Percy Mayfield is one of my favorite singers of all time, and favorite songwriters. Most people put that the other way around, but much as I love his songs, I love his singing even more, and not just on his own songs — his version of “Black Coffee” is still my favorite take on that standard. So it’s odd that the only song I do of his was learned off an Albert Collins record — but that’s how it goes. (Or maybe it’s that after hearing him sing something, I steered clear of it.) Not only that, I wrote my own third verse, because for some reason I didn’t feel comfortable singing the original one and needed a substitute. And not only that… my verse was probably inspired by Paul Simon’s “Duncan” — which is a hell of an admission, but we’re all friends here, right?
So anyway, Percy Mayfield…
He was called “The Poet Laureate of the Blues,” and is probably best known for the songs he wrote while Ray Charles had him on payroll: “Hit the Road, Jack,” “Danger Zone,” “But On the Other Hand, Baby,” and a bunch of others. Good as those are, though, his masterpieces were on his own records. First, “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” his biggest hit, which has one of the greatest opening verses ever written:
Heaven, please send to all mankind
Understanding, and peace of mind.
And, if it’s not asking too much,
Please send me someone to love.
How great is that? “If it’s not asking too much…”
Then he could turn around and write:
If you would be so kind, to help me find my mind,
I want to thank you in advance.
Know this before you start: my soul’s been torn apart.
I lost my mind in a wild romance.
So okay, on second thought maybe I love his songwriting as much as his singing. That one’s called “Lost Mind,” and then there’s “The River’s Invitation,” and “Life is Suicide” — not always the most cheerful themes, but he had a tough life and wrote what he knew. After a brief run of R&B hits in the early 1950s, he was in a car accident that almost killed him and left his face brutally disfigured. He kept writing, and recorded a half-dozen albums in the 1960s and 1970s, including a couple on Ray Charles’s Tangerine label, and toward the end of his life there was a nice documentary about him, filmed mostly at a relaxed party with friends, singing the old songs with Mark Naftalin playing sensitive piano… which, tragically, seems to be out of print, and someone oughta fix that.
Anyway, I don’t know why this is the only Percy Mayfield song I do — and the only Albert Collins song, for that matter. It just worked out that way, and I recorded it on my LP, and here it is.