Mates’ Crates, a series headed up by our friend Andrei Sandu, dives into the tales behind records and digs deeper into our connections to music. Latin-infused disco this time with Santa Esmerelda's unforgettable cover of Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood".
Label: Phillips | Year: 1977 | Discogs: Santa Esmerelda Startting Leroy Gomez - Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
As is true of Romanian pan-flautist George Zamfir's "The Lonely Shepherd", Santa Esmerelda's single was thrust into the public consciousness by Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that one of Zamfir's albums features in the photo I have lazily used with ever Mates' Crates show for the last three years. Having seriously underestimated how much it would become 'my thing', I enormously regret not buying that record.
Unlike Santa Esmerelda's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", which I was delighted to snap up at a record store in Prague a few weeks ago. Originally performed in 1964 by Nina Simone (whose version, shockingly, failed to chart), the song was then covered by Newcastle-based rock group The Animals the following year, peaking at 15th in the Billboard Hot 100.
Twelve years after that, two French singer-songwriters / producers formed Santa Esmerelda to perform their compositions. Massachusetts-born, Paris-based musician Leroy Gómez was recruited as lead vocalist. Gómez's career began as a member of soul group Tavares, five brothers who shared his Cape-Verdean heritage, best known for "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel".
After playing sax on Elton John's album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", Gómez was tempted by success outside Tavares. His solo success with "Here We Go Around" then led to a chance encounter with Santa Esmerelda's producers, recording "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" just a few months later.
I was surprised to discover that brass and strings on the record were arranged by legendary French disco producer Don Ray, famous for both his solo work and collaborations with Cerrone. Ray also wrote the second part of the record, "Esmerelda Suite".
Like The Animals', Santa Esmerelda's version peaked at Number 15 in the charts, though vocalist Jimmy Goings was surprisingly brought in to replace Gómez. Still in 1977, the group scored their second hit with another song made famous by The Animals: "The House of the Rising Sun". Whilst the group's instrumental song "Sevillia Nights" featured on the soundtrack of Motown and Casablanca's disco comedy "Thank God It's Friday, they never again enjoyed major chart success.
Alongside Donna Summer and The Commodores, the film starred Terri Nunn, who later found fame as lead vocalist of new-wave group Berlin, best known for "Take My Breath Away" - the love theme from Top Gun.
Leroy Gómez later re-joined Santa Esmerelda, and continues to tour with them to this day. He remains active as a session saxophonist and was the first foreign musician to receive the Gondola d'ora at Venice Music Festival. Perhaps most notably as "Feliz Navidad" season swings back around frighteningly quickly, Gómez has also performed with José Feliciano. No link though, it's still far too early.
And I'll leave you now with another European disco cover of an American classic I found this year - Italian group Colorado's version of "California Dreaming".