As she sang in her hit song “99 Lbs.,” Anne Peebles is “99 pounds of natural born goodness, 99 pounds of soul,” possessing a powerful and dynamic voice, despite her tiny frame, that distinguishes her from all other singers. Throughout the 1970s, Peebles released a string of hits—often written in partnership with her husband, singer/songwriter Don Bryant—about the darker side of love from the feminine perspective that exerted a significant influence on soul, R&B, and pop music. Her most famous song, 1973’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” was one of John Lennon’s favorites, and was covered by many artists for years thereafter, including Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott with her 1997 rap/soul version entitled “The Rain” from the album Supa Dupa Fly.
Although Peebles found popular success singing bluesy, traditional R&B music, her roots were planted in the spiritual. Ann Peebles, the seventh of eleven children, was born on April 27, 1947, in East St. Louis, Missouri. At the age of five, Peebles understood that she possessed a natural gift for music while performing at a school talent show. For the first time, singing a gospel song her father once taught her called “Will the Circle Be Broken,” she actually heard the power and beauty of her own voice. Peebles, however, was not the only member of her family to embrace music. Her father, a singer, pianist, and guitarist named Perry Peebles, was a minister of music at the First Baptist Church in St. Louis and director of the Peebles Choir, while her mother, also a singer though not a performing member of the gospel group, encouraged and trained young singers. The whole family, including bothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and Peebles herself beginning at the age of nine, were all raised singing in the choir originally founded by her grandfather. He, too, raised his children on gospel.
Touring on the gospel circuit with the Peebles Choir with her ten brothers and sisters, young Peebles performed in shows with such gospel greats as the Soul Stirrers and Mahalia Jackson. She credits both Jackson and R&B legend Sam Cooke, who sang gospel with the Soul Stirrers, for inspiring her as a child. These two singers, as well as soul queen Aretha Franklin, remained personal favorites of Peebles throughout her life. However, she cites her parents—along with their unusual willingness to allow the Peebles children to explore non-religious music in addition to gospel—as her most significant influences. “They welcomed that we listened to secular music because they saw it as a learning experience. Anything different you listen to helps you to learn what other people, other musicians, are up to,” Peebles said in an interview with Maria Granditsky, author of Miss Funky-flyy’s Ann Peebles Pages. “And when I got ready to venture off into R&B, my mom was no longer living, but my dad encouraged me because he knew that’s what I wanted…. He was right behind me on that and that was my encouragement to go off into the R&B field. If it had
Born on April 27, 1947, in East St. Louis, MO; daughter of a church musical director/gospel choir director; married vocalist/recording artist/songwriter Don Bryant, 1974.
Began singing with the Peebles Choir at age nine; discovered at the Club Rosewood in Memphis, TN, signed with Hi Records as an R&B singer, 1968; released debut single,” Walk Away,” and debut album, This Is Ann Peebles, 1969; released hit single “Part Time Love,” 1970; released Straight from the Heart, which yielded four hit singles, 1972; released biggest hit and signature song “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” 1973; charted several more R&B hits, 1970s; released Call Me, 1989; signed with the Rounder subsidiary Bullseye Blues, released Full Time Love, 1992, and Fill This World With Love, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Bullseye Blues, 1 Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140, phone: (617) 354-0700, fax: (617) 491-1970, e-mail: [email protected]
not been for him, I may not have had that great encouragement there.”
Peebles first started dreaming about singing rhythm and blues as a teenager. Sitting in front of her bedroom mirror holding a broomstick as a makeshift microphone, Peebles would imitate stars like the Marvelettes and Mary Wells. All the while, she promised herself that these fantasies would one day become a reality. Her first significant venture into R&B occurred when she began traveling to St. Louis, escorted by her supportive father, to sing in local night clubs. It was on the St. Louis club circuit that Peebles made an important connection with drummer, saxophonist, and bandleader Oliver Sain, who would later write songs for Peebles’ first recording. At the time, Sain was the top big band leader in St. Louis, and Peebles sang with the group numerous times. Sain also knew talent when he heard it. His famous Oliver Sain Revue, formed in 1963, helped launch the careers of vocalist, pianist, and organist Fontella Bass and singer Bobby McClure, among others. And prior to leading his own group, Sain worked with such notables as Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and B.B. King.
