01 - Wishing Well
02 - Suicide Sal
03 - I Was in Chains
04 - If You Don't Know
05 - What You Got
06 - In My Life
07 - Comin' on Strong
08 - Hold On
09 - I Saw Him Standing There
10 - It's Been So Long
Who was Suicide Sal? Well, there lies a mystery only Maggie Bell can solve. Both are legendary characters, but we know a lot more about Maggie, the Scots' Queen of the Blues. She was undoubtedly one of the greatest blues and soul singers of the rock era, blessed with a powerhouse voice that made fans go weak at the knees. However, Suicide Sal really existed, was famous in her own day and, as it turns out, had a strong family connection with Ms. Bell.
Once the star of Stone The Crows, that excellent hard rock band from the early seventies, Maggie was in the throes of building up her solo career when she unleashed this album back in 1975. It followed on the heels of her debut 'Queen Of The Night' (1974). Both albums were put together by Jerry Wexler, a top US producer who had worked with Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. It was Wexler who gave Maggie the kind of encouragement and advice that she needed after two previous projects with other producers had failed to work out. In truth, it wasn't always easy for a girl to break through the rock 'n' roll barriers in the Seventies. There weren't so many female artists around, and very few Scots girls singing the blues.
When Maggie arrived in America and toured the Deep South she actually had to sing behind a screen before black audiences would accept her. But once they'd heard her voice and she stepped out from behind the screen, they cracked up and gave her the warmest of Southern welcomes!
Maggie Bell was born in Glasgow (January 12, 1945) and came from a musical family. As a teenager she sang with local dance bands, then went to Germany in the mid-sixties to sing at US Air Force bases. Returning to Scotland. She and guitarist Leslie Harvey formed a new group called Power, which later became Stone The Crows. They were managed by Mark London and Peter Grant, the man behind Led Zeppelin. After Leslie was accidentally electrocuted on stage during a sound check in 1972, the heart went out of the group. They worked for a while with fellow Scots guitarist .Jimmy McCulloch, but broke up after a year. Grant and London then offered to help Maggie make a solo album. She subsequently recorded two for Atlantic in New York, one with producer Felix Pappalardi of the group Mountain, and the other with Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals. Both LP's were sadly never released.
Maggie is frank about the reasons: "The record company said they weren't good enough. I was quite upset about that! To this day I believe it was wonderful stuff. I think it was down to a load of politics."
At this point Jerry Wexler stepped in. He told Atlantic: "She can sing. I'd like to take over and see if I can make an album with her And if you don't like it you can burn the tapes!" Wexler and Bell sat down together and listened to over two hundred songs in the search for material. After they had done their homework, and Maggie had dutifully learned the lyrics of the chosen songs, they put a band of studio top class musicians together The result was 'Queen Of the Night', which earned rave reviews. "It was wonderful," recalls Maggie. 'Bette Midler said it was the best solo album from a female artist she'd ever heard, and it got great notices in the American magazines. There was even an article about me in Time Magazine! The record got to Number Ten in the charts and it did really well."
Maggie put a touring band on the road and remembers some nerve-wracking dates with Earth, Wind & Fire in the Deep South, when the spectacular group were at the height of their fame. "I had to open the show and the audiences were all sitting there with their mouths hanging open and doing nuthin'." This was when she hit on the idea of asking her road manager to make a wooden screen. "I told him that I wanted to sing the first song behind the screen and then come on stage in full view, just to see what the response was like. Well the response was unbelievable! You see, at first they couldn't accept a white woman from Scotland singing the blues. Scotland? Where's Scotland - is that near Alaska?' But we used the screen and then it was OK - ha, ha!" Maggie Bell toured Germany in 1975 to promote 'Queen Of The Night' and the response was so good she was encouraged to record her second excellent album, 'Suicide Sal'. "We recorded it at Ringo Starr's studio at Tittenhurst Park in England, which had once been John Lennon's home. It's where they filmed John and Yoko for 'Imagine'. It was a beautiful house with incredible gardens. It now belongs to a rich Sheik. It had a great atmosphere. We all stayed there in these little cottages, and of course Ringo and his wife Maureen, who has since died, made us feel part of the family. They were wonderful people. It was also a great studio to work in and you could go in at anytime of the day or night and there were no restrictions abut noise or parking."
The title song 'Suicide Sal' was written by Maggie with a little help from her friends, including Mark London, Mike Clifford and Chris Trentgrove. She explains: " Suicide Sal' was actually my aunt, who was a music hall queen up in Scotland. She was very famous. That was her nickname of course. Her real name was Doris Droy, who was my father's sister But up in Glasgow everyone called her 'Suicide Sal - she's everybody's pal'. In a way she was an outcast because she came from a church-going family, and for a woman to he on the stage in those days was very risky. God bless her soul, I think the furthest she ever got in the world was up to Inverness and back!" Although Maggie felt at home at Ringo's studio, it proved was much harder to get good songs in England than was the case in America. However, she mixed songs by her favourite artists together with some items by well-respected fellow musicians and created an appealing blend of moods. The first cut, Paul Rodgers' 'Wishing Well', certainly got the album off to a flying start. Maggie: "I've always loved Free and that song in particular, so I was keen my do my own version. The next track, 'I Was In Chains', was written by the Sutherland Brothers, It's a nice Scottish theme with bagpipes and stuff.
'If You Don't Know' was by Pete Wingfield, who was a great keyboard player. He had a hit with a song called 'Eighteen With A Bullet' in 1975. "He came on the road with me for a while and he wrote this one for me." Although Ringo didn't sit in on drums at the recording sessions as one might expect, Maggie did have one distinguished guest on her album: Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin chipped in on 'If You Don't Know.' "I asked Jimmy which song he'd like to play on one number, and he picked that one and he played a wonderful solo." Next came the hard rocking 'What You Got' and the Leo Sayer and Dave Courtney ballad 'In My Life'. Sayer was one of Maggie's favourites and she felt the lyrics could apply to anybody, but particularly those in the music business. 'Comin' On Strong' was supplied by her ex-drummer Colin Allen and bandleader Zoot Money. "They had a little songwriting thing going together and it was hard for them to get anyone to record their stuff. Well, I heard this song and thought I could record it and sing it on stage." Maggie covered another Free song, 'Hold On', by Simon Kirke and Paul Kossoff, and then came up with her special interpretation of Lennon & McCartney's 'I Saw I Him Standing There', suitably re-titled. "I used to do a great version of that on stage' with Pete Wingfield. I thought it was just as good as Joe Cocker's 'With A Little Help From My Friends'".
The last item, It's Been So Long', was contributed by Phil May of The Pretty Things. They had done it on their 'Silk Torpedo' album and Maggie thought it was ideal for her to cover. "Phil changed a few of the lyrics for me, and I did my version with Phil doing some of the vocal backings". The album sold well, but it did much better in America and Germany than in Britain. Maggie believes this was due to a case of UK audiences finding it harder to accept her away from Stone The Crows. "No matter who you are, if you split away from a band, people have divided loyalties. Some fans don't like you to do solo albums. But it did okay and I did a lot of tours to promote 'Suicide Sal.' So I can't complain!".
Maggie Bell now lives in Holland, remains very active, and is still singing and touring. But her happiest memories are of the crazy seventies when she'd be cruising the skies of America in luxury jetliners alongside her mates in Led Zeppelin. 'They were great days and we were all very lucky to have lived through them!'