I was amazed and delighted that we got someone as prestigious and legendary as Erma Franklin to participate in The Strange World Of Northern Soul, performing her much rarer version of this monster Jackie Wilson Northern Soul crossover classic, thanks, mainly, to Pat Lewis being her close friend. And gutted then when she died in 2002, so full of life and so articulate and talented. What a terrible waste.
Erma was born in Shelby, Mississippi in 1939. When she was six, they moved to Detroit, where her father became the minister of New Bethel Baptist Church. After High School, Erma toured the country for two years in her father's gospel group. Continuing with her studies, Erma met up with a young Berry Gordy, who as we know today would form the legendary Motown label. Erma recalled how they went to Chicago to do some things with Chess "and we hardly had two bits between us." At Chess, they met up with producer Billy Davis but nothing came of it except being an inspiration for a huge hit later for Etta James called "All I Could Do Was Cry." Erma was all set to join Motown and would have recorded many of the early songs later sung by Marv Johnson and Mary Wells but, Rev. Franklin prevented it. "I couldn't very well argue with my father when he said it was a choice between leaving home and singing or staying at home and studying - so I decided to stay at home and study!" During this time younger sister Aretha was signed to a recording contract from Columbia records. Fortunately, the success Aretha's debut album in 1960 made Rev. Franklin rethink his decision, and the following year Erma was signed to Epic Records, sister company to Columbia Records by epic's then A&R man, Dave Kapralik. Her first and only album for the label, entitled "Her Name Is Erma", surfaced in 1962 and "Abracadabra" written by Van McCoy is Erma's last single on Epic and most valuable single for collectors. In 1967. Sister Aretha's career blew up and Erma began receiving offers she couldn't refuse. "I finally agreed to sign with Shout Records but only provided I could record at night because I wanted to keep my IBM job," she recalls. The song they went in to record was written by Bert Berns himself with Jerry Ragavoy called "Piece of my Heart". Well, they put the record out and I didn't think too much about it. Next thing I knew, I started getting calls at home about it and one day, Bert phoned up and told me to get down to the office - and fast! When I got there, I found the record was on the Top 100 and I was just knocked out. We did three or four sessions in all. I think. I remember the one where we cut the follow-up, "Open Up My Soul" in particular". After a great deal of thought, seeing the reaction to the record, I reluctantly decided to quit my job and sign up with Aretha's booking agency, Queens Booking." "Bert had called me up and told me we ought to work on an album. I had rehearsed some of the material and just as when the time came to come in to record it Bert died unexpectedly, leaving Erma's career at a standstill. " I did a session with Freddie Scott as producer but nothing much else happened." Then Shout Records lost the master tapes from some of the sessions including one we'd done on a new arrangement for the old Bobby Bland hit, "Share Your Love With Me" (just when we were about to put it out). Aretha heard that one and after the tape had been lost she remembered how we'd done it and did it herself. I was pleased it was a hit for her but, of course, I'd have been happier if it had come out for me!"
Since Erma's Shout contract had expired she kept busy in the studio recording backing vocals for Aretha on her first two Atlantic albums, "I Never Loved A Man" and "Aretha Arrives". The success of "Piece Of My Heart" was building and offers from record labels came pouring in, among others, R.C.A and Brunswick (still owned by Decca at the time). In 1969 Erma visited the U.K. playing the Royal Albert Hall as part of a European tour. .Erma opted for Brunswick since Carolyn was recording for R.C.A. Her first Brunswick single, "Gotta Find Me A Lover (24 Hours A Day)" hit the R&B charts for 3 weeks and peaked at # 40, started filling dance floor in
the early Seventies. Erma did one or two more sessions of which produced four Jackie Wilson covers. Her last Brunswick single, backed version of two recent hits, by label-mate Jackie Wilson - "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" b/w "(I Get The) Sweetest Feeling". Both with the same instrumental backing track as the original versions makes this a most desirable vinyl in collector's circles, and its demand on the Northern Soul scene led to us re-recording it and filming it with Erma in early 1999.