by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Percy Sledge live in Baton Rouge

Last week I visited Louisiana, invited by the lieutenant governor's office and the state's tourist board. I rode a golden mini-van from Lafayette to Baton Rouge to New Orleans. It is a remarkable part of the world, rich and singular, with enough music, food and conversation in which to spend a lifetime. But I spent five nights. I am going to try to document the visit in a piece for McSweeney's, but there are some things which are right for here as well.

Percy Sledge - "When A Man Loves A Woman".

Nowadays Percy Sledge appears in Baton Rouge car dealership commercials.

This is what I hear as we coast into town. Looking onto Louisiana's hot green fields, I struggle to imagine this. The Percy Sledge in my mind, the one who sings "When A Man Loves A Woman", is too distracted by love to ever do something so commercial. The Percy Sledge in my mind has never been able to keep a steady job. He is always staring out the window, or across the street, or over the butcher counter at a pretty girl. He stumbles on the sidewalk, neglects his chores, forgets to call his mum - all because of a passing woman's perfume, her smile, her lovely knees.

But I am told that Percy Sledge appears in Baton Rouge car dealership commercials, and when he takes the stage at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival, I believe it. The festival is modest and sincere - a dinky stage downtown, wedged beside fountains, with free entry and room for picnic blankets. My tour group is introduced to the festival organiser, to the publisher of the Advocate, to the mayor. We are handed Bud Lights. Then I duck through the photographers' pit and down in front of the fence, joining the crowd of couples and families and publishers and mayors and pretty girls, and Percy Sledge comes onto the stage in a royal blue suit, sunglasses, and Hawaiian shirt.

Percy Sledge, I realise, has always been a salesman. A salesman of LOVE. He is grinning wider than I have ever grinned in my life. He is grinning so wide that his grin cannot possibly be fake. "Ladies and gentlemens..." he says, and I imagine Percy Sledge in his living-room, feet up on a leather ottoman, watching a younger version of himself on VH1 and grinning so wide that he knocks over a porcelain bust.

Percy Sledge does not have the same calibre of voice that he once did. He sings thinly, sharps and flats, and it is his expert 9-piece backing band that makes the songs sound right. (Listening to this song now, later, I can hear the older Percy's voice hidden inside the younger Percy's voice; can hear the thinness and flats in the 1966 recording. And I realise it's what makes the song sound so urgent, human and endearing.) But Percy has brought something else to the stage - the self-confidence of a man who was once at the top of the world, and who has decided to never leave. Like all the best soul singers, Percy Sledge's greatest talent is the vitality of his mind's eye. The gap-toothed singer glows.

"Thank you for coming out to see ol' Perce," he says. He grins as wide as a number one record.


Posted by Sean at May 4, 2009 3:46 PM

Hi. This is the first blog I have written to, I felt I must. I am from Louisiana and if you drove from Baton Rouge to New Orleans you drove right past me. I just wanted to thank you for the kind words about dear ole percy. He is what he is, and to us that is something amazing. We down in the south have all fell in love with someone while percy rang in our ears... he brought us close and took us away... with his heartfelt words that we could never find for ourselves. He is the one and the only, especially in a blue suit and Hawaiian shirt.

Posted by jacqueline at May 4, 2009 8:51 PM

Frankly, your imagine turned Percy Sledge into a skinny white kid from the northwest.

Percy has soul man! He sees that girl across the counter and confesses his undying love for her. He crosses the counter and sings an acapella piece to her right there in the store. Its about heartbreak, its about failure and regret and fear and most importantly, its about matters of the heart. She swoons and hands him her number. They meet that night and he shows her his ability to L-O-V-E.

Then hes over it in the morning and tries to remember the acapella song that he sang to her and, as it turns out, made up on the spot. He cut a new track down at the studio and says to Joe behind the boards, "This is really gonna break their heart."

Joe nods and lights a cigarette.

Posted by Saxon at May 5, 2009 2:48 AM

I hope you are going to tell everyone where you ate! I went to LSU, and I am hoping you went to some of my favorite restaurants from college.

Posted by Christina at May 5, 2009 11:59 AM

@Christina: As a current LSU student (graduating this spring), I've got to ask you: there are restaurants in Baton Rouge? Not that people here don't love them some food, but almost every good meal I've had in this city was non-professionally cooked at barbeques, tailgates, friends' house, what-have-you.

Posted by Steven at May 5, 2009 1:09 PM

I spent several summers in Port Arthur, staying up drawing, listening to late-night AM broadcasts - one of them was a Percy Sledge show, and it bowled me over. "Out Of Left Field" remains one of my favorite love songs to this day.

Posted by bigbigtruck at May 9, 2009 1:17 PM

That's nuts. i wrote a few things for mcsweeneys in the 2000s. Now we're finally equals.

Posted by PDF fOrmat at May 10, 2009 3:00 AM

@Christina: As a current LSU student (graduating this spring), I've got to ask you: there are restaurants in Baton Rouge? Not that people here don't love them some food, but almost every good meal I've had in this city was non-professionally cooked at barbeques, tailgates, friends' house, what-have-you.

Oh yes! Best sandwiches at AM Mart, Best pizza at DeAngelo's (where I worked in college), best Greek food at Roman's, Ninfa's for Mexican, The Chimes for EVERYTHING, Highland coffee for company, Coffee Call for beignets (although I'm not sure about it now that I hear it's all clean and nice), Louie's for hangover necessities, Brewbachers for hamburgers and onion rings! Great - now I'm hungry! haha!

Posted by Christina at May 14, 2009 5:50 PM

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