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Who Was Linda Jones? [S01E04]

Who Was Linda Jones? [S01E04]

Today we are talking about 60s American Rhythm and Blues singer Linda Jones, gospel music, failure and resilience.

The embodiment of American Soul laced with a gospel sound, her voice was so ahead of the game, that when music listeners finally caught up, she was already elevated. The 27-year-old passed away between sets after falling into a diabetic coma, during the biggest performance of her life in her hometown.

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Music sampled from Linda Jones

BACKGROUND

Linda Jones was born in Newark, New Jersey on December 14, 1944. Gospel music was always in her family. At the age of 6, Linda and her siblings started a gospel singing group called, The Jones Singers. Her gospel background is an obvious inspiration for her evolution of sound, as it portrays an energetic, passionate tone with harmonious choral backups and church inspired accompaniment.

Newark’s vibrant gospel scene sculpted numerous dynamic artists. While many decided to shed their sanctified elements to climb the pop charts, Linda did not cast away her fire-baptized notes.

The 19-year-old started performing rhythm and blues music, dropping her first solo record, a rendition of “Lonely Teardrops” in 1963 under the name Linda Lane. And it flopped. She would encounter a few more disappointing singles before something finally stuck.

Linda met producer, songwriter George Kerr who was a member of Little Anthony & the Imperials. He produced her first two singles that also did not garner a lot of buzz. All she needed was one big break.

In 1967, Jones was signed to Loma Records, the R&B symbol for Warner Brothers and recorded her first 45 LP for the label, “Hypnotized” and it became her first big hit on the Pop Singles Charts, toping at number 4 on the Rhythm and Blues survey.

I remember when she recorded “Hypnotized”. We were in the studio and she said, ‘let’s run it down.’ She was really learning the song but I told the engineer to hit the record button... I got goose bumps on my arm when she sang that song. It was one take, that was it. She wanted to straighten it out because she had sung the word ‘hyp-mot-ized’ rather than ‘hypnotized’ but I wanted to keep it just the way it was and boy, did she curse me out! I mean, she cursed me out!”
— George Kerr

The song was a more subdued style for the powerful singer but the sound of her voice was so rich and fine tuned, it was recorded in one take. The release of her first album by the same name instantly rocketed to Top 10 on the R&B charts but struggled to climb the Pop lists reaching 61, becoming her biggest single.

Sammy says, ‘where have you been? Jerry Ragovoy has been looking for you..’ I called Jerry and he said, ‘the record you gave me is a hit. The booking agency has been calling us every day asking if we can get Linda Jones to do some shows and we’re selling 15,000-20,000 copies of this record!’ I was shocked. I called Linda and she couldn’t believe it! She started screaming and before I knew it, she and I were crying!
— George Kerr
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Jones music captured her powerful melismatic style that are treasured by Northern Soul collectors, her style was a bit too much for the Top 40 to handle and she would never have another major pop hit.

When her hits dried up, she spent a brief time at Neptune Records in 1970, releasing one of her biggest singles, the over-the-top ballad “That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You.”

Warner Brothers shut down Loma Records in 1968 and Linda found herself a free agent yet again. She landed a deal with Turbo Records in 1971 and in the following year, Jones experienced her greatest success in four years when her strong gospel inspired cover of Jerry Butler’s “For Your Precious Love” peaked at number 15 on the R&B charts. Sadly, her promising comeback would be shortly lived.

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In many ways, Jones was the embodiment of the American female Soul singer. Her vast range and vocal power made her recordings a cathartic mix of drama, passion and pain. Her volcanic runs propelled her music many years ahead of the R&B of her time. Famed singer Patti LaBelle named her as a major influence on her own sound. But unfortunately, her curtains closed her Jones just as R&B listeners caught up with her and she started to get the recognition she deserved – such is the curse of impending stardom.

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Jones had been struggling with diabetes since childhood. In support for her comeback, she did the strongest promotion of her life on her For Your Precious Love tour. With her growing reputation as a one-of-a-kind gospel soul singer and several hit records to her name, she managed to book two shows at the famous New York Apollo Theatre in March 1972. But her return home to Harlem would be bitter-sweet.

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March 14, 1972, after her morning performance, Jones went back to her mother’s house in Newark to have diner and take a nap before her evening show. When it was time for her to get ready for her performance, Linda was unresponsive to her mother’s attempts to wake her, discovering Linda had fallen into a diabetic coma asleep in her childhood bed. An ambulance rushed comatose Linda Jones to the local hospital, the 27-year-old died soon after arriving.

 She was buried in the Rosedale and Rosehill Cemetery in Linden, New Jersey.

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Turbo released two posthumous albums in tribute to the late gospel-soul singer, and released The Complete Atco-Loma-Warner Brothers Recordings in 2014 bringing together her most cherished recordings of the 60s.

Not many remember Jones when gushing about the golden years of soul. In an era overflowing with so much iconic talent, it is easy to overlook those who were struggling to success. Likewise, there is little noted in music history about her personal life, her dreams, goals, humour and the kind of person she truly was. Although her stardom was short lived due to her untimely death, and she did not have a huge number of chart topping hits, she will forever remain an American soul gem. She didn’t sound like anybody else on the scene and no one has ever sounded like that since.

 

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