Three new CDs from SSJ Records, Japan
Liner notes for "Introducing. . .Sue Childs" by Bill Reed
"For playing on the  ‘Introducing Sue Childs’ album, I received sixty dollars, a pair of pants [?] and a box of Sue’s album,” guitarist Bill Pasquale told me. “At the time, I said to one of the producers, Jim Sotos: ‘What do you expect me to do with all of these records?’ Sotos said, ‘Give ‘em to your friends, I guess.’ Which is exactly what the musician proceeded to do, hanging on to only a couple of them in the process. Too bad he didn’t keep more of them, for today the original vinyl of the recording goes for $300-$400 on the collectors‘ market. Not bad for a recording that certainly didn’t sell out its original pressing of 1,000 copies.
The reason for the extreme bump in the original price has to do not only with the fact that the LP is by a good but obscure singer (whose only recording this was), but also by virtue of an appearance on the release by tenor sax player J.R. Monterose. And just how, exactly, did the legendary (and highly collectable) musician end up on not only this recording but another one as well on the small, fledgling Rock Island, Illinois Studio 4 label, operated by musician brothers Jim and Tony Sotos? It’s something I’ve long wondered about, and finally, in my conversation with guitarist Pasquale from his home in Brookfield, Illinois I was told the following story: “J.R. Monterose was traveling as a sax player in the band of, of all people, the rock group Jay and the Americans. Somehow Monterose stayed behind when the band left town and he stuck around.“ Pasquale laughed, then added, “I guess you could have called the group ‘J.R. and the Americans.
J.R. Monterose was thus taken up by the local Rock Island, Illinois jazz community and for a while became a very big fish in that locale’s somewhat small jazz pond. Significantly, he was rushed by the Sotos brothers, and took part in two recording sessions for their label, the Childs release and a complete album as a leader. (Monterose died in Utica, NY on September 26, 1993.)
Only one other LP ever appeared on Studio 4, a live session of the Sotos Brothers band, recorded while they were appearing at Flint, Michigan’ Mr. C’s Supper Club. It was there that they first met Sue Childs who was also performing at the spot. Not long afterward they asked her to record for them.
Only a few weeks after the date resulting in this recording in early 1965, the singer was scheduled to give birth to a son, her second. The Childs date should probably not have taken place when it did, for as almost every surviving musician on the date has recalled to me, the singer was having a very difficult time getting the “job” done. Breathing problems plagued her, still she insisted on pressing onward. Ordinarily she was not known to have intonation problems, but they do arise here from time-to-time out of the fact that Childs was “singing for two,” so to speak. According to Pasquale, this accounts for Monterose’s relatively brief appearance on the album. Due to the relative chaos surrounding the session, which started late at night and ran until sun-up the next day, Monterose stormed off the date after completing only two cuts.
One track that actually benefited from the time-is-money disorder is the duet between Pasquale and Childs on “Lollipops and Roses.“ It was rehearsed and recorded within a quarter-hour break taken by the rest of the band while arranger (and Kenton alumni) Gerry LaFurn completed an arrangement. “I had never even heard the song before,” the guitarist told me. “Sue hummed it to me and we then nailed it in a single take.” Then it was back to recording with the full group. Ironically, it might well represent the single best work by Childs on the album.
A measure of how good the playing is by all the musicians on the date is that afterward, nearly every one of them went on to greater jazz world acclaim. This is especially true of saxophonist Tony Sotos, trombonist Sherm Mitchell, and Bill Pasquale. As for bassist Bruce Anderson, shortly after the recording of this session he turned down a full-time gig with Sarah Vaughan to, instead, go into the ministry, a vocation he still practices to this day. In addition to his playing on the album, Mitchell arranged two of the numbers, “Lonesome Road” and “Honeysuckle Rose.”
In the preparation of this reissue I contacted most of the five of six surviving players. I did so, as much as anything, to uncover whatever happened to the star of the show, Childs. There are no other references to her on the net beyond those relating to “Introducing.“ But no one could tell me much, not even Mitchell, who Childs considered her musical mentor. No one retained much beyond the most superficial of recollections. The trombonist recalled that Childs’ favorite singer was June Christy. On the other hand, her personal style was strongly informed by, says Pasquale, Anita O’Day: “Dressed like her, talked like her, moved like her.” In other words, a rough spiky demeanor. The guitarist adds, “Once I saw Sue go through her purse looking for a lipstick and in the process, she laid a 38 revolver on the table. I asked her why in the world she was carrying a 38 in her purse and she muttered something about once being run off to the side of a freeway in Detroit.” (To the best of my knowledge, O’Day never packed a rod.)
In my search for Childs I eventually came across enough information to enable me to solve the riddle of the missing in-action performer. This included an late 1964 interview with the singer appearing in a Flint, Michigan newspaper about the recording of “Introducing Sue Childs,” originally to be entitled “Out of Nowhere,” “because,” she told Flint writer Lawrence Gustin, “that’s where I’m from. We started with 125 song possibilities---now it‘s down to 55. I want to record them in a variety of jazz styles, and nothing too far out.” The date was scheduled for early 1965, but finally did not take place (for reasons that have since fallen through the cracks of history) until summer, nearing the end of Childs’ pregnancy.
The write-up informed that the singer’s last name was not Childs but rather Childers; the article also included the last name of her drummer husband, Joseph. So instead of my searching for the essentially non-existent “Sue Childs,” I was now looking for Donna Sue Childers Rosanova. Armed with this new information it was a fairly easy task for me get to the bottom of things. And while I was finally unable to learn much about the singer after the making of “Introducing” (and before her death on January 10, 1993 at age 55), prior to the recording of her lone LP it was a different story.
Even while still a student at Flint’s Northern High School the singer had her sights set on a career in show business. She appeared multiple times on the popular nationwide TV show, “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour,” which over the years had helped launch the career of the diverse likes of Frank Sinatra and comedian Lenny Bruce. After the Mack appearances, a recording company wanted to channel her talents her talents into country music. But after making a few test recordings she returned her contract to the record outfit unsigned. She just couldn’t take country music as a steady diet, she told the Flint reporter. The news article also alludes to the singer’s appearances with the bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Morrow and Ralph Flanagan, and on bills with Chris Connor and Al Hibbler. Most likely, these were one-shot guest appearances on bills of shows traveling through the Flint, Michigan area.
Donna Sue Childers wanted to make her mark in the world as a singer, and was insistent that this now-or-never recording be made when it was. It is a tribute to the singer‘s “stubborness“ (as described by her friend and mentor Sherm Mitchell) that more that four decades after it was made, and fifteen years beyond her death, “Introducing Sue Childs” lives on. A promising start for a singer we should have heard more from.