Fontella Bass, a church choir singer in St. Louis who recorded as a soul singer for Chess Records and had a hit with "Rescue Me" in 1965, died Wednesday at age 72 in her hometown. She suffered a heart attack three weeks ago. "Rescue Me" was sometimes called the most famous song that Aretha Franklin didn't sing. From the Associated Press story on Bass:
Her interest turned from gospel to R&B when she was a teenager and she began her professional career at the Showboat Club in north St. Louis at age 17. She eventually auditioned for Chess Records and landed a recording contract, first as a duet artist. Her duet with Bobby McClure, "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing," reached No. 5 on the R&B charts and No. 33 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1965.
She co-wrote and later that year recorded "Rescue Me," reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart. Bass' powerful voice bore a striking resemblance to that of Aretha Franklin, who often is misidentified as the singer of that chart-topping hit.
Bass had a few other modest hits but by her own accounts developed a reputation as a troublemaker because she demanded more artistic control, and more money for her songs. She haggled over royalty rights to "Rescue Me" for years before reaching a settlement in the late 1980s, Mitchell said. She sued American Express over the use of "Rescue Me" in a commercial, settling for an undisclosed amount in 1993.
"Rescue Me" has been covered by many top artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Melissa Manchester and Pat Benatar. Franklin eventually sang a form of it too — as "Deliver Me" in a Pizza Hut TV ad in 1991.
Bass' 1995 gospel album, "No Ways Tired," earned a Grammy nomination.
In the video below, Bass lip-synchs "Rescue Me" on the Oct. 30, 1965 "Hollywood a Go Go" amid the rhythmic stylings of the short-lived KHJ show's Gazzarri Dancers. Who can spot the long-ago Gazzarri Dancer in Gary Leonard's King Eddy Saloon photo for LA Observed today?