Concert Highlights–Darlene Love at Damrosch Park, 7/23/2016

Four years ago when Darlene Love received the ASCAP Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award at the 2012 WhyHunger Chapin Awards Dinner, she wanted it made known that she was ready and willing for more work than her annual Christmas show bookings. Thanks to seizing the moment at the 2014 Academy Awards, when she helped accept the Oscar for 20 Feet from Stardom (being a central figure in the documentary about backup singers) and exploded into a spontaneous a cappella chorus of the gospel hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” as well as her belated 2011 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she’s getting plenty of quality non-holiday work now, including her Lincoln Center Out of Doors show two weeks ago (July 23) at Damrosch Park.

In fact, her career is so big now that the show required two sets, the first consisting of songs from last year’s terrific Steven Van Zandt-produced, ironically titled album Introducing Darlene Love (it took 30 years to come into fruition, she explained), the second focusing on her 1960s career establishing hits produced by Phil Spector. Highlights of the first included Van Zandt’s show-opening “Among the Believers,” Elvis Costello’s “Still Too Soon to Know” (with her guitarist/bandleader Marc Ribler subbing for the record’s fellow Spector alumn duet partner Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers),and Jimmy Webb’s impassioned plea “Who Under Heaven.”

Besides Spector classics including “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” “He’s a Rebel,” “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry” and “Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home,” Love showcased her own backup singers (Milton Vann, Baritone MacKenzie and 35-year Love backup signer Ula Hedwig) on songs including Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love,” which was produced by Russ Titelman, who was not only in attendance, but was once upon a time a guitarist in the Shindogs houseband of ‘60s pop music TV show Shindig!–of which Love, then also part of The Blossoms female vocal backup trio, was likewise a regular.

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Russ Titelman (right) at Damrosch Park’s Darlene Love show (photo courtesy of Russ Titelman)

But the second half also included “Marvelous,” Walter Hawkins’ gospel classic that is also on Introducing Darlene Love, which she performs powerfully at every show as a tribute to her late backup singer and friend Patty Darcy.

Titelman, meanwhile, found Margaret Ross Williams, lead singer of The Cookies, also of ‘60s fame via the hits “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)” and “Chains” (covered by The Beatles), and also an important female backup vocal trio for artists including Neil Sedaka and Little Eva. Love’s contemporary, Williams noted how so many others of their time are now gone.

“Darlene is inspiring us to keep going in our own way,” said Williams, and with Love then three days away from turning 75, a video birthday greeting was screened prior to the second set with messages from the likes of Costello, Medley, Van Zandt, Hedwig, Paul Shaffer and Joan Jett, whose “Little Liar” she covered on Introducing Darlene Love and at Damrosch Park.

She closed with Spector’s “River Deep–Mountain High,” and while her Spector recordings made her legend, unlike virtually all the other Spector-associated artists, she’s long since furthered it on her own. And though it was a scorching summer evening, she made the obvious clear: “I’m not sweating, honey,” she responded to an incorrect observer. “I’m glowing!”

More (Lesley) Gore

The New York Times Magazine has an annual end-of-the-year section where it commissions outside writers to pick someone who died in the past year and write a longer and more subjective piece than the straight obituaries. I was glad that Lesley Gore was one of the 20 or so chosen last month, and that the writer, Rob Hoerburger, did such a good job.

I think she was the first “celebrity” I met when I came to New York, other than Davy Jones and Tommy Boyce–both of whom I met at an East Side club whose name I can’t remember but is long gone. I think it was a Chem bank that was on the ground floor of the office building at 1775 Broadway where I worked at Cash Box, where I saw her walk in and followed her, gherm that I am. I’m sure I wasn’t the first lovestruck 30-year-old male to impose myself on her 20 years after buying “It’s Judy’s Turn to Cry.” That we became dear friends over the many ensuing years remains among my proudest achievements.

I worked hard on her behalf, writing about her at Billboard and examiner.com and here. I tried to get her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while I was on the nominating committee and when I got kicked off—probably for bringing her and Nancy Sinatra and other deserving and still missing female rockers up every year—I put her in my own Rock ’n’ Roll Pantheon at examiner.

I was at BookExpo at the Javits Center on Feb. 16 when I saw an email alert on my phone that she had died. I was in the press room and maybe someone noticed tears streaming down my face. I had been calling her and leaving messages, and it wasn’t like her not to return them. Now I knew why.

I mentioned in my own last roundup of the people who died in 2015 who had affected me how Lou Christie, who had performed with Lesley since the early ‘60s, had said how she was one tough broad, essentially. This, of course, I knew. In Hoerburger’s piece, he had a great quote from her: “You gotta make your 16-year-old self proud.”

Lesley and Lou and Nancy, The Turtles, Chris Hillman, The Zombies, Eric Burdon, Darlene Love, Peter Noone, The Cowsills and all the other artists from my 16-year-old self that I’ve gotten to see and sometimes gotten to know, who are—or were—just as great as I remember them, as they were back then, for them I am so grateful. I’ve written this before, that they make you proud of where and when you came from, who you were and who you still are.

I’m proud that I knew and loved Lesley Gore.

Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part 13

I’ve been thinking about Nick a lot lately, but then again, it’s that time of year.

It was a month or so ago when Darlene Love played B.B. King’s and did her wonderful tribute to Marvin Gaye, whom she’d sung behind back in the day. Two of the songs are classic Ashford & Simpson compositions: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need to Get By,” the latter featuring one of my all-time fave A&S couplets in “There’s no looking back for us/We got love sure ‘nough, that’s enough.”

Sure ‘nough, that’s enough.

Shit.

Why can’t I write something so complete?

Full context:

I will go where you lead
Always there in time of need
And when I lose my will
You’ll be there to push me up the hill
There’s no, no looking back for us
We got love sure ‘nough, that’s enough
You’re all, you’re all I need to get by

Compounding it all, Dionne Warwick was there. Reminded me how Nick and Val had hosted a party for her at the Sugar Bar years ago, for an album release. I don’t remember the year, but I remember the day, December 8. I brought my friend Beefy—the legendary Troy Charmell of Dr. Bop & the Headliners, who always loves going to the Sugar Bar, and then we made our annual Dec. 8 walk over to nearby Strawberry Fields to observe with joy and song the death day of John Lennon, who gave us the Nick-like “All You Need is Love.”

And now I’m in the air nearing L.A. and get an invite to the Sugar Bar to attend a showcase Aug. 22 for Lili K, described by her publicist—who knows how I love the Sugar Bar—as “Chicago’s jazz infused ‘throwback soul’ songstress.”

August 22. A date like December 8, the day Nick died, in 2011. Ironically, on that day four years ago I was flying back from L.A., and upon landing, headed directly from Kennedy to Nick and Val’s house, in shorts and t-shirt carrying my bags. Such a sad occasion, yet even then, somehow full of the joy and song and life that was Nick then and now.

And on this Aug. 22—Saturday night—it’s the annual Bessman Bash—a wonderful backyard party thrown by my pal Bob Merlis at his house in Larchmont. There will be plenty of great people and music and fun, as it always was at the Sugar Bar, whenever Nick was there. Or anywhere that Nick was.

Nick will be there, of course. As he always is.

Here he is, in one of his last performances, singing, with Val, “You’re All I Need to Get By”: