Saturday, 25 February 2012

Wendy Rene - After Laughter Comes Tears

On a recent trip to Brighton, I picked up the new Wendy Rene compilation 'After Laughter Comes Tears' - a 2LP comp of her complete Stax & Volt singles and rarities from 1964-65. It was a bit of a gamble based on recommendations from friends (I'd only ever known her tracks 'Bar-B-Q', 'Crying All By Myself' and the classic 'After Laughter Comes Tears'), but oh my, what a buy.

Originally named Mary Frierson, her stage name was picked by Otis Redding himself. Her mother was the minister of music at their local church, and introduced Wendy to the organ. There isn't a huge amount known about the elusive Wendy Rene, but in her early teens she formed a singing group called The Drapels with her brother and two friends, and was signed with . She also married very young, but ended up parting ways and settling down with Stax songwriter James Cross, retiring from music in 1967.

What struck me was the dramatic end to her career - she was due to take the plane with Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays for what would have been her final performance for quite a while. But as she had recently become a mother, at the very last minute she decided to stay at home with her new baby son instead. The plane crashed in Lake Monona on the way to the show, leaving Redding and six others dead. After that, Wendy never knowingly recorded anything else, leaving the spotlight to raise her family.

The compilation spans her earliest recordings with The Drapels, up to her final sessions in ’65. Even though she was only in her early teens when the recordings were made, her soulful voice is unwaveringly strong and poignant, as though she's still been finding her way through the excruciating heartbreak and longing of love for decades rather than a handful or years.

Of 'After Laughter...', she says it was written while she was at high-school and shrugs off rumours that it is about any particular incident, admitting "I kinda got the big head for awhile, especially with the boys. I had a crush on a guy and I thought this would really do it, but it didn't. His loss!"

It may not have done it for him, but her small but brilliant back catalogue certainly did it for thousands of music lovers worldwide.

Available to buy online at Resident.

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