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DAVID NATHAN: UP CLOSE & PERSONAL , 2001 INTERVIEW
In late November 2001, David Freeland – author of the book “Ladies Of Soul” – conducted this interview with David Nathan for the website (www.soulmusic.com). Freeland asked a variety of questions about David's work as a music journalist, author, reissue producer and observations on
his career in the music industry over the past three decades. Sharing personal insights about how
he first became interested in classic soul and R&B and about some of the artists he’s encountered
as a working journalist, this is the most in-depth interview David had given at the time …

DAVID FREELAND: Your writing has focused primarily on black American music. What quality do you think drew you to black music, as opposed to, say, country & western or rock music?

DAVID NATHAN: I think the answer to that question is a little complex, but I’ll try to make it simple. It really is the emotion, it’s the expression, it’s the – it sounds so clichéd – it’s the soul of it. What drew me to it, personally, I think had a lot to do with my own family background. I grew up as a minority in a minority. My family were Jews – not practicing Jews. They were Jewish more by ethnicity than by religious belief, although they did observe certain holidays. And I grew up in an Irish neighborhood, and I went to a Protestant school. So everywhere I looked, I was an outsider. Everywhere I looked, I was different. So my reference for being a part of minorities became entrenched in my psyche very early on. And I didn’t identify it that way, ‘cause I was too young to think like that, but when I look back, I think that’s what it was. In some songs I would hear the pain of what it was to be different from others, and I could relate to that.

Plus, I was just a very strange child. I was a strange child. We had a parents’ day and we had to put on a show – I did a Siamese temple dance, at the age of 9! So, you see, I wasn’t an ordinary child even then. I had written a love story when I was six. My hobby when I was 14 years old was collecting the names of ambassadors from all over the world. I didn’t have an ordinary childhood and I wasn’t an ordinary child, to be honest. So I would be drawn to something that was outside of the norm anyway. That’s what drew me to R&B, and once I was drawn, that was it. I was hooked. Music was my salvation. At first, I liked the British music that was popular at the time - I loved Cilla Black – she was my first pin-up girl – and I loved the Beatles. I did my hair like a Beatles cut, at one point. My parents were freaked out: “What are you doing?” I said, “I want to wear my hair like that.” I went to school, everyone was like, [with a thick English accent] “Oh, look at Nathan – he’s thinks he’s a Beatle now!” So I was already kind of getting into pop culture, but that music, it became my solace, my salvation. It became a place I could go where I could find myself. When I first started falling in love and having schoolboy crushes, it helped me through the schoolboy crushes. That was really it.

DF: Your first interview was with Dee Dee Warwick, while you were still a teenager in London. Looking back on that now, what impressions do you remember most clearly about the interview?

DN: I was really nervous, that’s the first thing I remember. We set that up through the person who was the head of the Dionne Warwick, Shirelles, and Scepter/Wand Appreciation Society – a lady by the name of Gloria Marcantonio. And she knew that I was a complete Dionne Warwick fan. That was why I joined the fan club – it was a fan club before it became an appreciation society. And there was a magazine that had been started by a gentleman by the name of Dave Godin. Dave Godin had been the founder of the Tamla/Motown Appreciation Society, and that was really the forerunner to all the fan clubs and the different societies that had been created around R&B artists. Anyway, at some point in 1965 – it was ’65 or ’66 – the Tamla/Motown Appreciation Society pretty much went out of existence, but [Dave] had continued with a magazine called Rhythm and Soul, USA. I had already become aware of Dave through his work with Motown and my own interest in other R&B artists, and I asked him if I could write something for Rhythm and Soul, USA, and that was the first thing I ever wrote that was outside of my fan club activities or appreciation society activities with Nina Simone. I had been doing a newsletter for the members of that society.

So, what I remember about the interview was that Gloria had set it up, it was in the lobby of a hotel in London called the Cumberland Hotel, and Dee Dee and I sat and had tea, and I was really nervous because I hadn’t ever had to do an interview before. This was my very first, ever, ever, ever, experience of doing one.

DF: And how old were you?

DN: Let me see, I was…[thinks]…17. And what I remember most is that I kept returning to talking about Dionne. DF: Oooh…

DN: She was OK with it, but later on I found out she was a little irritated about it. She said I spent most of the interview talking about [Dionne]. It was a little bit of an inaccurate assessment, but it was fine. I just asked [Dee Dee] about her history, I asked her about her records that she had out. It was not a long interview. That’s what I remember about her. She was very amiable.

