Sandra Wright was born in Memphis on 1 October 1948 and was brought up in a devout manner by her mother. Her cousin was in the Spirit of Memphis quartet and music was a big part of her childhood and she was a soloist in her local Baptist church choir in her teens. At school she was taught classical music, and on graduation went to TSU to study the subject further with an ambition to become an opera singer. But having won a campus talent show she became involved more closely with popular music and soul in particular. In 1967 she joined an all white R & B band the Canned Souls as their vocalist and toured with them, as well as singing background for Joe Tex on stage and on a couple of his recording dates.
Her first own name recording session was held in Nashville where she put her voice on a couple of tracks that Bergen White and Norris Wilson had cut in Muscle Shoals. Unbelievable is a very fine waltz time ballad with a rather young sounding and hesitant Sandra vocal - not surprising for her first lead date in the studio. The flip “Love Me Love Me” is in a very similar vein. This was supposed to be a Canned Souls session but all they got was their name on the 45 as “Musical Director” when it was issued in 1968.
Her second single came out the following year but may well have been recorded around the time of the initial release. The top side “Gotta See My Baby”, was a chugging mid tempo Muscle Shoals piece, but the flip was much better. An uplifting song from Nashville writer Steve Davis We’re Gonna Make It was a beautifully realized ballad – quite the best of Sandra’s early releases. But sadly like the first 45 it did nothing commercially.
Sandra gave up her operatic ambitions and stayed in Nashville, especially in the famous Era Club, where she stayed for some seventeen or eighteen years. Her next recording sessions – which resulted in the tracks contained on her famous album – came about via Freddie North. He’d just finished recording his “I’m Your Man” LP with David Johnson at Broadway Sound Studios in Muscle Shoals, and he suggested that the producer should come up to Nashville to hear Sandra singing. Johnson was very impressed with what he heard at the Era Club and signed her up a couple of weeks later.
Johnson spent almost 6 months listening to material for the sessions and the final selection shows that TLC. Sandra recorded for about a week on October 1974 and Johnson hawked the finished maters around most of the major record labels before concluding a deal with Jim Stewart at Stax. They jointly picked “Wounded Woman” as the first release, and on Stewart’s instructions the disc kicked off Stax’s new Truth imprint in January 1975 as #3201. This finely wrought mid-paced item was surely catchy enough to have been a major hit, and Sandra’s now strong confident vocal was a big factor in the song’s impact. The flip was the tastefully arranged beater “Midnight Affair" which the UK dancers have picked up on.
But Stax was in a bad way. The fault lines that were to end in the label’s demise were beginning to appear, particularly in the promotion and distribution sections, which were so vital to a new name’s success in the marketplace. The company tried a second 45 issuing "Lovin’ You Lovin’ Me" and “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” later the same year. The top side was an absolute beauty of a ballad, with Sandra’s breathy tone a perfect vehicle for Barbara’s Wyrick’s haunting melody and deeply romantic lyric. The B side was another slow burner, with a delicately pleading vocal.
By this time though Stax was in no position to honour their contract and the whole LP didn’t appear until Demon UK put it out in 1989 to the great delight and surprise of the soul fraternity. The dancers picked up such tracks as the lively “A Man Can’t Be A Man”, with its fine chord changes, and the slower, more thoughtful “I’ll Come Running Back”. The deep fans were even better catered for. I’m Not Strong Enough To Love You Again was first class country soul, as was “I Come Running Back”. But the pick of the tracks may well be Sandra’s heartfelt version of Luther Ingram’s “I’ll Be Your Shelter (In The Time Of Storm)” retitled as I’ll See You Through. Taken at a considerably slower pace than the original, the cut is a real gem, as Sandra puts everything into the lyric, framed by a heavily echoed guitar, piano fills and a big horn chart. The whole album was superb southern soul - one of the last hurrahs for that lovely sub-genre country soul.
Sandra had one further 45 in 1986, a very disappointing version of Ted Jarrett’s perennial favourite “(It’s Love Baby) 24 Hours A Day” for his own T-Jaye label. A couple of years later she left Nashville for the quieter location of Vermont, but continued in the music business, fronting her own Sandra Wright Band. Their CDs “Shake You Down” and “After Hours” contain a mixture of soul, blues and jazz arrangements and the group was popular in New England. But the band dispersed on Sandra's sad death on 10th January 2010 in New Hampshire.
Unbelieveable / Love me love me ~ CORAL 62556 (1968)
Gotta see my baby / We're gonna make it ~ CORAL 62559 (1969)
Wounded woman / Midnight affair ~ TRUTH 3201 (1974)
Please don't say good bye / lovin' you lovin' me ~ TRUTH 3220 (1975)
Wounded Woman ~ UK DEMON FIEND 138 (1989)
Shake You Down ~ ZEMU 1003 (1995)
After Hourse ~ SANDRA WRIGHT GROUP (2003)
Note ~ You can find the entire "Wounded Woman" set on the Soulscape UK CD "The Broadway Sound Sessions" (SSCD 7007).
Thanks to Marten Tonnis for the excellent suggestion.
Special thanks to David Cole and Colin Dilnot whose In The Basement article on Sandra appeared in issue #32.