Wendy Rene  “After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles + Rarities 1964-65"       (Light In the Attic LITA 080)

By Pete Nickols

Bar-B-Q; Gone For Good; Your Love Is All I Need (Drapels); After Laughter (Comes Tears); I Wish I Were That Girl; What Will Tomorrow Bring; Wondering (When My Love Is Coming Home) (Drapels); Deep In My Heart; Give You What I Got; Crying All By Myself; Crowded Park; Last Love; Love At First Sight; She’s Moving Away; He Hasn’t Failed Me Yet; Please Don’t Leave (Me) (Drapels); The Same Guy; Young Man (Drapels); Can’t Stay Away; First Kiss; Reap What You Sow; Young And Foolish.

Wendy ReneIt’s always nice to get an artist’s complete recorded output on one CD even if Wendy Rene’s was limited to these 22 Stax-Volt sides (four cut as part of the Drapels).

Musical content aside, Light In the Attic Records of Seattle have produced a nice package here – a standard-size card-rather-than-jewel CD case with a good booklet of full notes and rare photos stored within it.

Wendy Rene was born Mary Frierson to a father of mixed race who had married a Memphis musician nearly 20 years his junior. Mary had three brothers but it was older brother Johnny with whom she sang at a local COGIC church, the young pair also being motivated by Memphis’ Teen-Town Singers (for whom Carla Thomas had earlier sung). They joined Stax in 1963 along with their friends Marianne Brittenum and Wilbur Mondie as The Drapels quartet, first doing some back-up work. Mary was only 16 then and about to marry a guy in the military. Johnny (17 and a half) had already been doing some touring with the Sunset Travellers and would play guitar on their 1964 recordings of “On Jesus’ Program” and “Another Day Lost”, which featured O.V.Wright on lead-vocals.

Stax had decided a new name was needed for Mary and, whilst Deanie Parker’s suggestion of Wendy Storm was rejected, Otis Redding’s contribution of Wendy Rene got the ‘green light’. Wendy did marry her military guy but it didn’t last and soon she would have a new husband, Stax employee James Cross. After her Stax recordings, in December 1967, she was scheduled to join Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays on their ill-fated flight for what she had already decided would be her final live performance; but she backed out at the last minute to stay home with her baby son, Eric. This ‘close call’ no doubt cemented Mary’s desire to concentrate purely on being a full-time wife and mother, the Crosses ending up with five sons and one daughter.

The Drapels’ own career folded as Wendy’s (albeit quite short) solo one began to take precedence. Walter Mondie left both Memphis and the music biz but of course Johnny and Marianne did further session work and also ended up across town at Hi studios, Johnny cutting just one solo session there in December 1967 as James Fry (resulting in 4 sides, two issued, two not) and Marianne becoming Marion Brittnam, who linked up temporarily with Don Bryant to form ‘1+1’. Johnny later worked for a time in the construction industry and sadly passed in June 2010, just before Mary/Wendy made a belated return to musical performance with a gig at New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp.

The tracks here are not in chronological order and even mix up Wendy’s output with that of the Drapels. Firstly, while newer-comers may not have heard any of these tracks on CD before, for the ‘collectors’ I think I should say that there are 7 tracks which are ‘new to CD’. Wendy’s Stax 154 single had two different flip-sides, “What Will Tomorrow Bring” and “She’s Moving Away”, and neither of these made it onto the old Stax box-set or the UK Ace/Stax various-artist compilations. Neither did the flips to her Stax 159 and 171 singles (“Young And Foolish” and “Reap What You Sow”) – or the Drapels flip to their Volt 119 release (“Your Love Is All I Need”). Also released for the first time anywhere here are Wendy’s  “Deep In My Heart” and “First Kiss”.

The quite strong title track, “After Laughter”, was ‘sampled’ in 1993 by the Wu-Tang Clan for their “Tearz” release, while Alicia Keys cut a re-make of the same song entitled “Where Do We Go From Here” in 2007.

So onto the music, which, I’m sorry to say is often a disappointment. I guess we have to remember that Wendy was still only a teenager with quite a high-register ‘girly’ voice and many of her recorded songs that she wrote (or co-wrote) unsurprisingly reflected typical 60’s naïve teenage love and angst themes. That’s not to say that several did not have considerable ‘soul merit’ but others, especially “Bar-B-Q”, “Gone For Good”, “First Kiss” and “Young And Foolish” were frankly little more than ‘teeny-pop’.

However, her vocal involvement in her often genuinely descriptive lyrics got a little more intense as she developed her confidence and, with Steve Cropper, the MGs and the Memphis Horns supporting her, there were indeed some soul highpoints. I would pick out particularly her take on William Bell’s “Reap What You Sow”, the previously unissued “Deep In My Heart”, Wendy and Steve Cropper’s co-penned “Give You What I Got”, and Wendy and Johnny’s “He Hasn’t Failed Me Yet”, with its more ‘adult’ gospelly approach. For me, the best Rene track here though is the self-penned “Crying All By Myself”, which is well-expressed semi-deep soul with a nice dramatic mid-track segment and some fine playing from the Stax boys.

More like Drapels group cuts than Rene solos were Wendy’s “What Will Tomorrow Bring” and “The Same Guy”.

Of the four tracks actually credited to The Drapels, “Your Love Is All I Need” is lightweight teen-soul, while “Wondering..” is a disappointing, very ‘bitty’ male-led-vocal piece. Somewhat better is the bouncy “Young Man”, while the slow-paced “Please Don’t Love Me” is the ‘stand out’ track and probably even superior to Wendy’s own “Crying All By Myself”. It sees Johnny Frierson soul-pleading in genuinely ‘deep’ mode. His vocal is great, in front of the chants of his fellow group-members and, whilst the song itself doesn’t boast much melody, it’s got that ‘morose’ feel to it so typical of many of the best deep-soul songs. A fine track this.

Collectors and completists may want this CD (which I believe is also available on vinyl) but, as a soulful musical experience, overall I could only give it 4 out of 10.


Feb 2012

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