MARGARET LEWIS (By Phil Davies)
Margaret Lewis was born in Snyder, Texas (circa 1941) and grew up in the small town of Levelland near Lubbock.
She sang in the local Baptist church before forming a high school band, ML and the Thunderbolts. She dug rockabilly and femme r&b by the Atlantic dynamic duo Ruth n LaVern. She also discovered old records by SisterRosetta Tharpe in local junk shops.
Like other hip Lubbock teens she went to r&b gigs at the oh so cool Cotton Club, seeing Ray Charles and Big Joe Turner. She met the young Charles Hardin Holley , Sonny Curtis and Don Guess at a packed Fats Domino gig. Margaret also saw the legendary local shows by Martha Carson, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton and some flash cat from Tupelo, recalling that she was "stunned and mesmerised by his singing and movements". She was invited on stage at a Bob Wills show to sing the big hit of the day Singing The Blues.
April 57 she won 2nd prize at a talent show in Plainview, sponsored by Johnny Horton, the prize being a guest appearance at the Louisiana Hayride at Shreveport. There, Johnny and Tilman Franks introduced her to local businesswoman Mira Smith, who had her own studio and played guitar with young local cats like James Burton. An aspiring songwriter, she took Margaret under her wing, sending her out on the road with local star Dale Hawkins. Margaret and her sister Rose ended up doing backing vocals for some of Dale`s Checker sessions in Chicago, singing on Baby Baby, Mrs Merguitory's Daughter, La-Do-Da -Da, Superman and most memorably of all the awesome Little Pig. Later she sang on the equally awesome Ain't That Lovin' You Baby by Dale.
The sisters impressed the Chess boys and recorded a few songs, but only Come On Let's Stroll later appeared on a Chess oldies lp. They returned to Shreveport and sang on the rocking gem Swing Daddy Swing by Jerry Hawkins on Ebb. Margaret became a regular on sessions for Mira Smith's fledgling Ram Records label, playing with the likes of D J Fontana. Her first solo 45 appeared in 1959 No No Never / Cheaters Never Win.
This was soon followed by a great rocker, Shake A Leg. Whilst other small Louisiana studios and labels got releases on bigger labels/distributors, Mira's little label never broke through nationally (though a listen to the 3 volumes of Ram on Ace reveals some great stuff by the likes of ML, The Lonesome Drifter and Roy Perkins). Mira used other hit studios like Cosimo's (where Texan Johnny Winter's band backed ML on Bow Wow Puppy Love, with Bobby Mizzell on piano ), JD Miller's and even upgraded her own studio but to no commercial avail. Mira's label credit now read Tennessee Grace and her Guitar. They even cut a session in Nashville with all the hot pickers but John De Lee went nowhere, well not quite the tiny UK Starlite records put out a debut UK release for ML.
The music and performances are all fine but that lucky break didn't come. Still, it's worth checking out goodies like Goin' To St Louie, Roll Over Beethoven and Dust My Blues (these,of course, being reintroduced to a worldwide audience by the British beat n blues combos). Problems with distributors and finances (including not being able to compete in the payola system) led to the label's demise. Huey Meaux picked up a few unreleased masters, but all was quiet until Margaret was signed for a few singles by Capitol, but when Mira spoke out about the productions the deal ended. They then worked in clubs in Vegas before deciding on a songwriting pact. This proved to be their most successful period with hits coming by Margaret Whiting and David Houston. They moved to Nashville, and joined the CMA thanks to help from Wesley Rose. They signed a deal with Shelby Singleton's SSS International label and enjoyed hits by the hottest girl in country then, Jeannie C. Riley (Country Girl and The Girl Most Likely ) ; Connie Francis recorded their Wedding Cake song. Margaret even had her own small country chart answer hit to Bobby Goldsboro's Honey with "Honey (I Miss You Too)", which peaked at # 33 in the Cash Box country charts in 1968.
Considering ML's r&b roots she probably enjoyed hits by Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson and Johnny Adams more, Soulshake and the epic country soul ballad Reconsider Me. This song alone will make sure Mira and Margaret will never be forgotten. Later (1975) Narvel Felts had a country number one with it too.
As good as the hit versions are, Margaret's simple but oh so effective demo of Reconsider Me (on the Ace cd) is simply sensational, my all time fav girl singer performance, spine chilling stuff. Almost as good is the bluesy Full Grown Man featuring Mira's stellar picking. Ace found a backing track for Emmit Lee from 59 in the vault and thanks to Ray Topping, ML was persuaded to overdub a vocal for the Ace cd Lonesome Bluebird.
Thanks to Ace, we have three great Ram CD's, Shreveport Stomp (a VA comp), Margaret's Lonesome Bluebird and the final volume by Roy Perkins, all well worth checking out, my fav being Margaret's, hence the need for this laudatory piece. It was a great personal disappointment when plans to bring Margaret over to the annual JLL Fan Club Convention here in Wales fell through.
Margaret is certainly a great artist, thoroughly deserving of her own cd anthology. I'm delighted to acknowledge fully Ray Toppings' sterling work with the label and for issuing Lonesome Bluebird and annotating it (liberally quoted herein). Also very helpful was this great online discography by Pete Hoppula, which has a detailed recommended listening section at the end.
Phil Davies 2006
Recommended Listening : Margaret Lewis, The Lonesome Bluebird - Ram Records vol 2, Ace CDCHD 572, 1995
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