Dorothy Moore, the Mississippi songbird whose unforgettably haunting “Misty Blue” was a breath of fresh Southern air in the middle of the disco era, is back. Time Out for Me, the great soul singer’s first release in two years, marks her debut on Volt Records. It’s also the first album to appear on the newly reactivated label, for which such giants as Otis Redding and the Dramatics once recorded.
The twice-Grammy-nominated vocalist had previously recorded in her native Jackson, Mississippi and in Nashville, but Volt producer Fred Pittman succeeded in luring her to California to take Time Out for Me. The finely crafted album utilizes the latest technology, yet is filled with the kind of strong, melodic songs and wholesome earthiness that have been a Dorothy Moore trademark.
Using his usual corps of fine musicians and songwriters (including Harvey Scales of “Disco Lady” fame) and the gifted arranger Felton Pilate (a key player in the highly successful group Con Funk Shun), Pittman has fashioned a glistening showcase for Moore’s deep, instantly distinctive contralto voice, giving her hook-filled melodies and just the right beat for her to dig her Baptist-trained chops into. Among the album’s ballads are her heartfelt readings of Pittman’s “Walk Through This Pain,” Scales’s “I Still Get Turned On,” a Caribbean-flavored cover of Richard Marx’s “Endless Summer Nights,” and the set’s first single, “Can’t Get Over You,” a moving answer to “Misty Blue” that was penned by Volt artist Andre Williams and the producer. And although Moore has been known primarily as a singer of ballads, Time Out for Me offers some serious dance grooves including the sizzling title track and “Whatever You Can Do,” which Moore delivers with all the sass of a Millie Jackson or a Denise LaSalle.
Dorothy Moore has spent all of her life in and around Jackson, Mississippi, where her mother solos with a church choir and her father sings with the Consolators, a local gospel quartet. Raised by her great-grandmother, who’s now living in Los Angeles, Dorothy grew up listening to the music of Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight, and Aretha Franklin and won a talent contest at age 13 delivering Franklin’s “Today I Sing the Blues.”
“I didn’t know what I was singing about then,” she recalls. “I was just a little girl, hadn’t been hurt, didn’t know what the blues was. I used to sing just to the beat, but as you live, you fall in love, you fall outta love, so you know how to approach songs.”
After high school and while majoring in voice, minoring in piano at Jackson State University, Moore formed a vocal trio called the Poppies with friends Petsey McCune and Rosemary Taylor. At first, they performed with a 22-member aggregation called the Mid-South Revue doing covers of current girl-group hits on the Mississippi “Animal House” fraternity circuit. Then their manager, Bob McRee, brought them to the attention of Nashville producer Billy Sherrill, who had scored previous successes with the Staple Singers and was in the process of launching Tammy Wynette into country music orbit. Sherrill saw the Poppies as Music City’s answer to Motown’s Supremes and signed them to Epic Records in 1968, cutting two minor pop chart hits-“Lullaby of Love” and “He’s Ready”-and an album, all of which featured Moore leading in a pitch much higher than the one she used on “Misty Blue” and since. The three waxen toured widely opening shows for the likes of Bobby Goldsboro, the Four Tops, Mary Wells, Joe Tex, B.J. Thomas, and Jim Weatherly.
It was Moore’s flexibility of range and richness of tone that led to her being called to sing backgrounds on countless recording sessions in Jackson and Shreveport during the late Sixties and early Seventies. Among the hits she contributed her harmonies to were “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries” by Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson, “Groove Me” by King Floyd, “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight, “She’s Taken My Part” by Irma Thomas, and “Do You Still Feel the Same Way” by Tommie Young.
“Whenever a star like Jean Knight or King Floyd would come in,” Moore says now, “we were like people looking on. We didn’t go near them because they were bigger than life to us. We were young girls, so we just stood back.”
Most of Moore’s background sessions were done at Malaco Studios in Jackson, which leased its productions to various labels, including Atlantic and Stax, and even cut a couple of uptempo solo singles by Moore that ended up on the Avco and GSF labels (one under the name “Dottie Cambridge”). Malaco eventually decided to get into the business as a label itself but by 1976 was on the verge of bankruptcy. In a last-ditch effort to save itself, the company issued everything it had in the can, including a Dorothy Moore single that had been on the shelf for a year and a half.
“Misty Blue” the first ballad of her singing career, was the B side of her Malaco label debut. Written by one-time Buddy Holly associate Bob Montgomery, it had previously been tried by Eddie Arnold and Joe Simon with limited luck. Malaco producer Tommy Couch suggested it to Moore. “I had never sung country music before,” she recalls, “but I loved it.”
The country loved her heartfelt treatment of “Misty Blue” too. Not only did the number save Malaco and make it a lasting force in the music business, but it took Moore to the top of Billboard’s black chart and number three pop, to television appearances on American Bandstand, Soul Train, Midnight Special, and The Mike Douglas Show, and on tours with the likes of the Commodores, Tyrone Davis, Lou Rawls, the Spinners, and Johnnie Taylor. An international smash, “Misty Blue” has sold over four million copies to date.
Before leaving Malaco in 1980, Moore cut five albums and numerous singles (including “I Believe in You,” which, like “Misty Blue,” was nominated for a Grammy) for the company. She then returned to Nashville to record, waxing the plaintive “What’s Forever For” for the Handshake label in 1982, making the dance charts with the Bob Montgomery-produced “Just Another Broken Heart” for Streetking in 1984, and going back to her gospel roots for Givin’ It Straight to You for Rejoice Records in 1986.
One of the creative peaks of her career, the gospel album went to number 13 on Billboard’s gospel chart. Heavy religious radio airplay of her powerfully emotional readings of Lionel Richie’s “Jesus Is Love” and Brother Joe May’s “What Is This?” led to concerts with such gospel music superstars as Shirley Caesar, the Clark Sisters, Al Green, Tramaine Hawkins, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy.
Without abandoning her deep Christian convictions, Moore has now returned to secular music with Time Out for Me. And she refuses to abandon her native Mississippi, where she currently lives in the country outside Jackson.
“I love it,” she says of Mississippi. “I’m in the business, but I like to leave it when I’m not working. I never have let the business get hold of me. I’ve always had a hold of it. I enjoy life. I have other things I enjoy.”
Moore’s favorite pastime is fishing-on creek banks, at reservoirs, out at sea. “Anywhere in Mississippi,” she says.
Time Out for Me may have taken the girl out of the country, but her California debut for Volt Records didn’t take the deep country soul out of Dorothy Moore.