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!”

Concert Highlights–Bobby Rydell featuring City Rhythm Orchestra at Damrosch Park, 7/6/2016

Bobby Rydell at Lincoln Center Midsummer Nights Swing, July 6, 2016
Bobby Rydell at Lincoln Center Midsummer Nights Swing, July 6, 2016 (photo: Russ Titelman)

Not sure who was more excited to meet Bobby Rydell backstage at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing series at Damrosch Park on July 6, me or Russ Titelman.

A few years older than me, Russ was no less starstruck in the presence of early 1960s teen idol Rydell after a great, mostly pop standards set with Philadelphia’s City Rhythm Orchestra, songs including several Sinatra staples and a Bobby Darin tribute, the only Rydell hits being “Wild One” and “Volare.”

“It goes back to my childhood!” Russ marveled, except that Rydell’s set had contemporary relevance for him as well, as he also sang “Teach Me Tonight,” the 1950s Sammy Cahn-Gene De Paul standard that Russ just recorded with Holly Cole.

After the show–and our meeting with Rydell–Russ, who’s famously produced the likes of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, recalled the impetus for the Cole cut, within both Sinatra and Darin contexts. Turns out he was a guest of Quincy Jones at the 1984 sessions in New York at A&R studio for Sinatra’s L.A. is My Lady album, which Jones was producing. Michael Jackson was there, so was late Broadway musical luminary Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line), and among the stellar musicians in the band was George Benson.

“Mr. S sang ‘Teach Me Tonight’ and ‘Mack the Knife,’” Russ recalled. “On a break I suggested to George that we do ‘Beyond the Sea’–one of my very favorite songs and the B-side of Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife.’ He said he already had an arrangement. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he answered that Frank Foster, who had written the ‘Mack the Knife’ arrangement for Sinatra, had written him a big band arrangement of ‘Beyond the Sea.’ When I heard that, I said, ‘We’re doing it!’ Mr. Foster said it was one of his favorites of all his arrangements!”

Russ still considers the version of “Beyond the Sea” that he produced for Benson’s 1984 album 20/20 the best ever.

Rydell, meanwhile, sang both “Beyond the Sea” and “Mack the Knife” outdoors at Lincoln Center, not to mention Sinatra’s “The Lady is a Tramp” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.” He was equally at ease singing Darrin and Sinatra.

Glenn Frey: An appreciation

Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow’s statement summarized it succinctly: “As a founding member of The Eagles, Glenn Frey was an integral part of one of the most storied bands in pop history.”

He added, “Glenn’s untimely passing is a huge loss for the music community.”

Frey died Monday at 67, leaving prominent fans profoundly moved.

“Glenn Frey and the music he created alone and with The Eagles have been such an inspiration to me,” said country star Travis Tritt in a statement. “We first met at the video shoot for my version of [Eagles hit] ‘Take It Easy’ in 1993. He always went out of his way to acknowledge and encourage me ever since. I’m a better person, better musician and a better songwriter having met him.”

Tritt’s release of “Take It Easy” led to an Eagles reunion for the music video. Having broken up bitterly in 1980, the Eagles reconciled and fully reunited for their 1994 Hell Freezes Over tour.

On the other end of the musical spectrum, Paul Stanley of Kiss tweeted, “SHOCKED to report the death of GLENN FREY. Eagle & brilliant songwriter. We shared some memories at RRHOF [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame]. Shocked.”

Russ Titelman recalls a fortuitous meeting with Frey when he was producing Randy Newman’s 1974 Good Old Boys album.

“Glenn pulled me aside at the Troubadour and said, ‘Hey, man. If you ever need any background singing on Randy’s record let us know,” recalls Titelman. “Glenn, [fellow Eagles] Don Henley and Bernie Leadon sang on three songs—‘Rednecks,’ ‘Naked Man’ and ‘Back On My Feet Again.’ Three years later he worked–with Don, [Eagles] Tim Schmit, JD Souther and [Eagles] Joe Walsh) on [Newman’s album] Little Criminals: He sang on ‘Short People’ and ‘Baltimore’ and played fantastic guitar parts on ‘Little Criminals’ and ‘Baltimore.’ But the most notable and most fun thing they did was on a song called ‘Rider In The Rain,’ Randy’s funny fake cowboy song. Glenn, Don and JD Souther sang beautifully. It sounded like Randy singing lead on an Eagles record. Humorous and great.”

Frey, said Titelman, “was certainly one of the best songwriter-singer-musicians that ever graced our stage. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Frey was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame [SHOF] in 2000.

“Glenn did our Songwriters Hall of Fame Master/NYU Session a couple of years ago and it was the first time I got to talk to him since the very old days when the Eagles signed with Asylum and I was at Atlantic, both Warner Communication companies,” says SHOF president/CEO Linda Moran. “His daughter, Taylor, was attending NYU and was in the audience, so Dad’s interview and his responses and active participation were even more spectacular than we could ever anticipate. He spoke masterfully and passionately about songwriting that night and it was obvious the important role it played in his life and in his career. At the small dinner party afterwards, we chatted about the good old days. Being as he now had short hair, was clean-shaven and wearing a suit, he looked and acted very differently than the young kid I met decades ago. He really had his act together and you could tell he was enjoying and appreciating life. He laughed when I told him that he had ‘grown up very nicely!’”

New York classic rock Q1043 station DJ Maria Milito represents so many in taking Frey’s loss hard.

“I gasped, then cried when I heard the news of Glenn Frey’s passing,” says Milito. “Whether you grew up in the ‘70s or you’re a millennial, The Eagles have been a thread in the fabric of your life in America. The writing team of Henley-Frey were America’s Lennon-McCartney. But because The Eagles were from the next generation of bands, it’s difficult to wrap my head around this. I just thought he’d always be around and The Eagles would continue to tour.”

Concludes Milito, “Glenn Frey was a part of our youth, and now another piece of growing up is gone.”