The life of Jimmy Scott is not one of meteoric stardom but a journey that has taken nearly seventy years to find its much deserved success.
James Victor Scott, one of ten children, was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 17, 1925. He's known for his high haunting soprano voice & poignant balladeering. His up & down recording career, started in the early 1950's, saw a resurgence in the 1990's when he was signed to Sire Records and received a Grammy nomination after a long period of commercial inactivity. Soon after coming out of retirement, he was seen on stages around the world, performing magical & heart breaking interpretations of old torch songs, Broadway standards and even a smattering of choice modern rock tunes done with generally sparse jazz arrangements.
Almost strangled by the umbilical cord at birth, then orphaned as a boy in depression era Cleveland, the odds against Jimmy Scott ever suceeding were further stacked by an abnormal genetic pituitary hormonal defect known as "Kallman's Syndrome" which accounts for his somewhat effeminate looks & unnaturally high singing voice.
Finding solace onstage, he sang in combos of the post war R&B era, notably as a featured singer with band leader Lionel Hampton, with whom he made his recorded debut in 1950(although his name did not appear on the label). He was finally signed to a steady record deal when he was almost 30, when Herman Lubinsky of Newark's Savoy Records offered Cleveland's finest balladeer a shot circa 1954. Lubinsky, whose label was a great repository of jazz & blues recordings, was also a notorious shyster. In David Ritz's 2002 bio of Jimmy Scott "Faith In Time", Seymour Stein of Sire Records recalls past colleagues at the time calling Savoy Record's Newark HQ the "Slave Barracks". Savoy recorded some well received Little Jimmy Scott sides, but due to Lubinsky's malfeasance, Scott went mostly uncompensated. As time wore on, he grew discontent, started retreating into booze and left the label's fold by the beginning of the 1960's.
Over the years the Lubinsky/Savoy contract would stifle Scott in numerous ways, particularly when he tried to break free and record for Ray Charles' Tangerine label in the early 1960's and another time with Atlantic in the late 1960's. Lubinsky would battle to have the records withdrawn, keeping Scott's music from ever hitting the streets en masse.
1969's attempt at a comeback LP "The Source" was produced by Joel Dorn for Atlantic, featuring backing from a hot group of players including David Fathead Newman on tenor sax, Eric Gale on guitar and Ron Carter on bass...The record was withdrawn due to lawsuit after the first pressing, for a longtme making it a rare and often bootleged masterpiece.
Jimmy's numerous shots at stardom were so hampered by the fiscal mismanagement & bad business dealings, it lead him to frustration, failed relationships, drinking and drugging, and a career ending downward spiral that took him away from the limelight.
His talent was never in doubt, but his successes were measured at best.
A favorite of performers ranging from Billie Holiday & Dinah Washington, to Frankie Valli, Stevie Wonder, and John Lennon, all whom knew of and expressed respect of his work. Said Quincy Jones once,'Jimmy would tear my heart out every night with his soul-penetrating style"...
Even Madonna has said "Jimmy Scott is the only singer who makes me cry,"
Strangely enough, it appears death that actually the catalyst that brought Scott's career back to life...
By the late 70's and early 80's some of his only gigs were occasional charity appearances at senior citizen homes. Scott's day jobs at Bob's Big Boy and in a Cleveland Sheraton hotel gave him a mindset that was set far from keeping abreast of the changing tastes of a fickle record buying public at the tail end of the 20th century.
In 1985, at age 60, he returned to the eastern seaboard, and for the first time in over a decade started working small clubs in New York and Harlem, perhaps getting occasional nostalgic write ups in the NY Times or Village Voice. Scott's subsequent shift back into the public eye ironically began to truly gather momentum at The Riverside Funeral Home on St.Patrick's Day 1991. The sad/happy occasion was legendary rock n roll songwriter and old friend Doc Pomus' funeral.
Jimmy had met Pomus back in the 40's, and they had stayed in touch. In fact, in 1987 Doc even wrote a letter to trade publication Billboard extolling Scott's virtues, decrying the hard times he was going through, and warning the record industry not to sleep on a chance to catch the long overdue second coming of Little Jimmy Scott.
Now a few years later, Scott sat Shiva and was asked by Doc's family to perform "Someone To Watch Over Me" at the funeral, along with backing from fellow old timers Dr. John on piano and Fathead Newman on sax. Scott arrived early and sat unasumedly with hands folded in the back with his 4th wife Earlene. After the colorful eulogies, Jimmy's haunting voice over the tinkling keys stunned the room, with many so far back they could barely see his tiny head over the crowd. The room was filled with dozens of music biz luminaries, like Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, and the aforementioned Seymour Stein of Sire who felt it was almost his spiritual duty to Doc to simply offer Scott a dignified deal.
Jimmy later told a reporter in 2000 of the bittersweet good fortune coming from his friend's death, " The next day, this cat from Warners comes over with a contract. It was like Doc's hand reaching out from the grave."
He went on to many new career highights ranging from appearing in David Lynch's Twin Peaks & having sold out shows across the US & Europe to performing onstage at Bill Clinton's inaugural ball gala in DC.
Still Scott copes with the fact that his type of fame is fleeting, and has duly noted this phenomena when he sang onstage in the 1990's with the Grateful Dead to a crowd of thousands in his hometown of Cleveland, where the local daily paper referred to him as an "unknown female singer".
Since the quirky career kickstart given to Scott from Pomus' funeral, he has continued touring, recorded some 8 or so albums on half dozn labels, and added a 5th wife to his bio as well. Now with his aged infirmities creeping in, Scott is restricted to moving around onstage via wheelchair...
Music continues to be his life into his eighties, once telling ajournalist “I love performing. You live with reality every day. You can’t miss it. We can try to avoid a lot of trials in life, but it’s better to overcome than avoid. That’s what music has been for me. It’s been my opportunity to overcome.”
"All I can do is give what I really feel."
"It'll work out in the end. You gotta believe" Jimmy Scott
To Visit JIMMY SCOTT'S website CLICK HERE
Clay Corley Sr.
My name is Clayton E. Corley, Sr. aka Big Trigger host and producer of an award winning internet program!