Return To 60’s Main Menu Recording Artists Of The 60s 




Imperial 66013

No. 17    May 16, 1964


Irma Thomas was born Irma Lee in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, on February  18, 1941.   Her parents

moved to New Orleans when she was a baby.    They lived in a rooming house behind the Bell Hotel.

“That’s where I really got interested in music,” Irma told Almost Slim, author of  I Hear You Knockin’.

“The lounge in the motel had a jukebox, and I’d sneak off and listen to it every chance I’d get.   I’d hear

Clyde McPiatter and the Drifters, Joe Liggins, Lowell Fulsom, and Annie Laurie.   My favorite  record

then was ‘Ida Red’ by Percy Mayfield.”


Irma received her singing training on Sundays at the Home Mission Baptist Church.    Her sixth-grade

teacher entered her in a talent contest at the Carver Theatre, and she won first place singing Nat

“King” Cole’s “Pretend.”   But all was to stop when Irma became pregnant–a pregnant 14-year-old was

not looked upon too highly in those days, and Irma felt like an outcast.  She washed dishes for 50 cents

an hour; her first marriage ended.     It was during her second marriage and the creation of two more

children that Thomas started singing with bandleader Tommy Ridgely at New Orleans’ Pimlico Club.

Ridgely hooked Irma up with Ron Records owner Joe Ruffino, who was immediately  interested  in

recording her on something called “Don’t Mess With My Man.”   “Don’t Mess” (R& B: #22, 1960) was

a solid-selling first outing.    After a fine follow-up, “A Good Man,” failed to fly, Thomas moved to

Minit Records for some of her grittiest efforts ever–“Cry On,” “It’s Too Soon To Know,” “It’s Raining,”

and “Ruler Of My Heart” (the latter was reworked by Otis Bedding into “Pain In My Heart”).   The

Minit label had a family feeling to it:  New Orleans artists like ERNIE K-DOE, JESSIE HILL, Aaron

Neville, and Benny Spellman would often drop by and sing backup on Irma’s sessions.

In 1964, Minit was acquired by Imperial, a subsidiary of Liberty Records.   “Wish Someone Would

Care” was Irma’s first single under this arrangement.    In 1984, “Break-A-Way,” the disk’s flip side,

would regally resurface as a hit for comedian  TRACEY ULLMAN.    Three other Thomas 45s on

Imperial–“Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will understand)”  1964), and “He’s My lmperiai–

“Anyone Who Knows What Love (#52, 1964), “Times Have Changed” (#98, Guy” (#63, 1964)–made

both the pop and R & B listings in 1964.    A debut LP was packed and pushed, and Irma hit the road

to tour behind her platters.


Irma’s name may be familiar  to rock’n’roll fans for another reason.    The Rolling  Stones took notice

of  Irma’s soulful sounds, and quickly covered her unsuccessful follow-up to “Wish Someone Would

Care”–“Time Is On My Side.”   The Stones’ version was their first top 10 disk (#6, 1964), although

Irma was less than flattered.


“The Rolling Stones version was worse [than mine],” Irma declared to the Chicago Sun  Times‘ Don

McLeese.   “I  mean  we won’t say similar in  their case–it was worse.    English groups were on the

rise at the time, and whether it was good, bad or indifferent, they were English.  It was beside the

point whether or not they could sing.”    Irma told Bob Shannon and John Javna in Behind the Hits

that with the success of  the Stones’  rendition,   “I stopped doing it.   I really liked that song, and I

put my heart and soul into it.    Then along comes this English group that half-sings it, and gets a

million-seller. “


Despite the creation of some high-quality product for the Chess, Roker, Fungus, RCA, and Maison de

Soul labels, Irma never managed to replicate the  success of  “Wish Someone Would Care,” though she

did crack the R &B charts in 1968 with a cover of Otis Redding’s “Good To Me” (R& B: #42).   Irma

Thomas has been active on the New Orleans club scene and the blues circuit ever since. Neighbors

and faithful fans call her  “The Soul Queen of  New Orleans,” and insist that she sounds every bit as

good now as she did then.   Into the ’90s, Rounder Records began issuing LPs of new material.