Margaret Lewis Warwick’s soulful country ballad “Reconsider Me,” penned by Warwick and RAM label owner Mira Smith, reflects the hours the songwriting duo spent together honing a mournful, intimate interplay of voice and guitar. The world-weary lyrics and Warwick’s forlorn, wistful vocal fit like hand in glove with the echoing guitar lines.
Ironically, the pair’s low-key version would set the stage for musical-chart fireworks when interpreted by heavy-hitting vocalists. Country-music legend Narvel Felts, for one, scored a No. 2 hit with his version released in 1975, following earlier attempts by fellow twangsters Ray Pillow and John Wesley Ryles. However, perhaps the version most beloved by local music fans floated from the angelic voice of New Orleans’ own “Tan Canary,” soul titan Johnny Adams, whose soaring 1969 waxing was his biggest hit, peaking at #8 on the American R&B charts and #28 on the pop charts.
Adams isn’t the only Louisiana legend to take on “Reconsider Me.” The recently deceased Jimmy Elledge, who at age 18 burst onto the scene with his Chet Atkins-produced take on Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” tackled the song late in his career on a self-released CD. A pianist with a multi-octave vocal range, Elledge delivered perhaps the only take spine-tingling enough to rival the Tan Canary’s.
But tonight, July 17th, at 6 p.m. at the Old U.S. Mint is your chance to hear the original co-composer re-create her version as only she can. Mira Smith has passed, but come see Margaret Lewis Warwick tonight in a presentation by the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation and The Friends of the Cabildo. She will be accompanied by a band that includes Monroe musician Kenny Bill Stinson, known for his dead-on imitation of “The Killer,” Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as for his stint in Louisiana supergroup Lil’ Band o’ Gold.
Above: The Lewis Sisters- Rose, left, and Margaret, right, with Dale Hawkins on stage at the Louisiana Hayride.
“In April 1957 Margaret Lewis won 2nd prize at a talent show in Plainview, sponsored by Johnny Horton, the prize being a guest appearance at the Louisiana Hayride at Shreveport. There, Johnny and Tilman Franks introduced her to local businesswoman Mira Smith, who had her own studio and played guitar with young local cats like James Burton. An aspiring songwriter, she took Margaret under her wing, sending her out on the road with local star Dale Hawkins. Margaret and her sister Rose ended up doing backing vocals for some of Dale`s Checker sessions in Chicago, singing on Baby Baby, Mrs Merguitory’s Daughter, La-Do-Da -Da, Superman and most memorably of all the awesome Little Pig. Later she sang on the equally awesome Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby by Dale.”
“Shreveport could have been another Nashville.” So declares singer, songwriter, and music entrepreneur Margaret Lewis, the West Texas-born songbird who got her first big start in 1957 with an invitation to appear on the Louisiana Hayride. The glory days of the nationally broadcast Hayride – which launched the careers of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Johnny Horton, Kitty Wells, and countless others – are over, but you can catch Lewis, now known as Margaret Lewis Warwick, at this Tuesday’s edition of Heroes of Louisiana Music at the Mint.
In Shreveport, Lewis formed a partnership with the equally legendary Mira Smith, a songwriter and guitarist who owned the local label RAM (short for “Royal Audio Music”). Between 1959 and 1961 Lewis cut numerous country and rockabilly singles on RAM, including “Cheaters Never Win” and “Shake a Leg,” and later signed with Capitol. She and her sister toured as backup singers for Dale Hawkins, performing on some of his Chess sides. She also forged a songwriting partnership with Smith, hitting with “I Almost Called Your Name” for Margaret Whiting and “Mountain of Love” for David Houston.
In 1966 the duo moved to Nashville, signing on with Shelby Singleton’s SSS Productions and cranking out a slew of major hits: “Soul Shake” for Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson; “Country Girl” for Jeannie C. Riley; “Wedding Cake” for Connie Francis; and the country-soul classic “Reconsider Me,” which charted for New Orleans’ own Johnny Adams as well as Narvel Felts. Lewis has had more than 100 songs cut by artists such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Conway Twitty, and two of her songs are included on the 2005 Grammy-winning compilation Night Train to Nashville.
Lewis married Smith’s cousin, Alton Warwick, in 1981 and eventually returned to Shreveport, where her efforts helped spare the fabled Municipal Auditorium from the wrecking ball. She has served as chairwoman of the Louisiana Music Commission, and in 2009 she received the Offbeat magazine award for lifetime achievement. She currently performs with her group The Thunderbolts and most recently produced the Louisiana Hayride’s Bicentennial Bash.