Sheba The Mississippi Queen – A Real Good Woman
Book and CD
Bongo Boy Records
Born Martha Booker, along with a twin sister, to a poor family in rural Mississippi, Sheba spent most of her sixty-plus years of life learning all about the blues. Her trials and tribulations are laid out in soul-cleansing detail in her autobiography. Starting as a young woman, she was constantly searching for love and acceptance in a world full of wretched heartache, and a string of men who take advantage of her at every turn. Life starts to turn for the better when her mother, working in Miami, brings her daughters to Florida for a better life.
But her desire to be loved drives Sheba into the arms of men who view her strictly as a sex partner. Then she meets Geechee Fred, a fine looking man who slowly leads her down a dark path, promising to take her to New York City, once she earns enough money turning tricks to finance the venture. Sheba unflinchingly lays out how she became victimized, accepting responsibility for her decisions with wisdom gained in hindsight. Once they make the move, she does get some opportunities to sing, eventually recording a session with George Kelly, a noted jazz tenor saxophonist.
After a shooting incident, she finally heads back to her mother in Florida, leaning on her Christian faith to stop drinking and continue her education. She begins to take vocal lessons in the studio from King Joseph, a talented multi-instrumentalist. There was a powerful attraction from the start, and soon the cycle started all over. Joseph molded Sheba into a powerful singer, but the price was living with a man with a vicious temper and little regard for her as a woman.
Through it all, Sheba manages to stay strong as she pursues her dream of being a singer. And her resolve is rewarded, as she does find real love along with a solid spiritual foundation. Her career gets a boost when she is offered a spot fronting the Rhythm Kings, a band from the Ft. Lauderdale area.
Sheba’s amazing spirit comes shining through on the CD that accompanies the book. The first two tracks, “Oh So Good” and “Pouring Rain,” are filled with crackling energy, the former a nod to good loving while the latter finds the singer down but not ready to be counted out. “Big Man” is a salacious ode to a lover of many talents with Sheba’s robust voice riding the mesmerizing arrangement. If any song would serve to summarize her life, “A Real Good Woman” would be the one. The singer leaves little doubt as what she needs to make her happy.
Her fine backing band consists of George “Chocolate” Perry on strings, bass, drums, and horns, Michael “The Dog” Gauthier on keyboards, strings, and horns, Warren “Roach” Thompson on guitar, and Chuck Kuntzman on slide guitar. Some of the instruments are created through the use of electronic simulation.
There is little doubt as to the subject matter on tracks like “Ms Good-N-Plenty” or “Butter On My Roll,” a throwback to the days of Bessie Smith. Thompson fires off a taut solo at the start of the funky shuffle, “Tell Me Why”. A number of tracks fall into a similar mid-tempo groove, so by the time you get to “Good Good Lovin’” and “Hey Girlfriend,” it feels like you have already heard the tracks. But then Sheba hits you with something entirely different, taking you deep into the delta for some stripped down, no frills sounds on “Blues Of My Soul,” filled with the moans of a woman who understands every nuance. The closing two songs are contemporary southern soul, providing Sheba the chance to extend the scope of her vocal talents.
There is a lot of product on the market purporting to the latest, and greatest, in blues music. Sheba is just thankful that she managed to survive to finally realized her dream. Read her story for a real journey through hell in this world. Then listen and marvel as indomitable spirit is manifested through her voice on each track, reminding us that we can endure and ultimately fulfill our dreams.