DAVID NATHAN'S DIARY – October 28, 2021: ARETHA - A Closer Look (Pt 10): The Boy From Bombay

Aretha Franklin
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Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

1972 is a busy year for Aretha and especially spending time in Los Angeles. In January, she’s recorded the momentous “Amazing Grace” album at The New Temple Missionary Baptist Church with early-in-her-life mentor Reverend James Cleveland and The Southern California Community Choir. It turns out to be a milestone in her career, a groundbreaking album in gospel music and a phenomenal event. 

All of Aretha’s Atlantic sessions from 1967 to the 1972 recording of “Amazing Grace”) have been produced by Jerry Wexler, the executive who signed her to the label in late 1966, most often working with master arrange Arif Mardin and top engineer Tom Dowd.  In tandem with Aretha (whose first production credit is on the “Amazing Grace” LP), the trio have created a veritable non-stop run of hit singles and best-selling albums. With the exception of live albums, none of Aretha’s LPs have had a concept behind them so to speak.  As Wexler remarked in comments to writer Mark Bego for his 1989 book, The Queen Of Soul, “…we didn’t go in and ‘cut an album’ [with Aretha]. She would come to New York and we’d cut as many sides as we could and put them away, and then when we had ten sides, we’d put out an album.”

Following the triumphant “Amazing Grace” sessions, no doubt in conversations with Aretha, Wexler agrees that a change in focus and direction in regard her recordings is timely. Aretha wants to be more involved as a songwriter and taking the reigns as a producer. Cognizant that maestro Quincy Jones has established his career as a producer, the man behind dozens of film score and by 1971, as a recording artist in his own right, the L.A.-based music man signs on to do an album with Aretha.

Quoting Wexler after the fact, “Quincy’s album [with Aretha] started out to be a jazz album...”  In reality, the first sessions that take place in April 1972 at the famed Record Plant studios, with Aretha at the piano and credits for notable jazz players Joe Farrell on tenor sax and Phil Woods on alto sax only include a couple of tracks that could be termed ‘jazz’ in style or flavour - James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood For Love,” some nifty piano licks from Aretha on the classic “Somewhere” and the bluesy jam “Just Right Tonight” featuring Billy Preston on piano.

Among the twelve or so tracks laid down on Aretha’s first marathon session with Quincy are six originals, two of which remain ‘in the can’ for decades including the fifth song recorded that day.  Clearly Aretha is in playful spontaneous mode!  “The Boy From Bombay,” a Franklin original, draws its inspiration from who knows what, as indicated by the opening lyric lines: “Just thought of a tune called the boy from Bombay, I ain’t got no idea what I am gonna say…the melody of something that I feel…wondering if this tune is really real...

We can conjecture that Aretha is actually creating the song ‘on the spot’ and with unidentified players accompanying her, the track has an infectious groove and Aretha is clearly having fun vocally, ending the song with a declaration, ‘I’ll give that one to the DJs’!

As the sessions for what will be “Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky,” the Aretha & Quincy-produced LP wrap up in August 1972, Aretha’s wish to have “The Boy From Bombay” released and sent to disc jockeys don’t materialize.  Rather, the peppy, light-hearted tune remains in the Atlantic tape vaults for decades.  

Happy to be working in the vaults to do tape research for Rhino Records in 2005, I find all of the previously-unreleased tracks from the Quincy Jones’ 1972 sessions with Aretha and finally, almost fifty years later, “The Boy From Bombay” can be heard joyously on the ARETHA box set – although the mystery of whether there really was a boy from Bombay about whom Aretha was singing will alas remain just that…

The ARETHA box set...


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