by Don Waller
Erma Franklin is best-known for singing the tower-toppling, original 1967 Top 10 R&B version of "Piece Of My Heart" that Janis Joplin — then fronting Big Brother & The Holding Company — turned into a No. 12 pop hit in '68. She's also Aretha Franklin's eldest sister, and it's she and sibling Carolyn singing background vocals on Aretha's version of "Respect."
Erma's family moved to Detroit when she was 7; she was actually born in Shelby, Mississippi in 1939. After studying at Clark College in Atlanta, she became an executive at IBM in New York, which is where she began her recording career. Upon leaving the music business, she returned to Detroit, where she worked for the Boysville Holy Cross Community Center until her death from throat cancer, at age 64, in 2002.
This CD collects everything Erma recorded for the Epic and Shout labels circa 1961-68. Epic had Erma singing standards (her version of "Time After Time" would've made her an American Idol winner), Randy Newman's jet-black "Love Is Blind," Johnny Ace hits, big bluesy ballads that she wrote herself, and a girl-group styled "I Don't Want No Mama's Boy" that just begs for a contemporary rock-girl cover. Much like Aretha's then-current stint with the Columbia label, there's more sheer vocal talent than savvy artistic direction on display here.
The seven Shout sessions — produced by Bert Berns, who co-wrote "Piece Of My Heart" with Jerry Ragavoy — sport more soulful backing tracks, highlighted by the hit, a similar sounding follow-up ("Open Up Your Soul"), and a pair of funky, gospel-drenched Jimmy Reed covers ("Big Boss Man" and "Baby What You Want Me To Do") that are guaranteed to wear the shine off the dance floor (and so tough you'd have to shave 'em with a blowtorch.) After Berns' untimely death, Erma recorded for Brunswick but was still unable to escape her sister's shadow. Until now, that is.
Don Waller writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.