DF: That, of course, was the beginning of many interviews. Are there one or two interviews that stand out as especially memorable or meaningful for you?

DN: In 1975, I had moved to New York, and I was working at that point for Blues & Soul. I had been writing for Blues & Soul magazine in England, but this was my trial period to see if I could hack it in New York. So I was eager to do whatever was asked of me. Once the record companies became aware that there was somebody in New York for Blues & Soul, they gladly cooperated for the most part, and one of the early triumphs was working with CBS, the forerunner to Sony Music. They decided they would fly me to Los Angeles to do three interviews: Ramsey Lewis, Bill Withers, and Earth, Wind & Fire. And the one of the three that stands out is the interview with Earth, Wind & Fire, because every time we tried to set it up, it didn’t happen. In fact, I even went to a rehearsal of Earth, Wind & Fire. I was the only person there, other than the band and their personal assistant. It was just extraordinary, watching them go through their set in front of me. Oh! I can’t even tell you what it was like. It was so amazing.

Anyway, we still have to do the interview, and I have to return to New York and it hasn’t been done. So CBS finally says, “Look, the only way you can do this is if you fly with the band to Seattle, and do the interview on the plane. You can’t do it when you get there.” So, I did the interview on the plane. Most of the interview was with Maurice White, and it was memorable because, number one, of how it was done. But it was also memorable because of his sharing with me about the spiritual aspect of his lyricism, and talking about some of the songs – “Keep Your Head to the Sky,” “Devotion” – which had really been inspirational for me. We spoke at length about his thoughts on reincarnation. We talked about things that were related to the music of Earth, Wind & Fire, but were bigger topics. For me, it was like a life-altering interview. He recommended some books for me to read, and I have to say, my life wasn’t the same after that. It just wasn’t. He was like a guide, he kind of pointed me in a particular direction in regard to how I would go on and live my life from that moment on. It was really that profound.

DF: So, for you, that interview became a spiritual experience.

DN: Yeah, and I would say changed my life. That’s a heavy thing to say, but he just opened me up to a lot of possibilities that I had thought about, but by reading the books that I read, it just deepened my understanding of my place in the universe. My whole philosophy about life changed as a result of that interview. I began developing what has now been a lifelong interest in spirituality, metaphysics and transformation. That one conversation with Maurice led to so much studying, reading, doing transformational seminars like est and The Landmark Forum, going to places of worship in L.A. like Agape and Unity Fellowship…at one point, I was even an assistant deacon at a small black storefront church in Brooklyn in the mid-‘70s! The only white member of the congregation and an assistant deacon! As Maurice White might say, ‘have mercy!’

DF: I think it’s an interesting story because it underscores the fact that this music can change our lives, and the performers can change our lives. Why do you think you’ve chosen to devote so much of your work to female performers?

DN: Firstly, the first music, the first artists that I became attracted to or aware of were female. Those being, in order: Dionne Warwick, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin. Those were my first three heroines, so to speak. Why I would find myself so identifying with them probably has more to do with my sexual orientation than anything else. It’s funny, ‘cause initially, the songs that I loved that they were singing, I wasn’t thinking about in respect of men, I was thinking about in respect of women at that time. This is my adolescence, and as I went into my late teens, and went through a series of different emotional upheavals – the experience of being rejected by the girls I liked, stuff like that. The music of women became more relevant once I had a boyfriend. When I had a boyfriend, then what they were singing was what I could relate to now more directly. And I felt comfortable with women. I’ve always felt comfortable with women and I still do. I have some great male friends – straight and gay. But most of my friends are women, straight women – and we love to ‘whoop and holler’!

DF: Have you encountered much homophobia in the course of your work in the R&B field?

DN: Well, I haven’t personally, and the reason for that is because there has been, it seems, other than people who know me, some ambiguity about my sexuality, so lot of people – artists, record company people – may have never been quite clear about it. I’ve never walked around with, “Oh, I’m gay,” and I have no problem if someone asks me the question. It’s like, if you don’t ask me I’m not gonna tell you. Unless you have some reason to ask me – like you wanna ask me out on a date, then it’s not gonna come up. I’ve never had an artist who was kind of weird with me because they thought I was gay. I’ve never had any record company person who’s ever been weird with me because of that.

DF: What is the general reaction of the singers you interview to your work? Have any ever expressed special pleasure in what you’ve written? Have any expressed displeasure?

DN: I feel very blessed and privileged that so many of the people I’ve interviewed have always been very complimentary and have really acknowledged that they liked what I did. I don’t think anybody has ever said to me, “You know, I really hated what you wrote about me.” That actually has never happened. I seem to really have been able to create a good relationship with anyone that I interview. There are a couple of people who have been difficult to interview.

DF: Who has been difficult, in particular?

DN: The two people, unfortunately, that I have to say were difficult are both deceased, which is kind of unfortunate, ‘cause they can’t defend themselves: Donny Hathaway and Minnie Riperton. I interviewed Donny Hathaway in London, the only time he came to London. I went to his hotel room, and he was just very non-communicative. He did not respond. It was like, “yes,” “no.” I really got an impression that part of what was uncomfortable for him was me being white. That’s one of the few times I’ ve ever encountered that. I couldn’t tell you that he said anything to me like that, but just something about the way he would look at me…he seemed really uncomfortable about being in London, that’s for sure. It was not a good interview. I left there very disappointed.

The other one was Minnie Riperton. I interviewed her in ’75. She was just very curt and defensive. This was early in my career as a journalist, in terms of my doing that as a daily activity, so I was a little bit kind of put out. I was like, “What was that about?” “Abrasive” might be too strong, but she was not warm. She was not warm at all. I remember that night, she performed, and I went with a friend of mine to the after party, and she just looked at me, and it was kind of like, “Ugh.” She looked at me, she looked at who I was with, and it was just this look of attitude, and I don’t really know why. Now, to be fair, years later, I interviewed her. I interviewed her, unfortunately, not too long before she died, and that was completely different. She had already been diagnosed with cancer; she had already had a partial mastectomy. So she was in a different place, and that interview was very different. I don’t want to say that she was always like that; she was just like that that one time.

Those were probably the two that were most difficult. And Michael Henderson was kind of unpleasant, because he was performing at the Bottom Line and Vicki Sue Robinson was opening for him, and she had just had her record, “Turn the Beat Around.” She was doing sound check while we were doing the interview, and he kept talking about, “Well, I don’t know why they put these non-singers on shows and these white girls who can’t sing shit,” and I just thought it was so unprofessional. He didn’t know me, and for him to be talking like that was just kind of objectionable. So that was an unpleasant experience. I also talked to him subsequently and he was better, but that one was not good.

DF: But I’m sure you’ve had many more experiences that were the opposite. Who were some of the easiest and nicest interviews you’ve had?

DN: I kind of think of the ones that were fun. I don’t know if “nice” would be the right word. The first interview I did with Millie Jackson, that was so hilarious. This was actually when I was [in the U.S.] on vacation in ’74, so it was one of the very first. She tried to direct me to meet her where she lived in Brooklyn, and I was staying in Brooklyn and I got on the wrong train and I had to call her. You know, I was very English back then: [timidly] “Oh, hullo Miss Jackson.” The first thing she said to me when I walked in the door was, “So you finally fuckin’ made it!” You have to remember now, this is my first time being in the country, I’ m a little nervous, I’m very English, I’m still a little bit prim and proper (I won’t say too prim and proper!), and so I was kind of like, “Oh my God, this is Millie Jackson,” and I was late, and I was so apologetic, and she was fine. She was totally fine. Took me to have pizza. She was just so real. I loved her; I absolutely loved her. I still do. I would not miss the chance to talk to Millie Jackson ever. She’s just so bawdy and real and down to earth.

And the other one, of course, would be Esther Phillips. She was the same kind of spirit, very real. She spoke a little bit like she sang, very nasally. There wasn’t one particular interview with Esther. I just always enjoyed talking to her, always. I’ve had a lot of “nice” interviews, but those stand out as being two people that I always enjoyed.

But a lot of people I enjoyed. I enjoyed interviewing Teddy Pendergrass, who was always just very open and fun, just relaxed. Linda Clifford was great. Zulema. Oh, Zulema and I used to have such times, ‘cause she lived in New York and I didn’t live far from her, and I used to hang out at her house, and she would cook. Her and her man, Joe. And I would bring my supposedly man at the time, who subsequently fell in love with her cousin – it was very complicated. So we had high drama too! Ralph MacDonald, the percussionist, was always good. Ashford and Simpson – the first interview was a little strange, the very first one, which was in ’74, but she was pregnant, and I think she was a little not into doing the interview. But after that we just really hit it off. Al Jarreau, wonderful. And Dionne – of course, Dionne – hello – I’m forgetting my ultimate heroines! Patti LaBelle was great, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole.

