The name on the new CD is that of Benny Spellman, but Fortune Teller: A Singles Collection might as well have been co-credited to Allen Toussaint, the writer or co-writer of 24 of this new anthology’s 30 tracks. The recently released collection from Cherry Red’s Shout! label brings together singles from Spellman’s illustrious career dating between 1960 and 1967, accurately subtitled “New Orleans Hits and Northern Soul Gems,” and you might just find each song to truly be a gem. It’s hands-down the most comprehensive collection available on CD of the artist’s work, and even debuts five new-to-CD tracks (two of which are previously unreleased anywhere).
The stamp of legendary producer/arranger/musician Toussaint is all over these soulful tracks, from his sly, trademark piano to his sultry horns, but the new disc should go a long way in reminding listeners that Benny Spellman belongs on any “Who’s Who” of New Orleans music alongside Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe and the rest. Though Florida native Spellman introduced soul staples “Fortune Teller” (famously recorded by the Rolling Stones and other luminaries like Robert Plant and Allison Krauss) and “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)” on two sides of one 1962 single, his voice might be most recognizable as the answer voice to K-Doe on Toussaint’s No. 1 Pop and R&B hit “Mother-in-Law,” intoning the title phrase about the lady “sent from down below.” Though not credited to Spellman, “Mother-in-Law” still appears on the new compilation. But Spellman released a string of singles in his own name, and all were imbued with that signature New Orleans R&B style, supporting the singer's own expressive, resonant baritone.
Spellman was familiar with New Orleans, having attended Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Southern University on a football scholarship. A chance encounter with Huey “Piano” Smith (“Sea Cruise”) and the Clowns brought Spellman back to the city a few years later, following a stint in the U.S. Army. He was on the ground floor of the founding of Minit Records, and in 1960, when Allen Toussaint asked him to join the session for “Mother-in-Law,” he complied. He repeated the same (uncredited) response duties on K-Doe and Toussaint’s “A Certain Girl,” and became in demand as a background vocalist, as well. By 1962, Toussaint was producing tracks for Spellman as a top-tier artist, and he’s also heard on many of the tracks here as a prominent background vocalist himself.
Hit the jump for more details, including the full track listing with discography and an order link!
The compilation is primarily dedicated to Spellman’s Minit sides. “Every Now and Then” melodically nods to “Mother-in-Law,” while its flip, “I’m in Love,” is an odd little song with spoken word verses. “I’m Stickin’ Whicha’ Baby” is simply good-time N’awlins R&B. Of the rare sides, “10-4 Calling All Cars” is a fun, up-tempo offering, while “I’ll Never Leave You” is an emotive throwback ballad with that sweet Toussaint sound. “Go Back Home” boasts a haunting melody and arrangement, in stark contrast to the carnival organ sound of “Love is Universal.” You’ll also find singles from the original Ace label plus the Alon and Sansu labels, the latter of which was run by Toussaint in tandem with Marshall Sehorn. From the Sansu period, "Tain't It the Truth" was a strong revival of a K-Doe song, while its B-side "No, Don't Stop" is a largely instrumental cut. "The Word Game" played off the success of Shirley Ellis' "The Name Game," but its brassy flip "I Feel Good" is much better, with prominent vocals from Toussaint. It even shows the evolution of the New Orleans sound, different as it is from songs recorded just a few years earlier. The informative notes from co-producer Clive Richardson inform us that a handful of singles from the Watch and MorSoul labels were unavailable for inclusion here, though the set is otherwise a complete overview of Spellman’s singles career. (Richardson produced A Singles Collection with Mark Stratford.)
The booklet is illustrated with copious photographs (including one fun shot with Paul McCartney from the Venus and Mars sessions, in which Spellman participated on background vocals) and label scans of the original 45s. Simon Murphy has remastered at Another Planet Music. Benny Spellman returned to studio vocal work in the 1970s and also was a mainstay at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest before joining the ministry in the mid-1980s. He died at 79 years of age in 2011, but Fortune Teller is a fine testament to his enduring musical legacy.
Fortune Teller: A Singles Collection is available now, and can be ordered below!
Benny Spellman, Fortune Teller: A Singles Collection 1960-1967 (Shout! CD 78, 2012)
- Fortune Teller (Minit 644, 1962)
- Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette) (Minit 644, 1962)
- Mother-in-Law – Ernie K-Doe (Minit 623, 1960)
- Ammerette (Minit 606, 1960)
- Life is Too Short (Minit 606, 1960)
- I Didn’t Know (Minit 613, 1960)
- Darling No Matter Where (Minit 613, 1960)
- That’s All I Ask of You (Ace 630, 1961)
- Roll On Big Wheel (Ace 630, 1961)
- Every Now And Then (Minit 652, 1962)
- I’m in Love (Minit 652, 1962)
- 10-4, Calling All Cars (previously unreleased on CD)
- You Don’t Love Me No More (previously unreleased on CD)
- I’ll Never Leave You (previously unreleased on CD)
- Go Back Home (previously unreleased)
- Love is Universal (previously unreleased)
- Stickin’ Whicha’ Baby (Minit 659, 1963)
- You Got to Get It (Minit 659, 1963)
- Talk About Love (Minit 664, 1963)
- T’aint It the Truth (Alon 918, 1965)
- No, Don’t Stop (Alon 918, 1965)
- The Word Game (Alon 9024, 1965)
- I Feel Good (Alon 9024, 1965)
- It Must Be Love (Alon 9027, 1965)
- Spirit of Loneliness (Alon 9027, 1965)
- It’s For You (Alon 9031, 1966)
- This is for You, My Love (Alon 9031, 1966)
- Sinner Girl (Sansu 462, 1967)
- If You Love Her (Sansu 462, 1967)
- Crystal Ball – The Stokes (Alon 9032, 1966)