Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Vintage Articles:
Disc Profile: Grace Jones - The Lady Is a Vamp! - By Regina Rose // Mandate - September 1977

With today being Grace Jones' birthday and with all the attention around the recent reissue of her disco trilogy - "Portfolio," (1977) "Fame" (1978) and "Muse" (1979) as part of her "Disco" box set, (which I've had on regular rotation since receiving it last week), I thought this would be a good time to post this profile of her that I'd found in an old 1977 issue of Mandate. For the uninitiated, Mandate was one of the top gay titles in the holdings of late porn king, George Mavety and his Mavety Media empire, which also published such esteemed titles as Juggs, Inches, Honcho and Leg Show to name just a few.

While Mandate folded in 2009 along with many other Mavety Media titles, these earlier, seventies issues of Mandate and other competing titles from the era like Blueboy and In Touch (no relation to the current tabloid) are, aside from being great time capsules generally, a veritable treasure trove of gay disco history and ephemera. With extensive cultural coverage - sections dedicated to artist profiles, record reviews, (in pop, rock and even classical) alongside fairly comprehensive theatre and literary columns; Mandate and its contemporaries, at least at this point in time, seemed intent positioning themselves much like Playboy had done - as "lifestyle" titles for the culturally sophisticated, sexually liberated, affluent gay male. Looking through their back issues, the difference between the "international magazine of entertainment and eros" of the 70s and the all-out skin mag it would later become is quite stark.

As far as this profile on Grace is concerned, while I wouldn't call it an especially in-depth one, (it's quite brief and something of a puff-piece); it's an interesting glimpse at the kind coverage she was getting at the very start of her career. With her first album, "Portfolio" new on record shelves and true to that title with Grace still better known as a model in many circles, this is perhaps one of the earliest documents of her rising stardom. Quoting Vince Aletti, Richard Bernstein and Francesco Scavullo and mentioning breaks she had gotten as a model from the likes of Antonio Lopez, Bruce Laurance and Hans Feurer, one thing this article does do quite well is trace the trajectory of her modeling career in a way that very few profiles of her have done since. The 1973 Bruce Laurance photograph that helped launch her modeling career opens the article, (although I, for one, would have loved to have seen a picture of the Richard Bernstein designed amyl nitrate costume described in the first paragraph also, but I digress..)

It also has to be said, that the writer seems to be taking more than a bit of license when she mentions how Grace "managed to become a successful recording artist without ever taking a singing lesson." Tom Moulton would likely beg to differ, having mentioned in two of his recent interviews promoting her new Disco box, that despite whatever reservations he may have had about her abilities in the beginning, just how dedicated she had been to her vocal training at this period of her career. A listen to some of her earliest recordings, like "Again and Again" or "I'll Find My Way To You" from the Italian film "Quelli della calibro 38" (Colt 38) - later re-recorded for the final installment of her Disco trilogy - "Muse" (1979, Island) - certainly show as much.

Exaggerations aside, enjoy this early glimpse at a budding icon...

____________________________________________





Disc Profile: Grace Jones - The Lady Is A Vamp!
by Regina Rose

She slowly descended a long staircase, hundreds of phosphorescent tubes circling her tight outfit, silk-screened in an amyl nitrate motif, with some of the poppers depicted as broken. She was a definite high, and the usually staid audience went wild. The scene was a black tie benefit in New York sponsored by the Lung Association, with a tribute to the artist Erte as its theme. And the show-stopping beauty was reigning disco diva Grace Jones, who introduced her rock version of "La Vie en Rose" to thunderous applause. New York's "in" artist Richard Bernstein who created the costume as well as la Jones' album covers, says, "She's an electrifying experience and incredibly talented... black beauty on her way to superstardom." Fashion photographer extraordinaire Francesco Scavullo had two words: "She's dynamite!"

A firecracker with a lit fuse, about to be thrown, creating an explosion sure to leave the entertainment world rocking. That's Grace Jones. Her first record was what the music industry equates with winning the Irish Sweepstakes: a double-sided hit. The songs, "That's The Trouble" and "Sorry," remained on the Billboard Action chart for 17 consecutive weeks. Her second release, "I Need A Man!" is the first 12" single to make it onto the pop music charts, usually made up solely of 7" records, proving her appeal has crossed the disco boundary to reach the general record-buying public.

Vince Aletti, disco editor for Record World, commented on Grace's phenomenal success. "When I first got her record I wasn't sure it was Grace. I had met her a few years ago but I didn't know she was into singing. I just knew she was a model and very striking." He continued with, "One of the things that striked me about her is her voice is not one of those polished singing voices. It has a lot of character. It's like a whole lot of voices put together. I like the rough edge to her voice. Her image, her whole look and style, come across on the record. I like the way they package her."

Grace Jones was born and raised in Jamaica, moving with her family to Syracuse, New York, when she was twelve. Her childhood aspiration was to be a movie star, and she constantly played with make-up and nail polish, something her mother dubbed "vain." At Syracuse University she took a drama course which led her, after graduation, to Philadelphia where her professor was producing a summer stock play. After the run of the show, Grace headed for New York in pursuit of a modeling career. Armed with photographs, slicked back hair and high cheekbones, she was hired by Wilhelmina and spent the next two and a half years struggling in the highly competitive New York modeling jungle. Her beauty was considered too avant garde for the time, but her picture taken by photographer Bruce Laurance and used on the cover of his party invitations got Grace's face into all the right mail boxes. Five and a half years later, Laurance says, "She's a really good friend. Grace is a very sensitive girl and intuitive and a little bit of a psychic. She's got the voodoo in her." It shows!

On the advice of fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, Grace went to Paris where Lopez had arranged introductions to Europe's elite fashion circle. Photographer Hans Feurer showed her how to look more in tune with the haute couture market, even having real gold teeth made at tremendous expense for a photograph of her lips that appeared on the cover of Uomo Vogue (sic). Her pictures began showing up in all of Europe's major fashion magazines, and she modeled in some of the top Paris designer collections.

In 1976 Grace was having dinner with a group of model and photographer friends and began singing at the table. A record producer was present and asked her on the spot to make a recording for him. The result was "That's The Trouble," first released in Paris, but not destined to be a hit until Tom Moulton, Grace's U.S. producer, rearranged the recording.

Grace's managers, Sy and Eileen Berlin, watch over her with parent-like guidance and supervision, approaching her career with a definite science, preventing the public from become over-saturated with too many records or performances. The sizzling artist, at age 25, is up for a major role in a Broadway musical and will soon act and sing in a movie to be filmed in Jamaica. In true diva tradition, the girl is going to wind up on top. After all, she managed to become a successful recording artist without ever taking a singing lesson.

In New York, Grace Jones recently dropped in unnanounced at two "in" discos, 12 West and Les Mouches, and of course she found herself spinning on the turntables. But then, the girl is spinning on every turntable in reality.

____________________________________________


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
i'm very superficial, i hate everything official (tuesday september 15, 2009)
strange weather - the tumultous re-emergence of grace jones (part two) (tuesday january 6, 2009)
strange weather - the tumultous re-emergence of grace jones (part one) (wednesday december 24, 2008)
the return of grace jones? (friday june 20, 2008)

LINKS:
facebook: grace jones (official fanpage)
gaybackissues.com - mandate magazine
queerty: george mavety's noble cause behind creating a bunch of skin rags for gay men (september 23, 2009)
queerty: say goodbye to these porn mags (may 12, 2009)
the guardian: tom moulton on grace jones: 'they were just like her slaves, just looking at her all goo-goo eyed' (by alexis petridis) (friday may 8, 2015)
ransom note - interviews: drama, disco & divas: tom moulton talks (by ian mcquaid)
udiscover: grace jones' disco years in new box set (march 12, 2015)
facebook: the art of richard bernstein
1stdibs: bruce laurance - grace jones at compo beach, 1973
dangerous minds: grace jones modeling card, 1973 (august 30, 2012)
new york times - obituary: richard bernstein, 62; created covers for interview magazine (by stuart lavietes) (november 2, 2002)
the antonio lopez book
designspiration: vogue hommes - spring 1975 (grace jones photographed by hans feurer)

CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Vintage Articles:
'The first step in getting ahead is getting started.’ An interview with Bob Crewe. -
by Donald von Wiedenman //
The Advocate - April 7, 1976




Something to add on to the previous Disco Delivery post on the Bob Crewe Generation's Street Talk album - I found this interview back when I was researching through back issues of The Advocate for nothing in particular aside from anything that seemed interesting and relevant to my interests (and there was plenty). I had quoted a section of this interview in the previous post, but I figured I might as well post the entire thing here for posterity. The article, written by The Advocate's features editor at the time, Donald von Wiedenman - an interesting figure himself, descendant of Bavarian nobility footnoted in rock history for his brief marriage to the late Mama Cass Elliott - is perhaps one of the most vivid descriptions of Bob Crewe that I've read.

Although he's widely acknowledged as a gay songwriter now in his death and in light of his portrayal in the Jersey Boys musical and film, it's interesting to note that even while speaking to the leading gay magazine about a record that more than hinted at homoeroticism, he's nonetheless gently evasive about his own sexuality in print. Even when the topic of the gay community comes up, he never manages to implicate himself as part of that community, even while talking about it. Although one can fill in the blanks and realize that someone who speaks about it as knowledgably as he does has to have more than an outside passing familarity with it all.

Although he reportedly wasn't entirely happy with his Liberace-lite portrayal in Jersey Boys, having only seen the film thus far, what it does seem to do well, just as this article does, is portray the infectious charisma that Crewe seemed to have when in his element as a writer and producer. Taking inspiration from everything around him and in turn inspiring those around him; notwithstanding any camp liberties in the storytelling, his inspiring personality is one thing in evidence in the film, just as it is here, and just as it is when hearing old friends and colleagues speak about him.

Apart from producing the award-winning "Leader Of The Pack" cast album in 1980s, the volume of his musical credits seem to drop off after the disco era into the 80s. He appears, as many do, to have turned a new chapter and dedicated much of the last part of his life to his visual art and philanthropic efforts. Prior to his passing this past September 2014, Crewe's health had apparently been diminishing rapidly following a 2010 accident which left him in hospice care and suffering from dementia. The statement left by his surviving brother spelled it out quite grimly. Looking at this interview from 2008, which must have been one of his last, he nonetheless seemed determined to remain as active as possible as a creative person, well into his later years. If anything, this article captures him at a high point, as the quintessential dream-maker, to paraphrase the article, with a million things happening around him and all the connections to back it up. I'll let the words speak for themselves..

____________________________________________




‘The first step in getting ahead is getting started.’ An interview with Bob Crewe.
By Donald von Wiedenman


         It is early in the morning (for me anyhow), and I am slouched on Bob Crewe’s leather-covered bed at his home high in the Hollywood hills. The house is a shambles. A bevy of workers are gutting, sawing, ripping, hammering and generally making pests of themselves as they tear out the inside of Bob’s house, making it ready for the new era to come. Down where we are, on the lower level that harbors his bedroom and makeshift office, we sit among the debris of a life lived in madness. Golden records here. Golden records there. Autographed photographs, record jacket designs, mislaid mottos and a bookcase that contains, among other goodies, Cities of Destiny and The Suicide Academy.

Bob Crewe is the man of the moment. One can’t dance at a disco these days without dancing to records that Bob wrote and produced. No overnight success, his career goes back to “Tallahassee Lassie” and “Daddy Cool.” Today, he is one of the most powerful and successful record producers in the wonderful world of rock-and-roll, and his recent hits include “My Eyes Adored You,” “Swearin’ To God,” “Disco-Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes Review,” “Lady Marmalade,” “Get Dancin’” and “I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo.” He had created stars, made millions of dollars and exerted an influence that has definitely had an effect on all of us.

From upstairs-- almost drowning out the noise of the carpenters -- Bob’s latest 45, “Street Talk,” is blasting away on speakers that are bigger than a bathtub. The music is lush, sweeping and sensual. It is Wagnerian rock, an all-encompassing, third-world sensation of unearthly delights. It’s the kind of music that makes you want to lie down, take off your clothes and fuck your way to The Big Dance Floor in the Sky. It is, to put it quite simply, very horny music.

Crewe is talking about 10 things at once. His chatter is the patter of jumbled jargon, obscure references and the first names of the biggest names in the business. To listen to him is to be confused and elated at the same time. I have the feeling that everything he says is a special confidence intended only for me. So I listen and I watch, keeping careful track of all that surrounds me. Observations are what it’s all about and if it works for him, it’s bound to work for me.

Crewe tells me that he is deep in the midst of expanding the theme of “Street Talk” into what he terms the world’s first trisexual rock ballet. “I don’t know whether to spell it with an ‘i’ or a ‘y’ “ he muses. “I suppose it should be trysexual, as in try anything.” He laughs, pleased at the sound of yet another undiscovered secret. He knows that everything he says--everything he thinks--is only the fragment of an idea that can be developed later. The world is an adventure to him: Everything leads to something else.


         Bob goes back a long way, and for a man somewhere near the age of 40, he is remarkably young. Tall, goodlooking, he has a boyishly lived-in face that is handsome in the classic sense. In many ways, he is as immediate as his music, yet he has a kind of timeless quality, as if he’d be just as much at home dancing the Hustle as he would the Madison. Today he is a vision in blue. Faded jeans, a blue pullover, blue suede sneakers, and shades of the ‘50s white socks. His body seems to light up, as if his energy can actually be seen by the naked eye. Even when he is calm, he never sits still.

He is telling me more about his trysexual rock ballet. As he talks, he pulls out a copy of After Dark, flips through the pages until he comes to a drawing of a lustily innocent boy with his underpants coyly pulled down over one hip. It is unmistakenly the work of Los Angeles artist Toby Bluth, a lusty young man in his own right.


         “This,” says Crewe, “is how I see the hero of ‘Street Talk’.” He smiles. “I call him Cherry Boy. The ballet--or rock opera, film, stage musical, whatever--begins with Cherry Boy going into a disco. He is young, naive, never made it one way or the other. He’s hot. He’s street talk. Everyone notices him, wants him, desires him. Of course, he gets picked up, by a guy and a chick named Rod and Selma. Rod is for Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Selma is Selma Avenue in Hollywood. The music we hear is called ‘Menage a Trois,’ a very sensual understatement, not sordid at all. These two people keep him.

“The mood shifts with ‘Back Alley Boogie,’ a really funky sound.” Crewe pauses, thinking of the next logical step. “At the end of the piece, we see Cherry Boy with a chick on his arm going into a disco and picking up another boy, the new street talk. It’s a very circular piece. The hunted becomes the hunter. It’s a microcosm of our own lives.”

Of course, this all hits home. From the hunted young man to the hunting older man, the story is universal; a come-to-grips-with-reality morality play that never knows a final curtain.

Crewe decided to call Toby Bluth and discuss all this with him to see if Bluth will do the illustration for the album jacket. I am amazed at the speed with which Crewe works. Right in front of my eyes an unfocused concept has taken on a definite form. I feel as if I am in the middle of rock & roll history.

As Crewe talks avidly on the phone, I notice a sign on the wall that reads, “The first step in getting ahead is getting started.” My heart stands still. It is the very core of reality for those of us who dozed through the last decade in a haze of smoke and a pile of pills.

Crewe is off the phone. He starts “Street Talk” from the beginning again, takes the phone off the hook and tells me that he first came to Hollywood in 1960. At that time he wanted to get into acting. He already had a long string of hits behind him, and he wanted to try something new. But the meatmarket approach to acting in Hollywood was too much for him. Although he was attracted to the glamor of it all, he was too afraid of failing to really pursue it very far. So he went back; back to producing records, back to New York, back to the safety of doing what he knew best.

“Those were incredible days for me,” he confesses. “I had so much fun doing what I wanted to do that I didn’t know it was work. Do you know what I mean?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “I always thought work was something dreary, something that was alien to one’s being. It took me a long time to realize that I was actually working when I was having such a great time. I guess that is what it’s all about--getting paid a lot of money for what you like to do best. I used to think that I wasn’t suffering enough.” He pauses, throws a jaded shrug at the work ethic, and adds somewhat obscurely, “I was more daring then. I guess it was the time. I often think that a lot of that was just so much shit. Or was it? I mean, I got dressed-up in an ape costume, for example, and went to Philadelphia to plug Frankie Valli’s ‘I Go Ape.’ Can you imagine? And another time, I took a bunch of my friends back to Newark, where I grew up, to see my humble beginnings.” (I can only think of Diana Ross in Rock Dreams, her eyes scanning the darkness of the past.) “And do you know what?” Crewe asks. “Everything was gone. Nothing was like it had been before. I felt saddened because no one would ever see it again.”

We talk about the popularity of his music--and disco music in general--in the gay clubs. The hot records break first in gay circles, leading the way for the non-gay world to follow. Crewe knows his business very, very well. He answers without hesitation.

“I think gay clubs are the most honest forum for determining the success of disco music. First of all, the patrons are very affluent--more affluent and more independent than the men and women who go to other bars. Most of the gay men that I know are very proud. They work for a living (unless they’re kept), and they have a lot of money to spend. And they spend it on themselves--whether it’s buying drinks or paying a cover charge.

“Another big factor about gay bars is that everyone there is into dancing, much more than at a straight bar. As a rule, you can’t bullshit gay men and women. They’re looking for music that will make them move, and if the music doesn’t get them onto the dance floor, it’s no good. The club closes down. It’s very much cause and effect.”


         The door opens. Lou Ann, his right hand woman, comes in with assorted messages that need to be dealt with. Someone upstairs starts “Street Talk” all over again. In the middle of discussing a check for the architect, which needs to be sent right away, Crewe smiles at me and tells me that when he was eight, he was one of Lippel’s Cutie-Cutes.

Cutie-Cutes? Oh yes, he tells me, it was a school for dancing for bright young things like himself. Even today, I realize, after time and the tides have taken their toll, Crewe is still one of the Cutie-Cutes, just a kid out on the boards trying to make his dreams come true. Get down, get back and get dancing--life can be just as fun as you make it.

The next day I bop down to Cherokee Studios where Crewe is laying down the tracks for his Street Talk album. I walk into the pounding, grinding, tantalizing sound of “Menage a Trois,” a perfect melody, I think, for the collection of lovelies around me. First there is Cindy Bullens, who is co-arranging this opus with Crewe. She is slight, boyish, determined, loose and immensely likeable. Then there is AJ, the Great DJ, his hair the color of a dye job gone wrong, his face looking suitably dragged out after being up all night, one supposes, playing the music that brings happy feet onto the disco floor.

Toby Bluth comes in, portfolio under his arm; a tall, thin, jaded young man named Jock (or possibly Jacques) in tow. They smile at the multitude. The multitude smiles back. The studio receptionist, who looks as if she won the Philadelphia David Bowie look-alike contest, swoops in, listens to a few heady bars and floats out. All around me--converging on the plate of shrimp with the lusty gusto of those who live under only the darkest of rocks--there are assorted technicians, artists, musicians and hangers-on.

Crewe, noting in the confusion that Bluth needs to be tended to, heads in his direction, asking AJ on the way if he’s seen Cherry Boy. “Seen him?” AJ grins back. “Darlin’, I’ve had him.”

Somehow in this dialog, complete with jaded smiles and a thinning air of decadence, flashes me back to London in the Sixties. Again, I am reminded of how much things stay the same, of how the same lessons I learned years ago are the lessons people are still learning today. I have the feeling, as one often does in the windowless world of recording studios, that I am in a time warp. Yes, that’s it. It’s straight from the “Ed Sullivan Show,” but the emphasis is not on straight.

In the midst of all this craziness, Crewe, with a cigarette constantly in his hand, is in control of everything. Working the complex controls of a million buttons and levers on the magic dashboard of the rock & roll spaceship, he is definitely the mastermind behind the mastermind. He punches up the piano, punches out the violins, turns this knob to get that effect and no one knows that all that hard work is really a piece of cake to the man who can’t understand why everything is so much fun.


         In front of me, there is either a woman or a man undulating to the music, a thin, androgynous shape that is at once yesterday’s unisex and tomorrow’s way of life. Crewe comes over to me. The music in the control booth is so loud that it is impossible to concentrate on anything else, the very purpose of it all, I suppose. He starts to sing, and, cliche or no cliche, the room stands still. He sings the words that only he knows, the words that hatch as he thinks, the words that follow will form the shape and content of the world’s first trysexual rock ballet.


         I am thinking that all of this sounds a little far-fetched, that it smacks of being just a little too unreal to be believed. But then I look around the studio at smiling faces and good-time graces, and I know that only a dream-maker can make a dream come true. Bob Crewe and street talk--they are the very heartbeat of the music in our souls.

All things considered, that’s not bad coming from a Cutie-Cute who never grew up ■

____________________________________________


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
disco delivery #66: the bob crewe generation - street talk (1976, elektra) (sunday march 15, 2015)
disco delivery mix #4: disco pride '14 - street talk (saturday june 28, 2014)

LINKS:
discogs: bob crewe
frontiers media: bob crewe, gay music legend, dead at 82 (by karen ocamb) (september 11, 2014)
the advocate: #tbt: the gay jersey boy (by christopher harrity) (september 11, 2014)
jersey girls sing: bob crewe - the master and the music
the new york times: bob crewe, songwriter for frankie valli and four seasons, dies at 83 (by william yardley) (september 12, 2014)
the guardian - music: bob crewe obituary (by richard williams) (september 17, 2014)
bob crewe.com - at this time
ann ruckert: an update on the health of bob crewe (november 19, 2011)
about artist and writer donald von wiedenman
jersey girls sing: bob crewe - the master and the music


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES, IN MEMORIAM

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Disco Delivery #66:
The Bob Crewe Generation - Street Talk (1976, Elektra)




"your ass is your ticket to paradise, you're gonna have to pay the price.."

The Bob Crewe Generation - Cherry Boy
The Bob Crewe Generation - Menage a Trois
The Bob Crewe Generation - Street Talk
The Bob Crewe Generation - Back Alley Boogie
The Bob Crewe Generation - Welcome To My Life
The Bob Crewe Generation - Free (Medley): I Am.../Free.../Keep On Walkin'
The Bob Crewe Generation - Ah Men!
The Bob Crewe Generation - Time For You And Me

B.C.G. - Street Talk (12" Unedited Main Theme) (1976, 20th Century)
B.C.G. - Street Talk (12" Var. II) (1976, 20th Century)
B.C.G. - Street Talk (12" Var. III) (1976, 20th Century)


A little known piece of homoerotic disco theatre, this album has long been a point of fascination to me and given the release of a double CD of Bob Crewe's Elektra recordings last week, I figure it was time to stop holding off from writing about it.. Despite being known for all those Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons hits written with Bob Gaudio ("Can't Take My Eyes Off You," the gay love song you never knew about, for one), Bob Crewe's disco period is perhaps one of the most interesting phases in his work. After a frustrating period as a staff writer and producer at Motown (where Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons also languished for some time), Crewe would end up tapping into disco quite early on, charting a small string of disco singles, like "Hollywood Hot" by the Eleventh Hour, a retooled disco version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," by Gerri Granger, one of Frankie Valli's comeback hits "Swearin' To God," "Get Dancin'" by Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, easily one of the most flamboyant iterations of disco camp and perhaps biggest of all, "Lady Marmalade." Although made famous by Labelle under Allen Toussaint's production, the song was originally written and produced by Crewe and Kenny Nolan for their studio group The Eleventh Hour (and included on both Eleventh Hour albums). According to his official bio, having apparently helped start one of the early record pools - the LADP (Los Angeles Disco Pool), Bob Crewe's contributions in the earlier part of disco, from 1974-76, represent perhaps his last major period as an active, on-the-pulse record producer and songwriter.

Despite his portrayal in Jersey Boys (I had seen the film only recently), Crewe was by many accounts much more discreet about his sexuality while he was alive, only ever publically admitting to being bisexual, for one thing. Whether that was an honest statement of identity or a half-measured coming out dictated by the fashion or limitations of the times; it wasn't until Crewe passed away this past September at the age of 83, that I had ever seen him openly referred to in the press as a gay man. Perhaps an open secret for those in music industry circles at the time, one close listen to this album would likely dispel any remaining speculation.

Although this album was billed in a 1976 cover story in The Advocate as a "Try sexual disco-rock ballet," the lyrics in "Cherry Boy" - "your ass is your ticket to paradise," or "Ah Men!" - "we're all alike, ah men! ah, men! That's what I like, ah men!" - left much less room for ambiguity, especially when one considers that this was also the man behind the unabashedly camp, gay sensibility of Disco Tex and The Sex-O-Lettes just prior to this. Released under his Bob Crewe Generation banner, (which he had previously used behind the lounge classics "Music To Watch Girls By" and the Barbarella soundtrack), given the synergy between disco and the burgeoning gay scene, it was perhaps no surprise that disco would form the backdrop for this newly homoerotic, sexually charged side to his work.

"Street Talk" was originally released as a stand-alone 12" as part of his 20th Century Records deal, where it became another disco hit peaking at #8 on Billboard's disco action chart in early '76. Vince Aletti in one of his Record World columns made a point of singling it out as one of his favourites at the time, calling it "a lush but hard-punching instrumental that even at its longest is constantly involving." Upon signing to Elektra as an artist (on a tip from Jerry Wexler at Warner), "Street Talk" would eventually form the basis of this album, his first under his Elektra deal which he described to Billboard's 1976 Disco Forum as a concept album for what he hoped would be "a Broadway-bound disco-rock ballet."

 


The loose story was essentially centered around a basic Hollywood narrative - the innocent midwestern naif who arrives right off the bus from "Nowhere, Nebraska," with hopes and dreams of stardom, and the pitfalls and pleasures of Hollywood's seamy sexual underbelly that he has to navigate along the way.. Speaking to Donald von Wiedenman in The Advocate, he would flesh out the concept more fully:

"I call him Cherry Boy. The ballet - or rock opera, film, stage, musical, whatever - begins with Cherry Boy going into a disco. He is young, naive, never made it one way or the other. He's hot. He's street talk. Everyone notices him, wants him, desires him. Of course, he gets picked up, by a guy and a chick named Rod and Selma. Rod is for Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Selma is Selma Avenue in Hollywood. The music we hear is 'Menage a Trois.' A very sensual understatement, not sordid at all. These two people keep him.... The mood shifts with 'Back Alley Boogie,' a really funky sound... At the end of the piece we see Cherry Boy with a chick on his arm going into a disco and picking up another boy, the new street talk. It's a very circular piece. It's a microcosm of our own lives."

While the circular story Crewe talks about is evident; right from the outset, with the "Cherry Boy" being the album's sole object of desire, a listen and a look at the lyrics make it seem like the protagonist was ultimately more interested in one sex than the other.. In Side Two (where Crewe does much of the lead vocals) one can't help but read the familiar tropes of a coming out narrative, especially towards the final section of the album in the "Free" medley.. with lyrics like: "High time for celebratin', feelin' free.. Tell everyone it's been a long time coming....Thank God I am who I was born to be," which is followed by "Ah Men!" - "Ever since Adam, when little Eve had 'em. Good for the grabbin' - All Men. Love 'em all, the short and tall. Let's keep ballin' - All Men. That's what I like! That's what I like!" All of which comes to a conclusion with a love song, "Time For You and Me," led by Crewe singing solo in notably gender non-specific lyrics - "We walk in wonderland day by day - hand in hand. Lovingly.. Time for you and me." Draw your own conclusions..


Although the title track, "Street Talk" is the album's main attraction at just over 8 and a half minutes, its 'unedited' 12" version, released previously in early 1976 on 20th Century in a promo 12" sporting three versions (two shorter edits on side two curiously separated by a locked groove, likely to make it easy for DJs to mix out of one version, without the needle running into the next) is not that drastically different. The album and 'unedited' versions clock in at roughly the same time (despite the labelled duration of the on the 12" as 9.22), however the 'unedited' 12" mix packs much more punch than the LP version, with more of its percussive elements higher in the mix..

Aside from the title track, "Menage a Trois" was released as a single, with special disco mix (included as a bonus track on the Elektra Recordings double-CD). Although not an official single, the side two opener, "Back Alley Boogie," is easily one of the album's best tracks. Taking the raucous party atmosphere (a Crewe trademark) as previously heard on "Get Dancin' " and "Hollywood Hot," but rendered with a little more funk, focus and finesse (one may have mixers Tom Moulton and Tony Bongiovi to thank for that), it's one of the album's high points and could-have-been singles. While not officially released, according to Discogs there's an acetate of an extended/unedited version of the song still floating around out there..



If the concept itself wasn't enough, a look at the extensive list of credits reveals the ambition of this project. Entirely written by Crewe with either Trevor Veitch or Cindy Bullens; recorded in LA, New York and Philadelphia with around 63 musicians credited - 3 lead vocalists, including Crewe, himself and 1950's starlet Lu Ann Simms (on "Menage a Trois") and 19 backing vocalists, including big session names like Patti Austin, Gwen Guthrie and Philadelphia's Sweethearts of Sigma - along with Tom Moulton on board mixing (or, rather co-mixing, with either Jay Mark or Tony Bongiovi) much of the album. The back cover even features a front and centre quote of endorsement from A.J. Miller - then a leading L.A. Disco DJ.

Despite this, Bob Crewe's "trysexual rock ballet" never did come to fruition. Given that the album didn't end up doing too much and having come just before anyone was seriously marketing disco on film or stage, let alone one that also had gay and bisexual themes front and centre, it's perhaps not all that surprising. Following this album, Crewe would do a 180 from disco and release a solo record as a singer-songwriter entitled "Motivation" (1977, Elektra) (stream on Spotify), an R&B tinged album recorded under the auspieces of Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett in the storied Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Regardless of how well this record did or didn't do at the time, "Street Talk" remains Bob Crewe's disco opus - a notable time capsule and personal statement from one of America's greatest pop songwriters.


RELATED ENTRIES:
vintage articles: 'the first step in getting ahead is getting started.' an interview with bob crewe. - by donald von wiedenman // the advocate - april 7, 1976 (tuesday march 17, 2015)
disco delivery mix #4: disco pride '14 - street talk (saturday june 28, 2014)


PURCHASE:
bob crewe - the complete elektra recordings (2 cd) (2015, second disc records/real gone music)
real gone music | amazon.com | dusty groove


LINKS:
discogs: the bob crewe generation - street talk lp
discogs: b.c.g. - street talk 12"
discogs: the bob crewe generation - menage a trois 12"
discogs: the bob crewe generation - ah men!/back alley boogie 12" acetate
frontiers media: bob crewe, gay music legend, dead at 82 (by karen ocamb) (september 11, 2014)
the guardian - music: bob crewe obituary (by richard williams) (september 17, 2014)
new york times: bob crewe, songwriter for frankie valli and four seasons, dies at 83 (by william yardley) (september 12, 2014)
rolling stone: bob crewe, singer and four seasons songwriter, dead at 83 (by jason newman) (september 12, 2014)
windy city times: 'jersey boys' discuss fifth gay 'season,' aging in movies (by jerry nunn) (june 18, 2014)
wikipedia: bob crewe
bob crewe - official website

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, IN MEMORIAM

Friday, March 06, 2015

More, More, More, The Pre-Moulton Mix.


Late last year just before the Christmas holidays, in an evening of compulsive record digging, for the princely sum of $3, I had stumbled on a copy of the elusive original Jamaican pressing of Andrea True's "More, More, More."Notable not just for being an early pressing, but for containing an altogether different, early mix of the song as well as an instrumental B-side, not available anywhere else. Released on the Federal Records label, copyrighted 1975, the year before it would be picked up by Buddah in the US, before the "The Andrea True Connection," and before it was given "A Tom Moulton Mix" into the version that is well-known today.




Listen: Andrea True - More, More, More (Original 7" Vocal) (1975, Federal)
Listen: Andrea True - More, More, More (Original 7" Instrumental) (1975, Federal)

Stream: Andrea True Connection - More, More, More Pt. 1 (A Tom Moulton Mix) (1976, Buddah)


As undeniably infectious as the little breathy disco song about getting the cameras rolling and getting the action going is, the story behind it - how a porn star ended up with one of the biggest hits of the time, is probably one of the most interesting behind-the-music anecdotes of disco.. Having reportedly filmed a commercial for a real estate company in Jamaica, due to a ban on asset transfers - a response to US sanctions placed after the election of Prime Minister Michael Manley (branded a Castro sympathizer by the US), True wouldn’t be able to leave Jamaica with her earnings intact. Alongside her adult film work and some bit parts in mainstream films, True had done some small-time nightclub singing around New York and reached out to one of her connections. Hatching a plan, she'd call on her friend - musician and up-and-coming producer, Gregg Diamond (whose biggest gigs up until that point seemed to have been playing in a band called Five Dollar Shoes and with the enigmatic gay glam icon Jobriath in his backing band The Creatures) to help cut a song for her, so she could effectively launder her earnings out of the country in the form of a master tape. Speaking to Abby Garnett at RBMA in a recent (and rare) discussion of their disco work, the late Gregg Diamond's brother and right-hand man, Godfrey Diamond told the story:


"So we had this song hanging around for about a year. We tried different people on it, but we really didn’t know what to do with it. Andrea True knew Gregg and would come over to the house all the time. About a year after we created the demo, we get a call from Andrea, and she says 'I did this movie down in Jamaica and I made some money, but I can’t leave the country with the money or they’re going to take half of it. One of the guys that I know here has a studio. Do you have anything up there I could sing on?'

So we go down there with our demo, throw on her voice, make it sound as good as we can because she wasn’t really a great singer – we had her sing it like a dozen times, over and over, so we got this thick version of her, this big, lush, breathy and sexy vocal. Then we edited it, cleaned it up and put a bunch of reverb on it so it has that big effect. We come back to New York, Gregg hooked up with some lawyer that he knew, they shopped it around, and every label in New York passed on this record.

One of the guys we talked to in that time was Art Kass, a very smart guy who had a record company called Buddah Records. He’d let everybody pass [on records], and he’d be the guy that calls later and goes 'So what happened?' So after everybody passes, I get this call from Art, and he ends up drawing up a deal for the record, and signs Andrea True as the artist. When it broke the Hot 100, me and my brother were like, 'This is the best we’re ever gonna do in our life, we hit it, this is it.' And it just kept creeping. It took like eight months to get into the top 20. And then we’ve got a #1 record on our hands. "


That being said, this early version, while considerably more raw than the pretty, polished Tom Moulton mix that would rise up the charts, still keeps the song's bare essential elements. The soft-focused, double-tracked vocals on the chorus, the combination of sex and sweetness and overall catchiness all still very much intact, if still slightly blurry. The intro is noticeably much sparser on this version, however the trumpets are just as prominent; the cowbell hooks - sampled in the late 90's on Len's "Steal My Sunshine" are there, though much more subdued. Overall, it wasn’t exactly a radical overhaul, however listening to this and Moulton's mix side-by-side is almost a study in how far all the finer points of good mix - all the small, but key elements, can really go in refining and elevating a record.



Andrea True - More, More, More (Musikladen - May, 29, 1976)
Uploaded by Kanal tilhørende JUKEBOSEN


Speaking to James Arena in his book, The First Ladies of Disco, Tom Moulton relates his own initial impressions and contributions:

"When I say crude, I mean there were a lot of horn mistakes, and it was sloppy. It was like a demo that people kept adding things to. The basic thing about it was it was very rough. In other words, you'd have heard the tape and you would have said 'Okay, that's good, now let's record it for real.' But there's always something about a hook that gets me - that's why they call them hooks. And I liked it. I had heard it and I liked it and I thought I could do something with it. Andrea wasn't singing much on it, I had to double her vocals and add a lot of reverb on it just to make it, you know, very sweet and dreamy.. It took me about six hours to finish it.”

"I thought the record had something. I liked that sort of hokey Herb Alpert-ish trumpet solo. I thought it was kind of corny enough to really work... Buddah said they would take it if I mixed the record, but Gregg said, 'no way!' He didn't want anyone to touch it. Well, Gregg must have gone around the block several times and finally got back to Art [Kass] and said, 'Okay, Tom can mix it, but I have to be there.' I said, 'That's fine as long as he keeps his mouth shut. He can be there. I don't care.' We already [heard] his version, and nobody seemed to want that! So anyway, we agreed to do it . He had to have a limo to drive him to my studio. I thought he was kind of whacked out - seemed like he was high as a kite. I never saw him doing anything, but he appeared like someone on something. He was sleeping when he arrived. The driver asked if he should wake him up, and I said 'Hell no! Just drive him around and come back in three or four hours!' " (pg. 45)


Although she was never considered much more than a marginal talent; while, like with any success, there are always a multitude of people and circumstances to credit - one couldn't deny Andrea True's own agency in her own story. The lady was smart and tenacious and had the hit to prove it. Not to mention, all this seemed to happen concurrently with some of her adult film work. Interestingly, in 1976, an X-rated film she both starred in and directed called “Once Over Nightly” seemed to be playing, just as “More, More, More” was hitting airwaves. Even with the abundance and accessibility of porn today it’s still hard enough, if not nearly impossible for anyone working in porn to achieve any level of mainstream success, let alone a #1 hit, even after their porn careers are over. Speaking perhaps to the relative innocence of the times, however brief and fleeting her crossover stardom was, it’s a feat which has yet to be duplicated all these years later. For those who haven't read it, James Arena's book The First Ladies of Disco has it's first and one of its most comprehensive chapters dedicated to her. Apparently, Arena's First Ladies project began as a biography of her, however with the lady herself no longer with us, and with much of her life story pre- and post- stardom completely elusive, with no children or surviving relatives coming forward to fill in the blanks, it's perhaps the most detailed and dedicated recollection of her life story that we'll get.. Andrea True, born Andrea Marie Truden, passed away on November 7, 2011 in Kingston, NY at the age of 68.


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
having you fills my life.. (thursday april 23, 2009)
disco discharge and other recent/upcoming disco releases & reissues (friday september 18, 2009)
even more disco fun with youtube (friday may 12, 2006)

LINKS:
discogs: andrea true - more, more more (jamaican 7")
discogs: andrea true connection
discogs: tom moulton
discogs: gregg diamond
wikipedia: more, more, more
red bull music academy - interview: godfrey diamond on andrea true's "more, more, more"... and more (by abby garnett) (august 13, 2014)
daily freeman: disco singer andrea true, 68, dies in kingston; had hit with 'more, more, more' (november 19, 2011)
new york times: andrea true, singer of disco hit, dies at 68. (by paul vitello) (november 24, 2011)
los angeles times: andrea true dies at 68; porn star turned disco singer (by valerie j. nelson) (november 25, 2011)
the independent - obituaries: andrea true: disco diva of more, more, more fame (by pierre perrone) (sunday november 26, 2011)
google books: first ladies of disco (by james arena)
iafd (internet adult film database): andrea true

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES, IN MEMORIAM

Friday, October 31, 2014

Deadly Disco: Rinder & Lewis - Gluttony



Earlier this week, BBR/Hot Shot Records released their reissue of Rinder & Lewis' landmark 1977 "Seven Deadly Sins" album, which I'm proud to have had a hand in, having interviewed W. Michael Lewis and former AVI president Ray Harris for the liner essay. A turning point in Rinder & Lewis' work together, the first to be released under their own names, not bound by any of the disco concepts they'd been doing up until that point; "Seven Deadly Sins," is easily the most ambitious and experimental record they'd done. Written and performed entirely by the both of them; influenced, yet not limited by the parameters of disco, while it may not have delivered numbers like some of their other disco productions at the time, it has gone on to become easily one of their most renowned (if not their most renowned) and enduring records.

I'll probably write at length about the liner notes on another post (like I have with some of the others I've done), however this BBR release is the first time the album has been legitimately released on CD. Despite the production delays (I had come on board with this just over two and a half years ago now), its release comes just in time for Halloween, which is perfect for an album that contains some of the most haunting disco that Rinder & Lewis ever committed to record. While most disco people know the album for the ethereal strains of "Lust," I'd have to single out "Gluttony" as yet another standout. Sounding like the apocalyptic inverse of "I Feel Love," it's perhaps the most intense, infernal track on the record. (Note: I have yet to receive my copy of the reissue, so the file below is a rip from one of my vinyl copies).

Listen: Rinder & Lewis - Gluttony (1977, AVI)

One little tidbit that Michael Lewis told me in our interview was that they were one of the first to employ the syndrum (hear a demo) when recording this album, which would become something of a common gimmick in disco records in the following years (if 'syndrums' don't ring a bell, the hook to this song probably will). Take a listen to the 3.00 and 4.30 marks of "Gluttony" to hear some of that early syndrum action.



Also, just in time for this release, the latest issue of Waxpoetics (#59 with Aaliyah and Kelela on the covers) has a great piece on Rinder & Lewis, entitled "Soul Searching" written by John M. Gómez who interviewed both Laurin Rinder & W. Michael Lewis for the story. (Note: the article is only available in the magazine, for the moment).


PURCHASE:
rinder & lewis - seven deadly sins (cd reissue) (1977, avi / 2014, big break/hot shot records)
dusty groove | juno.co.uk | amazon.co.uk | big break records

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
disco delivery #45: midnight wind (1980, avi) (thursday september 27, 2007)
dancing dancing in paradise (monday december 18, 2006)
disco delivery # 25: rinder & lewis - warriors (1979, avi/quality) (sunday september 17, 2006)

LINKS:
facebook: big break records
facebook: hot shot records uk
big break records: rinder & lewis - seven deadly sins
discomusic.com: rinder & lewis - seven deadly sins lp
discogs: rinder & lewis - seven deadly sins lp
discogs: rinder & lewis - envy (animal fire) 12"
discogs: w. michael lewis
discogs: laurin rinder

CATEGORIES: LINER NOTES, MINI DELIVERIES

Friday, September 12, 2014

Disco Delivery Mix #5:
Midnight Rendezvous +
Beam Me Up 2nd Anniversary & Bring Your Own Record Night



As some of you may have noticed, most of the musical content on here lately have been the mixes I've recorded from my turntables. Lately I've been trying to take that a little bit further and start DJing in actual places outside my apartment, in front of actual people. Luckily, the Beam Me Up boys - John and Dylan of A Digital Needle and Cyclist came along and invited me to be the opening DJ for the 2nd anniversary of their montly disco party here in Toronto. These guys have been setting it off every month for the last two years, so I can't thank them enough for being generous enough to let me play.. If you're in Toronto, come by tomorrow night (September 13th) at The Piston (937 Bloor Street W.). I'll be playing from about 10-11, and I'll be doing it on vinyl, plus there'll be all new visuals by the one Doc Dynamite, so drop in and say hi! (Note: there is a cover charge after 10:30pm)




Also, I've been DJing another little event nearby - the Bring Your Own Record night at The Steady Cafe & Bar (down the street at 1051 Bloor Street W.). It's been going now for the last two months and they're doing it again this coming Wednesday (September 17th). I'll be DJing from my collection, and if you bring a record or two in, I'll DJ from yours too.. Even if you don't have a record, come by and say hi, flip through the records I brought and tell me what you'd like to hear (there'll be plenty of disco, naturally).

With these two events on the horizon, I thought this would be the perfect time to take to the turntables for a little quick mini-mix. This one's about 50 minutes long, some kickin' disco bass, a bit of bad french and tattoo men, but hopefully a lot of fun..

Midnight Rendezvous by Disco Delivery on Mixcloud

Download

Tracklist:
Grace Jones - Sinning
7th Wonder - Do It With Your Body
The Miracles - Spy For Brotherhood (12" Version)
Gregg Diamond Bionic Boogie - When The Shit Hits The Fan (Rocket Pocket)
Mavis Staples - Tonight I Feel Like Dancing
Webster Lewis - You Deserve To Dance
Tasha Thomas - Midnight Rendezvous
Michele - Disco Dance
Denise McCann - Tattoo Man
Nanette Workman - Save Me

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERY MIXES

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vintage Articles:
From Sex Goddess to Bad Girl to American Superwoman (An Interview with Donna Summer) -
by Barney Hoskyns //
New Musical Express - December 18, 1982


With all the fan excitement around the recently announced reissues of Donna Summer's back catalogue - starting with a reissue program covering most of her albums from the 1980s and into the early 1990's, as well as a proposed overhaul of her Casablanca catalogue, I thought this would be a good time to post this old article from from 1982. I was in a local record store recently, where they had a small bin of old rock magazines stashed in a corner. Looking through them, I noticed this issue of NME with a Donna Summer feature story. Surely whatever it was would be worth my two dollars or so..

Published right when she was promoting her Quincy Jones-produced self-titled album, her first away from the Moroder team; it seems the writer, Barney Hoskyns, wasn't exactly convinced (and didn't seem to think Donna was either). Seemingly happy to retreat from the craziness of the previous decade, as a born-again Christian, wife and mother yet on the professional side, trying to find her musical footing all over again; whether one agrees with the writer's assessment of her 1982 'Donna Summer' album, the article captures Donna in a definite transitional period in her life and career. Not the most in-depth piece I've read on her, but perhaps one of the sharpest.

____________________________________________



From Sex Goddess to Bad Girl to American Superwoman
Interview: Barney Hoskyns, Photos: Peter Anderson

Donna Summer, once the siren of the G-spot, has grown up to become a wholesome American woman with a religious conscience. Now she's searching for a new musical baby...

“He's okay
He's paid his rent, he's president
She's all right
She's on your TV screen tonight”

         Donna Summer hates Hollywood but tonight she's sitting in its very TV heart.

She's on The Merv Griffin Show, the mid-evening parley session hosted since before you were in diapers by the prime-time personification of homely silver-haired slickness. Out of all America's TV personalities, only Johnny Carson has asked more celebrities more meaningless questions than Merv.

There's an hour to go till taping time, and in her dressing room, making-up from an enormous bag of tubes and pencils, Donna Summer is cursing the trappings of womanhood. Somewhere inside there's still a tetchy Boston tomboy; you can feel the petulance in her sharp, nasal voice. There's no Bel-Air languor, no heavy-lidded resignation to the lifeless ritual that awaits.

If Hollywood is the last intact American community, Summer hasn't settled in. For her, stardom is just a job.

In an adjoining room sit a manager, a mother, a baby and a bodyguard. Baby fails to observe the thin line that divides family from showbiz and tries to bust her way into the dressing-room; Donna's mom, a short, sagacious lady wrapped in a well-to-do ball of matronly plumage, keeps the infant in check.

On this side of the line, Summer slaps some more rouge into her cheekbones.

“This whole business is such a drag for women,” she sighs. “A man can just jump in the shower, wash his hair, and he's ready. For a woman, the preparation takes hours. Sometimes y'know, I really hate being a woman.”


         Strange sentiments, you might think from a woman whose career has run an entire gamut of feminine images from goddess to prostitute to the current nouveau American superwoman. Is the maternal Donna Summer her own girl at last?

“Well, I just want people to know me as I am. I don't want to portray any false images as a person. I don't think there are many sex symbols left – I hope people have a more realistic opinion of me now. It's important that they know that stars, in a worldly sense, have a very important role in life, and it's a big responsibility to other people to conduct yourself in an appropriate way, so that other people who become successful don't think you're supposed to act in a certain way.

“I think that when rock groups act violent or nasty or negative to other people, I don't condone it. It's no good to shun any kind of people, even when they get on your nerves.”


         Through old lip-gloss, Summer's new worldly sense speaks loud, but has anything really changed for the better? Julie Burchill says “few things are such bets chartwise as a Bible-bashing black” but actually 'Donna Summer' isn't doing particularly well. Burchill advises Prince to haul his ass over to Summer's songwriter – but which one of the album's credited 17 does she mean?

Sex may not shock, but if truth is to be told, the last thing Donna sold was that hot Moroder stuff on Sunset Strip.

The fact that Britain has taken 'State Of Independence' to its heart doesn't in itself alter the obvious fact: that the extraordinary pneumatic icon created and patented in a German laboratory – a trans-American goddess of the computer age – has been reduced to a clothes-horse. Style has become a front.

In conjunction with God, inc, Quincy Jones and the Hollywood all-stars have pulled down Moroder's subliminal statue of liberty and given you – Donna Summer, A Woman. Like her transatlantic inversion Grace Jones, the former siren of the G-spot is just... living her life.

All very well, you might say. That Bad Girl riff was degrading, exploitative trash. It turned up some awful good sounds though, didn't it? I mean, like a whole world better than this set. You see, with Moroder and Bellotte and Faltermeyer, Summer was part of a team and a perfect concept: techno-sleaze. Shove the ethics for a moment: it worked. More, it was one of the great moments of American history!

With Jones and Temperton, on the other hand (and as many Porcaros as you can fit in one studio), Donna Summer is just another artiste on another nobodaddy's books. 'Donna Summer' is the album where “the woman” steps out of her shell like Venus reborn from a recording console.

