If there were ever a soul music evergreen, it is Percy Sledge’s 1966 hit “When A Man Loves A Woman.”
The song, a No. 1 pop and R&B; hit upon its release, has seldom been out of the public ear. The tune was featured in Oliver Stone’s 1987 Oscar winner “Platoon” and last year served as the title song for the Andy Garcia-Meg Ryan film of the same name. Michael Bolton hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart with his 1991 remake.
But Sledge, who went on to score several chart records, has been elusive since the mid-‘70s.
However, Sledge makes his return to a major American label this week, when Virgin’s Pointblank imprint issues “Blue Night,” a new album which shows off the mighty Sledge voice in classic Southern soul style.
Sledge says his long absence from recording stemmed from the near-simultaneous retirement of producers Quin Ivy and Marlin Greene, who were integral to the recording of “When A Man Loves A Woman” and such subsequent Sledge hits as “It Tears Me Up,” “Warm And Tender Love,” and “Take Time To Know Her.”
“When they retired, I didn’t want to do anything,” Sledge says. “I didn’t even want to go in the studio.”
“Blue Night” features a notable slate of backup talent. Players include Steve Cropper of Booker T & the MGs, ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, drummer Ed Greene, guitarist Greg Leisz, and soul star Bobby Womack.
Beyond a compelling batch of fresh neo-soul originals, the album gives a nod to Sledge’s ‘60s roots with covers of songs originated by such R&B; contemporaries as Otis Redding, James Carr, and the Temptations.
“We had the same ideas about the flavor of the session,” Sledge says. “We wanted to use the old feeling, the old style, with the big (Hammond) B-3 (organ) and all that. All of us were thinking that at the same time.”
After his long absence, Virgin plans to put Sledge back on the stage as well.
Sledge, who says he is plotting a tour of Europe and Africa, hopes that “Blue Night” will duplicate its success on the continent. “I’m hoping it’ll do what it’s doing in Europe,” he says. “People are going wild for it. A lot of young people are buyin’ it now. My older fans, they’ll buy my voice anyway.”