Dear Vance: What happened to the Memphis singer Sandy Posey? Working with producer Chips Moman, she had a string of #1 hits in the 1960s. — k.t., memphis.
Dear K.T.: I used to complain that all I wrote about was “dining and dying” because for a while — this was back in the late 1940s, I recall — so many questions from my half-dozen readers were about long-lost restaurants or unusual tombstones. More recently, I could compile the queries into a “Where Are They Now?” book, because readers seem curious about performers and celebrities who are still very much alive, but not in the spotlight so much anymore. But then I realized that such a book would result in book-signings, devoted fans camping overnight for my autograph, attending the inevitable awards ceremonies, making the rounds of talk shows, and being knighted (again) by Queen Elizabeth.
Such is the price of fame, and I bring that up because Sandra Lou Posey knows what that’s like. Born in Jasper, Alabama, in 1945, she grew up in West Memphis and graduated from West Memphis High School in 1962. In her 20s, she ran into famed producer Lincoln “Chips” Moman when she took a job as a receptionist and backup singer at Royal Studio, a tiny place located at 1320 S. Lauderdale. She didn’t linger in the background for very long. Press-Scimitar columnist Robert Johnson wrote, “Hers is one of the most dramatic musical success stories of the many which have come out of Memphis in the years since Elvis.”
Her success wasn’t instantaneous. In 1965, she recorded a single, “Kiss Me Goodnight” but for some reason released it under the name Sandy Carmel. Maybe she was shy. In 1966, Posey began working with Moman. Backed by acclaimed Memphis musicians Tommy Cogbill, Reggie Young, and Gene Christman she recorded “Born a Woman” at Royal (under the Hi Record label, according to the old newspaper articles), and Moman told reporters, “It was a hit within a month.” He gave WMPS deejay Jack Grady a lot of credit for playing the record so much that it caught on with listeners, and it quickly made it to the Top 20, eventually selling more than a million copies, and earning Posey her first gold record. It also garnered her two Grammy nominations, but the awards went to others.
A few months later, she went into the studio with Moman again and came out with “Single Girl,” another hit that broke into the Top 10. Then, a few months later, she did it a third time, with another hit called, “I’ll Take It Back.” As Johnson summed it up, “Three times up, three straight hits!”
In 1967, Posey told reporters how her life had changed, going from “an unassuming young woman” to “Memphis’ jet-haired songstress.” Among other things, she said, “Well, I’ve got a new Thunderbird.” Another was a new house for Posey and her mother, who, despite the singer’s rapid rise to stardom, had been sharing an apartment in Whitehaven. Located in the Oakshire subdivision of Whitehaven, the house, according to the Press-Scimitar, “was in a contemporary design which conservative observers might call ‘far out.’” Those “far-out” details including cypress siding, a steeply pitched room, and Mexican tile floors.
The purchase, in September 1967, made headlines, with newspapers declaring “Singer Buys Whitehaven Home” and “Sandra Posey Returns to Memphis.” She had moved, it seems, to Nashville “because it’s such a recording center. But now that I’ve attained a little success, I can live where I choose and that’s Memphis.”
Back in Memphis, she continued to work with Chips Moman, this time at American Sound Studios at Thomas and Chelsea. The producer bragged to reporters about the talent he was working with at the time, which included Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Newspapers reported that the little studio had seven session musicians, “and at $65 per man, per session, that’s money!”
Posey never had any number-one hits. The highest-charting single was “Single Girl” and she also compiled two albums which sold well. In 1967, the Press-Scimitar, which followed her career closely, described how she was working on a new record at American. “I always try to pick a number that I can put feeling into,” she said. “If you don’t put all you’ve got into a song, people will know it. It won’t sell.”
As for advice to other singers: “They must have the desire. It must be the most important thing in the world to them. Then, if they have talent, they’ll make it.”
