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  1. #1

    Jessie Smith Lucas R.I.P. (Former Ikette & Mirette)

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    Remembering Jessie Smith Lucas former Ikette & Mirette (1941 - 2021)

    Jessie Smith was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1941 and was raised in Alton, Illinois. And like many of the players and singers in the Ike & Tina story ended up in St Louis. Like the largest number of women who passed through the ranks of the Ikettes or any other black vocal group from her time, Jessie started singing in church. She went to school with Luther Ingram, who sang with his brothers in the Alton Crusaders. The first time she sang R&B was with Sam Rhodes’ band, which included among its personnel Raymond Hill, he who blew the sax break on ‘Rocket 88’ with Ike’s Kings of Rhythm, and was Tina Turner’s first paramour. Jessie wound up working with Benny Sharp’s outfit, who took over the number one slot in St Louis after Ike and Tina had left town. With Sharp Jessie cut one riotous raw-throated rocker under the name Little Miss Jessie, ‘My Baby Has Gone’ for the St Louis Mel-O label in 1961. She was nineteen.

    After a spell with Leo’s Five, which would include local legend Albert King, and Vinny Sharp’s group, Jessie was scouted for the Ike & Tina Revue in 1962. But before a real steady Ikettes personnel/personality took shape, Jessie left and returned twice. The first time she quit because her boyfriend, Sam Rhodes, by then playing bass with Ike & Tina, was sacked and Jessie left out of loyalty. The second time she left was when she was pregnant with her first child.

    It was when Ike and Tina had returned to a temporary base in St Louis while they looked for a permanent home in Los Angeles, that Sam Rhodes suggested his girlfriend, Jessie, as a singer. By the time the Revue had moved back out west and settled in View Park in LA, the Ikettes line-up had firmed up as Robbie Montgomery [from Columbus Miss. growing up in St Louis and an on/off original Ikette by then] and Venetta Fields [hailing from Buffalo New York]. It was out on the coast that Ike attempted to repeat the earlier solo Ikettes success they had had on Atlantic, recording the current line-up for the Teena label. From here the whole Revue signed for the Modern label in 1964, but the Ikettes’ sides were the only releases for the new contract to yield hits, starting with ‘Camel Walk’. It was the era of girl groups and dance craze records and the Ikettes productions for Modern hit the spot.

    With the second Ikettes Modern release they were produced by the hit-making team of Tommy Boyce and Steve Venet and hit big with ‘Peaches and Cream’, with Jessie singing lead. [Interestingly this was the first time that records issuing from the Ike & Tina Revue were handled by an outside team, with success. It would happen again with the sides cut by Phil Spector, but not with any chart success – leastwise in the United States]. Boyce and Venet stayed on board for ‘Fine Fine Fine’ and next came ‘I’m So Thankful’ written by Marc Gordon and Frank Wilson, part of the West Coast Motown set-up. Jessie had emerged as the favourite to handle the leads on many of these ‘contemporary’ sounding sides.

    As the Ikettes Modern singles were doing great business, they created demand for appearances on TV and on package tours. Jessie, Robbie and Venetta can be seen on various pop TV clips from around this time [1964-65] – check out youtube – but Ike insisted on the ‘proper’ girls being on the road with the Revue while he sent out deputy singers for the package tours. The three ‘real’ Ikettes became disenchanted and finally quit the Revue to go on to a career on their own. This would be September 1965 while ‘I’m So Thankful’ was climbing the charts. Just as the first Ikettes tour was set up Ike claimed he owned the name of the group and that they could not use it. The three girls used what little money they were making to go to court but to no avail. They needed to change their name.

    Step in Fred Smith, producer with Randy Wood’s Mirwood label, who took up the girls’ ongoing studio career, and they renamed themselves after the label as the Mirettes. The Mirettes sides found no chart action until 1968 with a revival of ‘In The Midnight Hour’, still a Fred Smith production, but for a new label, Revue. The group went on, staying with Fred Smith, to other labels, ending on Zea in 1971. By which time Venetta had been replaced by Pat Powdrill, another ex-Ikette.

    By 1972 Jessie and Robbie were together again as The Night Tripper, working with Dr John. Actually it was Tammi Lynn who first got Robbie the job with Mac because Tammi had a hit in England. When she returned Robbie was ensconced. The original line-up was Robbie, Tammi and Shirley Goodman, until Jessie replaced Shirley, bringing Robbie and Jessie back together, and then Tammi left. Robbie and Jessie brought their wonderful vocal talent to the albums ‘In The Right Place’ [1972] and ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’ [1974]. Robbie once told this writer that her and Jessie acquired the nickname, The ‘Oooh’ Girls after a vocal trick they used on the track ‘In The Right Place’. By 1975 Jessie had quit full-time group work, but still worked on many sessions. Among these were Paul Williams, Bonnie Bramett, Al Kooper, José Feliciano, and Leon Ware. Mainly, from then on, she used her vocal gift and energy back in the church, and remained great friends with her fellow Ikette/Mirette/Night Tripper, Robbie, both making the St Louis suburbs their home.

    Brian Nevill - 2021

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    The Ikettes - 1964 (L-R) Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith & Venetta Fields

  2. #2
    Sad news. Both groups were awesome. I might have some Peaches and Cream In the Midnight Hour in her honor!

  3. #3
    Great info here, and I sure do love the pic. The blue gowns, right??

  4. #4
    RIP, Jessie. Loved your work, esp. as an Ikette.


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