B.B. King had a hit with the tune, “The Thrill is Gone,” and it’s become a classic example of the minor blues form. It was written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951, the year I was born. I guess that was an omen. I’ve always dug the blues.
There’s another, lesser-known song of the same name that’s been one of my favorites ever since I was a kid. Written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown in 1931. I first heard it when I was about 9 years old.
It was just after closing time at Inga’s Steakhouse where my mother worked as a waitress, and I worked as a busboy. I was good at it, too. Plus the waitresses all thought I was cute. But cute doesn’t mean a thing when you’re getting a cut of their tips. You better be hustling those tables, kid.
A gal named Winnie, played in the lounge there three or four nights a week. A piano bar scene, but she played the organ. Tunes from the 1930’s and 40’s mostly. Lots of jazz standards. She had a hoarse, brassy voice, and her patter was replete with raunchy jokes, puns and not-very-subtle sexual references that kept her tip jar full and the customers happy.
I’d heard my mother singing before, to herself, around the house. But I’d never heard her actually perform, sing a serious number with back-up. Now, in the empty bar, here she was lighting up this torch song. Slow and moody, with bluesy licks by Winnie filling in. Her voice was clean and clear, with a natural vibrato, and she could make it wail and moan, and bend notes, like a tormented lover. I had no idea who this woman was.
For that one brief moment, I felt close to her, and it’s the one good memory I have of her. I guess it’s better than nothing.
I’ve covered this tune, myself, on the road. Maybe one of these days I’ll go into the studio and lay down my ideas for it. Meanwhile, here’s a couple of links for you. First, by the incomparable Sarah Vaughan, who sounds a bit like my mother in places. The other by my man Chet, the Crown Prince of Cool.
I hope you dig it.