starts off with "Stay With Me Forever", a song that - once again - was written by Al Goodman, Nate Edmonds and Sharon Seiger. Produced by Edmonds along with George Kerr, the previous year this number was choosen as Linda's first single on Turbo. Although it brings back the 'drums in a box' sound that pesters a few of the tracks on Side 1, Linda's voice shows all its power and swallow up the listener in a maelstrom of emotions. On the original album the song ends abruptly, I tried my best to fix this problem by using the last seconds of the version found on the "Your Precious Love" CD release which, for once, is better.
Clocking at over four minutes, "I Love You (I Need You)" is the longest track on the album. Written by the usual Edmonds / Seiger team, the song is exclusive to this LP and was not recycled on any of the other Linda Jones releases on Turbo. The arrangement features prominent strings and an harp which tries to soften Linda's overwrought phrasing.
"I've Given You the Best Years of My Life" was co-written by Gerald Harris and Linda Jones herself. The song was originally used on Side B of the "Stay With Me Forever" single back in 1971. Oddly and unlike the tracks that preceded it, this one is recorded in mono... Sound quality is probably the worst found on the album, muffled and with a lot of hiss, but anyway... A very nice piece!
The album comes to an end with a desperate version of "I Can't Make It Alone", a song written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin back in 1966, which was originally performed by P.J. Proby (...available here...) and covered, among others, by Dusty Springfield (...here...) and Lou Rawls (...here...). Just like the previous number, this one is available as a mono mix, and in my opinion it sits among the best tracks on the album. People at Turbo must have felt the same, and a few months later the song was also included on the album "Your Precious Love"...
The following clips offer a preview of the remastered album, enjoy "When the Hurt Comes Back", "Hypnotized", "Behold", "I've Given You the Best Years of My Life" and "I Can't Make It Alone"!
More information about Linda Jones is available here:
If you have any other useful information about the Linda Jones - especially corrections and improvements to this post - or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!