A trip to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 changed the course of Peebles’ life forever. Her brother, a military serviceman, had a girlfriend who lived in Memphis, and Peebles accompanied him to drive her home after the couple visited the Peebles’ family in St. Louis. Upon their arrival in Memphis, the three went out to a club called the Rosewood, where she met trumpeter Gene “Bowlegs” Miller, a veteran of the city’s music scene who led one of the most popular bands in town. Peebles asked if she could sing a number with the band, and Miller, who recorded for Hi Records, was so impressed with the young vocalist’s rendition of “Steal Away,” written by Percy Sledge’s cousin Jimmy Hughes, that he took her to try out for a highly influential trumpeter and band leader named Willie Mitchell.
A thriving recording artist, Mitchell and his combo first started recording for Hi in 1961 and soon became one of the label’s backbone artists. Besides playing trumpet and to a lesser extent keyboards, Mitchell worked as a producer, arranger, engineer, and songwriter for Hi and several other record companies. He also took an A&R position with Hi in the mid-1960s, convincing label founder Joe Cuoghi, who had built Hi on rockabilly, country, and rock and roll instrumentals, to shift the company’s focus to soul music, thereby creating Hi’s trademark funky yet refined soul sound with the help of a group of studio musicians known as the famous Hi Rhythm section. Led by the Hodges Brothers—Teenie on guitar, Charles on organ, and Leroy on bass—and anchored by Al Jackson (of Booker T and the MGs) and later Howard Grimes on drums, the foursome played on nearly every record cut at Hi’s Royal studio. Located at 1320 South Lauderdale Avenue in Memphis and named after the Royal Theater Cinema it originally housed, the Hi studio produced many of the era’s now-classic soul recordings.
Thus, Peebles’ chance meeting with “Bowlegs” Miller, leading to the momentous audition with Mitchell, could not have been more timely. For her tryout, Peebles sang the same song she performed at the Rosewood, backed by Mitchell on piano. Amazed and overwhelmed by her voice, Mitchell, who would go on to produce and engineer seven LPs for Peebles, offered to sign the young singer right away. After her father arrived from St. Louis to approve and sign the papers, Peebles, before her twenty-first birthday in 1968, officially landed a contract with Hi, where she would remain until the label dissolved. In fact,” Mon Belle Amou,” a 1981 duet sung by Peebles and her husband, Donald “Don” Bryant, was the last single issued by Hi Records. Although Al Green would achieve the greatest commercial success out of all the artists on Hi’s roster and now stands as the performer most often associated with the label, Peebles became the first of its R&B performers to earn national acclaim.
In preparation for her recording career, Mitchell educated Peebles about the R&B circuit, introducing her to disc jockeys and different artists and taking her to see R&B shows. Looking back now, Peebles realizes that unlike so many performers, she was fortunate for all the people looking out for her well-being and helping to nurture her career. Among those she met was future husband Don Bryant, an established, though terribly underrated recording artist and an in-house writer for Hi. With his own career as a vocalist uncertain, he chose to concentrate on writing as well as supervising the developing career of his future wife. Upon Mitchell’s suggestion, Bryant worked with Peebles on her R&B phrasing and to find songs to suit her style. The couple began dating around 1972 and married two years later.
In the meantime, Peebles, ready to face the world, released her debut single “Walk Away” in 1969, which shot to an impressive number 22 on the Billboard Top 100 R&B singles chart in April. Following a second single,” Give Me Some Credit,” Hi issued Peebles’ debut album, This Is Ann Peebles, later that same year. Unlike her subsequent albums, Peebles’ first release did not contain any of her own original material. Along with covers of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” and Fontella Bass’s “Rescue Me,” This Is Ann Peebles featured the Club Rosewood song “Steal Away” and the “Bowlegs” Miller composition “Won’t You Try Me.”
