Laura Lee - Crumbs Off The Table
Miss Laura Lee
Happy Monday y’all! (deafening sound of crickets in the background). Yeah...I know. The Monday after Christmas, most of you are laying on the couch, in your pajamas, watching cartoons and eating Christmas cookies. I wish I was... Instead I’m here, slaving over a steaming hot blog just so you can download a nice song. No...go ahead, finish your cookies. I can wait. (sound of foot tapping, stage whistling, eyes rolling...) Seriously...another year gone by, vacation time sorely mismanaged, and funky tunes burning a hole in my player. Today’s selection is a number that has long been a favorite of mine, which – strangely enough – I just managed to grab a clean copy of. I first heard Laura Lee’s “Crumbs Off The Table” about ten years ago, when I picked up the Rhino comp ‘The Roots of Funk, Vol ½’. Surprisingly good – compared to the other ‘Roots of Funk’ volumes – the disc featured several artists who were then unknown to me, including the Fabulous Counts, Fugi, and Laura Lee (not to mention revealing to me for the first time that ‘Let Me Be Your Lovemaker’ was not in fact a Humble Pie song...). The CD was in heavy rotation in my crib (and everywhere else I managed to impose my musical taste on unsuspecting friends), and while I managed to score copies of almost every cut on the comp, ‘Crumbs Off The Table’ eluded me for years (more successfully than scores of rarer 45s). Anyway, from the first time I heard the tune, I fell in love with it (and Laura Lee). Lee was born in 1945 in Chicago, but grew up in Detroit. She recorded one 45 for Ric-Tic (To Win Your Heart b/w So Will I) in 1966 before moving on to Chess Records in 1967. She would record 7 singles for the label, most with Rick Hall at Fame Studios in Alabama. Her Chess sides are all worth hearing, but the best – by far – is the anthemic ‘Dirty Man’, one of the great soul ballads of all time (which I’ll post here in the future). It’s also a cornerstone of Lee’s rep as a powerful soul sister with a Women’s Liberation vibe running through her work. After a brief stop at Cotillion (two singles) she would move to Holland/Dozier/Holland’s Hot Wax label in 1970. She would record three albums (and eleven 45s) for Hot Wax and sister label Invictus Records between 1970 and 1974. Interestingly enough, “Crumbs Off The Table” had originally been recorded (and hit the R&B Top 10) in 1969 by the Glass House, a group that included Sherrie Payne (Freda Payne’s sister) and R&B veteran Ty Hunter, who had recorded for Anna and Chess. The tune, written by Payne, Edith Wayne and Ronald Dunbar was covered for the first time by none other than Dusty Springfield in 1971. Laura Lee’s version is the definitive take on the tune. Opening with a supremely loop-able bass/conga riff (later sampled by D-Nice and Ice Cube) , and gradually adding horn swells and wah wah guitar the tune hits its stride as Lee drops in, each of her lines punctuated by clavinet chords. She lays down the lyrics like she’s actually bawling out a cheating boyfriend for leaving all his good lovin’ in other ladies bedrooms. As “anti cheating boyfriend” manifestos, this is about as strong as they come, suggesting that the offender is actually impotent (ouch...). The arrangement is supremely funky in a stylish Detroit way, i.e. as funky as it gets outside of the realm of the dusty, small-label funk 45. If you can listen to this without at least thinking about dancing, you need to make sure you still have a pulse. Lee’s vocals are powerful and sexy (when she chants ‘I’m hungry baby!’ over and over, it’s like whoah...). Strangely, ‘Crumbs Off The Table’ only scraped the Top 40 in December of 1972. Lee parted ways with the H/D/H organization in 1975, and by the early 80’s was back on the sanctified side of the tracks, recording as a gospel artist.
Fortunately most of her best work is available in reissues.