At the ripe 71 Percy Sledge still tours and is heading to Cape Town. Last week, promoters of Music Alla Kaap 2013 announced an additional date for the show which features Sledge, PJ Powers and Zayn Adams. They will now perform on May 24 and 25 at Grand West.
Since hearing of the soul star’s show, I have been involuntarily bursting into random impersonations of him, to the amusement and awe of my colleagues. These performances cannot be made on demand so no requests please.
“If you want something to play with, go and find yourself a toy. Baby, my time is too expensive, And I’m not a little boy.” These are the lyrics to Tell it Like it is, a song originally sung by Aaron Neville, and later covered by the likes of Otis Redding and Sledge.
I have a memory of mindlessly listening to Sledge’s rendition blaring from my later father’s car CD player.
I sat in the back seat and I sang along in my under-10 voice. During this accurate recital, my father, without so much as a glance in the rear-view mirror, said: “Son, your time is not too expensive, and you are a little boy.”
I did not quite understand the lyrics at the time, but a meaning of the song eventually dawned on me – a sassy ode to manhood, a good dose of pride and self-appreciation and the type of song you can imagine singing to an indecisive suitor.
My father, who would have turned 62 in March, had a great interest in American soul music, as did similarly aged friends and family in Durban.
“He’s so nasal, but that was your father’s music,” said my mother to me recently.
I recently announced on Facebook that I had interviewed Sledge over the phone in his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
A stream of likes and comments followed.
An aunt wrote: “Well done Wendyl! Dad would have been so chuffed with you and so are we! I saw him live when I was a little girl!”
A friend said: “My dad saw him at Rani’s Cinema, Clairwood” (a former Indian group area in South Durban).
“You should have asked him to sing Come Softly for you,” wrote my brother.
The most touching, though, was a comment from my mother: “I went to the show with (your) dad when we were courting. Memories!”
Sledge is no stranger to South Africa or Cape Town.
The Soul Safari blog site says Sledge opened at the Luxurama Theatre here on Friday May 29, 1970.
“The Luxurama Theatre, Cape Town, darkened, there was a momentary hush, then the audience exploded in a deafening roar as Percy Sledge walked on stage. Every one of the 1 300 seats was filled, people were sitting in the aisles and the happy audience screamed and cried, shouted and stamped, clapped and cheered for the King of Soul was here in South Africa at last!” they wrote.
The site chronicles special releases of his work for a South African listenership, including a Christmas album with a special wish for local fans, and a rare album of recordings from his 1970 tour and a film made about it.
When I spoke to Sledge last week, he said of the tour: “I will never forget it. You were gorgeous people and you treated me like a king.”
He says he had not been aware of being a popular artist here.
“I was a a young artist at the time, but today I know.”
He is in in his seventies, and I am 25, but I would still consider myself a bit of a fan. He seems as excited to come as I am to see him perform.
“I can’t wait to get there... It is a great feeling, knowing I have fans in high school and college.”
A look at his tour dates shows the two Cape Town dates between gigs in southern States like Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. But Sledge still hops across the pond – he goes to the Netherlands quite a bit.
Sledge even featured on Sir Cliff Richard’s Soulicious album and tour in 2011, something he is proud of.
“Working with Cliff Richard was the most fun I have had. He is so entertaining, he is almost perfect. I did not miss one show with him.”
Some of you might be wondering what the soul star has in store for us. Rest assured.
“Well I’m definitely going to sing When a Man loves a Woman,” he chuckled in a deep voice, “My Special Prayer, Take Time to Know Her, all my greatests from over the years.”
He is looking at a set of 10 or 11 songs, which is fairly long for a man of his age, something Sledge is not fazed by it. He believes he has the stamina to pull it off.
“It comes naturally in this line of work. I just have to see the fans, them being happy and their smiles.”
He is bringing a few friends and family with him and plans on doing the usual, like going up Table Mountain.
When asked for advice for young musicians seeking long careers, he keeps it simple: “Believe in yourself, do it for yourself, sing from your heart and stay away from drugs.”
• Tickets for Music Alla Kaap are from R135 at Computicket.