BMHOF Class of 2005
Venetta Fields is an American singer
best known as a session musician for leading rock and pop acts
of the 1970s including Pink Floyd, Barbara Streisand, The Rolling
Stones and many, many others. Since 1982 she has lived in
Born in Buffalo, New York, into a
religious family, Fields' early musical training came through
regular gospel performances at church, and also inspiration from
US singer Aretha Franklin. Her singing career officially began
with The Templaires, a group she formed with members of her
church, followed by The Corinthian Gospel Singers. In late 1961
Ike and Tina Turner Revue were playing in Buffalo and Fields
heard there was an opening for a new member of Tina's backing
vocalists The Ikettes. With a successful audition Fields joined
immediately. In addition to backing Tina in performance and on
recordings, Venetta recorded on many singles by The Ikettes
(including "Peaches and Cream") and was given some solo songs on
live recordings. Ike moved his base to Los Angeles and in 1966
Venetta left the revue, along with fellow Ikettes Jessie Smith
and Robbie Montgomery. The trio signed to Mirwood Records and
they became The Mirettes from 1966-1970. Ike hired some new
From about 1969, along with fellow
vocalists Clydie King and Sherlie Matthews, Fields quickly
became one of the most sought-after backing singers in the US,
working with artists including Diana Ross, Steely Dan, Joe
Cocker, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan,
The Supremes, Neil Diamond, Bob Seger, Tim Buckley, Paul
Butterfield, Leonard Cohen and also with Aretha Franklin; her
mentor and inspiration. Notable performances during this time
included the Dark Side of the Moon Tour with Pink Floyd, and
recording the Rolling Stones' album Exile on Main St.
In about 1971 Venetta, Clydie and
Sherlie formed The Blackberries, with Sherlie as
producer/songwriter as well as vocalist. In 1972 Steve Marriott
asked them to record and tour with UK hard rock band Humble Pie,
and produced an unreleased Blackberries LP with Humble Pie as
the backing band. The Blackberries and Humble Pie parted company
Fields and King appeared as Barbara
Streisand's backing singers (The Oreos) in the 1976 film A Star
Following a tour to Australia in the
late 1970s with Boz Scaggs, Fields decided to relocate
permanently in 1982. In the years that followed, she continued
to work with US artists when they toured Australia including
George Benson, Dionne Warwick, Barbara Streisand, Thelma Houston
and Randy Crawford, and also with leading Australian artists,
including Richard Clapton, Australian Crawl, Jimmy Barnes, James
Morrison and, most famously, with John Farnham. Fields formed a
new group in Melbourne in mid '80s, Venetta's Taxi, which
performed regularly as backing for local and touring artists.
It was in Australia that Fields made her
theatre debut; starring as Alice in Big River. Receiving rave
reviews for this performance, she soon became increasingly
involved in music theatre. Productions in which Fields has
appeared to date include Blues in the Night, Chess (concert
version), two plays for the Melbourne Theatre Company - The
Crucible and The Racing Demon - and as Ruby in Buddy The Musical
(The Buddy Holly Story). During this time she also formed and
toured her own show, Gospel Jubilee.
Currently residing on the Gold Coast in
Queensland, Fields is still active as a singer and songwriter.
In 2002, she received the Australian Gospel Singer of the Year
award, and recently released her latest album, At Last. Fields
is also active as a vocal coach, with several students including
2005 Australian Idol winner Kate DeAraugo.
THE BLACKBERRIES & HUMBLE PIE
Venetta was the spark that led to the
Blackberries joining Humble Pie. Steve was a huge fan of her
deep velvet voice and outstanding vocal ability - and his desire
was to go get Venetta when he first thought about adding girl
singers to the band.
Venetta says "I went to a clairvoyant
this particular Monday in 1972, and she told me that on Thursday
I would get a phone call that would change my life. On Thursday
Dee Anthony, who was Humble Pie's Manager, called from New York,
and said that this little tiny man called Steve Marriott had
been listening to my work for a very long time, and wanted me to
get two other girls and come to London and record their latest
album. I was so surprised, because I had never heard of them.
We went to London, and were living in an
apartment. Later, after we arrived, Steve knocked on the door,
we let him in, he walked straight to my chair, fell on his knees
and kissed my hand. I was shocked, but blushingly so!
We started recording in a few days and
found that we got along great with all the boys, and especially
Steve. He and I had a very deep loving relationship. I was like
his sister. He took very good care of us.
