One of the most acclaimed singer/songwriters in rock history, Mayfield’s career was cut in half by a tragic accident that derailed his performing considerably after which he turned more to songwriting for hire where he made an equal mark.

Percy Mayfield was born in 1920 in Louisiana but was raised in Houston, Texas. Moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1940’s, Mayfield was already writing prolifically and secured recording contracts with small independent labels while at the same time hawking those same songs to others.

Upon signing to the larger independent Specialty Records in 1950, Mayfield’s career took off when his debut for the label, “Please Send Me Someone To Love” hit #1 on the charts, soon becoming something of a standard in rock as well as one of the genre’s first explicit message songs.

Over the next few years Mayfield was a consistent seller with his brand of laconic ballads sung behind the beat boasting deep and introspective lyrics, often of a despondent nature, all of it with a jeweler’s eye for detailed wordplay, giving him seven Top Ten hits over two and a half years.

Then in 1952 Mayfield was nearly killed in an automobile accident on the way back from a show in which he was pronounced dead on the scene. Though he survived he was left severely disfigured, his face caved in beyond the ability of any plastic surgery to fully restore his features. The proud singer bemoaned the loss of his looks and never regained the commercial success he’d enjoyed before, either due to the two year layoff while recovering, the lack of his ability to promote the music on the road now that he was no longer touring or simply because his highly intelligent personal lyrics fell out of favor with the changing market focusing ever more on more gaudy displays.

Despite some excellent material cut following his accident Mayfield didn’t find much to be happy about professionally until Ray Charles, who’d been a longtime admirer of his work, began asking him for material and Percy wrote some of Ray’s biggest early 60’s hits including “At The Club”, “Hide Nor Hair”, “But On The Other Hand, Baby” and “Hit The Road, Jack”. Charles then signed Mayfield to his own Tangerine label as an artist which got Percy back on the charts with a re-make of one of his early 50’s sides.

After that, though charting just twice more, he never lacked for recording opportunity, as some of the biggest labels signed him for the prestige of working with someone so highly respected. Other major stars from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin recorded his songs and Mayfield became comfortable enough with his altered appearance (he was left with a deep gruesome scar across his once handsome face) to become an engaging live performer once again in small settings where his charm was intoxicating to all those who saw him.

Mayfield died in 1984 of a heart attack just one day before what would’ve been his 64th birthday.
PERCY MAYFIELD DISCOGRAPHY (Reviews To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):
(Gru-V-Tone 101; December, 1947*)
Despite murky fidelity, Mayfield is already in full command of his artistry, his lyrics and song craft are exquisite and his delivery is warmly inviting. (6)

(Gru-V-Tone 102; sometime in 1948)
A haunting song with production that emphasizes this aspect which combined with the hazy sound and Mayfield’s regret makes it seem almost ghostly in a truly cinematic way. (7)

(Supreme 1543; September, 1949)
A full-band arrangement provides a stark contrast to the original in this re-make of his earlier record, but the despondent vocal mood is the same and the disparate pieces all seem to fit and may even heighten his despair. (7)

(Supreme 1543; September, 1949)
A brilliant, if slightly vague, commentary on the need for a social conscience lays out Mayfield’s ensuing style perfectly – intelligent lyrics with snappy wordplay sung in a lazy baritone that demands your full attention. (7)

(Specialty 375; September, 1950)
Rock’s enduring anthem for addressing all of the problems that plague humanity, wearily resigned to mankind’s failure to stem the tide of prejudice and hatred and yet clinging to hope that things will change… a poignant and heartbreaking masterpiece. ★ 10 ★

(Specialty 375; September, 1950)
Scaling down his predilection for dire themes to a one on one relationship on the rocks, Mayfield is no less unsparing in his assessments of the wrongs in everyday existence, with sharp-eyed lyrics and a surprisingly lively tempo to keep this from being too maudlin despite the subject. (8)

(Specialty 390; February, 1951)
Another understated emotional gem from Mayfield who plums the depth of his feelings after a breakup and attempts to get her to sympathize with his plight and reconsider all while the band delivers a subtly exquisite arrangement to highlight his vocal plea. (9)

(Specialty 390; January, 1951)
Despite the dire subject, Mayfield handles this with his usual deep emotional sensitivity, overreacting to a break-up as a way to release the anguish over his loss while the band adds enough life to the arrangement to offset the gloom. (7)

(Specialty 400; April, 1951)
Typically well-crafted with strong emotional pull aided by Mayfield’s reserved demeanor but the song’s arrangement is just a little too elegant for its own good making for an uneasy fit in rock at times. (5)

(Specialty 400; April, 1951)
Topped by a discreet arrangement which suggests more momentum than the song possesses, Mayfield’s slowly unfolding plot full of self-critical introspection is another masterwork of craftsmanship making for a poignant, relatable and discreet record. (7)

(Specialty 408; July, 1951)
A beautifully crafted morose 3 AM ballad sung with great pathos by Mayfield and helped inordinately by a sublime sparse arrangement by Maxwell Davis giving him yet another Top Ten hit, his fifth overall on just four Specialty singles. (8)

(Specialty 408; July, 1951)
A lesson in minimalism as Mayfield offers a song that’s just a loose collection of vague but ominous reasons for his miserable life which is made captivating by his wordplay and conviction as well as a sparse arrangement with a solid sax solo by Maxwell Davis. (7)

(Specialty 416; November, 1951)
Though everything here, from the lyrics to the arrangement to the vocal delivery, might be very predictable, the methods used to execute them make this stand out as every single aspect is in place while singer and band impress at each turn. (8)

(Specialty 416; November, 1951)
With a slight understated injection of humor at his own expense, Mayfield’s tale about a breakup with a woman who treated him “rotten” has more to it than meets the eye, giving us a new wrinkle to consider when evaluating the usually stoic singer/songwriter. (7)

(Specialty 425; February, 1952)
Another powerful psychological discourse where Mayfield narrows his focus and deals with a small scale problem that he shares with many listening who are alone in the world, as his conversational tone and understated accompaniment lend a soothing touch. (8)

(Specialty 425; February, 1952)
Not quite up to Mayfield’s usual standards as the premise doesn’t probe as deep as you expect from him, but the band has a greater presence here and that, combined with his vocal quirks, makes this still enjoyable enough even without the normal lyrical insight. (6)

(Specialty 432; May, 1952)
A very interesting change of pace as with its herky jerky rhythms this is more uptempo than his usual output while not being nearly as introspective lyrically, though it still presents a good story and distinctive laid-back vocal tics. (7)

(Specialty 432; May, 1952)
An interesting attempt to switch up his perspective, presenting himself as desperate to convince a woman to be with him, but the change in demeanor, while capably carried out, doesn’t deviate much from his usual approach while the music never matches his desires. (5)

(Specialty 439; August, 1952)
A spot-on replication of Mayfield’s writing style by Jessie Mae Robinson which is slightly unsettling considering she got Mayfield himself to deliver the song, but by not taking advantage of the opportunity to alter the formula this can’t stand out much. (6)

(Specialty 439; August, 1952)
Essentially an exercise in self-analysis by Mayfield who explains why he’s always singing sad songs and if the specific reasons he claims are less fact than fiction, he’s pretty convincing as usual but the overall mood he gives us provides nothing new to latch onto. (6)