Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for October, 2008

Get ya get ya ya-yas!

Labelle is back!! Thirty-two years after they broke up as a trio, Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash have recorded another album, Back to Now, and plan on touring. I haven’t heard any of the songs yet–have you? What do you think?

Any Laura Nyro fan worth her/his salt knows the role Labelle played in Laura’s oeuvre: They added those wild, wailing background vocals to Gonna Take A Miracle, lending real-deal Philly soul to Laura’s homage to her own teen spirit. The album still remains a favorite; in fact, Out magazine recently judged it #39 on its list of the 100 Gayest Albums of all time, just one ranking below the beloved Dusty in Memphis.

Everyone knows where Patti LaBelle went after the group busted up–top of the charts–but Nona also put out some stellar solo albums (can’t say I ever heard from Sarah in all these years). I’ve always loved Nona’s voice, and saw her perform a few times (she’s in amazing shape).

OK, here are more more roundabout connections between Labelle and Laura and Vicki Wickham (Nona’s longtime partner, and the woman who introduced Laura and Patti) and Dusty, plus my old friend Norma Tanega. Labelle’s first big hit, of course, was “Lady Marmalade,” which was written by Bob Crewe. Bob produced Norma’s one-hit wonder, “Walking My Cat Named Dog,” which was arranged by Herb Bernstein. Herb arranged Laura’s first album, More Than A New Discovery. Norma went to England to promote “Dog,” met Dusty, and ended up moving in with her. Dusty was managed, on and off, by Vicki. Vicki also managed Labelle…. and around it goes.

Read Full Post »

A few posts back I briefly mentioned Billy Bragg doing “Save the Country” in a recent show–and now I’ve discovered a video of him performing his lovely version of Laura’s immortal call to action.

Although you can hardly understand Bragg’s Essex accent, the first six minutes or so of the tape, in which Bragg raps about the coming election, are worth a listen: The passionate Brit folk singer reminds us that we musn’t give into cynicism if President Obama doesn’t fulfill all of our wildest dreams. We must remember, instead, that if Barack does win, “We will live in a world of possibilities.”

So come on, people!

Read Full Post »

Surry on down to Tampa Bay

If you’re near the Tampa Bay area in early November, check out Nyro fan Barry Silber’s play about Our Laura, And a World to Carry On. Co-written with Carole Coppinger and directed by Silber, it plays on November 7, 8 (at 8 p.m.) and 9th (3 p.m.) at the Carrollwood Players Theater, 4335 Gunn Highway, Tampa.

The show is a benefit for the community theater. And it’s only $10–a bargain!

Read Full Post »

Elphaba is … Laura?

From an interview with Gregory Maguire, author of the 1995 novel Wicked, upon which the musical of the same name was based:

Q. What nonfictional character from history or modern culture would you like to re-imagine or reveal the secret history of?

A. My nonfictional heroines include Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson and Laura Nyro, who are all dead, sadly. In a way, Elphaba is based on all three of them.

UPDATE: More from Maguire on how he imagined Elphaba:

In her college years, I imagined her as [songwriter] Laura Nyro: long dark hair, beautiful voice and a lot of passion. Later on, I imagined her as young Virginia Woolf, who used to call her sister Vanessa “Nessa.” I was thinking of Edwardian young women not allowed into the same colleges as their boyfriends or brothers. In the second half of the story, when she goes to the castle and becomes a recluse, I thought of her as Emily Dickinson, who was so far ahead of her time, it took half a century to catch up to her. I liked that [Dickinson] had had the courage to withdraw from a community that was not healthy for her.

Read Full Post »

Melissa and Jill

I thought I was oh-so-clever with my “C’mon and marry me, Jill” post about Proposition 8, and now I read that Melissa Etheridge had the same idea at a big fancy No on Prop. 8 fundraiser in L.A.! In other homage-to-Nyro news, I read that Billy Bragg performed “Save the Country” in a recent set. Guess Laura’s on a lot of people’s minds in these last few days before Nov. 4….