The recording went so well he asked us
to tour the States with him. That was when I found out how
popular they were! I was truly impressed. I had toured with a
few artists at that time - but never as popular as this"
Venetta was born in Buffalo, New York,
where, to come right up to date, in 2005 she gained rightful
recognition through her induction into the Buffalo Music Hall of
But way back then, in her early years,
she began singing in church with her mother and with her uncle
the Reverend Henry Newkirk. Her initial music career began as a
gospel singer - in many local groups as well as church choirs.
Probably, the most prominent of these early groups were The
Templaires and the Corinthian Gospel Singers.
Venetta was a beautician by trade, after
high school, although she says "I didn't have the magic in my
hands to create styles". By chance, though, while working in a
local beauty salon, a DJ came in to put a poster on the window,
and left a couple of passes to the Ike and Tina Turner concert
playing at the ice rink nearby.
He had heard that Ike had a vacancy in
the Ikettes, and he was thinking about one of Venetta's friends.
The friend was unavailable - so Venetta
asked if she could audition instead. Lo and behold, Ike gave her
the cab fare home to grab her clothes and join the tour!
The ride lasted for five years, from
late 1961 until 1966, during which time Venetta was able to
nurture her remarkable singing talent, and hone it on the road
with one of the best live acts around, as she became an integral
part of the Ike and Tina Revue.
"I was an Ikette for five years. It was
a rough job, but it was a very good experience. It's just like a
school. You go from grade 1 to 2, not from 1 to 8. And when you
graduate you have to leave. There is such a thing as staying too
long; when you start getting stagnant and stifled by what you're
doing. We almost stayed too long"
Now most people when asked about the
Ikettes, would think about them as Ike and Tina's backing group.
But these girls recorded a lot of classic material without Ike
and Tina - to the extent that hard core soul fans consider them
one of the Top 10 RnB groups of all time !
The Ikettes started life as The Artettes,
who were Robbie Montgomery, Frances Hodges and Sandra Harding,
and who were backing Art Lassiter. When, one day, Art failed to
turn up to record a song that Ike had written with him in mind,
Tina Turner went up to sing with the Artettes, and a whole new
sound was born ! The girls were now named the Ikettes - and they
had a hit record to nurture.
Robbie went away for a spell during
pregnancy, but she rejoined the revue, and along with Jessie
Smith, and then a year later with Venetta Fields - the line-up
settled down and became as stable as it ever would, for a few
The Ikettes had already, pre-Venetta,
recorded a few singles for ATCO, with the aforementioned "I'm
Blue" becoming a sizeable hit.
However, Venetta's first real recording
successes in her career came when The Ikettes signed in 1964 to
a six record stint on Modern records , and then released "The
Camel Walk" in 1965. There followed a big hit with "Peaches and
Cream" and then "I'm So Thankful" later in the year. PP Arnold
is rumored to be involved in the latter single - and is
certainly on the cover of that year's album along with Venetta
and Robbie. Three further singles, including "He's going to be
Fine, Fine Fine" didn't do so well.
Ike was extremely volatile. He didn't
pay them much. They certainly didn't see any royalties. In fact,
when "Peaches and cream" was a hit, he sent a different group on
the road as The Ikettes and kept Venetta and the originals with
his revue !
After one too many volatile incidents,
Venetta and the other Ikettes left Ike. "Finally, We just left
as a group. We thought it would give us more power, and it did"
THE IKETTES - FINE FINE FINE
Buying this CD was one of the smartest
things I've done recently, and one of the biggest musical
surprises I've had in a long long time.
The CD basically falls into three
- Sixteen tracks from the classic mid
sixties period, including all the singles
- Two tracks taken live from the Ike and
Tina Revue, one featuring Robbie Montgomery on lead, and one
- Six studio tracks, featuring Dolores
Johnson on one and Venetta featuring lead on five
The sixteen tracks have dated well. They
are clearly sixties period, but have transcended the years well,
and really showcase what a class act the Ikettes were ! The
Ikettes are a heady mixture. Take a good straightforward RnB
band, and mix with a typical 60's girl group sound - and you've
got the base. Add good songs, and some great voices. Then throw
in a little pinch of Motown, and a liberal sprinkling of Ray
Charles feel, with horns and keyboards, and you're nearly there.
Add some 6/8 and other intricate rhythms, with perhaps the odd
nod to Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and even the doo wop groups and
you get the Ikettes.
Their biggest hit "Peaches and Cream" is
pure RnB. "He's Going to be Fine Fine Fine" is RNB mixed with
catchy pop. The other singles come across well - and their album
tracks of the period are good.
