Eric Mercury, Canadian electric black man, dies at 77

Eric Mercury, Canadian electric black man, dies at 77

New York, 2022-03-17 02:26:29. Eric Mercury, Canadian electric black man, dies at 77


TORONTO – Eric Mercury’s raw and emotional vocals pushed the boundaries of rock so successfully that the late musician’s 1969 debut single “Electric Black Man” earned him her nickname.

While the singer-songwriter’s Toronto friends dubbed him “The Merck,” those who admired his music headed to “The Electric Black Man,” a testament to the impact of the album that did not sell in large numbers but earned recognition. Contemporaries, including Miles Davis.

“He’s the forerunner of a black rock star,” suggested Mark Ruffin, a friend of Mercury and host on Sirius XM’s Real Jazz channel.

His niece Lee Ann Mercury said Mercury died Monday in Montreal after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 77 years old.

Born in Toronto to a Methodist minister and deacon, Mercury was the youngest of seven children in a household of musicians. Several siblings have performed together in choir and as a group at church functions and other community events.

Those early experiences opened his eyes to the world of live music and by the late 1950s he was beginning to play in rock and R&B groups in Toronto when the city’s live music scene caught fire.

The Pharaohs welcomed Mercury into their group before stepping to the forefront of the stage as part of Soul Searchers, an act in which the best singer participated with fellow singer Diane Brooks.

Four-time Grammy-nominated Brenda Russell met soul seekers when she was 14 and hoped to perform live. In the end, she opened up to the band.

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” she remembered.

“They were the largest spirit band in the country, and there was no one like them.”

By 1968, Mercury had separated from New York in pursuit of a solo career. It was off to a rough start as some friends said he spent his early days virtually homeless in the Big Apple.

When he found his footing, he landed in the recording studio to make “Electric Black Man,” a bold and energetic debut that showed his voice against a wall of electric guitars.

The songs were urgent and unexpected, from the funky “Long Way Down” to the cover of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and the nearly seven-minute psychedelic ride of “Earthless.”

The album was recorded at the same time Jimi Hendrix was putting his own songs together at Record Planet Studio in New York. The two musicians often crossed the tracks.

We’ll be working from noon until midnight,” said Gary Katz, who produced Electric Black Man.

“When we left in the middle of the night, we open the door and Jimmy sits outside with a group of six or eight people, some of them young children all tie-dyed. We would walk out the door and they would walk in. The room was full of Marshall’s lockers, floor to ceiling, and I couldn’t Even telling you how many there are, and we were sitting right outside the door and listening.”

Upon its release, “Electric Black Man” found its fans, most notably jazz legend Miles Davis who, as Mercury’s friends tell the story, rallied his bandmates into a room filled with a stash of drugs to aid in their immersion in the album.

“He just got them to listen to it—and they loved it,” Russell said. “They listened to it over and over again.”

After a dispute with his original record company, Mercury jumped into Enterprise Records, an imprint of popular Memphis label Stax Records created to branch out from the traditional soul market.

He released four other singles albums with singles that included “I Can Smell That Funky Music,” which combined elements of roots and soul, and “Don’t Lose Faith in Me, Lord,” a prolific call to the dance floor that drew from church roots.

His other work has included writing and producing for many other artists, including Dusty Springfield, Donnie Hathaway and Dionne Warwick, while Roberta Flack has recorded his song “You Are My Heaven” which he co-wrote with Stevie Wonder.

Mercury continued to compose music later in his life, contributing to “Bright Eyed Woman”, a 2019 song by Montreal composer Anthony Aramoni.

He has also attempted acting over the years and appeared in a stage production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and on the silver screen in “American Hot Wax,” a 1978 drama about the career of radio jockey Alan Freed.

Mercury has made his mark on other corners of popular culture, most notably as lead singer of the Gatorade ad campaign “Be Like Mike” starring basketball star Michael Jordan.

His song “Long Way Down” was also sampled by hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest for their song “Rap Promoter” in 1991.

“He was a creative junkie,” Ruffin said of his friend.

“He absorbed pop culture more than anyone I know. And he absorbed it, I mean it all. When we were hanging out in Chicago…we used to go to this place and play Trivial Pursuit and it would tire people out no matter what.”

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on March 16, 2022.

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