Although her next recording,” Generation Gap,” missed the charts,” Part Time Love,” released in the fall of 1970, rose all the way to number seven on the R&B singles chart and to number 45 on the pop chart. Because Hi could not find enough material for an entirely new LP, they repackaged her debut, along with “Generation Gap” and “Part Time Love” and their respective b-sides, under the album title Part Time Love, also released at the end of that year. Straight from the Heart followed in 1972, yielding four hit singles: “I Pity the Fool,” “Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love,” “Somebody’s On Your Case,” and “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” Other notable tracks included “99 Lbs.,” written by Bryant, and “What You Laid On Me,” composed by Peebles and her friend Denise Craig, better know as Denise LaSalle.
The following year commenced with another Top 40 R&B hit, Earl Randle’s “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.” Then in August of 1973, Peebles released the heart-wrenching confessional “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” the song that scored top positions not only in the United States, but around the globe as well, establishing Peebles as an international star and defining the Hi Records sound worldwide. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” reached number six on the R&B chart in the United States and entered the United Kingdom charts twice in the spring of 1974. To this day,” I Can’t Stand the Rain” remains the vocalist’s signature song, while the album of the same name is considered one of the most solid Southern soul albums ever recorded. In 1978, the British group Eruption, featuring Miss Precious Wilson on lead vocals, enjoyed a huge pop hit with their disco version of “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”
And more than two decades later, in 1997, innovative hip-hop artist Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott sampled Peebles’ song on her platinum-selling single “The Rain,” featured on the album Supa Dupa Fly. Subsequently, Elliott invited the R&B legend to sing with her on a Late Show with David Letterman television appearance. “It helps me to know that, hey, somebody’s listening, somebody loved what I did enough to take it and do it their way,” Peebles told Granditsky, recalling her impression of Elliott’s version of “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” “I first heard it when I saw the video. I thought it was clever, the way the song was put with a rap. I really liked it and I saw how fast it was moving. I knew it was gonna be platinum and that thrilled me too, to watch somebody as young as Missy Elliott pick up a song that I’ve written and recorded, and many others have recorded too. Missy told me that she kinda grew up on my music, that her aunt was really in love with everything I did and that’s what made Missy listen to it.”
While Peebles’ subsequent recordings failed to capture the same level of popular attention as “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” several hit the R&B charts, further cementing the singer’s legacy. Moreover, the quality of her music, as well as Peeble’s performing talent, never diminished. Indeed, 1975’s Tellin’ It is likewise regarded as one of her best outings, featuring some of her most accomplished songs in the southern storytelling tradition. Three singles off the album, the funky “Beware,” the sensuous “Come to Mama,” and the lovesick “Dr. Love” all made the R&B charts.
In 1977, things started to change at Hi Records. After looking for a new distributor when the label’s distribution deal with London Records ended, Hi president Nick Pescue sold the label to Al Bennett’s Los Angeles-based Cream Records. Mitchell accepted a new contract under the new ownership, staying on until the end of 1979. However, by 1980, he had left to form his own label, Bearsville, as did the label’s biggest star and provider of hits AI Green, who went into the gospel field, and most of the Hi Rhythm group. And without Mitchell, Green, and the Hi band, the label’s sound was never the same, despite the fact that several skilled Memphis musicians—including Ben Cauley and Michael Toles, both former members of the Bar-Kays and Isaac Hayes’ band—came to the rescue.
Following the release of another well-received album, If This Is Heaven, in 1977, Peebles recorded her final album on Hi. Issued in 1978, The Handwriting Is On the Wall yielded three medium-sized R&B hits: “Old Man With Young Idea,” “I Didn’t Take Your Man,” and “If You Got the Time (I Got the Love).” After that, Peebles decided to take time off to raise her son, though she continued to write songs and participate in occasional studio projects. In the late-1980s, she came out of semi-retirement and recorded a new album, Call Me, released on Mitchell’s short-lived Waylo label.