Secondly - the live material. Robbie
Montgomery leading from the front of the Ike and Tina Revue on
"I Love the Way You Love" is great - but when Venetta Fields
comes up on "The Love of my Man", magic descends - yes it's that
good. I can now firmly see where Steve Marriott was coming from
- where the idea of the Blackberries joining Humble Pie came
from - where his vision of a live Revue was coming from.
And what a bonus the five studio tracks
are of Venetta leading the Ikettes - absolutely spectacular.
There is no doubt that Venetta could have been a successful solo
artist - a diva in her own right !
In fact, two of these are the two sides
of an old 1963 single, You're Still My Baby / I'm Leaving You,
released as Venetta Fields with the Ike Turner Band and they are
just phenomenal !
This CD is a great, great summary of the
Ikettes at their peak
THE IKETTES - I'M BLUE
This CD, on Krypton label, and allegedly
from Italy, must rank as the most amateur looking "official
release" CD I've ever seen. The packaging is appalling.
However, this is rectified by some very
fine music. The 18 tracks pull together most of the early 60's
Ikettes material (largely without Venetta) and some late 60's
and early 70's material, again without Venetta.
Our girl appears here on very few of the
tracks. The highlights are the irrepressible Gong Gong song -
officially titled "I'm Blue", which is commercial RnB at its
best. A hit in 1962
"Down Down" is a mid sixties "B" side
with spoken verses. But it works well. Very slow, deep voices
and organ backing, building up to the introduction of a brass
section. Very nice !
And "So Fine" comes from 1968, when
Venetta had moved on, with great voices over an acoustic guitar
riff, and with plenty of "Oh Lordy's", before leading again into
a brass section.
The real value of this CD is that it
complements the above "Fine Fine Fine" CD beautifully -
providing the earlier and much later Ikettes material, and
staying away from the "Fine Fine Fine" classic period.
When she left the Ikettes, Venetta
wanted to live in LA. Ike and Tina had moved their base there a
couple years previously. This was also the centre of the music
industry, and, having now found her musical feet, within a
couple of years it allowed her to pursue her wish of becoming a
studio session singer.
They left the Ike and Tina Revue along
with Tina's sister Alline Bullock as Manager and signed to
legendary LA soul label Mirwood - who got the headache of Ike
refusing to let them use the name Ikettes.
They became The Mirettes,(Ike Turner -
Ikettes, Mirwood Records - Mirettes ) and they recorded at
Mirwood during 1966 and 1967. The basic line-up was Venetta,
Jessie Smith and Robbie Montgomery - who, remember, went all the
way back to when the group were originally called The Artettes.
Delores Johnson joined, and increased credibility, as she was
the original Ikettes lead singer.
The Mirwood Records name was a
shortening of 'Mira Wood', the young daughter of owner and ex
Vee Jay Records President Randy Woods. They had their offices on
Sunset Strip, and they were to be very influential in the
origins of the Blackberries. But more of that later.
Meantime, Ike didn't miss a beat - and
he released a single on Phil Spector's Phi-Dan label, with a
rumored Ikettes line-up of PP Arnold, Brenda Holloway and
Over the next few years, there were
sporadic releases of singles and albums on Innis Records,
Pompeii Records and United Artists under the banner of The
Ikettes - but the classic years were now long gone - and more
importantly, Venetta and Robbie were now gone.
Venetta, as mentioned above, had moved
to Mirwood, and The Ikettes now recorded as The Mirettes. And
while Motown and Stax are the cornerstone of the soul sound,
arguably there's no Northern Soul without Mirwood. It is the
label of choice for most Northern Soul fans.
Here Venetta rubbed shoulders with
singer/songwriter/producer Sherlie Matthews - who was one of the
real driving forces at Mirwood. She recorded not only The
Mirettes, but a number of the label's other artists, and she
produced many soul classics along the way, including several of
her own songs.
The Mirettes didn't have chart success
at Mirwood, despite making some great tracks, such as "He's
Alright With Me", "Your Kind Ain't no Good" and the Sherlie
Matthews penned and produced "Now that I Found You Baby".
The group moved on next to Revue Records
and then to Minit Records in 1968, and later to Uni Records and
ZEA. A number of singles were released on these labels, with
some level of success. "First Love" was released on Revue. Then
they had a Top 20 RnB hit and a reasonable pop hit with "In the
Midnight Hour". An album of the same name followed.
Later the "Help Wanted" 7" was released
on Minit Records, before an album called "Whirlpool" on Uni, and
a single "Ain't You Trying to Cross Over".