Mind, you could see it coming. 'The Wanderer' was an obvious if bizarre transition state (a high fashion tramp waiting for the train to arrive), and Geffen scrapped a further Moroder-produced album that no one wants to talk about... but to give Donna Summer a once-over Diana Ross job, to make a tasteful superstar record even more brazen than 'Diana', that's nothing short of criminal waste.

Musically, 'Donna Summer' is another case of picking up on the swings of what you lose on the roundabouts. A party bag of jarring, overdone tricks. If you don't like her rocking out with Springsteen (US Bonds meets Boney M), try her off-the-wall ('In Control'); or should you fail to appreciate the meticulous Donna-goes-'40s gloss of 'Lush Life', there's always the full-blown Hare Krishna Hollywood of 'State'.

Folks, there's sommat for everyone, but nothing for someone that worships the lost goddess of 'Once Upon A Time' and swims yet in the rapturous ethereal strains of 'Now I Need You' or 'Working The Midnight Shift'. For the bereft and abandoned, the only consolation is the late Patrick Cowley's 16-minute 'mega-mix' of 'I Feel Love' – discreetly slipped out by Casablanca in a British-only release and clearly pointed at the flourishing meat market of Earl's Court.


         Enough of personal grievances. Let's talk. As it happens, I don't get enough time to press my case with the lady herself. It would have taken a very gentle build up to argue that the hooker of 'Bad Girls' was a more liberated object of our attention than the chic Barby (sic) doll of 'Donna Summer'. Especially with a born-again Christian. So instead, I imagine to myself that I was reporting for People magazine.

Considering Giorgio Moroder replaced unpredictable humans with programmable machines, was it easier working with him or Quincy?

“It was much easier working with Giorgio, for sure, because I kinda grew up with him and Pete (Bellotte), and to make the transition to a new producer is very hard. It's like starting all over again, learning to walk again, learning what to say and what not to say.”

Did you feel comfortable with all the songs, say 'Lush Life', which struck me as a little forced?

“That particular song was real hard. It broke my chops trying to sing it, only because you really have to try to complement the backing without making something that it's not. I had never sung, nor personally heard the song before, so it became a real labour of love.

“As a matter of fact, Quincy produced that album with almost no help from me – which is unlike me, but at the time I was pregnant, so it's really more his album.”

It doesn't surprise me. Did you invite the heavenly choir of Michael Jackson, Kenny Loggins, Dyan Cannon, et al?

“Um. No, Quincy did. When Quincy calls, people drop what they're doing.”

'Lush Life' is a pretty cynical song, isn't it? “Romance is mush, stifling those who strive / I'll live a lush life in some swell dive / And there I'll rot with the rest / Of those whose lives are lonely too...” A lot of Americans today are lush – how many are just plain lonely? Or does love always find them in the end?

“I think generally an awful lot of people are confused about what love is. They're not able to give love because they've never really known it. What they consider love is sex, possessiveness, and juvenile infatuations that don't last very long.

“When I speak of love, I mean love as in 1 Corinthians, 13, which tells you exactly what love is and what it is not. Even now I'm reconstructing my point of view of love. People fight and kill each other in the name of love, and that's wrong. Love doesn't do these things, so they're not love. They're bitterness, they're hatred, they're anxiety.”

Do you really believe what you sing in 'Livin' In America', that it is a country “of the people, for the people, and by the people”?

“That's not what I believe it is, but what it should be. What I believe is we have to go back to the beginning. We shouldn't lose faith because we are the people who can change it. We have the power and we should use it.”

But when you sing “You know the time will come / For each and everyone”, you know that's not true...

“It's symbolic when I say that. Whether it's black or Chinese or Mexican their time will come and they're going to have to focus on that problem and deal with it – unlike, say, Germany, where if they don't like a certain kind of people they just get rid of them.”

Woah! Talking of Germany, do you think the fabled Euro-disco sound was as innovative as most people seem to?

“I think in its time, yeah, it was very different and I'm thankful that I was the person it was designed for. But I don't look back, I look forward, and what I'm searching desperately for now is a baby in music, a new musical baby, as if I was pregnant and waiting for the birth of a child.”

What do you think of 'Once Upon A Time', in my humble opinion your incontestable masterpiece?

“You're one of the first people to have said that, but I think that was structurally the best album I've ever recorded.”

Were you disappointed by the reception and sales of 'The Wanderer'?

“In my opinion the album did great, because prior to 'The Wanderer' album I had always gone out on the road with every album. I'd always been there pushing the record on TV and radio.

“ 'The Wanderer' had no publicity of any kind, not in America at least, and I wasn't even there to give people a new image. As far as image went, it was a blank. It was riding on whatever momentum had been set for two years, plus I was in a law suit here and having babies there.”

So you didn't feel like you were out in the cold?

“No, because you can't always do business. Sometimes your life becomes your life. For a couple a years I was playing real life!”

What's it like being a mom?

“Well, it's kinda confusing, it's hectic, but I still wish I'd started having kids earlier.”

How do you protect your privacy?

“I find the older I get, the longer I've been successful, the easier it becomes. I guess because I feel more comfortable with it, people feel more comfortable with me. I have a bodyguard who lives with me, but he's more for my children. When I go out, I go out alone.”

Does being the mother of three children mean you won't be performing live?

“I don't know. Right now I'm trying to recuperate from the last baby, and I try not to project forward more than a month at a time. If I was just a normal person who didn't have other worldly concerns, maybe it wouldn't be so bad.”

Do you enjoy performing live?

“Oh, it's the best. It's instant reward – or instant disapproval.”

Do you like LA?

“Nope. Not at all. I'd love to live in the country, by a lake someplace, where I could ride horses or just be away from it all.”

Would you say you were a good businesswoman?

“My manager says, yes!”

Is your life isolated? How many close friends would you say you had?

“I have a lot of people that I love, but they're more like my family. Is my life isolated? Oh yes, there's certainly not a lot of freedom. You have to be careful what you say, and even if somebody's nasty to you, you have to be exceptionally nice to them. When you assume a role, you have to continue to portray something that you may not be, so as soon as you feel a person is watching, no matter who it is, you have to be acting that role out.

“But I think my manager would tell you that I'm pretty much the same person at home as when I'm out. I may have more make-up on, but.. hey, don't I seem like a natural person to you?!?”


         Before I can plead ignorance of the meaning of the word “natural”, there's an abrupt knock at the door. It's Nellie, her personal assistant, shouldering her way in and calling time in a curious Eliza Doolittle half way to refinement English accent. She informs Donna that Merv is waiting.

Two minutes later, on camera, Griffin blands out with a chat-show query to end 'em all.

“Tell me, Donna, is it true that every recording star needs an image?”

Openly grimacing at the banality of this question, Summer stalls, but quickly composes herself to meet its bold challenge.

“Well, Merv, even a tomato has an image.”

Donna Summer is no ordinary tomato, but her current phase lacks the necessary fatal glamour, perhaps even a certain subtle vulgarity. With her extra-curricular activities as a mother taking up so much time, nothing is coming from Donna herself. Perhaps the musical baby is a reunion with Giorgio Moroder.

As it says in Corinthians, “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away”.

____________________________________________


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES

Search this blog