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.

BessRuss
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!”

Tales of Bessman: Hands off David Letterman!

Over the years I became big friends with Paul, Will and Felicia—not to mention the wonderful warm-up comic Eddie Brill. But meeting Dave was never going to be in the cards, which was fine. But I did have one unforgettable encounter, as much as I’ve tried to forget it.

Being friends with any number of guests, I was at the show many times, though it wasn’t until the last time I went, to see Valerie Simpson perform, that I actually sat in the house. Except for then, I was always in the dressing room with the artist and then in the green room during the show. That’s’ where I was when David consented to come in after the show—an extreme rarity, I believe—to make a picture with John Fogerty.

I tried to get out, since the room was packed and it was a big production for Dave to come in and do the picture. His handlers were everywhere and I got stuck against a wall. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make myself small enough.

Dave entered, and as bad luck would have it, he brushed against me. He turned around and said, “You grabbed my ass!” I nearly threw up all the chocolate chip cookies and Diet Cokes I’d gobbled up and swilled there during the show. If I said anything, it was a garbled stammer.

Maybe it’s just as well. If I had been able to speak clearly, I could only have said, “I did NOT grab your ass!”

Some things, for sure, are better left unsaid. This most certainly was one.