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Soulful Dress, I Don't Wanna Fuss, In The Basement Part 1*, Witch For A Night, Slip In Mules (No High Heel Sneakers), Mama Didn't Raise No Fool, Go Go Power, Do I Make Myself Clear?*, Mr & Mrs, Good Timin', Here You Come Running, Ask Me, Can't Let You Go, Crazy Lovin', I Love You So Much, It Won't Be Long, Jump In My Chest, There's Gonna Be Trouble, Use What You Got, Never Love A Stranger, Open Your Heart, Somewhere Down The Line*, In The Basement Part 2. ( * with Etta James).

In the early 50s, the magnificently named Umpeylia Marsema Balinton was encouraged to sing by her cousin Etta James who introduced her to Johnny Otis. He loved her voice, re-named her Sugar Pie DeSanto and invited her to work in his band and make some records.

After a couple of minor hits with Federal and Aladdin, she recorded a  number four R&B hit for Bob Geddin's Veltone label called ‘I Want to Know' which caught the attention of Chicago's Chess records who immediately signed her. Although she made some great records for Chess, she never cracked the top twenty again but the 45s she produced were some of the best of the decade with her tough R&B persona inspiring the future no-nonsense soul divas of the 70s.

Without Sugar Pie, there wouldn't have been any Millie Jackson, Laura Lee or Denise LaSalle. They all loved her raunchy attacking vocal style and her choice of material. You get her at her sassiest on "Soulful Dress" when she warns her girlfriends "don't you girls go getting' jealous when I round up all of your fellas!" and growls menacingly at the guitarist "play it anyway ya wanna".

In live performances, she was known for being "colourful", delighting her audience with ribald remarks and fruity language while blasting out soul drenched songs with a voice as powerful as contemporaries like Tina Turner and Koko Taylor. In fact, she had such a tough, bluesy voice that she was first choice female singer when Lippman+Rau were organising their American Folk Blues festivals in the early 60s. Her earthy basic songs "Soulful Dress", "Slip In Mules", "Witch For A Night" and "I Don't Wanna Fuss" had the same kind of ballsy energy as Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me" or Muddy's "Got My Mojo Working". The European audiences really took to her and she soon became a top favourite in the British R&B clubs.

This CD contains all of Sugar Pie's wonderful Chess recordings including "Use What You Got" with its strutting, swaggering shameless lyrics and "Mama Didn't Raise No Fool" with its hints of Ike & Tina's "I Think It's Gonna Work out Fine".  And if you want classic soul duets, there are her tracks with Etta - "In The Basement" (both parts), "Do I Make Myself Clear?" and the gospel-tinged "Somewhere Down The Line".

Until now, Sugar Pie's Chess output had been stupidly neglected by Chess/MCA, and you couldn't find a CD by her anywhere unless you paid big money for it. Thanks to the chaps at Kent this woeful state of affairs has now been rectified so they deserve a big round of applause and a kiss on the nose.


Review Date: May 2009

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