Mercury died in Toronto on 14th March 2022 at 77
By Norman “Otis” Richmond
The world knew him as the Electric Black Man. He always told me “I am a West Indian.” You are probably wondering who Eric Mercury was? He was unsung in his own county but known around the rest of the world.
I am talking about the Toronto born, internationally known Mercury. Son of St. Vincent and the Grenadines -born father George Lewis Mercury and his Jamaica-born mother Gladys Smith Mercury. His father was one of the ministers of the BME (British Methodist Episcopal) church here in Toronto.
After moving to the United States, Mercury ended up recording with Memphis Tennessee-based Stax Records in 1970. He remembered being picked up at the airport by the legendary producer Steve Cropper. This was in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Another legendary singer songwriter, producer Valery Simpson played on Electric Black Man. This was the same recording studio where Wicked Wilson Picket recorded; “In the Midnight Hour” and other hits.
Critics were split on Mercury’s talent or lack of. Miles Davis loved “Electric Black Man”. Brenda Russel, a four-time nominee, met Mercury when she was 14 years old and hoped to hook up with them as an opening act. She eventually did.
I was working as a computer operator on Bay Street in Toronto. Eric Mercury was coming to town with Roberta Flack. I got a call from Mercury asking me would If I would like to interview Roberta. My reply: But of course.
During my lunch break I flew to the hotel to interview Ms. Flack. One problem and it was a big one- the corporate press was there and they had to get their interview on the 6’o’clock news. I had to wait. This took two and a half hours. My lunch break was only one hour. I decided to wait. The interview went really well. The North Carolina-born Flack was kind and warm. I reflected on the fact that many of the giants of Black Music had sprung from that state. I mentioned Theloneous Munk (Mercury actually recorded with Theloneous Munk’s son TS Munk) as well Max Roach, John Coltaine, George Clinton, Nina Simone to name a few.
Mercury’s picture should be in the dictionary next to the word eclectic. A friend of his made this point, “He’s a Black Rock Star pioneer,” maintains Mark Ruffen, one of Mercury’s friend and host of Sirius XMs Real Jazz Channel. He continued, “He was a creative junky. He absorbed pop culture more than anybody I know. And by absorb it, I mean all of it. When I was hanging in Chicago we used to go this place to play Trivial Pursuit and he would wear people out no matter what the subject was.”