Posey worked hard. She shuttled back and forth between Nashville and Memphis in the late 1960s, and spent a month in Europe where her record company — Moman had released her singles under the national MGM label — sent her for television appearances and “disk jockey shows” in England, Germany, Holland, and Switzerland. One reporter wondered if DJs were different in Europe. “They’re like ours — all crazy,” she replied. For a while, she had a nightclub act in New York City. In fact, she took time off from that to return to Memphis to work on one of her albums, and said, “I’ll go back to New York when I’m finished here. It’s looking pretty good now.”
In 1971 she moved to Nashville to focus on country music. She had a Top 20 hit with “Bring Him Safely Home to Me” but her career never matched the success she found in Memphis in the 1960s. She continued to record, both as a country artist and gospel musician, well into the 1980s. Posey is still active, currently signed with Crossworlds Entertainment, and the last I heard, she was living outside of Lebanon, Tennessee. Moman, the producer who made her a star, passed away earlier this year.
After her hit “Single Girl” first came out, when people asked her about any boyfriends, she told them, “‘Single Girl’ really applies to me, but I’m looking when I have time.” She eventually married an Elvis impersonator — these days they prefer the term “tribute artist” — named Wade Cummins.
In a career that has, so far, spanned five decades, Sandy Posey released more than 20 singles and eight albums. Looking over a chronological list of her song titles, they seem to tell a rather sad story: “Born a Woman,” “What a Woman in Love Won’t Do,” “Don’t Touch Me,” “You Say Beautiful Things to Me,” “Why Don’t We Go Somewhere and Love”?, “Don’t,” “Trying to Live Without You,” and finally, “Can’t Get Used to Sleeping Without You.”
Do you think she was trying to tell us something here?
Dear Vance: I found a nice old postcard for a used-car dealership called Cactus Jack’s. Who was Cactus Jack, and where was this car lot? — a.n., memphis.
Dear A.N.: I don’t really know how he acquired the nickname “Cactus” but this little dealership, located at 95 South Lauderdale (an exclusive address indeed) was owned by Jack Hoehn, of the same family that owned and operated Hoehn Chevrolet. Started by Thomas Hoehn in 1938, the Chevrolet dealership was one of the best-known on Auto Row, remaining in business until 1970. Now you’ll have to excuse this shameless plug, but if you want to know more about Hoehn Chevrolet, you need to read (and buy) the new book this company has just published, called Memphis in Motion, which chronicles the entire automotive history of Memphis; see page 29.
Now we return to our regular programming.
As far as I can determine, Cactus Jack operated his little car lot for only two years, 1961 and 1962, before he moved to California. He passed away in 1983 at the age of 57.
I was impressed by the selection of foreign cars shown in the postcard, and I asked my pal James Cochran to help me identify them. James is a project manager with The Crump Firm, an expert on the boating industry, having worked as a compliance officer for the old Arrowglass boat company here, and he certainly knows a thing or two about vintage sports cars as well. Here’s what he had to say about the unusual vehicles Cactus Jack was selling when they took this photo (from left to right in the front row above):
• A Renault Dauphine. French car, originally to be called the Corvette. 0-60 in 3.5 days. The only car whose acceleration could be measured with a calendar. Not many around because you can actually see and hear the car rusting.
• Volvo P455. A highly collectible and much desired auto. Excellent engineering, fast and fun.
• MG Midget. Collectible death wish car. Able to scoot under a semi-trailer.
• Hillman Minx. Not much of a sports car, but can roll downhill very well.
• Another Volvo P455.
• Austin Healy bug-eyed Sprite. Highly valued, but under-powered.
• MGA. Highly collectible. The convertible did not have exterior door handles, and the driver sat so high it made the car look like a shoe.
• Triumph TR-3. It had plexiglass side curtains that scratched insanely. It also could be bought with a removable hardtop.
• Another MGA.
In the back row, James noted some VW beetles, along with a Triumph TR-3, and what appears to be another Hillman Minx. “Today,” he says, “that would be a classic $$$ automobile lot!” Well, today Cactus Jack’s lot is occupied by a self-storage facility.
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Mail: Vance Lauderdale, Memphis magazine,
460 Tennessee Street #200, Memphis, TN 38103