Read Full Post »

Give me my freedom …


The first cover of a Laura Nyro composition–“And When I Die”–was recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary in 1966. The connection between the folk stars and the young composer was made through Laura’s first producer, Milt Okun–a lovely guy, by the way, who even showed up at my L.A. book signing back in 2002. Milt, at the time Laura met him, was working with three popular folk acts–the Brothers Four, Chad Mitchell Trio, and PPM. Decades later, after Laura’s death, he began to administer her song catalog through his Cherry Lane Music Publishing, but I don’t see her name now on their roster (anyone have an update on this?).

I just came across this great YouTube clip (above) of Peter, Paul and Mary singing “And When I Die” at the building site of the Sydney Opera House (!) in 1970. It’s so nostalgic of that era. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Can you just imagine how excited Laura Nyro would have been at the thought of Barack Obama being president of the United States? I don’t want to count my president before the votes are cast (or counted!), but I can’t help but be cautiously excited.

Of course Laura, like all of us, was frustrated by the realities of U.S. politics (“Save the Country,” anyone?). Yet no one was a more righteous American than her–America being a promise, a dream, a shining hope. How many times she used the word America in her songs (“Christmas in My Soul,” “American Dove,” “American Dreamer” … have I forgotten any?).

And then there’s the terrific song she recorded during the dark days of the Reagan Administration, “The Right to Vote.” It’s snarky. It’s pretty hopeless. Yet it’s funny, and we laugh along with her disdain of The System.

Thank you sirs for the right to vote
Bet you didn’t know I had a voice in my throat
Now let’s see should I vote for “A” or “B”
“A” talks a lot
But not to me
“B” wants war
Kill or flunk
Forget the vote – I’ll just go out and get drunk

They say a woman’s place
Is to wait and serve
Under the veil
Submissive and dear
But I think my place
Is in a ship from space
To carry me
The hell out of here

Patriarchal great religions
Full of angels
Forgiving and fair
While they push the buttons and blow up the place
Might as well
Make room for a worthier race

They say a woman’s place
Is to wait and serve
Under the veil
Submissive and dear
But I think my place
Is in a ship from space
To carry me
The hell out of here

All the colors in a race riot
In the land of the free
All the women are on a diet
I’m hungry
Are you hungry
I’m hungry
So hungry
For peace and quiet

Thank you sirs for the right to vote
The microwave
And the old mink coat
Now let’s see should I vote for “A” or “B”
“A” talks a lot
But not to me
“B” wants war
Kill or flunk
Forget the vote – I’ll just go out and get drunk

They say a woman’s place

A woman’s place

I won’t forget the vote November 4, but I absolutely plan to go out and get drunk that night. I just hope it’s because I’m celebrating, not because I need to anesthesize myself for the next four years.

Read Full Post »

Be Aware


My favorite song on Laura’s posthumous album Angel in the Dark is “Be Aware.” As I wrote in my book, “Her sweet but powerful rendition of the little known [Bacharach-David] classic draws tears.” I still can’t stay dry-eyed when I hear it. Could any sentiment be more appropriate at a time like this, when we–well, anyone who would be listening to Laura Nyro, at least–are so aware of the inequities here and around the world?

When the sun is warm where you are
And it’s comfortable and safe where you are
Well it’s not exactly that way all over, and
Somewhere in the world, someone is cold
Be aware
And while you’re feeling young, someone is old
Be aware

When there’s laughter all around me
And my family and friends surround me
If I seem to be forgetful, remind me that
Somewhere in the world, someone is weak
Be aware
And while you speak your mind, someone can’t speak
Be aware
Be aware

While your children sleep, somewhere in the world a child is homeless
When we have so much, should any child be homeless?
No, not even one child.
Be aware.

