Mable John was the first female artist signed by Berry Gordy Jr. to the Tamla label, which preceded Motown by more than two years, and one of the few artists to record for the top two labels for '60s soul, Motown and Stax. John's three single releases were part of an unsuccessful blues fling for the company; besides Mable John, Gordy released blues sides by Sammy Ward, Luther Allison, Amos Milburn, Earl King, Arthur Adams, and many others.
The eldest of nine siblings (one of whom was legendary R&B artist Little Willie John, of "Fever" and "Talk to Me" fame), Mable John was born in Bastrop, Louisiana. Her parents moved to Arkansas when she was a kid, then later to Detroit to find employment in the bustling auto industry. After graduating from Pershing High School in Detroit, John began working for Berry Gordy's mother Bertha, who ran a small insurance company. She met Gordy in 1956, started recording for him in 1959, and had her first release, "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like This," on Tamla in 1961, a solid blues item that went nowhere. Her next release, in June of 1961, "No Love" had potential, but Motown simply couldn't sell blues. Her final release, "Action Speaks Louder Than Words," dropped during the latter part of 1961.
By 1962, blues at Motown became history, and John was dropped from the roster. (The Supremes, who sang backing vocals on some of John's sessions, became superstars a few years after her departure.) John then moved to Ray Charles' Raelettes, performing with them before and after her stint with Stax Records. Her Stax experience began in 1966 and ended in 1968, during which time she waxed the deep soul classic "Your Good Thing Is About to End," her most successful record. Stax released six other singles by her: "You're Taking Up Another Man's Place," "Bigger and Better," "I'm a Big Girl Now," "Don't Hit Me No More," "Able Mable," and "Running Out." One album, entitled Stay Out of the Kitchen, would have been definitive if it had included "Don't Hit Me No More."
After leaving Stax in 1968 and rejoining the Raelettes for a brief time, John retired from secular music and devoted herself exclusively to Christianity. In the mid-'70s she managed the Autographs, who had a deal with RCA (unfortunately, the label didn't release any records by them under John's watch). In 1994, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation inducted Mable John into their Hall of Fame. It was a just honor for the underrated blues singer, who made excellent records but never had the luck or the timing to achieve the prominence she deserved. ~ Andrew Hamilton