Hannah Dean – Strange Man
Columbia 3-41929 US 33RPM Released 1961
Track 1: Strange Man
I picked up this haunting love song a few years ago, but regretfully I can hardly find anything about the singer or the release. Well, regardless of my inability, here’s a brief post hoping someone out there can shed some light on this relatively unknown singer.
So what 45Cat and Discogs are telling me, is that she did have 4 single releases from 1960 to 1963, all on Columbia. Her first single was an upbeat blues rocker called, Itty Bitty Love, flipped with the lovely slow and swaying So Little Time. Predominantly released in the US early in 1960, however 45Cat shows an odd distribution here in Australia later that same year, on the CBS Coronet label. It also actually looks like a panel sheet-sleeve came with a promotional record for this release, giving us possibly the only image out there of Hannah!
A 45Cat member who is fortunate enough to have a copy, also gratefully shares the back cover, and reads this about Dean…“Hannah Dean’s style is a mixture of rhythm and blues and rock n’ roll sung with the feeling and unbuttoned phrasing of a gospel singer”. Irving Townsend, Executive Producer for Columbia Records in Hollywood, sent this personal evaluation of Hannah Dean’s talent to Columbia’s producers in New York along with Hannah’s first record – “So Little Time” backed with “Itty Bitty Love.”
The response was rapid. They agreed down to the last man. Hannah’s unique vocal quality is understandable because she has been a gospel singer since she was two and still sings regularly in a Los Angeles Baptist Church where her mother serves as minister. Until two years ago she was a Los Angeles house wife, completely unaware that she could be an extraordinary popular singer.
She was heard at a church by a Los Angeles talent scout who suggested immediately that Hannah should consider a popular career. Hannah told him frankly that she had no formal training and only sang popular music to herself and a few friends. Nevertheless, she was bolstered by his confidence and agreed to make the demonstration record which soon after brought her a Columbia recording contract. Hannah’s Dean’s first record launches for her a career as promising as it was unanticipated.
I also came across a fellow blogger with similar record collecting habits, and found a link on their The Listening Post blog, that pointed me to this short review from The Billboard dated September 5, 1960. It reads… HANNAH DEAN is a new name on the scene via the release of her first Columbia Record, ‘So Little Time/Itty Bitty Love’. Until two months ago she was a Los Angeles housewife whose only singing outlet was the L.A Baptist church. She was heard at the church by a talent scout who encouraged her to make a demonstration record that found its way to Columbia Records and resulted in a contract. Irving Townsend, Executive producer for Columbia in Hollywood, describes Miss Dean’s style as a “mixture of rhythm and blues and rock’n’roll sung with the feeling and unbuttoned phrasing of a gospel singer.”
In 1962, Dean released Open Sesame / Without your Love. At this very time, I cannot find even a sound bite of this release. There are a couple of copies on ebay (not big money) but unfortunately not one seller supplies an audio sample. So I’m at a loss to tell you anything about this one.
Dean’s Gospel righteousness roots and vocal capabilities come out for her 1963 release You, You, You. The B side High Noon has everything I love about the beautiful popcorn genre, and now makes me won’t to get my hands on a copy.
So back to Strange Man. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this release is quite unknown, especially as it sits on one of the bigger labels. The production is absolute killer. It has all the ingredients, the devilish blues guitar work from intro to end, the flute, Dean’s deep soul lines as well as the backing vocals, all sitting in the exact right place. When I hear tracks like this, I am aware this is no lost recording accident. Everyone in that recording studio at that time knew what exactly was being produced. Imagine as a musician, coming home from the studio late at night and realising what you were just a part of. And being in the midst of this truly holy and graceful Hannah Dean! January 16, 1961 Billboard Music Weekly states “Strange Man – On this side the thrush turns in another attractive performance on an unusual piece of bluesy material. Two sides show off her strong pipes”.
On the flip is one of many many covers of (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over, originally released in January 20, 1939, by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra, with Vocal Refrain by Bea Wain. I might go to hell for saying this, but Dean’s version is smoking hot. There’s something about her commitment that maybe can only come from that very deep part of the soul of a gospel singer. There are some beautiful versions of this songout there, from artists including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Nancy Wilson and my personal favourite from Aretha Franklin, and this Dean version sits up high along side these.
So where does this odd 33rpm 7″ release fit in? To be honest, I’m not sure as there’s no catologue I could find online of this particular release. There is one small hint which is Columbia Marcas Reg. appears on the label, so possibly this is a Spanish release. But Marcas is also Portuguese, and as many Brazilian 7’s come with the 33rpm format, maybe this is it’s origin?
Should we be sad that so many of these unknown songs that occasionally surface today, are hidden in the past with no real leads to the artist and their faces? Or should we respect their gospel roots and maybe it was their decision that stardom and popularity wasn’t something they believed in, pursued or was really important to them. Tonight, with the lights dimmed down low, I can place the needle down gently, and be grateful that singers like Hannah Dean did gift us with at least a few beautiful songs we can hear and appreciate today. And thank the Lord some scout out there, many years ago, did decided to get these great ladies into a recording studio. A fleeting time behind that microphone, but here to stay, and forever.
I hope you can also hear the honest beauty of this track and Hannah Dean.