ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
“Now a lot of my fans who knew me only from my “Lethal Weapon” acting roles, come up after a show and say, ‘I’ve been knowing you all my life. I just never knew it was you,” says Love, whose appearance in a new documentary about background singers, “20 Feet From Stardom” has brought her newfound fame.
For more than 50 years, her voice which uber-fan Bruce Springsteen describes as “a one-woman wall-of-sound,” has graced recordings from artists as diverse as Doris Day and Gene Autry, to Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin, Cher, and The Mamas and Papas.
Of course, there were also dozens of Phil Spector produced hits by The Righteous Brothers, The Crystals, The Ronettes, and Ike and Tina Turner.
Born Darlene Wright on July 26, 1941 in Hawthorne, California, her gospel roots came to the forefront in 1959, after being invited to join a new female vocal group, called The Blossoms, who would later play a huge role in Love’s career.
In a whirlwind career that plummeted in the 80’s when she found herself cleaning houses for $100 a day, to having friends like Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt reviving her career and seeing her inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Love will be appearing tonight at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theater, opening for old flame, Righteous Brother Bill Medley. Medley openly acknowledges her as the inspiration for his 1969 recording, “Brown-Eyed-Woman.” Love says tonight’s encore will be the first time in their 50 year relationship, that they will be sharing a stage together.
Expect some fireworks !
Examiner: How did you come to join The Blossom?
Love: It happened right after I got out of high school. The group was signed to Capitol Records, but they didn’t know how to promote us. They didn’t have any black pop singers on the label at that time, and nothing we did for them became successful. It’s like Springsteen said in the (“Twenty-Feet”) movie, “It has to be the right group, with the right song, and the right producer.” We never got the right song.
Examiner: I would image you were influenced by girl-group singers like Arlene Smith of The Chantels, and Shirley Alston of The Shirelles.
Love: Oh, yeah. I loved all those girls. Of course, they were on the East Coast and we were on the West Coast, so we got to hear them a lot more than actually see them.
Examiner: Do you remember your first meeting with Phil Spector? (Spector is currently incarcerated in a California jail on a murder charge – Ed)
Love: You could not forget Phil. The first day (me and The Blossoms) came in to do a recording session, we were very casual, wearing jeans, no makeup. Phil was usually dressed in a suit with a tie. His hair was wonderfully coiffed. He would wear sunglasses, and wore these shoes with these very high heels. Yeah, 99 per cent of the time, that’s how Phil looked in the recording studio.
Examiner: Now, in 1962 when you sang lead on the Spector produced “He’s A Rebel,” the record listed The Crystals as the artists, even though not one was there when it was recorded. You must have been devastated having the number one record in America, and hardly anyone knew it was actually your voice.
Love: Well, I wasn’t really devastated. I just wanted to make sure that never happened again. After that record became such a big hit, I thought, “This man knows how to make hit records,” so I signed a contract with him. (Me and) The Blossoms knew (“He’s A Rebel”) was going to come out as a Crystals’ record. We didn’t have a contract with him. It was just a union contract saying who would be the singers, the musicians, the producer….
Examiner: It was at this point when Spector changed your name from Darlene Wright.
Love: Yes. Phil love gospel singers. There was one named Dorothy Love Coates, and Phil asked me if I liked the name, “Love?” I said, “Hey, why not!” The name just stuck. So, after about ten years I had it legalized.
Examiner: In your autobiography “My Name Is Love,” you related a story of how Elvis Presley tried to seduce you in his trailer on a movie set.
Love: (In 1969) The Blossoms and I were working on what would be his last movie, “Change Of Habit.” We were on a break, and I had left my sunglasses in my dressing room. Elvis came out of his “honeywagon,” that’s what we called them in those days, and asked me to come in. I thought he just wanted to talk about another gospel number that we were going to do in the movie. Then, Elvis got this look on his face, and said, “You know, I could probably get in a lot of trouble for what I’m thinking right now. I’ve never had a relationship with a black woman before,” and at that point, I cut him very short and said, “Well, you’re not going to get a chance with this black woman.” I got up and left, and after that, he acted like the whole incident never happened.
Examiner: What did the other Blossoms say when you told them about it.
Love: They said, “Girl, are you kidding? When Elvis hits on you, you say, ‘Yeah’ !” (Big laugh)
Examiner: Now, a pivotal point in your career came in the early 80’s when (famed record producer) Lou Adler arranged for you to be showcased at a huge star-studded event at L.A.’s Roxy Theater.
Love: He wanted all of his important friends to come out and see Darlene Love. He invited Dionne Warwick, Steve Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen... That would have made most people terrified. Actually at the time I was singing (Springsteen’s) “Hungry Heart,” but I did it totally different than his version, and he told me it was one of the greatest interpretations of any of his songs.
Examiner: Steve Van Zandt has also been a huge supporter of yours.
Love: After that show, he said, “You need to come to New York.” I told him, “Get me some work, and I will.” He did, and I’ve been there for 31 years.
Examiner: In all your time in the music business, you’ve seen a lot of performers’ lives and careers destroyed by drugs and alcohol.
Love: I was always afraid of drugs. I was too afraid of getting hooked and winding up on the streets begging for money. If other (performers) were doing drugs, they respected us enough to not do it in front of me and the other Blossoms. I mean, at many of those recording sessions, drugs were around like it was Coca-Cola, or potato chips. I never wanted to know how drugs would make me feel. I always had the spirit of the Lord in me.
Examiner: Religion has obviously been a very prominent force in your life.
Love: I always had a very strong faith. When I was very young, I kind of asked the Lord if should be in this business. I really believe my faith is what has carried me through all the different things I’ve been through in my life. If not for God, I wouldn’t be working in this field. This business can turn you upside down if you’re not careful. It’s definitely not for the feeble-hearted. (Laughs)
Examiner: Your joy in what you’re doing truly shines through onstage.
Love: I want my voice to reach people who are not feeling good about their lives, or maybe they feel lost. That’s what my shows are all about. For the hour and a half I’m onstage, to make people forget about whatever bad is going on in their lives. When people tell me that after a show, I feel I’ve done my job.
Examiner: Darlene, you still sound and look terrific. Keep doing this for many more years.
Love: Thank you. I’ve always taken good care of my voice. It’s a gift that God gave to me, and I’ve always respected that. I’m 72, and there are not a lot of people who started out with me who can still do what I’m doing.