"'If Loving You Is Wrong' sealed Stax's distribution deal with CBS Records," Eric Ingram proudly notes, describing Luther Ingram's rise from Ike Turner's opening act to Southern soul superstar.
The main act on Johnny Baylor's KoKo Records — picked up as a Stax subsidiary when Baylor, a former Army Ranger and reputed member of the Black Mafia, came to Memphis to act as a strong arm for the label's artists — Luther Ingram was born in Jackson, Tennessee, and raised in Alton, Illinois, where he sang in church and formed a family group called the Gardenias. After a dead-end deal with Decca Records, he struck gold with songs such as "Pity for the Lonely," "My Honey and Me," "Always," "Do You Love Somebody," and "Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)" during his KoKo era, which lasted from 1968 to '78.
"KoKo was supposed to be equal to — if not better than — Motown," Eric explains today. "My father wanted to be part of that, but he hooked up with a bunch of crooks, and it all went south."
Case in point: "If Loving You Is Wrong," which was originally written by Stax staff songwriters Homer Banks, Raymond Jackson, and Carl Hampton and recorded (but never released) by the Emotions. "The title was there, and a song had been written before my father got to it," Eric confirms. "But it was up-tempo, and it had different words. When it was given to my father, he took it home and sat on the porch with my uncle Gene, working on it for hours. He changed the whole song around, but he never got credit for that."
In '72, the same year that "If Loving You Is Wrong" soared up the Billboard charts, the FBI detained Baylor, who was holding $130,000 in cash and a check from Stax Records for half-a-million dollars, at the Birmingham airport. The IRS seized the funds, spearheading an investigation that would eventually bring Stax to its knees. But for the time being, it was business as usual, and Luther continued his association with KoKo for several more years.
Fast-forward a few decades to when Eric hired attorney Fred Davis to regain ownership of his father's songs. "So far, we've gotten 26 of them back," he reports. "Some of them are really good songs — some are Top 20 songs — but "If Loving You Is Wrong" became such a monster that it drowned most of them out. I plan to bring them out as new songs with new artists. Of course, my dad had that unique voice. But I've got some good singers that he'd given the thumbs-up to."
Just 69 years old, Luther Ingram died of heart failure on March 19th, following an extended bout with diabetes and kidney disease.
Eric is currently developing a feature film called If Loving You Is Wrong. "It's a combination of Fatal Attraction and What's Love Got To Do With It," he says. "When I first heard that song, I was only 8 or 8 years old, and everybody wanted to know if that was happening with my family. They thought my father was having a three-way love affair. But it was actually happening with somebody my father knew. The movie's story is about the song — about infidelity — rather than about my father, although I've got so many stories from him about what happened back in the day that I want to do a Stax Records story as well."
On March 26th, Luther Ingram was buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Bellevue, Illinois. For more information about his career, visit LutherIngramMusic.net.