C.C. Rider Venerates: Irma Thomas

You might say Irma Thomas had a lot to sing about. She was born Irma Lee in Pontchatoula, Louisiana. She went to school and sang in a gospel quartet at her local church. Then she got pregnant, married, pregnant again and divorced. She remarried and gave birth to two more children. Oh, and this is all by the time she’s 19.

So, it’s 1959, and Irma’s waiting tables at a club in New Orleans. A local bandleader named Tommy Ridgley is set to play. Irma goes up to him and asks to sing with his band. He says yes, but her boss says no, cause he wants her waiting tables, not singing. She sang anyway, and lost that job, but picked up a career—she’d been discovered.

Irma recorded some seriously great songs, but none of them ever really rocketed her to the stardom of her contemporaries. Women like Aretha Franklin and Etta James. In fact, Irma still hasn’t got the credit she deserves. See, Irma’s songs are more famous for other people recording them. Her song “Ruler of my Heart” was snatched by Otis Redding, and reworked into the classic “Pain in my Heart.” And another song she’d recorded was taken up nearly note for note. Became a breakout hit for a young band from the UK. I’m not knockin’ ya Mick, but I think Irma’s version is better. Here she is, Irma Thomas, with “Time is On My Side.”

The Veneration of Irma Thomas Continues at