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From Soul Express 1/1998

VICKIE BAKER

Vickie is our first debutante this year. Her path-opener, Don't Gimme No Lip, released on Paula late last year, is produced by her manager, Stephen Hall, and Frank O. Johnson and arranged by Harrison Calloway.

The set opens with the title tune, a punchy blues track, written by John Ward and one Mr. Shaw. "It was given to me by a friend of mine, Ben Shaw. He wrote it for me and said `it's in my personality'. Ben's a musician himself, a keyboard player. He has also written for Johnnie Taylor." The song in question is Are You Lonesome, which can be found on Johnnie's ...Just Can't Do Right album on Malaco in '91. For Vickey's set Ben also wrote a blues shuffler called You Shoulda Got It While The Gittin' Was Good.

Frank-O's country-soul ballad, We Almost Had A Good Thang, reminds me a bit of Neither One Of Us. "My favourite singer is Gladys Knight. Frank-O Johnson wrote that song after I told him I wanted something in a Gladys Knight style. I love singing that song. It's a sad song, and a lot of people can relate to it." Alongside Gladys, Vickie thinks highly of Denise LaSalle, Millie Jackson and Bobby Blue Bland.

Besides another beautiful slowie, Running Behind Time, Frank-O also contributed a slider called Freak On The Side. "A lot of people are doing songs about `freak'. Tyrone Davis did `Freak' (on Malaco's `Simply' CD). It's just a catchy word these days. On that song and `Don't Gimme No Lip', I put real horns on them. We used a horn section out of Jackson, Mississippi. It a little bit reminds me of the music of the 70s."

Lyrics - considering they are delivered by a lady - to a lilting mid-pacer called She's A Lady Of Love can be slightly confusing at first, but if you listen carefully to Vickie's opening monologue, then it all falls into place. "I say `I've been in a sad marriage for ten years. I met this fine man and I gave him a piece, and the next thing I know, my brother said that he called my husband'. So the song is written in like third person, from that man's point of view." The song is credited to Fred Hall. "Fred is actually one of my friends right here in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He happens to be a police officer. He also has a little studio in town, and he used to call me to do background singing and stuff like that. I always told him `Fred, when I get my first CD, I'm gonna let you write some stuff for me, because you are a good writer'. He wrote three cuts for my CD."

Besides Lady Of Love, Fred wrote the funky Price For Real Love and a softly floating slowie, Why My Baby Left. "I call it `my gospel song', because it sounds a little like gospel to me. My brother, Luster Baker, plays the keyboard solo on there. By the way, my sister, Judy Baker-Boyd, arranged all my background vocals on the CD. She's also a newcomer. A lot of these people haven't done anything on anybody else's CDs, so I have a lot of newcomers on my record."

The only old song is a soft reading of Toussaint McCall's once-in-a-lifetime hit, Nothing Takes The Place Of You (on Ronn in '67). "Actually Paula Records - Stan Lewis - wanted me to do that one. I heard that Toussaint lives in Monroe, Louisiana, only about an hour from me."

Vickie was born on 3.10. 1961 in Shreveport, Louisiana. "I was raised up around gospel music. My father, L.B.Baker, sang gospel music. He taught me a lot. I knew I always wanted to perform, because I used to see him do it and I used to think 'ooh, it'd be great to be on stage'. I'm the oldest one in my family. I have three brothers and one sister. I used to baby-sit them, and instead of us doing other things, we used to play instruments, sing and whatever."

The bug had its first snap only in the late 80s. "I went to school for music. I have a Master's degree in music. After school I was teaching high school, for eleven years. I taught from 1986 and I just resigned last year. Now I'm working only in music." By the way, one of Vickie's students, Nikita Chambers, sings background on the new CD.

"At first I had a local group in town, Rhythm Warehouse, and we did the casinos, private parties and stuff like that. Then I was in a group called Jade (not the 90s hit trio). We did a single - I guess in 1987 - `Don't Take Me For Granted' on Expression Records. It was Fred Hall's label here in Vicksburg, Mississippi. And I was the lead singer for another group, `Champagne Plus Two'.

Then I was asked to tour with Ernie Johnson for a while. That was approximately five years ago. I toured with him for about a year and a half. Then I was asked to tour with Willie Clayton, and I toured with him for a year.

Last year I thought `I'm thirty-six. It's about time to do my own thing', and so I set out and tried to get found. Actually when I first started, I didn't get found. As a matter of fact, I had doors closed on my face. This was last spring, in March. I had my little demo, but nobody was really interested. They really weren't interested in finding me, so I decided that I needed to take my own money and release a single. So I released the single, `Don't Gimme No Lip', first on my own label, Fly Records. It's my and Stephen Hall's label. I released it, went and visited radio stations, got it played and then, all of a sudden, labels started calling me and I ended up signing with Paula Records in June.

On Paula I was able to get publishing on some of the songs, and they agreed to let me handle the recording as for so that I could use the people I wanted to use for recording the CD. I wanted to record out in Jackson, because I wanted to use the guys that had been on everybody else's stuff, the guys that had proved they can write and record hits - people like Harrison Calloway, who worked for Malaco and Ace Records and used to work for Stax. Paula weren't so rigid about what they wanted. They were pretty flexible."

You probably have come across Vickie earlier, as she has appeared - by her married name, Vickie Hopkins - on background vocals on some Ace recordings by her good friend Pat Brown (as a member of Essence Of Soul on Tear Your Playhouse Down), Willie Clayton (on Ace In The Hole) and Frank-O (on OJ I'm Guilty), but now she is determined to make it on her own and make Vickie Baker a household name. -Heikki Suosalo

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