DEE DEE WARWICK & ED TOWNSEND: OVERSHADOWED, NOT OVERRATED

Foolish fool
It’s hard to say whether Dee Dee Warwick would have had a more successful career if she hadn’t long been in the shadow of her sister, Dionne. The latter, of course, became the far, far bigger star and even in the liner notes for Foolish Fool, Dee Dee’s second LP, the author can’t help but constantly make references back to Dionne. That’s rather ironic considering the whole goal is to push Dee Dee into the limelight on her own.

I’ve written in the past that Dee Dee reminds me a little of Erma Franklin, Aretha’s older sister who I always thought was a remarkable singer in her own right but never fully got her due. Both Erma and Dee Dee were gifted with incredible voices that combined power with control but of course, power wasn’t necessarily what listeners wanted and Dee Dee joins a venerable list of quality belters that the mainstream never caught could get with.

The most interesting detail, which I hadn’t paid close attention to until now, is that on Foolish Fool, the goal was to try to pair Dee Dee with a songwriter/producer as potent as Dionne’s relationship to Hal David and Burt Bacharach. For this job, they chose Ed Townsend, who both produced about half the album and also wrote many of the songs.

Townsend an interesting figure in the soul world. Certainly not a household name yet remarkably prolific and one of those lesser-known captains of the genre that real heads should try to get familiar with. Townsend’s biggest individual song was “For Your Love,” which he originally recorded himself in 1958:

That song ended up being covered by a slew of other artists, including Carla Thomas, Peaches and Herb, and an especially sultry version by Gwen McCrae.1

As I also discovered, Townsend wrote one of my all-time favorite gospel funk songs, “Same Thing It Took” by the Inspirational Gospel Singers.

Of course, Townsend co-wrote that song for the Impressions and it was, in turn, gospel-fied by the Inspirational Gospel Singers but regardless, the song bears his trace.2

Townsend’s career as a solo artist never really seemed to take off with the same successes as his songwriting/production though if you want to pick up one of his better songs from the mid-1970s, it’s one of those glorious “cheap but great” 7″s that most pass by:

Ed Townsend: Don’t Lead Me On
From 7″ (Tru-GLow, 1966)

Seriously, how heavy is this? It’s the perfect balance between deep and sweet soul and the way it opens with the bass and drums is something I could loop up and play for hours.

But oh yeah, back to him and Dee Dee.

Their first collabo (that I could find) dated back to 1965, on the Northern single, “Do It With All Your Heart.” However, I don’t think their pairing really came together until “Foolish Fool,” the title track to Dee Dee’s aforementioned second album.

Dee Dee Warwick: Foolish Fool
From 7″ (Mercury, 1969) and the Foolish Fool LP (Mercury, 1969)

If Erma had “Piece of My Heart,” this was Dee Dee’s equivalent: house-crashing, heart-breaking, monster of a ballad with drums that feel almost too heavy for the song, like they were mixed too high by accident. I wonder if the original multi-tracks for this exist because I would love to hear it as just drums and Dee Dee. Can you imagine? I’m sweating, just imagining that.

I wish I could say Foolish Fool was some magnum opus of an album but besides the fact that it’s not her debut, the album isn’t terribly consistent and seems pulled in too many directions to really gel. That said, the other single that came off this album is pretty damn good too and any LP that can yield two songs this good could never be a failure in my book:

Dee Dee Warwick: It’s Not Fair
On 7″ and the Foolish Fool LP (Mercury, 1969)

Let me pause a second and note: I actually have owned this LP for quite a while but was lazy in listening through it and I never got around to checking out “It’s Not Fair” until I saw Matthew Africa including it in a 2008 post about R&B stars who had passed away that year. I told you, his spirit haunts so much of what I do. I didn’t even think about his role in putting me up on this song until now.

I’ll have more to write about in relation to both Dee Dee Warwick and Ed Townsend in the weeks to come.

  1. Townsend’s biggest songwriting hit was “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. I mean…yeah, you can take a few victory laps off of that one.
  2. Their single is incredibly rare, which sucks because I am jonesing for a copy. The one copy that I’ve seen hit eBay went for $450 and I kind of regret not making a better effort to bid for it.

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