Percy Sledge: King of the “belly-rubbing” sound dies

Another one bites the dust. I suppose that is inelegant way of starting a “web obituary.” But sometimes it seems, although I have not yet reached 60 years old, that I know more people who have now passed than I do live ones. That’s not true but it sure seems as such.

With that said, I note the passing of soul great Percy Sledge who died Tuesday in Baton Rouge. Sledge, 74, was best know for his lovelorn ballad “When A Man Loves A Woman.” It was an instant hit in 1966. That song and others he recorded like “Take Time To Know Her” were classic soul ballads of those and later years.

He was without a doubt, back in the day, the king of what my Daddy used to call “belly-rubbing music.”

Sledge toured the rest of his life, never recording any later tunes that equaled his first chart-wise. But if you were of my age in the late 1960s and 1970s, you probably heard his songs on diner jukeboxes while eating greasy chicken-fried steaks to soak up some of the night’s intoxicants. And if you were lucky you also may have watched him play live during his 50-something years of touring.

I was lucky to see him although that didn’t happen the first time I went to one of his concerts. That first time was also my first time to visit a nightclub, which was in Vinton, La., near the Southeast Texas border with Louisiana. I was carded and was not allowed inside because I was 16.

The next time was successful and not only did I get to see Percy perform, but I also got to interview him during a break outside the back door of the club. I just told a band member some mumbo-jumbo, I had actually reviewed a Chicago concert earlier in the year for my hometown newspaper for which I had covered local sports.

My friend Nick and I got to talk to Percy for several minutes. Sledge seem preoccupied with a Houston Astros game on the radio of his limo. I can’t remember if I even wrote a story about our encounter with the great soul singer. Whatever, he and his band members were good enough to give a couple of under-age kids a few words of wisdom. Or something.

Percy, rest in peace, man.


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