Fifty-seven years ago, Little Anthony and his group were in a New York studio, trying to cut their f


Little Anthony (and his band, The Imperials) was inducted into the Rock and roll Hall of Fame in 2009. He collaborated with Arlene Krieger on a new memoir.

(Photo: Courtesy Reviver Records)

Fifty-seven years ago, Little Anthony and his group were in a New York studio, trying to cut their first single. They’d struggled through four or five takes but hadn’t quite hit the bull’s-eye.

During a recent interview in Nashville, the singer recalled the scene: “George Gouldner, who was the president of End Records, said, ‘Anthony’—he was talking to me from the booth—‘why don’t you sing like you talk?’ And then he said, ‘Who’s your favorite singer?’ I said, ‘Well, I love Nat Cole.’ George said, ‘The way Nat Cole sings, the way he enunciates everything perfectly? I want you to try that.’ So I thought for a second and said, ‘OK.’”

At this point in the interview, Jerome Anthony Gourdine, a.k.a. Little Anthony, closes his eyes and sings with clipped articulation in that instantly recognizable high tenor, “You don’t remember me, but I remember you.” Then he leans back, smiling broadly. “And that was when I became me.”

That lyric was the first line from “Tears On My Pillow,” the song that launched Little Anthony & The Imperials. On that single and subsequent hits that included “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” “Hurt So Bad,” “Take Me Back” and “Better Use Your Head,” they combined sophisticated arrangements and raw, emotional lead vocals into a formula for sure-fire success in the r&b field.

The group’s long and sometimes turbulent career is recounted in Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny, an as-told-to memoir assembled by the singer and author Arlene Krieger, available now from Mascot Books.

Anthony also recently celebrated his signing to Nashville’s Reviver Records by releasing “Electric Together,” a funky-strut jam with guitarist/singer George Benson.

The singer and the jazz guitarist clicked. “I knew [Benson] when he was a young dude out of Pittsburgh,” Anthony says. “We’ve always had a mutual admiration kind of thing. He always said, ‘Man, I’d love to do something with you.’ But we didn’t think it would happen until I signed to Reviver Records. So when Mr. Preston Glass, the producer, introduced the song to me, I called George. He was in the airport, on his way to Russia. And I said, ‘Hey, man, let’s do this.’ It was as simple as that.”

The groove of “Electric Together” sits on a won’t-quit backbeat, with Anthony and Benson singing together and the guitarist stretching out a bit, too. It doesn’t harken back much to the aching romanticism of Anthony’s earliest records, but like his classic hits, his singing does reflect influences that run deeper than r&b, particularly gospel and jazz.

“My dad was a jazz musician,” Anthony recalls, looking back to his boyhood in Brooklyn. “He used to play with Buddy Johnson’s orchestra. He dragged me around to his gigs at the Savoy. I met Duke Ellington there. Later I met Count Basie. One day he played me this thing by Illinois Jacquet; he was hitting some stuff on the alto sax that totally fascinated me. I was going, ‘What is that?’ The next thing I know, I was listening to Dizzy Gillespie. I started hanging out at the Village Gate. I saw Thelonious Monk play there, and Mongo Santamaria and John Coltrane, with Alice Coltrane on piano. Man, could she play. I was 16 or 17 years old, sneaking in, but nobody asked me any questions.”

Inevitably, Anthony started listening to jazz singers and adapting what they did to his emerging style. “Little Jimmy Scott was like my big brother,” he says. “‘Honey’ advised me because we both had high voices. Nancy Wilson told me that Jimmy influenced her, too. We were all trying to do what he did. One thing he was doing, he was able to hold his notes with no vibrato, although he was such a technician that when he needed to [sing with vibrato], he would go in.”

Nat “King” Cole also impacted Anthony’s approach. “His diction, his enunciation, was so perfect. I never met Mr. Nat Cole, but I met his ex-road manager, who told me all kinds of stories about how he tried to get him to stop smoking so much. And I met his daughters. I said to Natalie, ‘I always wanted to meet your dad, but it just didn’t work out. And she said, ‘No, you didn’t meet my dad—but my sisters love you.”

Anthony chuckles and offers his hand for a quick high-five. “But Frank Sinatra was the greatest technician with lyrics,” he continues. “I learned so much from him. If you listen to ‘I’m On The Outside Looking In,’ ‘Goin’ Out Of My Head’ and ‘Hurts So Bad,’ it’s because [songwriter] Teddy Randazzo was going through a rough time. Teddy told me, ‘Man, you’re going to be my voice.’ He didn’t instruct me. I just knew the pain he was going through because I’d known him for so many years. When I sang, ‘Well, I think I’m goin’ out of my head,’ it transformed into me. My emotions got involved. That’s what Sinatra did. He took every note and personalized it. Why? Well, look at the life he lived. That’s how it is with every performing artist. We’re like shooting stars; each one of us leaves our legacy.”

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