In Washington, D.C., it was WOOK, aka OK100. In your town, it might have been another R&B station. A typical Saturday night broadcast in the late ‘80s would have been a reliable dose of boogie and the occasional quiet storm love song for pacing. Emerson’s 1988 ballad “If You Need Me, Call Me,” would have fit right into that programming; he looks kind of tough, his moustache and expression on the album cover suggesting one story, the sensitive, halting alto telling another one altogether. The song should have been a staple of ‘80s radio, but it was never released—until now. If You Need Me, Call Me, finally issued by Kalita Records, is an earnest, endearing boogie album that will send you back to a time when such smooth soul was a natural part of the FM landscape.

Emerson Sandidge was born into a musical family in Gary, Indiana. His mother was a relative of jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald and his father and older brother were proficient guitarists. He could sing and play guitar by the time he was nine years old and formed a cover band with his brothers in the ‘60s. Sandidge went on to play backup for comedians like Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite), but he grew frustrated just performing other people’s songs. He met his future wife Leora singing songs in a shoe store where she worked, and developed original songs throughout the ‘70s but grew weary of working with other musicians. After moving to Georgia, the couple finally took matters into their own hands and recorded an album in 1988, writing the songs in a week and recording them in three days, but after Leora fell ill, the Sandidges took time to let their family heal and never put the album out.

You can hear that conflict between frustration and affection in Sandidge’s lyrics. The mid-tempo album opener “Why Are You So Cold?” is a lover’s lament: “Times are hard when we fuss and fight/ When I ask to make love you say not tonight.” “Sending All My Love Out” was the only song here released at the time, albeit as a privately pressed 45 of which only 500 copies were made. Its generous title sentiment is at odds with a domestic bitterness: “Family turns their back on you/ What am I supposed to do?/ Mother father sister too/ They don’t care enough for you.” Emerson is reaching out to someone who’s been disappointed by their loved ones, and that impulse, backed by synth washes, a drum machine and his own sampled voice, seems to come from his own troubles.

The Sandidges’ tempos range from ballad to mid-tempo, which suggest a slow dance with something seething in anger. “Nosey Neighbors” has a lush synth arrangement, but the lyrics are again resentful: “Who’s that across the street?/ Staring hard at me/ I’m talking about neighbors.” This is a personal R&B that’s catchy but whose themes are oddly uncommercial. Yet this suspicious mind is genuinely concerned about his fellow man. The anthemic “Raw Deal Cocaine Kills” came about from watching TV news of athletes dying from drugs; one wonders if University of Maryland basketball player Len Bias, who died in 1986 from a cocaine overdose just days after being selected by the Boston Celtics in the NBA draft, was the specific impetus for this cautionary tale.

With eight songs (two of them alternate version) in 34 minutes, If You Need Me, Call Me runs short; the upbeat closing instrumental “Sound Track,” just three minutes long, feels unfinished. Emerson and Leora were on to something here, but they put it aside and never made another record. Their legacy is their family: the Sandidges are still alive and together, and one hopes their much-delayed debut will school younger generations in the old school R&B of the ‘80s.

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