J.D. McPherson’s debut album rocked Trunkworthy to its core, so we were plenty excited when he offered to talk about two of his musical heroes, Charlie Rich & Irma Thomas

It’s no secret that we’re big J.D. McPherson fans at Trunkworthy. His first album knocked us out cold (read our sermon on it here), and the range of influences we heard in his music and in the songs he chose to cover — from Jimmy Hughes to Nick Lowe — assured us he was a kindred spirit. When he offered to share some of his own obsessions with us, you can bet we jumped on the chance. So, in his own words, here are a few tracks J.D. wants you to hear. And we couldn’t agree more:

I was just talking with a friend of mine about the early recordings that Charlie Rich did in Memphis. He was kinda like this silver-haired soul singer within a country idiom, but he made some fantastic rock ‘n’ roll records.

He’d been a session player for Sun for a number of years – he played on a lot of cool records, and you can hear him because he was a very competent jazz pianist. There’s a famous story about how he wanted to record for Sun as a solo artist but Sam Phillips told him he wasn’t ‘bad’ enough to do it, so he told him to come back when he was bad enough.

He recorded some really interesting stuff, like “Whirlwind” and “Rebound.” They’re really unusual arrangements, especially when you put them next to all the other stuff that Sun artists were doing. They’re not really following the 12-bar blues format as much as that other stuff did. There’s a lot of modulation, a lot of cool chord changes. If you check out “Who Will the Next Fool Be?” – it’s a total soul ballad and when you put it next to everything else at the time, it was really . . . revolutionary isn’t the right word, I would just say it’s very sophisticated for that time.

He’s such an amazing singer, too — he’s got this velvet voice. Great piano playing. It’s just really great stuff. If you get any of those Charlie Rich early rock ‘n’ roll compilations, they’ll usually say Charlie Rich Sun Sessions (even though they were actually recorded at Sam Phillip’s other studio and released on Phillips International Records). They’re totally worth having. I listen to them monthly.

I think he loved the drink and was fully committed to that activity

If you fast-forward a little bit in his career, there is a song called “Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs” which brings me to tears every time I hear it. It’s an incredible song. Charlie Rich was not the most fun or dependable guy to be around. I think he loved the drink and was fully committed to that activity. And from what I understand he was given that song from his wife. So if you listen to that song and then realize that the lyrics were written by his life-partner it’s even more traumatic, because it’s all about a husband not really being a good husband. It’s pretty great.

The work that Allen Toussaint did with Irma Thomas is some of my favorite music of all time

I’m also obsessed with Irma Thomas – I hate saying that she’s maybe not someone everyone knows about, but it’s true. She recorded a lot of music in the late ’50s / early ’60s but to me – the way Ronnie Spector was Phil Spector’s muse and kind of primary artist – Irma Thomas was Allen Toussaint’s muse and primary artist. She was able to produce the best things from him, so the work that Toussaint did with her is some of my favorite music of all time. I probably listen those records weekly . . . or even daily.

As far as arrangements, I would say that they’re revolutionary. Her version of “Time Is on My Side” is infinitely superior to The Rolling Stones’ version and they came out about the same time. The piano intro on that song is just like . . . you hear it and your ears perk up and your eyebrows go up, like ‘Woah, what is this going to be?’ She starts singing and your heart breaks, it’s incredible.

The other track I’m thinking of is “Wish Someone Would Care.” It’s got tubular bells, it’s got organ, it’s got these amazing piano flourishes, and the drumming [by Earl Palmer] . . . I played it for a friend of mine, and he had never heard it before, and he was like ‘Man, it’s like this guy just got out of jazz drumming school and no one’s told him he’s supposed to be playing rhythm & blues music.’ It’s the busiest drumming you’ve ever heard. The guy just won’t stop — he doesn’t play a single measure of straight drumming in the whole song. But it works.

The production is impeccable. Tons of reverb. It’s big and spacious and her voice is amazing on it. She wrote that song. It was very personal because I think she was getting a little bit of notoriety but it wasn’t happening for her like it was for some of her peers. It has a lot of insight into the realm of success and wanting to do something so badly and maybe it not going as well as you’d hope. “Wish Someone Would Care” song is sort of the anthem for frustrated artists.

One more Irma Thomas track that I would point to is “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is.” It’s a bizarre, interesting track, really amazing.


Do yourself a favor and check out J.D.’s current album, Let The Good Times Roll

You should also catch him live. You won’t regret it. Check this link to see if he’s coming to your town.