Two vivid memories of Percy Sledge sprang to mind Monday for producer Saul Davis upon hearing the news that the soul singer had died at 74 after a long bout with cancer.
Davis — who co-produced (with Barry Goldberg) two latter-day Sledge albums, 1994’s Grammy-nominated “Blue Night,” and 2004’s “Shining Through the Rain” — had to coax the “When a Man Loves a Woman” singer back to the recording studio two decades ago, Davis told The Times.
“For the first record, we couldn’t find any good guitarists — we just had Steve Cropper, Mick Taylor, Greg Leisz and Bobby Womack,” he deadpanned.
Cropper, the lead guitarist for Booker T. & the MGs and a prominent player on dozens of classic Memphis soul and R&B records in the 1960s and beyond, “came to L.A. on his own dime,” Davis said of the sessions that would produce “Blue Night.” “He had never recorded with Percy, and he said, ‘I’ll pay for my rental car, I’ll pay for my hotel, my air flight. Just pay me union minimum’ — I think it was around $600 — ‘I just want to be on this record.’ He wound up playing on, I think, three songs on that one.”
That would seem hard to top, but their second collaboration proved serious competition.
“When we were doing the second record in 2004, we were out at Sound City studio [in Van Nuys],” he recalled. “Ry Cooder was there; Tom Petty also happened to be there, and when we were taking a break, I saw Tom and a couple of the guys and said, ‘We’re here with Percy Sledge — I’ll introduce you.’
“Percy instantly had everyone laughing uproariously — he was a real gregarious character — then he walked over to Tom and said, ‘What’s your name again, son?’ It made Tom laugh, and I’m sure he’s told that story to other people.”
While Davis and Goldberg were eager to do a third record, in the end, Sledge’s family came first.
“He had a lot of kids and a ton of grandkids, so we didn’t get to talk to him a lot,” said Davis. "I kept lists of songs, in case we ever did. Bob Dylan’s song ‘Not Dark Yet,’ that would have been great with Percy’s voice. But we never got to do it.”