Sad news, "Fortune Teller", what a legacy to leave. Rest In Peace.
Benny Spellman, the vocalist whose double-sided recording of "Fortune Teller" and "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)" is an enduring classic of New Orleans rhythm & blues, died Friday in Florida after a long illness. He was 79.
Mr. Spellman was born in Pensacola, Fla. He attended Southern University in Baton Rouge on a football scholarship; at Southern, he also began singing.
Back in Pensacola in 1959, Mr. Spellman encountered New Orleans R&B band Huey Smith & the Clowns. The band's vehicle had broken down; Mr. Spellman offered to drive them back to New Orleans. He elected to remain there after falling in with the burgeoning rhythm & blues community centered around the Dew Drop Inn.
He became one of the many artists to give voice to producer/songwriter Allen Toussaint's voluminous 1960s output. In 1962, Minit Records released a 45 rpm single with Mr. Spellman singing "Lipstick Traces" on the A-side and "Fortune Teller" on the B-side. Both songs were written by Toussaint under the pseudonym "Naomi Neville."
"Lipstick Traces," with Irma Thomas on backing vocals, proved to be Mr. Spellman's most significant national hit, reaching No. 28 on Billboard's R&B chart. He also contributed backing vocals to Ernie K-Doe's smash recording of another Toussaint song, "Mother-in-Law."
Given his limited national exposure, Mr. Spellman worked the Gulf Coast and local circuit, performing at parties, dances and whatever gigs came up.
"I wasn't making that big money like K-Doe," Mr. Spellman once said. "I'd play three gigs (in one night) to make more money."
Indicative of the enduring nature of his recordings, many artists would later cover songs originally recorded by Mr. Spellman. The O'Jays, Ringo Starr and Alex Chilton all later did "Lipstick Traces."
The Rolling Stones and The Who each did versions of "Fortune Teller." "Raising Sand," the Grammy-winning, million-selling 2007 collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, contained a spooky version of "Fortune Teller."
After the market for New Orleans rhythm & blues dried up in the late 1960s, Mr. Spellman largely retired from the music business. He worked for many years at a beer distributorship.
He suffered a stroke some years ago and was unable to attend an August 2009 ceremony at Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge inducting him into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. At the time, he resided in an assisted living facility in Pensacola.
Instead, "Deacon" John Moore and Hall of Fame president Mike Shepherd traveled to Pensacola and personally presented Mr. Spellman with the plaque noting his induction.
"Thank you Lord. After all these years, I finally made it," Mr. Spellman says in a video of the presentation. "I waited a long time for ya'll to elect me to the Hall of Fame. I'm still living; all them other cats are gone. I don't want to be honored when I'm dead. I want to be honored when I can still move."
Survivors include a daughter, Judy Spellman. A funeral is scheduled for June 10 at the St. Joseph Catholic Church, 140 West Government Street in Pensacola, Fla.