Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien was born on 16 April 1939, in West Hampstead, London, and grew up in a very influential music loving family. She learnt how to sing at home, and it was her childhood friends that first gave the young rough ‘n’ tumble tomboy her more suited name, Dusty.
By the late 50’s, Dusty had obviously been influenced with the music scene that was getting around town, and had grown into quite a fashionable and stylish young lady, ditching her glasses and finding her own look. She also was very keen to get out there and sing, and by 17 she had made her professional debut as a singer at a small club near Sloane Square. While she would continue to perform folk music as a solo artist, at small London clubs (apparently she was paid less than £10 a night), in ’58 she spotted an advert in The Stage from an established sister singing act, who were looking for a third member.
They were called the Lana Sisters, and was formed by Riss Chantelle along with Lynne Abrams. Under the management of the Joe Collins agency, the trio secured bookings on television’s Six-Five Special and Drumbeat, and scored big with tours alongside Cliff Richard and Adam Faith. They also signed a contract with the U.K.’s Fontana Records, and between 1958 and 1960, they released seven singles…but it was all short lived for Dusty. In 1960 she left the group to join her brother Dion O’Brien and his friend Tim Feild, who had been working as a duo, The Kensington Squares. Dion became Tom Springfield, and Mary became Dusty Springfield, and the folk-pop trio The Springfields, was born. The Lana Sisters’ Riss Long, who had been calling herself Riss Lana, became Riss Chantelle and formed The Chantelles, and had some moderately successful records in the mid-60s.
Tom Springfield was a very knowledgeable folk singer, songwriter and arranger, and with the groups strong vocal harmonies as well as Dusty’s powerful lead, the mix was to prove perfect for success. They were signed to Philips Records in London and released their first single, Dear John, in 1961, followed by two UK chart hits with Breakaway and Bambino. They scored numerous television appearances and quickly the trio soon became very popular in the UK. Feild would be soon replaced by Mike Hurst, but the Springfields became even more successful. In 1962, their version of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” reached the US Top 20 (Billboard), the first single by a British group ever to do so. The record also reached #1 in Australia!
The Springfields would go on to sell millions of records and score big on the charts, however Dusty felt limited by the group’s folksy act and Tom’s lead role within the trio, and also a shared frustration towards their growing American audience that mistook them for a country western group. At the end of 1963, Dusty decided to leave for a solo career, at which point the group disbanded.
In November 1963 Springfield released her first solo single, I Only Want to Be with You, which was was produced by Johnny Franz in a manner similar to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”. Co-written and arranged by Ivor Raymonde, the instant smash hit rose to No. 4 on the UK charts, remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks, and it sold over one million copies! And on 1 January 1964, it was one of the first songs played on Top of the Pops, BBC-TV’s new music programme.
On 17 April 1964 Dusty issued her debut album A Girl Called Dusty which included mostly cover versions of her favourite songs including Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me, The Shirelles’ Mama Said, and the Burt Bacharach song Wishin’ and Hopin‘, which became a US Top 10 hit. She also released an incredible Italian version entitled Stupido Stupido on a 7 picture sleeve was is just ridiculously awesome!
In December 1964 Dusty’s tour of South Africa was controversially terminated, and she was deported, after she performed for an integrated audience at a theatre near Cape Town, which was against the then government’s segregation policy. That same year, she was voted the Top Female British Artist of the year in the New Musical Express poll, topping Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black. Springfield received the award again for the next three years.
Dusty would go on to release a string of successful 45’s and lp’s in the next few years, but lets touch on some of the really great stuff…well at least my 45 picks. Firstly in ’67, there’s the Philips release, What’s It Gonna Be…killer dusty stuff! Then there’s the spine tingling Am I the same Girl from ’69…um…wow! And then of course, from 1970, there is Spooky! As if saxophonist Mike Sharpe’s original version wasn’t fantastic enough, Dusty sprinkles her soul over it like haunting seductive icing…her voice dripping like warm honey all over the lyrics taken thank-you very much from the Classic IV’s ’67 release.
