Mama Didn't Lie
One of the most infectious little soul tunes you'll ever hear was unleashed on the world at large as the year 1962 was coming to an end. Addie Bradley, a young woman determined to make it as a singer, had been working toward this goal for several years, and using the name Jan Bradley she made it happen, with the help of one of the Windy City's most talented performer-producers, Curtis Mayfield, and a song he'd written, "Mama Didn't Lie."
She grew up in the Chicago suburb of Robbins but was born in rural Byhalia, Mississippi on July 6, 1943. Addie discovered, around age six when her family moved to Illinois, that she had a knack for singing (a little later she extended her interests to following pro football games). Attending Blue Island Community High at age 15, she and four boys sang in a Chicago-area talent show as the Passions (apparently they weren't familiar with the 1959 hit "Just to Be With You" or New York group The Passions, who recorded the song). Former construction company owner Don Talty (who'd been Philip Upchurch's manager when he scored the 1961 instrumental hit "You Can't Sit Down") caught the act and felt Addie, in particular, had potential. Still, she had a couple of years of high school left and her parents insisted she graduate. Talty suggested that in the meantime she study dancing and modeling, in additon to singing. He became her manager in 1962.
Addie (by this time calling herself Jan) caught a lucky break when Upchurch introduced Talty to his friend Mayfield, fast becoming a major player on the Chicago music scene as the well-received lead singer of The Impressions and songwriting collaborator with ex-Impressions vocalist Jerry Butler (Curtis can be heard on some of Jerry's biggest solo hits, including "He Will Break Your Heart"). Mayfield's first impression of Jan was very positive; he felt she had a combination of qualities, in particular an innocent sound he termed an appealing "certain something" that would translate well on record. He wrote her first single, "We Girls," released on the Formal label (its owner, Angelo Giardini, had a Chicago-area clothing shop specializing in formal wear, thus the name). The song received a little airplay on Chicago stations in the spring of '62.
That innocence Mayfield heard in her voice was on display in one of the songwriter's best, if not most important, compositions, "Mama Didn't Lie," Jan's late-1962 single on Formal. His words clearly represented a young female point of view, delivered by Jan in a way that a high school girl might remonstrate to her friends with whom she's attempting to seem worldly: "...the greatest pastime in this man's world, is playing tricks on every young girl...to have one is how they get their kicks, but not me because I know their tricks..." Her soprano contrasted the record's heavy bass line supplied by session player Freddy Young and the result was magic. The song was played on Chicago radio at the end of '62, though the hometown stations sold her short, dropping the record just as it had been picked up for national release by Chess. It became a much bigger hit nationwide in the first few months of the new year, hitting the top 20 on the pop charts and top ten R&B while fending off a competing version by girl group The Fascinations, produced by Eddie Thomas...and Curtis Mayfield!...for ABC-Paramount.
This second version had come about after Mayfield found himself in a legal dispute with Chess about his publishing rights. They had secured Bradley's contract as an artist and blocked from working with her; not a great move, as her next few singles (including Mayfield's "Behind the Curtains," which Talty put out locally on a label called Night Owl), went nowhere. She began writing her own music during this time and appeared on the charts again, after a full two-year wait. "I'm Over You," cowritten with Talty, continued the "suspicious-of-men" theme ("...if I give an inch, he wants to take a mile!") and reached the pop and R&B charts in early 1965. It fell way short when compared to "Mama Didn't Lie" but has a unique appeal, different in texture from the other hit, with an identifiable mid-'60s Chicago soul arrangement. I've listened to the song three times in the last month, and I'm ready to go for four.
Leonard Chess and company didn't exactly bend over backwards to promote Bradley as an artist, usually issuing only two singles per year. The youthful sweetness of Jan's voice was still intact at age 24 on her final Chess single, "You Gave Me What's Missing," produced by another hot Chi-Town music-maker, Carl Davis, in 1968. After Chess let her go, Talty continued as her manager and she recorded for a few small, oddball labels. In the early 1970s she got married, had children and later became a social worker. As far as I know, Jan Bradley has never performed on the oldies circuit, which actually makes me kinda mad, 'cause I wanna go out and see her sing!