The last single, however, on Zea in 1970
was noteworthy, certainly in pointing the way forward.
"Ain't My Stuff Good Enough", which was
written by Sherlie Matthews, was released - and within a year it
would also appear on Clydie King's first solo album - with
backing vocals from Venetta and Sherlie!
The destiny between these three ladies
was slowly but surely forming!
THE MIRETTES - SINGLES
Now That I Found You Baby (Mirwood) * *
Written by Sherlie Matthews, and strangely reminiscent of PP
Arnold on Immediate. This is good, but The Mirettes struggle a
bit to find the heights of The Ikettes classic material
Your Kind Ain't no Good (Mirwood) * * *
nice mid-paced funk track. The girls try to elevate it above the
ordinary, but it's a pretty average song
Ain't You Trying to Cross Over (Uni) * *
Nice song, but this single comes across with a thin sound - not
particularly well recorded. It is all round pleasant - nice
voices and harmonies, around a hook of "Ain't you trying to
cross over - before we get to the bridge"
"Say young fellow, let me catch my breath cos we only met a
Heart Full of Gladness (Uni) * * *
This is a bit of a soul shouter over a (pretty thin) horn riff.
"Funny how a thing like love washes out the pain bleaches out
the darker part sweeps it down the drain"
Ain't My Stuff Good Enough (ZEA Records)
* * * *
Again Sherlie Matthews penned, a few of the Mirettes/Matthews
tracks, like this one, feature a quirky kind of intro. This
track here is almost a classic single. Not as good as the Clydie
King version recorded a year later, but it features a lush full
production, with strings and harps, and a great sax with backing
vocals break. Deserved to be a hit.
The Time and the Season (ZEA Records) *
A curious "b" side. A slower song, with good vocals, perhaps
spoiled by overproduction, with harps and organ. Then half way
through it breaks into the standard Mirwood / northern soul fast
paced beat, with additional male vocals, before changing again
towards the end.
THE MIRETTES ALBUM - IN THE
Now you're talking ! This is the real
showcase for The Mirettes. The album is a consistent top
standard throughout, with little dollops of brilliance
The sound is still a little bit thin -
this would be a great project for someone nowadays to remaster
and really bring it back to life - as all the basics are there -
good songs, good performance....and the bass player here
(whoever it is) is absolutely fantastic.
The album gets off to a very good start
with the single "Take me for a Little While", which is quite
poppy, and it's "B" side "The Real Thing", a big production
"I'm a Whole New Thing" is another "B"
side, and it's absolutely great. Up tempo RnB, with fabulous
"On the Good Ship Lollipo" is just the
laziest funky track you'll ever hear, and it really hits the
mark, while "Somewhere" from West Side Story closes out Side 1
in classic style.
It's tempting to say that Side 2 can't
be as good as this - but a very fast "Keep on Running" is an
excellent start, with great twin saxophones. "First Love" is
another single - a power ballad from Venetta, while "Tweedle
Dee" and "To Love Somebody" build up in great style to
(possibly) the best track "in the Midnight Hour"
The Mirettes had their highs,
particularly with the above "in the Midnight Hour" LP, but
ultimately they didn't really reach their potential. Lack of
interest from their record companies didn't help. Lack of
promotion sure didn't help ! And as the Mirettes' career
dwindled and wound down, Venetta, was now keen to do pursue
session singing as a necessity.
She had now begun to move more in that
direction. 1970 was a pivotal year, in which Venetta contributed
to albums by artists such as Great Jones, Ron Davies and Jackie
de Shannon. She really started to make her mark - more often
than not, singing with another stalwart of the session singers,
The two of them were on their way to
becoming the pre-eminent female backing singers for the music
They would go on to record together with Tim Buckley, Steely
Dan, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, The Doors and Dusty
Springfield, among many others. Before too long, at the end of
1971 in fact, there was a huge highlight in working on "Exile on
Main Street" with the Rolling Stones - an album still considered
today to be the Stones' best.
Venetta probably first worked with
Clydie during the Mirwood years. Sherlie Matthews used to be
responsible for contracting the backing singers at Mirwood, and
the ones she used most (with herself) were Brenda and Patrice
Holloway, Gloria Jones, Clydie King and Venetta.
Certainly they were both working out of
MINIT records in 1968 - Venetta with The Mirettes, and Clydie
releasing solo records.
They both probably also worked together on the "Sisters Love"
project at A&M in 1969, although neither of them became
permanent members. The A&M archives suggest this.