The Memphis Sessions: In ’69, Dusty who was now signed to Atlantic, was hoping to reinvigorate her career and boost her credibility as a soul artist, and turned to the roots of soul music. Although she had sung R&B songs before, she had never released an entire album solely of R&B songs, but was about to release in my opinion, her strongest and most important album, entitled Dusty in Memphis. She began recording the Memphis sessions at the infamous American Sound Studios which were recorded by the A team of Atlantic Records. It included producers Jerry Wexler (who coined the term “Rhythm and Blues”), Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, the back-up singers Sweet Inspirations and the instrumental band Memphis Cats, (who had in the past backed Wilson Pickett, King Curtis and Elvis Presley), led by guitarist Reggie Young and bassist Tommy Cogbill. It sounds like these recordings were a challenge for Wexler, who was not used to working with an artist who was in such habitual pursuit of perfection.
To say yes to one song was seen as a lifetime commitment for Dusty, who claims that she actually did approve of Son of a Preacher Man and Just a Little Lovin. Wexler was surprised, given Dusty’s talent, by her apparent insecurity, but she herself later attributed her initial unease to a very real anxiety about being compared with the soul greats who had recorded in the very same studios. Eventually Dusty’s final vocals were recorded in New York.
While Memphis did include the now absolute Dusty classic Top 10 UK hit, Son of a Preacher Man, this powerful and incredible album did not garner significant commercial success upon its original release, and remained out of print for many years!
Faithful would have been the title of Dusty’s third album for Atlantic Records, which was entirely recorded in the first half of 1971. Two singles from the planned album, I Believe In You (flipped with Someone Who Cares), and Haunted (flipped with Nothing Is Forever, a track that supposedly was never intended for the album) were released in the U.S. in the fall of ’71, but both releases failed to chart nationally. Due to poor response (although how hard they were promoted I don’t know), and a rumoured falling out with Atlantic executives, Springfield’s contract with the company was not renewed, and the planned album was never given an official release, catalogue number, or title. Apparently a third single was planned I’ll Be Faithful, where the title Faithful was taken…but that never surfaced either.
For years it was believed that a fire in the mid-seventies at one of Atlantic’s storage sites was thought to have destroyed the Faithful session tapes, leaving only the two singles (and the possible third single) from the sessions intact. However, in the nineties the album’s producer, Jeff Barry, was asked about the sessions and revealed he had kept completed stereo mixes of all the tracks. Most were released as bonus tracks on the Rhino Records/Atlantic deluxe remastered edition of Dusty in Memphis in 1999.
Haunted is a profoundly beautiful soulful composition, and probably way to mature for commercial pop success. Dusty wasn’t the kind of gal to write for the only purpose of seeking sales and chart success, although she probably would have been grateful for the recognition. She was an incredible musician only interested in moving forward into new challenging territories…with no interest at all in recording the same song over and over, regardless of the success she may have received from past hits. Here she’s giving us that warm pure tone (that’s unmatched by any), as we would expect from her, but there’s also a new sound here…and that, she must have found exciting. I love this song. Loved it the first time I heard it…and I love it even more, every time I’ve heard it since…and believe you me…that’s a lot of times! Dusty would admit to be very demanding and standing her ground when it came to her art. But how could anyone question her talent and vision, or stand in her path of exploration…it’s just mind blowing.
After the release of Dusty in Memphis, Springfield struggled to find musical compatibility with record labels, producers and musicians who all either misunderstood her vision or wanted her to be something other than herself. This resulted in a string of standard albums that achieved nominal success, but I can’t help but think that this path Dusty was on, was a path that she was given and not one that she chose, or was searching for.
She had some tough times…her alcoholism and drug dependency affected her musical career.She was hospitalised several times for self-harm, by cutting herself, and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. She was constantly be “accused” about her sexual preferences and couldn’t understand the prying interest into her personal life. “Many people say I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times… I know I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t”.
In January 1994 while recording her final album, A Very Fine Love, in Nashville, Dusty Springfield felt ill. When she returned to England a few months later, her physicians diagnosed breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatment and the cancer was in temporary remission. The next year, in apparent good health, Springfield set about promoting the album. In mid-1996 the cancer had returned, and in spite of vigorous treatments, she died on 2 March 1999. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, had been scheduled two weeks after her death.
Note…During the Memphis sessions in November 1968, Dusty suggested to the heads of Atlantic Records to sign the newly formed Led Zeppelin. She knew the band’s bass player John Paul Jones, who had backed her in concerts before. Without having ever seen them and largely on Dusty’s advice, the record company signed a deal of $200,000 with them. For the time being, that was the biggest deal of its kind for a new band.