Percy SledgeÂ had plenty of big records, but nothing compared to 1966’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” his first single, first hit and lasting legacy. The song stands as the pinnacle of deep Southern soul, and the singer never attempted to escape it. Wilson Pickett dipped his toe into hard funk, but not Percy. Instead, he deepened his Southern signature, accentuating his gospel andÂ country roots as he sang of seduction and heartbreak for discerning listeners.
Sledge maintained a loyal following during the decades when he was seemingly off the radar. Recording wasn’t entirely his thing. Following I’ll Be Your Everything, an album cut for Southern Rock imprint Capricorn in 1974, he spent a decade working soul circuits in the South, Europe and South Africa. He eventually returned to the limelight when a new generation discovered “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which appeared on film and television soundtracks and wound up re-entering the U.K. charts after it appeared in a 1987 Levi’s commercial. This resurgence culminated in 1994’s Blue Night, his first album for a major label in two decades. Despite positive notices ”” including a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album and a 1996 W.C. Handy win for Best Soul or Blues Album ”” it proved to be Sledge’s last major project.
When he returned to the stage, he continued singing his classics, a move that underscored how seminal his eight-year run at Atlantic Records was. Between 1966 and 1974, Percy made some of the finest soul ever recorded and left a discography that runs much deeper than just one singleÂ ”” something these songs prove.