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Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?) (1942)

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Origin and Chart Information
“The definitive version of the song. Holiday’s reverence for not only the song but the sentiment is unmistakable.”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 7
Words and Music James Edward Davis
Ram Ramirez
Jimmy Sherman

In her 1956 autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, Billie Holiday recounts that “Jimmy [Davis] was in the Army when he wrote ’Lover Man’ and brought it straight to me.” Unfortunately, before she could record the song, Davis was shipped back to Europe and Holiday never saw him again. While the singer does not mention Jimmy Sherman she does lament “Ram Ramirez gets all of the credit for ‘Lover Man,’ but that’s only part of the story.”


More on James Edward Davis at JazzBiographies.com

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“Lover Man” was originally published in 1942, but, because of a dispute between the musician’s union and the recording companies, the song was not recorded by Holiday until 1944. In August of 1942, the president of the American Federation of Musicians called for a recording ban, demanding the studios pay royalties instead of flat fees for nearly all recording by AFM member musicians and orchestras. Holiday’s primary label at the time, Columbia, was a hold-out and, subsequently, one of the last to sign the AFM agreement late in 1944.

Holiday was anxious to start recording again. Her friend Milt Gabler had taken a job with Decca (a company that signed the AFM agreement in October of 1943) and was head of Commodore Records. Holiday had recorded a number of songs including “Strange Fruit” with Gabler, recordings Holiday insisted that “got Gabler in solid at Decca.” She approached Gabler with “Lover Man.” “I went on my knees to him, I loved it so. I didn’t want to do it with the ordinary six pieces. I begged Milt and told him I had to have strings behind me.”


More on Billie Holiday at JazzBiographies.com

Gabler championed her cause and after a long struggle with Decca management, he fulfilled her wish. Holiday recorded “Lover Man” on October 4, 1944, with Toots Camerata and His Orchestra (Decca 23391). Camerata would later recount, “When she walked in and saw the string ensemble she was so overwhelmed she turned right around and walked out.” It wasn’t until seven months later the recording went onto the pop charts for only one week, in sixteenth place.


Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Charlie Parker
Complete Dial Sessions Master Takes
Definitive/Disconforme SL
Original recording 1947
Recorded in the midst of a mental and emotional collapse, this version of “Lover Man” is one of Parker’s most emotionally raw moments. While it is certainly not his most polished recording, it is breathtakingly poignant.
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday: The Complete Decca Recordings
Verve 601
Original recording 1944
Billie Holiday always had a way with songs expressing angst and her heartbreaking version of “Lover Man” is second to none.
J.J. Johnson
The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson Vol. 1
Blue Note Records 32143
original recording 1953
With a tight ensemble featuring Clifford Brown on trumpet, Johnson shows off his well-developed sense of lyricism.
Sarah Vaughan
Swingin' Easy
1992 Polygram 14072
Original recording 1954
Vaughan finds a remarkable balance here, alternating between a reverent reading of the song and striking embellishment of the rhythm and melody.
Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee
Newest Sound Around
2004 BMG International 174805
Original recording 1961
Accompanied sensitively by Blake’s piano, Lee stays true to the song’s spirit while taking some striking chances.
Ray Bryant
Alone With the Blues
1996 Original Jazz Classics 249
Original recording 1958
As he does so often, Bryant here finds the perfect balance between lyricism and bluesy grit.

- Noah Baerman

Benny Carter
A Gentleman and His Music
1990, Concord 4285
Original recording, 1985
The alto saxist gives “Lover Man”’ a gentle touch in great company: Scott Hamilton (ts), Gene Harris (p), Joe Wilder (t & flug), Ed Bickert (g), John Clayton (b), and Jimmie Smith (d). Happily the seldom heard “Idaho”’ is included on the CD.

- Sandra Burlingame

Jimmy Smith
House Party
2000, Blue Note
Original recording, 1957
Hammond organist Jimmy Smith gives the song some funk to go with the blues on a track that features drummer Art Blakey.
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Meets Hawk!
1999 Polygram 63479
Original recording 1963
Saxophonist Rollins does what he does best, taking “Lover Man” to some intriguing new heights. His solo is highly creative but never disrespectful of the song’s original spirit.
Ella Fitzgerald
Whisper Not
2002 Verve 314589478
Original recording 1966
Fitzgerald gives “Lover Man” elegance without detracting from its honest despair.

- Ben Maycock

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