Here’s what a YouTuber whose tag is “dibotis” says about the song:

‘Be Aware’ was first introduced on the ‘Singer Presents Burt Bacharach’ special by Barbra Streisand, who did a lovely job with the tune, and [it] was to be included on her next album, September 1971’s Barbra Joan Streisand, but Streisand cut the tune from the album and it is not known if she ever recorded the tune commercially. That did not stop Burt Bacharach from taking Dionne Warwick into A&R studios and recording the tune in August 1971, with his arrangement, but without the spooky, chilling coda of Barbra’s version from the special. ‘Be Aware’ is a socially conscious anthem much in the same vein as ‘What the World Needs Now.’ Dionne’s passionate delivery of that message should have been a huge hit but the powers that be at Warner Brothers, for whatever reason, decided to release Jacques Brel’s composition ‘If We Only Have Love’ as the first single…

Dionne’s version of “Be Aware” is OK, but Streisand’s–see the top of this post (and don’t mind the iffy sound quality)–is magnificent, with a coda that indeed is chilling (that must be Burt playing the piano and conducting the orchestra). Wow. Much better to listen to this than to the Laura Nyro compositions Streisand covered on two separate albums in that same year–“Stoney End,” “Flim Flam Man,” “Time and Love” and “I Never Meant to Hurt You.” “Stoney End” may have been a big hit for Streisand, but I don’t think any of her Nyro covers captured either Laura’s rhythms nor the soul of the songs.

Agree or disagree?

Read Full Post »


The great Shelby Lynne turns 40 today (October 22).

If you’re not familiar with her–watch out for the shameless plug here–you can read what I wrote about her for The Advocate earlier this year. Briefly, she was a Nashville singer for a decade, then rediscovered herself as a singer/songwriter and won a “Best New Artist” Grammy for her 1999 album I Am Shelby Lynne, which drew fond comparisons to Dusty Springfield’s 1968 masterpiece, Dusty In Memphis. This year, Shelby brought the Dusty connection full-circle, releasing a Dusty tribute that’s her best-selling album yet, Just A Little Lovin’.

Ok, I’m getting to the Nyro connection.

Laura, too, loved Dusty, as I pointed out in my book Soul Picnic. If you’ve read the book, you might remember Laura’s 1966 studio demo session with her first manager, Artie Mogull, in which he asks her to play something she didn’t write after she’s just shown off her prodigal songwriting skills with several originals. Laura hadn’t prepared any cover songs–as if she needed to!–so she stumbled around trying to play something, offering a line of “Kansas City” and then–here it comes–the opening line of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You.”

Check out a video of Shelby’s version (above), and if she’s in your area during her fall tour, check out Shelby as well. She’s a masterful performer; you won’t regret spending an evening with her.

P.S. There’s another single-degree-of-separation between Shelby and Laura: Shelby cut Felix Cavaliere’s “How Can I Be Sure” for Just A Little Lovin’ , and Felix was both Laura’s friend/Danbury neighbor and the coproducer of Christmas and the Beads of Sweat (plus he helped out on Nested). And by the way, when I met Shelby I gave her a copy of my book and emailed her a list of Nyro albums she should listen to. Always trying to widen the circle of Laura love …

Read Full Post »

Ride a Tall White Horse


As I discovered while researching my bio of Laura, Lesley “It’s My Party” Gore was a big Nyro fan back in the day. She brought several of Laura’s compositions to the attention of her producer, Quincy Jones, and he agreed to cut “Wedding Bell Blues”–which, unfortunately for Gore, was released the same week as the Fifth Dimension’s version. You all know which one went to Billboard’s #1 spot and which was never heard again.

But even before she cut WBB, Gore and her songwriter brother Michael had produced their own Nyro pastiche, “Ride a Tall White Horse.” It’s rather hilarious in its unabashed homage to Laura. How many Nyro “quotes” can you distinguish? Offhand, I hear “Blowin’ Away,” “Timer,” “Stoney End” and the start-stop of “Farmer Joe.” The song was basically a demo, never released, but has appeared on Gore anthologies–and on YouTube (above).

It’s no surprise that Gore remains a Nyro fan to this day. And now we come to the timely point of this post: She’s currently touring with a set that includes “I Never Meant To Hurt You,” the wrenching ballad from Laura’s first album. New Yorkers can check out Gore’s version on Halloween at the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Enjoy her party–and wear your Laura Nyro costume!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »