from Variety by Phil Gallo
Church choirs were the great training grounds for nearly every stellar soul singer of the 1960s – after the manufactured feel of pop singers from the ’50s, gospel-rooted singers had an intangible quality that hit listeners at a gut level and that felt like reality. Then there was Darlene Love, able to fit a booming voice into the carefully scripted productions of Phil Spector and make it work on pop and spiritual levels. In her new revue at the Cinegrill, though, the foundation of the church is heard loud and clear in material secular and spiritual. Love is in immaculate vocal condition, she is truth incarnate.
A Los Angeles native who has called New York home for more than a decade, Love’s weeklong stay at the Cinegrill is her first time performing in L.A. in 20 years.
After sliding down from unemployed singer to Beverly Hills maid, Love has decided to reclaim her deserved place in history, and has launched several impressive shows over the last dozen years that highlight the unique qualities of early ’60s “girl group” singers and the tunesmiths who wrote for them. The familiar hits – “He’s a Rebel” and a medley of “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” – are placed prominently and given full-bodied interpretations as Love, at the age of 57, summons pain and anticipation as well as she did at 20.
But the glue of this show is the gospel. As she steps onstage wearing a red pantsuit and singing “Just Because of You,” she quickly brings the band to a boil, and “Age of Miracles,” the palpitation-inducing second song, pushes it over the top. She’s clearly testifying. When Love lends similar passion to the Bacharach & David wrenching ballad “Don’t Make Me Over” and the booming “River Deep, Mountain High,” the last of Spector’s Wall of Sound masterpieces, she freshens each of them with eloquence and gusto, heartfelt anguish spilling over at every turn.
Love, in her scripted between-song remarks, provides a positive spin on her overlooked years and her undying faith. Her steady re-emergence has not gone unnoticed – she received an esteemed R&B Pioneer award three years ago and is on this year’s nominee list for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – though she is still preaching to the converted in these shows. Her audience is well-versed in her story. A little more drama and a few more fleshed-out anecdotes to get this to a full 90 minutes could make this show a classic for years to come.
from The New York Daily News by David Hinckley
Darlene Love doesn’t exactly say “it’s about time” she got nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but talking with her, you don’t get the feeling she disagrees with the sentiment. “There’s a lot of people they haven’t paid proper attention to,” says Love. “It seemed to take them an awfully long time to notice the so-called ‘girl groups,’ like the Shirelles, and there’s a lot of people they still haven’t noticed. I mean, the Righteous Brothers aren’t in? Hello?”
But meanwhile, she isn’t waiting for anyone else to go out and tell her story; she has done it herself with a new autobiography called “My Name Is Love.” “The only rule was that I wanted to be completely honest,” says Love. “I’ve been around a long time, so I have a lot of anecdotes and stories, and the publisher liked that. But I wanted it to be funny, too – even some things that weren’t funny at the time.”
Walking through the peaks and valleys of her career, introducing the reader to dozens of well-known artists along the way, the fast-moving story does have a lot of humor in it. There’s a tale of Love talking with Isaac Hayes in his dressing room on one of their tours when Dionne Warwick, who had a thing for Hayes, began knocking on his door. He refused to let her in for 15 minutes and when he did and she demanded to know what was up, he said, “Ask Darlene.” In fact, Warwick and Hayes both come off well in the book, and when Love visited Hayes’ morning show on WRKS a few weeks ago to promote the book, she says they had a good laugh about it. “You’re always concerned how people will react to what you write,” she says. “But Isaac was cool, even though he got some teasing from his sidekicks.”
After more than 40 years in the singing biz, recording with Phil Spector, Elvis Presley and hundreds of other artists and going on the road with almost as many, Love has plenty of stories – and she doesn’t spare her own image in the telling. She admits climbing into bed with Tom Jones, for instance – but then climbing out before anything happened, because she couldn’t get past a remark he made about Leslie Uggams’ intimate performance not being a credit to her race. On tour with Elvis, she recalls how whenever he needed a lift he would summon the backup singers (“the girls”) for a round of old-time gospel tunes. On a more private occasion, she visited his room and after a while he told her that even though he had never slept with a black woman, he was thinking about it now. (Nothing came of the thought.)
The fact that racial issues and references keep coming up in the story, however, reflects the fact that once she decided to be honest, Love couldn’t make the whole story happy and funny. The music business just isn’t that nice to people – and it hasn’t been anywhere near that nice to Love. She has always had a great voice. She has the personality. She has the looks. Yet she has never become a star of the magnitude she deserves, largely because she has never had the right person pushing her the right way at the right moment.
Not that she has done badly, mind you. But her career is permeated with little ironies. Performances that have endeared her to fans and critics – hit singles like “He’s a Rebel” and “(Today I Met) the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” or her one-woman show in the early ’90s at the Bottom Line – have barely paid the rent. On the other hand, she has done well with gigs that make radio listeners and critics uneasy, like cruise ships or a Ron Perelman birthday party.
In 1995, she got a call from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which she confesses she had never heard of, probably because she never considered herself a rhythm and blues singer. The Foundation wanted to give her one of its annual pioneer awards anyway, and she definitely fit the prime criterion; she was a talented and influential singer who never got properly compensated for her work. The $15,000 check was not unwelcome, and not unwarranted. There’s plenty of R&B flavor in a Love song like “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” or her superb backup work on countless hits.
But whatever label she’s given, it’s clear her own preference is just to be called a singer – which she’s been ever since she was a tiny girl drafted for the church choir from a devout Pentecostal home in Los Angeles. A girl whose parents literally broke those evil rock ‘n’ roll records when they found the teenage Darlene and a friend listening to them. So naturally she grew up to sing secular music anyhow – though she has never abandoned her gospel roots and in fact has just recorded her first gospel album. It’s just that secular music was better at paying the rent, and she also had a knack for it, both as a lead singer and as a background singer who arranged many of those famous backgrounds.
“I’ll tell you, most producers don’t know what they want behind the lead,” she says. “So they’d say to me, ‘Darlene, you come up with something,’ because they knew I could.” Not that working with producers was always that simple, particularly since several years of her work came with Phil Spector. While Love writes in her book that Spector was a musical genius, she also deems him mercurial, evasive and overbearing toward many people, including his then-sweetheart and later wife, Ronnie Bennett.
On the business side, Love recently won a back-pay lawsuit against Spector for several hundred thousand dollars. That verdict is now on appeal. When she talks about Spector, she shakes her head on questions like why she thinks he promised to push her as a solo artist, then backed off. “I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t think there’s any way of knowing what goes on in his head.” Spector was not available for comment.
Love’s most painful passages, however, are those about herself – like the long affair with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers that included an abortion she never really wanted. While she and Medley remain friends, and she looks back on the romance with warmth, she says it had its difficult side, including the interracial aspect. “Bill never thought that would be a problem,” she says. “We’d known each other for years. When it did become an issue with some people, it was an eye-opener for Bill. It was a reality I’d known all my life, but a new one for him.”
A new reality for Love came in 1982, when the music jobs had dried up so completely that she took a job cleaning houses. So she fought her way back, taking singing jobs where she could find them, and landing the role as Danny Glover’s wife in the “Lethal Weapon” movies. Now, she says, she has a couple of more goals. Besides the gospel album, she would like to cut a pop record. She has always wanted to do a TV comedy. She would like to take the singing engagements she wants. Neither would the (Rock and Roll) Hall of Fame be a bad thing. And it would be about time.
from The Star-Ledger by Jay Lustig
Darlene Love is walking on air these days. In March, a New York Supreme Court jury awared her more than $250,000 in unpaid royalties from Phil Spector, who produced hit records by her, with and without the group the Crystals, in the 1960s. Kicking off a nearly month-long series of shows at Rainbow and Stars Tuesday night, she beamed as she recalled her triumph.
“In the name of rock and rollers everywhere who were taken advantage of, I got a little of what he owed me,” she enthused before singing a bit of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” changing “Jude” to “Phil” and altering most of the lyrics. She described herself, for instance, as someone “Who sang from her heart/So you could start/To live much better.” This sarcasm wasn’t typical of the show, a good-natured combination of holiday songs, classic hits, uplifting new ballads and autobiographical musings. It did fit, though, in a strange way. For this show, titled “Love For the Holidays,” is more about Love than the holidays.
It included an urgent version of Love’s bluesy holiday standard, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” as well as other seasonal favorites like “Winter Wonderland,” “Marshmallow World” and “Silent Night.” But the 56-year-old Love – whose voice is the same booming instrument it was in the ’60s – spent most of the show performing songs unrelated to the holidays, and in new songs and monologues explored the idea of faith in a very personal way.
The absolute highlight of the show, though, was Love’s cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Plenty of singers have recorded great versions of this majestic song already, but Love, mournful at first, then fired up with a larger-than-life sense of determination, has come up with her own revelatory interpretation. Love wasn’t above some straight-forward nostalgia, either. Songs like “He’s a Rebel” and “(Today I Met) the Boy I’m Gonna Marry” were upbeat delights, complete with synchronized dance steps by backing vocalists Dennis Ray and Ula Hedwig. Throughout the show, Love interacted with her supporting cast warmly, flashing sly grins at them as she joined them in their faux-slick dancing. She also paid the ultimate compliment to Ray, a Dover, NJ, resident who was previously featured in Love’s autobiographical “Portrait of a Singer” revue (presented at the Bottom Line nightclub in 1993 and 1994), casting “Killing Me Softly With His Song” as a song about the first time she heard him sing. Even in a show full of good vibes toward everyone (except, of course, Spector), this was a particularly generous touch.
from Newsday by Richard Torres
There’s a nightly miracle going on in Manhattan, and it isn’t happening on 34th Street. This phenomenon is occurring some 16 blocks north and 65 flights above a screaming throng of tourists. There, a 56-year-old grandmother from Los Angeles is eliciting shouts of joy from a packed house. The show is titled “Love For the Holidays,” the joint is the chichi Rainbow and Stars and the superb starring attraction is singer Darlene Love.
For any appreciator of ’60s American popular music, Love is one of the decade’s pre-eminent icons. Her work with famed producer Phil Spector was the stuff of genius. Love’s powerful, pure, yet vulnerable tones on songs like “He’s a Rebel” and “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry” sliced through Spector’s famed “wall of sound” and aimed directly for her listener’s heart. And on the collaboration disc, “A Christmas Gift For You,” Love showed she could range from the euphoric (“Marshmallow World”) to the heartbreaking “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” within a downbeat.
The amazing thing about Love’s Tuesday night show is how she has appeared to stop the sands of time both vocally and physically. Resplendent in a form-fitted black and white suit, she is a regal presence. And her voice remains a force of nature. In addition, Love – who has engaged with Spector in a number of legal battles regarding royalties over the years – performed her own special salute to the producer she’s slyly referred to as being “downright strange.” Called “Hey Phil” and sung to the melody of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” the parody is just a smidge bitter and utterly hilarious. (Sort of a “Bah, humbug.”)
But “Love For the Holidays” is more than settling old scores. It’s a tribute to the art of singing. It’s Sussman, Love and singers Ula Hedwig and Dennis Ray taking turns soloing during a sensationally soulful “Silent Night.” It’s Love and Ray rising to the rarefied heights of a Marvin and Tammi during a fine medley of “Killing Me Softly” and “Soul and Inspiration.” It’s the emotional urgency Love brings to tunes such as “Who’s Gonna Carry You” and “If You Believe.”
Best of all was a moment that bordered on the mythic; Love seated atop Sussman’s piano, digging into the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Her eyes shut and fists tightened, Love sang with such impassioned abandon, the audience, for a split-second after the song’s end, sat transfixed be the gospel-like fury unleashed in front of them. Then came the explosion of applause. “Love For the Holidays” indeed.
from The New York Times by Stephen Holden
Pure joy is a quality many singers try to fake, only to end up sounding obsequiously goody-goody. But with Darlene Love, the lead voice behind several of the legendary record producer Phil Spector’s 60′s girl-group anthems, it’s clear from the first triumphal note that she’s projecting the real thing.
The singer, whose Christmas show, “Love For the Holidays” opened a four-week engagement on Tuesday evening at Rainbow and Stars, has always used her big pop-gospel voice with its raw vibrato to convey an incandescent faith. Where Ronnie Spector, the producer’s other vocal muse, infused the same open-heartedness with a tough, streetwise sensuality, Ms. Love never evoked visions of a hot-blooded high-school girl in a tight sweater snapping her chewing gum. If the hero of her most famous hit, “He’s a Rebel,” was a motorcycle-riding teen-age rebel, Ms. Love’s vibrant singing elevated him into Jesus.
Ms. Love’s show is a euphoric mixture of 1960′s hits and Christmas songs expertly arranged in the spacious, jangling Spector style for five musicians and two backup singers by Bette Sussman. It opens with two tinselly holiday bonbons, “It’s a Marshmallow World” and “Winter Wonderland,” stays aloft with a medley of girl-group hits, and reaches a peak with Sam Cooke’s pop-gospel anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” the show’s one song whose exuberance is shaded with pain.
“Love For the Holidays” is all the more compelling for the autobiographical tidbits Ms. Love drops in. She mentions a court case involving Mr. Spector in which she won back “a little of what he owed me.” Not many years after her hits, she recalls, she found herself cleaning houses in Beverly Hills. Then one day she heard herself on the radio and determined to return to show business. Today she may be a 56-year-old grandmother, but her soaring delivery sounds as youthfully optimistic as it did 30 years ago.