By 1974 Herman Lubinsky was dying and at last Jimmy Scott would be free of his obligations. Freddy Mendelsohn produced one final album for Savoy and Jimmy wrote new lyrics for the title song, Can’t We Begin Again. By now, Jimmy was singing slower than ever – just hear his version of ‘Close Your Eyes’. During his 20 year period at Savoy, Jimmy had only recorded around 60 sides.
Jimmy Scott continued working in the hotel, but when he married for the fourth time in 1985, his wife, another nurse Earlene Rodgers, did much to encourage him back into the business. He was also helped by his friend, the New York songwriter, Doc Pomus, who wrote in Billboard in 1987: “When we talk about Jimmy Scott, we’re talking about somebody who might the best singer of contemporary or vintage ballads around. There must be some space somewhere for him. What’s everybody waiting for? He’s 62 years old, he’ll die and there’ll be a hot funeral. Everybody will show up in hip mourning clothes and talk about how great he was. Let’s do something now.”
Nothing much happened but Jimmy did get $15,000 from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. He used the money to start his own record label, J’s Way, releasing an album of original songs for sale at gigs, Doesn’t Love Mean More. He also used the money to record some little-known artists. He appeared in the final episode of Twin Peaks.
Doc Pomus died in 1991 and Jimmy Scott with Dr. John on organ performed ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ at his funeral. Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records, was so impressed that he signed Jimmy the following day. The noted producer, Tommy LiPuma, worked with him on an album of standards, All The Way. The album sold 50,000 and Jimmy received his first Grammy nomination. His second Sire album, Dream, a low-key affair with some top jazz musicians sold 25,000, and then a spiritual album, Heaven, only sold 6,000.
In 1998 Jimmy moved to Artists Only Records and made his first contemporary album, Holding Back The Years. The title song came from Simply Red and the album included songs from John Lennon, Elvis Costello and Elton John. ‘The Crying Game’ was a perfect title for him and he made a good job of ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’.
Since then we have had four albums of standards for Milestone, a subsidiary of the jazz label, Fantasy – Moon Indigo, Over The Rainbow, But Beautiful and Moon Glow. They have been recorded with some wonderful musicians and he has been very productive at this late stage in his career. His phrasing, if anything, is more capricious than ever: it would be impossible for someone who did not the Moon Glow album to sing along with the standards.
He has toured with Lou Reed and David Byrne, performed with Manhattan Transfer at President Clinton’s first inaugural ball, and appeared with Jools Holland and in the video for Madonna’s Secret. He has contributed to albums (Lou Reed’s Magic And Loss, David Sanborn’s Pearls) and film soundtracks (Glengarry Glen Ross, Philadelphia, Rage In Harlem, Albino Alligator). David Ritz wrote his biography in Faith In Time – The Life Of Jimmy Scott (Da Capo, 2002), an excellent book with some silly mistakes: the Connie Francis hit, ‘Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool’, was a different song.
His private life has changed again. He divorced Earlene after she spent too much time nursing her mother and he now lives with an admirer, Jeanie McCarthy. He also has his own group, the Jazz Expressions. In January 2004 and looking his age, Jimmy Scott collapsed while singing ‘Motherless Child’ at Ronnie Scott’s. It had been brought on my fatigue but he completed his engagement.
Jimmy Scott is still killing us softly with his songs and I hope that he makes an all-star album with, say, Van Morrison, Lou Reed and Willie Nelson before he stops performing as the contrast in the voices would be very illuminating. Any performer with a life like Jimmy Scott’s would be sitting on a goldmine for the movie rights. However, a film of Jimmy Scott’s life can never be made. Whoever could they find to play him?
JIMMY SCOTT – THE ORIGINAL ALBUMS
Albums – LPs
Savoy MG 12027 VERY TRULY YOURS (1955)
Savoy MG 14003 IF YOU ONLY KNEW (1956)
Savoy MG12150 THE FABULOUS SONGS OF JIMMY SCOTT (1959)
Tangerine TRCS 1501 FALLING IN LOVE IS WONDERFUL (1962)
Atlantic SD 8284 THE SOURCE (1969)
Savoy MG 16003 CAN’T WE BEGIN AGAIN (1975)
Albums – CDs
J’s Way JVCD 001 DOESN’T LOVE MEAN MORE (1990)
Sire 7599 26955 2 ALL THE WAY (1992)
Sire 9362 45629 2 DREAM (1994)
WEA 9 46211 2 HEAVEN (1996)
Artists Only AOR 11 HOLDING BACK THE YEARS (1998)
Milestone MCD 9305 2 MOOD INDIGO (2000)
Milestone MCD 9314 2 OVER THE RAINBOW (2001)
Milestone MCD 9321 2 BUT BEAUTIFUL (2002)
Milestone MCD 9332 2 MOON GLOW (2003)
Venus TKGV 1004 LIVE IN TOKYO (Japan only, 2003)
Specialty SPCD2170 2 LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT AND THE PAUL GAYTEN BAND LIVE IN NEW ORLEANS (A 1951 concert first issued in 1991)
Sequel RSACD 804 LOST AND FOUND (Compilation of Atlantic tracks, 1994)
Savoy Jazz 16003 LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT: THE SAVOY YEARS AND MORE (Recordings for Regal, Roost and Savoy, 3-CD, 1999)
Where to start