From there, Peebles signed with Rounder Records’ Bullseye Blues label, for whom she recorded 1992’s Full Time Love. The album contained all original new songs, some written with Bryant and guitarist Thomas Bingham, and featured the autobiographical “St. Louis Woman with a Memphis Melody.” Even though Full Time Love received little exposure, it nonetheless proved that Peebles could compose and sing contemporary music without losing her gritty quality. For her next album, Fill This World With Love, released in 1996, Peebles reunited with the Hi Rhythm performers and the Memphis Horns group. By now, she and Bryant were heavily involved with a local Memphis therapeutic foster-care agency called Omni Vision, Inc., the rewards of which were reflected in the song “Stand Up,” a duet between Peebles and Mavis Staples.
In 1999, Peebles contributed to a tribute album devoted to the songs of rock/blues artist Eric Clapton entitled Blues Power: Songs of Eric Clapton, interpreting “Tears In Heaven” as a spiritual plea surrounded by gospel harmonies. Now in control of all aspects of her career, including a new and expanding production company, Peebles remains an artist of rare depth and great contrasts; her extraordinary and powerful voice seems all the more striking coming from such a petite and restrained singer.
Singles on Hi Records
“Walk Away/I Can’t Let You Go,” 1969.
“Give Me Some Credit/Solid Foundation,” 1969.
“Generation Gap (Between Us)/I’ll Get Along,” 1970.
“Part Time Love/I Still Love You,” 1970.
“I Pity the Fool/Heartaches, Heartaches,” 1971.
“Slipped, Tripped and Fell In Love/99 Lbs.,” 1971.
“Breaking Up Somebody’s Home/Trouble, Heartaches and Sadness,” 1972.
“Somebody’s On Your Case/I’ve Been There Before,” 1972.
“I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down/One Way Street,” 1973.
“I Can’t Stand the Rain/I’ve Been There Before,” 1973.
“(You Keep Me) Hangin’ On/Heartaches, Heartaches,” 1974.
“Do I Need You/A Love Vibration,” 1974.
“Until You Came Into My Life/Put Yourself In My Place,” 1974.
“Beware/You’ve Got to Feed the Fire,” 1975.
“Come To Mama/I’m Leaving You,” 1975.
“Dr. Love Power/I Still Love You,” 1976.
“I Needed Somebody/I Don’t Lend My Man,” 1976.
“Fill This World With Love/It Was Jealousy,” 1976.
“If This Is Heaven/When I’m In Your Arms,” 1977.
“Old Man With Young Ideas/A Good Day For Lovin’,” 1978.
“I Didn’t Take Your Man/Being Here With You,” 1978.
“If You Got The Time (I’ve Got The Love)/Let Your Lovelight Shine,” 1979.
“Heartaches/I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love,” 1980.
“Mon Belle Amour/Waiting” (both with Don Bryant), 1981.
This Is Ann Peebles, Hi, 1969.
Part Time Love, Hi, 1970.
Straight from the Heart, Hi, 1972.
I Can’t Stand the Rain, Hi 32079, 1973.
Tellin’lt, Hi, 1975.
If This Is Heaven, Hi, 1977.
The Handwriting Is On the Wall, Hi, 1978.
Call Me, Waylo, 1989.
(Various artists) A Memphis Soul Night—Live in Europe, Waylo, 1989.
Full Time Love, Rounder/Bullseye Blues, 1992.
Flipside, Hi, 1993.
Tellin’ It/If This Is Heaven, Hi, 1993. The Best of the Hi Records Years, EMD/Capitol, 1996.
Fill This World With Love, Rounder/Bullseye Blues, 1996.
(Various artists) Blues Power: Songs of Eric Clapton (contributed “Tears In Heaven”), House of Blues, 1999.
Rolling Stone, June 25, 1992; December 25, 1997-January 8, 1998.
USA Today, April 22, 1992.
Wall Street Journal, January 7, 1999.
Washington Post, September 1, 1999.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 28, 2000).
BBC Online, http://www.bbc.co.uk (August 28, 2000).
Miss Funkyflyy’s Ann Peebles Pages, http://user.tninet.seranc468m/peebles (August 28, 2000).
Rounder Records, http://www.rounder.com (August 28, 2000).