Originally, Jimmy was Michael James, and though apparently he was born in the States, he started out as a solo act in Jamaica, also home of the Vagabonds. They teamed up and relocated to Britain in the middle Sixties, where they established themselves as primarily a club band. Signed to Pye's Piccadilly label, they turned out a handful of singles in 1966, none of which made any chart noise on either side of the Atlantic. How Atlantic Records in the U.S. got wind of them is anyone's guess, but their Atco label issued, a mere two years late, a version of the B-side of James' second Piccadilly single. It wasn't, however, the same track; "Come To Me Softly" in its US version runs 2:45 (versus 3:25 for the British release), and while either way you get a ballad written by James himself and sung like Chuck Jackson with the rough stuff buffed off, the American release has sweetly-singing strings and sweeping piano arpeggios all over the place, not just during the instrumental break. The backing tracks are entirely different, so it's not a case of postproduction overdubbing. Atco followed with a Come To Me Softly album (33-222), containing a 3:20 version with a longer break; in typical American fashion, it turned out to be otherwise a truncated version of the Vagabonds' Piccadilly LP (The New Religion). Jimmy James got one more semi-hit for Atco, a remake of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine", which became his first chart hit in the United Kingdom. The Vagabonds lived up to their name, coming and going at irregular intervals, and James resurfaced during the disco era, retaining the Vagabonds name and working with producer Biddu, picking up some solid English hits, though only one, "I Am Somebody", would chart in the US. Oddly, it too was a B side.
Where can I get this on CD?
Sanctuary Records in the UK has issued an excellent 28-track compilation (Vagabond King: The Sixties Sides, CMAR 672). The liner notes indicate the American "Come To Me Softly" is identical to the British release, which it isn't. The US version can be had on 25 Beach Music Classics from Varèse Vintage (302 066 467-2), issued in June 2003. Abel's blog at Vox, which specializes in 50s-80s tunage, has a nice writeup and a lyric sheet.
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