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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

You Hit Me Baby Like An Atomic Bomb - Fay Simmons

As I wrote back in 2007,  it's hard to believe that someone with that voice - that voice  - could release almost 30 singles and then disappear off the face of the planet with little notice being taken of her career.

You look at what is known of Fay Simmons' history and you see her coming close - so close - to making it big.  A gig at the Apollo. Promoted by at least two heavyweight deejays. Over two dozen singles. A voice that could at times match Dinah Washington's.  But maybe prophetically, one of the best recordings Fay Simmons did, You Hit Me Baby Like an Atomic Bomb,  recorded at the start of her career one hot August night in 1954, was buried in the Reco-Art Studio vaults for 40 years until finally released on an obscure British label. There's not much other other evidence of Fay Simmons' career now except a pile of brightly-colored 45s from labels with names like Jordan, Rainbow, VTone, Ruthie, and the aptly named Gone. All gone now, as gone as the singer who on stage was Fay Simmons.

She was born Janet Fay Simmons on February 25, 1932 in Philadelphia. Married early, somewhere around age 15. Married to a professional musician, Robert Geter, who would back Fay on several of her singles. That would be around 1947, and not much else is known about the Geters' life for the next seven-odd years. They had three children: two girls and a boy, the last nicknamed "Toughie," or possibly "Tuffy," and lived in the 1200 block of Kater Street in South Philadelphia up till the early `60s.

In the mid-50s, Fay would go into the studio at age 22, a mother already for a half-dozen years. Four 78s in `54.  Two more in `55.  Nothing in 1956.  Then two recordings each year from 1957 through `59.

1960 through  `62 were the push years for Simmons. She released twenty-seven 45s over those three years.  In March of 1960 she appeared at the Apollo in Harlem in a production hosted by  Dr. Jive, New York deejay Tommy Small. Fay was also being promoted by another deejay, one of the big wheels of the Philadelphia scene, Kae “The Jet Pilot” Williams of station WHAT. Williams had a side gig managing local talent, and he took Fay under his wing, writing at least one song for her, Ella Williams.

But those three years were the peak for Fay Simmons' career. She'd record a few more songs that would be released up till 1964, and then, at age 32, closed the door on a 10-year professional career, singing only for family and friends after that time.  At some point, Fay remarried and lived quietly in the Philadelphia area for the rest of her life, passing away as as Janet Fay Flowers on May 17, 2000.

And I'd hear her voice first six years later, singing You Hit Me Baby Like an Atomic Bomb, on a compilation reportedly copied from Bob Dylan's iPod.  "Who is that?" I thought, and would start pursuing the mystery that was Fay Simmons.  A Colorado disc jockey helped fill in some of the pieces.  Eventually her family and friends added a little more information.  It''s still not much.  A few paragraphs about a 10-year singing career, a slice from a 68-year life.  But it's more than I knew back in 2006, when that 22-year-old's sultry voice floated out of my speakers, growling, you hit me baby, like 'n 'tomic bomb.

Rest in peace, Fay.

1 comment:

Roger Browne said...

There is a reference to a Robert "Tuffy" Geter, of approximately the right age, as a guest at a wedding here:"tuffy+geter"

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to follow this lead any further.