It was late on Friday night when I pushed out a short wee tribute to Jimmy Scott. The great singer - truly a one-of-a-kind - was 88 years old and over the weekend tributes have flooded the net. YouTube is a great source to find his music - from both his original run as a jazz/soul singer in the late 1950s/early 1960s and his "comeback" years from the 1990s on through.
Some people know him specifically for his work singing Sycamore Trees for the finale of David Lynch's Twin Peaks.
I first knew him as the guest vocalist on my favourite Lou Reed album. I read the liners, found out the name of the guy - at first I couldn't even be sure it was a guy - and set about trying to find some more of his material. A few interview and review pieces around that Lou Reed album revealed a few more details about the man known as Little Jimmy Scott. I knew enough about Lou Reed by this point to know that he was a huge fan of soul music, of R'n'B and (some) jazz. His use of Jimmy Scott on his Magic & Loss record was a tribute to an era/style he loved, and a voice he loved. Scott's voice was also perfect for that role, it's almost like the trembling waiata singer as Little Jimmy backs Reed.
I had to hear more from this voice.
But first up I had the video of the Magic & Loss performance, a live-in-the-studio/soundstage performance of the album with a few Reed and VU songs tacked on at the end. Scott was part of the act, appearing on the songs he recorded for the album. So now I had a visual. It was time to find more music...
In that first year away from home I started buying a lot of music (as I said here). It was constantly exciting, record stores had a bigger range, there were sales, it's always been easy to part money and me. And so I found my first real taste of Jimmy Scott then, a couple of years on from hearing him, only having that one Lou Reed album to go on at that time. But the name stayed with me and that voice was in my head. I'd never heard another voice like it. And I never did. There wasn't ever anyone like Jimmy Scott.
Lost and Found was my first entry into Scott's musical world; his version of Unchained Melody still a favourite.
And then I found All Over Again.
That was it until I caught up with the "comeback" albums. Scott had been toiling in obscurity for years, after the Reed cameo he recorded a set of albums where he reworked pop and rock songs from the sixties, seventies and eighties. I bought Heaven which featured his cover of the Talking Heads song, the title track of Scott's record. It also had his cover of Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready and this was around the very same time that I had bought a Curtis Mayfield box-set; about as close to a life-changing experience as buying an album (or albums) can be.
And then I left my Jimmy Scott collection right there. Just a small handful of albums. And that was that. Until once a year or so I'd revisit the Lou Reed record and dig out something by Smith too as a result. In recent years it's been YouTube clips.
Scott overcame huge setbacks to have a career - or two careers if you like (two runs at it anyway) and he lived just one month short of his 89th birthday; an all the more extraordinary effort given the setback of the Kallmann's Syndrome which robbed him of puberty and created his distinctive (extreme) contralto voice.
He went from a life that could have been cut short to working with Lionel Hampton, revered by the likes of Ray Charles and Billie Holiday. He also created some of the greatest coverversions of jazz standards and pop songs from the 1960s on through. His version of Nothing Compares 2 U has been the song I've listened to the most since hearing of his passing.
If you're a Jimmy Scott fan share your memories and favourite clips below.
R.I.P. Jimmy Scott
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