Monthly Archives: June 2014

FLASHBACK: “L.A. Update: Darlene Love—a Hungry Heart”

18 June 2014

The Blossoms—Darlene Love at lower left

The Blossoms—Darlene Love at lower left

Her voice is unexpectedly large and full-throated, her face unmarred by time. Darlene Love is onstage at the Roxy swooping her way through her classic early ’60s “girl group” songs and one wonders what happened to the intervening years.

Darlene may well be the finest voice Phil Spector ever worked with. Twenty years ago he discovered her singing with an LA group called the Blossoms. He took her out of her backup role and put her right up front—singing a defiant lead on the Crystals’ #1 hit “He’s a Rebel.” She next fronted Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans and began to build a solo career. Within a year, half a dozen songs with Darlene Love on lead vocals had become chart hits.

Then came the British Invasion and attention turned elsewhere. Love returned to backing vocals (with the Blossoms and later Dionne Warwick).

If all this sounds like a setup for an evening of nostalgia—forget it. Love has lost nothing to time. She opened with a potent rendition of the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron,” then chased it with two of her solo hits, including the cascading “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry.”

Audience enthusiasm led her to comment ironically, “I didn’t know so many people liked these ‘Phil Spector’ songs.” Despite Darlene’s jibe at Spector’s dominant reputation, it’s still true that his approach to the three-minute single has never been surpassed.

This became quickly evident when Darlene assayed tunes beyond the Philles’ catalogue. Her rich voice remained in full control, but her supporting cast suddenly had nowhere to go: the arrangements couldn’t handle the personnel. The double drumming became superfluous and even the sax lost its focus.

Darlene’s uncertain choice of covers served her well only once: “Hungry Heart” done in honor of Bruce Springsteen and Miami Steve—who were applauding enthusiastically from a back table.

By the time she hit the end, her voice rippled and scorched. “He’s a Rebel” was soul stirring—as appropriate in ’82 as in ’62. She closed with a majestic “Not Too Young to Get Married.” A gospel medley encore showed some footstompin’, but the point had already been made. The talent remains—now is there a producer out there to tap it?

This piece was previously published in LA Weekly, March 26-April 1, 1982

NOTE: This particular gig proved to be a life changer for Love. In the early ’80s she had been reduced to working as a maid and singing on cruise ships. To quote from her Wikipedia entry: “In 1982, record mogul Lou Adler offered to host a Darlene Love showcase at the Roxy nightclub in Los Angeles and invite a few friends. Among the audience members knocked out by her performance were Bruce Springsteen and sidekick Steve Van Zandt.

The two convinced Love to move to New York, where the singer heard on such favorites as the Crystal’s “Da Do Ron Ron,” Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang,” the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” and Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” was rediscovered as a solo act.”


Tribute to Fess: New Orleans Says Goodbye

4 June 2014

This isn’t a Flashback, since this piece was never published—but it is from deep in the vaults.  Let’s step back to New Orleans, 1980. . . .

The flash and flair of Congo Square lives on.

The flash and flair of Congo Square lives on.

Professor Longhair is no longer with us. There’s nothing more to be said. But this year’s Tribute to ‘Fess at the New Orleans Armory helped his mourners share their grief.

The Armory sits just north of Congo Square, once the site of weekly African drum and dance festivities by slave and freedman alike. Raucous, joyful and threatening, Congo Square symbolizes the rich cultural mixing that took place on the bayous and deltas of the deep South: a gumbo stew of musical traditions from the African coasts, the Caribbean islands and yes, from the European courts and countryside as well. A stew both potent and heady, with offshoots and influences even today.

Few people know how to stir that stew just right—so the tastes don’t all run together. One who did was Roy Byrd, AKA Professor Longhair. They say in New Orleans that every musician on the street has a little bit of ‘Fess somewhere inside him—a rhythmic approach perhaps, a half-forgotten melody, or maybe just the memory of his gold-toothed smile.

Professor Longhair bending those blue notes

Whatever it is, New Orleans’ finest came to the Armory to pay their tribute to the Professor. The acts reeled past in fifteen minute bursts: Lee Dorsey ponying up to “Ya Ya”; Snooks Eaglin—old and on the nod—calling up his last shards of strength for a taste of the peculiarly urban brand of delta blues that found its way to the Crescent City. The Neville Brothers sweetened the mixture with streetfunk soul, and The Golden Eagles gave a powwow in their Indian headdress outfits; a bittersweet memory for most. Mardi Gras continues, but will “Tipitina” ever sound the same?

And so they came and went: black, white and brown; Cajun, Creole, or just plain cracker. There was a camaraderie among the performers that extended to the audience. We wandered and danced and sat on the stage. There was no climax, no end to hurry towards. It was Friday night and the good times—whatever they might be—were here at hand.

At last, Allen Toussaint sat down at the piano. he talked a bit first, passing along a message from Dr. John (longtime disciple of Professor Longhair) who was tied up in an LA recording studio. Allen didn’t say much about ‘Fess—just a few quiet words about his spirit still hovering over the show. Then he played.

The hall was silent. The notes rippled forth like an eddying stream, wending through our midst, and lingering in memory long after the last note was played. Just like ‘Fess.