Around the same time, a white singer from Oregon, Johnnie Ray had much the same approach as Jimmy Scott, though it is not known whether he saw him or was influenced by him. Ray, a troubled individual, would become emotionally involved in his songs, stretching out the notes and weeping on stage. His million-selling ‘Cry’ was described in Billboard as “a cross between Kay Starr and Jimmy Scott”.
After leaving Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Scott worked in New York for various crooked agents and record company owners. He found a sympathetic producer, Freddy Mendelsohn, at Regal and then Roost Records. Although he had no hit records, he recorded exemplary performances of ‘The Masquerade Is Over’, ‘Talk Of The Town’ and ‘Rain In My Eyes’. The saxophonist Stan Getz joined Jimmy for ‘Do You Mind If I Hang Around?’, a Coral single from 1952.
Even in the cut-throat world of independent New York record companies, Herman Lubinksy had a heart of stone. Despite his meanness, he made records with Billy Eckstine, Errol Garner and Charlie Parker. Jimmy Scott signed with Lubinsky in 1955 and that signature was to ruin his career. At first, things went well. He made an album, Very Truly Yours, which included one of his greatest performances, ‘When Did You Leave Heaven?’. The gospel singer Cissy Houston – the mother of Whitney – joined him for ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’. A second album, If You Only Knew, followed in 1956. The records had little promotion and only sold to people who knew his work.. At the time many record companies paid for airplay (payola) but there was no question of that with Savoy: Herman Lubinsky would never pay anyone. Jimmy often sang ‘Unchained Melody’: if he had managed to get the song first, everything might have been so different.
Jimmy Scott married for a second time, this time to a hairdresser, Channie Booker. As his earnings were limited, he took a day job as a janitor in a building full of hookers and con men. They bought a house, but one day she returned with a new man. Jimmy, who was cutting the grass, threw the mower through the windscreen of his rival’s car. When Billie Holiday died in 1959, Jimmy Scott attended in dark glasses because Channie had given him a black eye. When they parted, he gave her the house.
With the advent of rock’n’roll in the mid-50s, Jimmy Scott found himself, somewhat incongruously, performing on package shows and working with Bo Diddley and Little Richard. During a short time with King Records, he cut some teenage tracks to which he was unsuited. There were some classics with the label though, ‘What Sin Have I Committed?’ and ‘When Day Is Done’. Undoubtedly, Frankie Lymon was influenced by Jimmy Scott and also Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons, who sought his advice. He told Valli, “Sing as slow as you want: it’s the band’s job to follow you.” Joe Pesci followed Jimmy around and he made an album, almost as a homage, Little Joe Sure Can Sing, before becoming an actor.
Scott returned to Savoy, but the singles, which included ‘I May Never’, were aimed at the rock’n’roll market. His third Savoy album, The Fabulous Songs Of Jimmy Scott, included ‘Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child’.
Ray Charles’ girl singers were known as the Raelets because they let Rae have his way with them. For a time, Jimmy lived with one of them, Mary Ann Fisher, and she recommended Jimmy for Ray’s new label, Tangerine. Ray was delighted, especially at the thought of playing piano behind Jimmy’s voice. In 1962, they recorded a very romantic album of standards, Falling In Love Is Wonderful, several of the songs being associated with Sinatra. Ray Charles, who also produced the record with Joe Adams, used the arrangers Marty Paich and Gerald Wilson who had contributed to Ray’s million-selling LP, Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music.
Supposedly to help the album’s sales, Jimmy Scott was not shown on the cover and instead we had a Lothario making out with a beautiful girl. No matter, the album was quickly withdrawn. Herman Lubinsky maintained that Jimmy was under contract to Savoy and rather than contest this or come to an agreement, Ray Charles withdrew the album. In a bizarre move, he erased Jimmy’s vocals and asked the organist Wild Bill Davis to play over the tracks. Hence, Wild Bill’s album, Wonderful World Of Love. On his 1967 album, Ray Charles Invites You To Listen, Ray sings standards in a high register, emulating Jimmy Scott.
Whilst Jimmy was making the album, his father showed up as selfish as ever and demanding to move in with Jimmy and Mary Ann. It destroyed their relationship but when Jimmy returned to Cleveland, he married for the third time, this time to a nurse, Ruth Taylor, in 1965.
Because Jimmy is black, the police often stopped him. From time to time, he was taken to a police station and strip searched. He would be humiliated, standing in the nude while the police laughed at his genitals. Around 1965 he suddenly started growing and, much to his surprise, found that he was five foot six. A doctor recommended hormone injections to resolve the syndrome but Jimmy decided against it as it might have changed his voice.
In 1969 a DJ who had moved into record production, Joel Dorn, asked Jimmy to make an album for Atlantic. Jimmy arrived for the session with no teeth: he had had his remaining teeth extracted and he couldn’t afford his dentures. Dorn gave him the money and, if you listen really hard to The Source, you can hear a small whistle! It was worth collecting those teeth as it is a superb album. Jimmy is at his best on ‘Day By Day’ and he is reunited with Cissy Houston for ‘On Broadway’ which brings out a frustration and resignation that is not in the Drifters’ original.
This time, there was a female model on the cover, and once again, Herman Lubinsky claimed that Jimmy Scott was not free to record. This should have been challenged but again, the LP was withdrawn. However, Atlantic was flush with money and a second album was recorded, even though there was no hope of a release. Several of these tracks can now be found on Sequel’s Lost And Found from 1994. Jimmy Scott’s marriage was strained but he included a reference to “Ruthie and Jim” in ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’.
Most of the time Jimmy was a clerk at the Sheraton Hotel in Cleveland and attending to his sick father. In 1972 he had an accident in the hotel and damaged his foot. It left him with a limp and he was to receive $300 a month for the rest of his life. Ruth was unhappy about this, feeling that he should have demanded a larger settlement. Also in 1972, Michael Jackson acknowledged his debt to Scott by recording ‘Everybody Somebody’s Fool’ on his Ben album.