James Govan, who was known to many for his work on Beale Street with organist Charlie Wood and recorded in Muscle Shoals at the height of Fame Records, passed away last week.
Govan was a Beale Street highlight for three decades, including two decades with Rum Boogie Café’s Rum Boogie Blues Band. A multi-instrumentalist who sang Otis Redding's songs as well as anyone except Otis, Govan played the Poretta Soul Festival in Italy for five years in a row. But he should be best known for the tracks he cut in Muscle Shoals.
“I knew him when he recorded the tracks at Fame,” says friend and collaborator Travis Wammack, who produced one of Govan’s albums and may have played on the long-lost recordings at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Those recordings
were found and released in 2013 by Ace Records, a company that has released several albums from the vaults at Fame. The tracks on Wanted: The Fame Recordings
place Govan alongside Clarence Carter and Wilson Pickett in quality and vitality.
“He was like Otis Redding,” Wammack says. “His voice was so good. He was an awesome talent. He was a great guy and a great singer and a great musician. We did an album on him in the 1980s down at Broadway Sound. I produced Help Me, I’m in Need
, which was released by Charlie Records over in England.”
Brad Webb knew Govan for some 30 years. Webb organizes the jams for the Memphis Blues Society and knew Govan as a versatile musician and member of a supportive community of musicians.
“James played drums and sang his ass off," Webb says. "If one of us didn't know how to do something, he would say, ‘Watch me do it.’”
CORRECTION: The year of Govan's birth was originally written as 1951. Govan was born in 1949.