Payin' Dues: Sharon McMahan

Detroit singer and composer Sharon McMahan began writing at 12, turned professional at 13 and has since penned songs for the likes of Etta James and Mavis Staples. She earned her biggest hit, however, with The Searchers who took her Some Day We’re Gonna Love Again into the UK Top 20 in 1964. Her version of Where There Is Love For Me is currently in demand on the northern soul scene.

**You decided to self-fund your latest album Somebody Else. **Yes, it was a labour of love and very long overdue. The industry has changed so much, it became almost impossible to sign with a label and get the kind of support I needed. So I ventured out on my own. I’m glad I did, I feel it really represents me as a writer and artist.

**How did you start writing songs? **There was a song called Mother-In-Law by Ernie K Doe. One day after school, it was playing and I went to the piano and decided to try to play it. My first challenge was learning how to mimic the rhythm. I found the bass key and then added the basic chord with the right hand to match the sound and started playing them back and forth, taking turns like a drum and I was able to capture that rhythm. After that, I said to myself, “Why don’t I make up my own songs?” I wrote my first four songs aged 12. I hadn’t set out to be a singer, but the only way for anyone to hear my songs was for me to sing them.

I’m glad I ventured out on my own.

**Mavis Staples and Etta James both covered You’re The Fool which you wrote when you were 18. **Don Davis [Detroit producer] was responsible for that. He was the producer on both projects. I met Don when I was 13 at United Sounds Studios. I was there with Ollie [McLaughlin, DJ/ record producer] and I was meeting the musicians, most of whom were The Funk Brothers. But they weren’t even The Funk Brothers then. They were just musicians I would see every week. Then one day I was [at home] and Eli Fontaine [session saxophonist] came by. He told me Don was producing a solo album for Mavis Staples and he wanted Eli to listen to my songs and see if I had anything he thought she could do. I sat down at the piano and played a few songs. He picked You’re The Fool and went back and told Don. Don called the next week and took me in the studio to make a demo. Soon after it was released, Don called and said he was producing Etta James and that he was going to record it with her too. And soon after that, he was the executive producer for a project on The Three Degrees, so they recorded it too.

Somebody Else is out now on So.Calitown.