Friday 28 October 2016

Soul singer Percy Sledge dies at 74

Published 14/04/2015 | 16:21

Percy Sledge after his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Percy Sledge after his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Percy Sledge, who recorded the classic 1966 soul ballad When A Man Loves A Woman, has died at the age of 74.

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William Clark, coroner for East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, confirmed that Sledge died early this morning.

Sledge's first recording took him from hospital orderly to a long touring career averaging 100 performances a year and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

Between 1966 and 1968, Sledge used his forlorn vocal style to record a series of southern soul standards.

In later years, he continued to be an in-demand performer in the US and Europe as When A Man Loves A Woman kept popping up in movies including The Big Chill and The Crying Game.

Sledge died of natural causes in hospice care, according to Dr Clark.

A number one hit in 1966, When A Man Loves A Woman was Sledge's debut single, an almost unbearably heartfelt ballad with a resonance he never approached again.

Its mood set by a mournful organ and dirge-like tempo, When A Man Loves A Woman was for many the definitive soul ballad, a testament of blinding, all-consuming love haunted by fear and graced by overwhelming emotion.

It was a personal triumph for Sledge, who seemed on the verge of sobbing throughout the production, and a breakthrough for southern soul. It was the first number one hit from Alabama's burgeoning Muscle Shoals music scene, where Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones among others would record, and the first gold record for Atlantic Records.

Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler later called the song "a transcendent moment" and "a holy love hymn".

Sledge's hit became a standard that sustained his long touring career in the US, Europe and South Africa. It was a favorite at weddings - Sledge himself did the honours at a ceremony for musician and actor Steve Van Zandt.

The song was re-released after being featured in Oliver Stone's Vietnam War film Platoon in 1987 and reached number two in Britain. Michael Bolton topped the charts in the 1990s with a cover version and Rolling Stone magazine later ranked it 53rd on its list of the greatest songs of all time.

Recognisable by his wide, gap-toothed smile, Sledge had a handful of other hits between 1966 and 1968, including Warm And Tender Love, It Tears Me Up, Out Of Left Field and Take Time to Know Her. He returned to the charts in 1974 with I'll Be Your Everything.

Before he became famous, Sledge worked in the cotton fields in Alabama and took a job in a hospital. He also spent weekends playing with a rhythm-and-blues band called the Esquires. A patient at the hospital heard him singing while working and recommended him to record producer Quin Ivy.

In the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals, Sledge recalled recording the song: "When I came into the studio, I was shaking like a leaf. I was scared."

He added that it was the "same melody that I sang when I was out in the fields. I just wailed out in the woods and let the echo come back to me".

The composition of the song has long been a mystery. Some thought that Sledge wrote it himself. He said he was inspired by a girlfriend who left him for a modelling career after he was laid off from a construction job in 1965, but he gave the songwriting credits to two Esquires bandmates, bassist Calvin Lewis and organist Andrew Wright, who helped him with the song.

In April 1994, Sledge pleaded guilty in federal court to tax evasion involving income from concerts in the late 1980s. He was sentenced to six months in a halfway house, given five years of probation, and ordered to pay 96,000 dollars in back taxes and fines. When he pleaded guilty, he told the judge: "I knew I owed more."

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