An ap­pre­ci­a­tion

Percy Sledge made his love song a bal­lad for the ages.

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - RANDALL ROBERTS POP MU­SIC CRITIC randall.roberts@la­times.com

The great Percy Sledge record “When a Man Loves a Woman” was re­leased 49 years ago on Thurs­day. Cred­ited to song­writ­ers An­drew Wright and Calvin Lewis, it was recorded at Mus­cle Shoals Sound Stu­dio in Sh­effield, Ala., and fea­tured some of the era’s great R&B in­stru­men­tal­ists.

It was the only song the two ever wrote to­gether, though Sledge long in­sisted he played a cru­cial role in its cre­ation. Credit is­sues aside, the voice of Percy Sledge, who died Tues­day at age 74, owned the song and made it one of the most res­o­nant bal­lads of the past half-cen­tury.

Re­leased on April 16, 1966, the song hit No. 1, and nearly 50 years later its emo­tion is just as pow­er­ful. A baby boomer clas­sic, “When a Man Loves a Woman” was fur­ther em­bed­ded in Amer­i­can cul­ture through its use in the 1983 film “The Big Chill.” The record­ing also opens the film “The Cry­ing Game” and is the ti­tle of an Al Franken co-penned ro­man­tic com­edy.

A bal­lad about a de­vo­tion bor­der­ing on ob­ses­sion, the song fea­tures Sledge em­body­ing a soul who’s des­per­ate, lost and so bent on pleas­ing his woman that he’s will­ing to turn his back on his friends, spend all his money on her, “give up all his com­forts and sleep out in the rain.” As he sings, Sledge phrases the lines with both pas­sion and fu­til­ity, em­body­ing those emo­tions with ev­ery syl­la­ble. It was Sledge’s big­gest hit and the song for which he will be re­mem­bered.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” was writ­ten in early 1966, Wright re­called to Amer­i­can Song­writer mag­a­zine in 1994.

“We were set to play a Fri­day night dance, and we were prac­tic­ing,” said Wright. “I was mess­ing around on the or­gan when this riff came up out of nowhere. There was no one in the club but us. I told Calvin to go home and write some words.” He did, and over the next few weeks the song evolved af­ter an Alabama ra­dio DJ, Quin Ivy, sug­gested a few tweaks.

“He called me and said, ‘Do you mind if we change some of the lyrics,’ ” Lewis told Amer­i­can Song­writer in the same in­ter­view. “He wanted to di­min­ish the neg­a­tive … make it more of a love story in the bridge … and call it ‘When A Man Loves A Woman.’ ”

Sledge put him­self at the cen­ter of the cre­ation story dur­ing an AOL/Spin­ner in­ter­view in 2010. "When I wrote the song at first, it was called ‘Why Did You Leave Me Baby.’ And I changed it from that to ’When a Man Loves a Woman.’ I just reversed it. Quin told me that if I was to write some lyrics around that melody and the ex­pres­sion I’d put into ‘Why Did You Leave Me Baby,’ he be­lieved it would’ve been a hit record.

“He was one of the top disc jock­eys at that time. Sure enough, he asked me if I had any lyrics for that. He said, ‘That’s it! Write a story around that ti­tle! What a song that would be with that feel­ing you had!’ It was a song that was meant to be. It wasn’t just what I had done; it was the mu­si­cians, the pro­ducer, the back­ground singers, the right time.”

De­spite Sledge’s own­er­ship claim, how­ever, Wright and Lewis are cred­ited as sole writ­ers of the song.

Sledge was in­ducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. In his ac­cep­tance speech, he re­called the first time he re­al­ized he had a voice. Sledge said he was “10 years old, singing my songs in the fields, pick­ing, chop­ping cot­ton, and my boss man tells me one day, ‘Perc, that voice that you’re us­ing right now com­ing out of your throat, the whole world is go­ing to hear one day.’ ”

Lit­tle did the boss man know how right he was.

Mark Humphrey As­so­ci­ated Press

“WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN” helped cat­a­pult Percy Sledge into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, nearly 40 years af­ter the record’s re­lease.

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