O.V. Wright — “A Nickel and a Nail”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — March 25, 2023


773) O.V. Wright — “A Nickel and a Nail”

Now that I let myself feature songs from ’71 once in a while, I am so excited to play “A Nickel and a Nail”. This ’71 A-side by O.V. Wright (see #71, 274) reached #103 (#19 R&B). Bill Bentley calls it “possibly O.V. Wright’s crowning performance, a song so possessed by love and loss that it still stands as a singular definition of soul music.” (liner notes to the CD comp The Soul of O.V. Wright) I heartily agree. Mark Deming says “the [song’s] blues-shot lament[] . . . [is] as powerful as Southern soul got in the early ’70s.” (https://www.allmusic.com/album/a-nickel-and-a-nail-and-ace-of-spades-mw0000840748) Yup. Jeff Hannusch calls it the “head turner” on Wright’s ’72 album A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades, and says “I’ll say this with a straight face: Memphis soul never got better than this. Not by Johnnie Taylor, not by Al Green, not even by Otis Redding.” (https://www.offbeat.com/music/o-v-wright-a-nickel-and-a-nail-and-ace-of-spades-real-gone-music/) Gutsy statement, but man, O.V. Wright was the real deal. As Al Green producer Willie Mitchell (see #181, 551) proclaimed, “When you gave O.V. Wright a song, the song belonged to him. Nobody would do it that way again. In fact, I think O.V. Wright was the greatest blues artist I’ve ever produced.” (liner notes to the CD comp O.V. Wright: Giant of Southern Soul 1965-1975)

Mark Deming says as to the album that:

The golden era of Southern soul was essentially over by 1971, but thankfully no one told O.V. Wright about this; this album . . . showed that his gifts as a vocalist were near the peak of their strength, and this is Memphis-style R&B in the grand tradition. Willie Mitchell[‘s] . . .  Hi Records Rhythm Section and the Memphis Horns providing the backing, and their performances lend the music a smooth, glorious burn like fine brandy, and are not unlike the work they did with Al Green, but reveal a darker and bluesier tone. Great as the band is, Wright headlines this show, and when he sings he dominates these sessions with grace and authority; the longing and hurt in his voice are a wonder to behold, and the burnished gospel influences in his voice meld the secular and the sacred with a powerful common belief . . . .


Bluesman Mark gets right to the core of Wright:

[H]as a singer ever sounded so desolate, so lost, so obsessed with sadness as [O.V. Wright] always did? . . . [H]is songs were often largely tailored to his unique style of “eloquent desolation” . . . . [Wright] always sounded like a man on the edge in songs like “A Nickel & A Nail” . . . & he could wring pathos from every line he sung. And don’t take “eloquent” as meaning he sounded sophisticated. OV was as “country” sounding as any southern soul singer ever got. The eloquence comes from how he phrased the songs, how he found the potential of inherent sadness in any song. OV always sang like he was staring into a vast, cold void. . . . If you haven’t experienced OV Wright’s music, I suggest that you do so. Just make sure you’ve got some good whiskey handy.


Bill Dahl gives us a little history:

A truly incendiary deep soul performer. O. V. Wright’s melismatic vocals and Willie Mitchell’s vaunted Hi Rhythm Section combined to make classic Memphis soul during the early ’70s. Overton Vertis Wright learned his trade on the gospel circuit with the Sunset Travelers before going secular in 1964 with the passionate ballad “That’s How Strong My Love Is” . . . .  Otis Redding liked the song so much that he covered it, killing any chance of Wright’s version hitting. . . . [I]t took Memphis producer . . . Mitchell to wring the best consistently from Wright. Utilizing [his] surging house rhythm section, Wright’s early-’70s Backbeat singles “Ace of Spades,” “A Nickel and a Nail,” and “I Can’t Take It” rank among the very best Southern soul of their era. No disco bandwagon for O. V. Wright — he kept right on pouring out his emotions through the ’70s . . . . [He] died at only 41 years of age in 1980.


Oh, and here is Prodigy sampling the sh*t out of “Nickel and a Nail”:

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