Lou Rawls: Reasons to Live
Len “Muddy” Mardeusz
Lou Rawls. Today, not many people remember the name or more importantly the man. Lou Rawls entertained audiences singing for 52 years. His story is as deep as the ocean. Lou was born in Chicago, December 1st, 1933.
He was raised by his Grandmother on the South side of the city. She took him to her Baptist Church. At the age of seven he was singing, which he enjoyed doing, gospel songs he heard at the Church. As a teenager he listen to Billy Eckstine, Joe Williams and Arthur Prysock. He went to the Regal Theater to see them perform. He once said, “I loved the way they lifted the spirit of the audience”.
In the early 1950’s Lou ventured to L.A., where he was asked to join the Chosen Gospel Singers. Later he joined the Pilgrim Travelers. He also wanted to serve his country. Lou Rawls enlisted in the Army 82 Airborne Division. He served as a paratrooper. Lou was discharge in 1955 and returned to Los Angeles. He rejoined the Pilgrim Travelers as they started on tour in the South. During the tour Lou Rawls was involved in a horrific car accident. His close friend was killed, Lou suffered multiple injuries including to his head. He was pronounced dead as the ambulance drove to the Hospital. Actually, Lou went into a coma which lasted 5 days. Lou suffered some memory loss. It took an entire year for him to fully recover. “I really received a new life after that”, he said,“I saw a lot of reasons to live.”
Around 1959 Lou was back in Los Angeles, looking for work as a singer. He sang at local R&B bars for tip money. Lou kept thinking about “reasons to live”. He finally got a nightly singing job. Lou sang at Pandora’s Coffee Shop for $10.00 a night. Nick Venett, a Capitol Records producer heard Lou sing. He marveled at the young singers octave range. He asked Lou to audition for the lable. Lou Rawls auditioned and was signed by Capitol Records. The “reasons to live” began to confront Lou Rawls. In 1961,he recorded an album with jazz pianist Les McCann. His “sweet as sugar” voice caught the attention of music critics and more importantly album buyers as radio increased on the album cuts. In 1966, two of his albums “Lou Rawls Live” and “Lou Rawls Soulin’” went Top 10 and gold. Rawls landed two crossover hits “Dead End Street” and “Your Good Thing is About
Billy Vera, pop singer said of Lou Rawls, “Lou’s style can be traced back to the great black baritones of the 40’s and 50’s.” Frank Sinatra claimed, “Lou is the classiest singer with the silkiest chops (Voice) in the singing game.” Lou also out polled Sinatra in Downbeat Magazine several times as Best Male Vocalist. Lou Rawls still loved singing in small clubs where drinks covered the over-head. There was a lot of noise and clinking glasses, “So instead of starting to sing, I would kind of speak the words”, Lou said. In 1967, He re-recorded two songs in the hip-type monologue style. “World of Trouble” and “Tobacco Road”, which garnered him Grammy. Each “talkin’ the song”, a kind of pre-rap lasted 7 minutes. R&B radio played them despite the length. In his Capitol years Rawls recorded 20 albums 13 of which went Gold.
In 1969,Lou was the summer replacement for the Dean Martin & the Goldiggers T.V show. Lou Rawls last recorded single for Capitol was in 1970, a cover of Sam Cooke’s, “Bring it on Home to Me.” In His years with Capitol Records Lou became a major crossover star. The experience with the gospel group the Pilgrim Travelers gave Lou Rawls the edge in, his voice which can be felt, even at his most relaxed, seething just beneath the surface. Lou continued to perform but truly involved in charity work. Lou recorded his last Grammy winning song, “You’ll Never Find Another Love (Like Mine)” in 1975 on the Philadelphia International label. It was his biggest selling hit.
Lou Rawls raised over 200 million dollar through telethons to allow 65,000 black high schoolers to be able to receive higher education in college. Frank Sinatra said, “Lou and I are the true saloon singers, voices reaching the hearts and souls and-he best epitomizes being cool”. Rawls devoted his time and effort to many charities. He claimed, “That is what reasons to live is all about. In 1982 he brought his talent becoming the singing voice of Garfield’s cartoon series. Lou’s recording of “Here Comes Garfield” won a Grammy for Best Children’s Song. Lou Rawls took to the Broadway stage in 1999 appearing as the lead in “Somkey Joe’s Cafe.” Sadly the deep, smooth voice of Lou Rawls ended due to cancer. Lou died on January 6, 2006, he was 76 years old. But the legacy Lou Rawls left will shine for many “kids” for along time. His wife Nina and four children knew him, his love and his reasons to live. In the end his life had real meaning and Lou was cool!