by Greg Burgess
The big voiced north east based singer had a growing reputation in his home city of Baltimore in the late 60s based on a solid grounding singing in the city's night clubs throughout the decade. The major breakthrough beckoned in 1969 when he had two releases on major labels. Sadly his talent remained unfulfilled commercially and by the mid 70s he had ceased recording.
His initial recording Grape Vine's Talking was for Harold Robinson's Nicetown label out of Philadelphia . Arranger Bobby Martin's use of an organ in the mix adds considerably to a song about betrayal. It represented a fine start to Dotson's career and he quickly developed a growing reputation as an up and coming contender.
He must have believed that his moment in the sun had arrived when the Memphis giants Stax records released arguably his finest soul moment when 'I Wanna Be Good (To You)' was backed with 'I Used To Be A Loser' and issued on the Volt label. Boasting top New York production credentials by Otis Pollard and a high spec arrangement from Richie Adams the record had all the necessary qualities for chart success. Speaking to the New York based magazine 'R & B World' in May 1969 Dotson expressed confidence that his record would sell. He continued 'I would like to be recognized as a successful singer, because this, above all, will bring me to the attention of the public. Then they will have to make a decision if I'm just another soul singer' . Unfortunately the record buying public didn't see it Jimmy's way and the record failed to register on the national charts.
It is likely that the same session with Messrs Pollard and Adams also produced Dotson's sublime cut Heartbreak Avenue leased to another national label Mercury. Once again the exemplary production and arrangement failed to produce a hit record but left a legacy of an astonishingly powerful deep soul record. Dotson inferred in the 'R & B World' article that the record was poorly promoted by the record company. Who knows at this distance but for sure it was a modest seller. This period also saw Dotson establish himself as a lyricist albeit on a modest scale. His name appeared alongside the late Joe Shamwell on a number of 45s with his best known song being 'Covering The Same Old Ground' recorded by Wilson Pickett and released on Atlantic. Thereafter Dotson returned to his role as a journeyman singer and subsequently released a further four records all for small Baltimore labels. His Soul House 45s 'Come On And Save Me' from around 1972 has gained a number of moderate northern soul plays but is arguably his weakest cut.
Dotson's next venture was two 45s for the obscure Aar O Dot. This was essentially a vehicle for his aspirations as a singer songwriter. The first rate Linda has the feel of a high class demo and that is what the Aar O Dot recordings may have been. Once again they demonstrated what a fine big voice Dotson possessed but in truth, 'Linda' aside the low tech production values failed to create much excitement in Baltimore or beyond.
There was to be one final swansong when local promoter Rufus Mitchell issued Dotson’s version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Think Of Me As Your Soldier’ on his Baltimore based Ru-Jac label. There is much to commend in the quality of the vocals and the effectiveness of the femme support but somehow the record fails to inspire. It quickly exited to the remainder racks before most people had heard it.
Dotson's recording career was in abeyance by the late 70s.
This fine singer continued to work the club circuit well into the 1980s before illness forced him to retire. Jimmy Dotson sadly died in May 1991.
As JIMMY DOTSON
Grape Vine's Talking / She Told Me (by little Bill) ~ NICETOWN 5027 (1963/64)
Baby Turn Your Head (I Don't Want You To See Me Cry) / Heartbreak Avenue ~ MERCURY 72801 (1968)
I Wanna Be Good (To You) / I Used To Be A Loser ~ VOLT 4013 (1969)
I’m Riding For A Fall / Come On And Save Me ~ SOUL HOUSE 3629 (1972)
Gone, Gone, Gone / To Be Your Lover ~ AAR O DOT 701 (1972)
Linda / Dreams ~ AAR O DOT 702 (1972/3)
As JIMMY DOTSON - rhythm by INNER LIGHT BAND
Think Of Me As Your Soldier / To Be Your Lover ~ RU-JAC 980 (1973)
~ Notes ~
1. There is another singer of the same name. Jimmy ‘Louisiana’ Dotson was born in Ethel in October 1934. He has issued 45s on a number of southern based labels including: Zynn, Rocko, Home of The Blues and latterly Flyright.
2. Special thanks to Bill Millar for the wonderful pic of Jimmy and the copy of the R & B World article, and to Dickie Tapp and Seamus McGarvey for logistical assistance. Davie Gordon has very kindly written with several corrections to the datings in the discography - I'm always grateful to him for sharing his knowledge. Thanks also to Jeff Beckman who kindly alerted me to an important typo.