Actually, I just forgot two great people that I love: Patti Austin, one of my absolute, all-time, forever favorites, and Brenda Russell. Just great. And Mavis Staples – oh, my God, I’m forgetting them all – and Marlena Shaw. Oh yes, Marlena Shaw. I saw her recently, a great interview. DF: Which other performers were fun to interview?

DN: There’s a whole slew of people who I always wanted to speak to, like the late Judy Clay. DF: What was she like?

DN: Tough, very much tough in the Esther Phillips kind of tough way [laughs]. How was Judy? She was quite a pistol. She definitely did not get anything like the recognition financially or acclaim, so she did have a chip on her shoulder – I can’t lie. There’s a certain kind of earthy black woman that I’ve always kind of identified with, and that group includes Millie Jackson, Esther Phillips, and for sure it includes Judy Clay, and Big Maybelle, who I met when I was in England, the one time she came to England. They’re kind of like your “salt of the earth” women, and they don’t do well with bullshit. And I guess there’s a part of me that’s like that. So I always resonate more with them than I do with anyone who’s a little bit more sophisticated, shall we say. So Judy and I were fine. I told her she was one of the first female vocalists that I actually fell in love with, which was true. I loved her voice, ‘cause it was so deep. It was almost like a man’s voice. So it was a real triumph to talk to her, and the Sweet Inspirations, who I absolutely always, always loved. I would say 90% of the people I’ve met have been wonderful and maybe 10% have been like, whatever. I love Vesta; she’s funny. She’s that great combination of funny and intelligent. Betty Wright – Betty Wright and I always had a good time. I did lots of interviews with Betty Wright when I lived in New York in the ‘70s. She’s not tough in the same kind of manner as a Judy or an Esther, but she kind of has her own toughness – but a sweetheart, a heart of gold person. There’s so many great people, just so many – Bettye Lavette, who I met back in ’77 whose music has always been so inspiring to me, Maxine Brown who was one of the first artists I met when I came to New York in ’75, Leroy Hutson, Damon Harris, Frankie Beverly, DJ Rogers, Billy Preston, Barry White, Babyface, just so many great artists… I’m gonna leave people out, there’s no question!

DF: Is there one singer you’ve always wanted to interview but have never been able to?

DN: Well, for a long time Diana Ross, but then I did that.

DF: And what was that like?

DN: It was great; it was really great. I really enjoyed interviewing her ‘cause she’s intelligent. She’s an intelligent artist. It’s clear to me that she thinks, she’s a thinking person, so her answers were not off the cuff. Some of it was very spontaneous, but she also knew what it is she wanted to say in answer to certain questions. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to her. The only person I’ve never interviewed, that’s kind of like missing to me a little bit, is Tina Turner. I’ve met her just to shake her hand and that’s it. I met Marvin Gaye once, but I never really had any deep desire to interview him. But that’s probably it – Tina Turner’s about the only one.

DF: When you’re doing interviews, do ethical questions ever come into play? As a writer, I sometimes grapple with this issue. Do you ever come across “dirt” that you decide not to print? What kind of judgment do you exercise?

DN: I don’t ask questions that elicit that. I try to avoid questions that would be like that, ‘cause I don’t really traffic in gossip. I’ ve always taken this stand that I won’t get into people’s personal lives unless they decide to share that, and I won’t talk to them about other people and other people’s music unless they decide to offer opinions. It probably makes some of what I write not as exciting, but the thing that I became aware of, David, after a few years of doing this as a daily activity, was that everyone I encountered was a human being. Just because they’re recording artists, it doesn’t give them any divine rights. It doesn’t give them the right to be rude or nasty, but it also doesn’t take away any of their rights as people who have a right to privacy. So I’ ve tried to be with people I interview the way I would want someone to be with me. If the person says something about themselves or about someone else, and if they have not said it’s off the record, then I take it that they want it to be published.

DF: Who are some of the singers with whom you’ve become close friends through the course of your work?

DN: Three of the recording artists who have been a part of my life for a very long time are Doris Troy, P.P. Arnold and Mable John. I met Doris in London – I guess it would have been around 1965, when she made her first visit there, but I didn’t really get to know her until she was living there on a more permanent basis around 1970, when she started working with the Beatles’ record company, Apple. That first time, she had a fan club secretary, Enid, who was a friend of mine – that’s my first recollection of meeting Doris. I loved her songs – of course, “Just One Look” is her classic but I liked some of those other tunes she did with Atlantic like “Heartaches,” “Please Little Angel” and “He Don’t Belong To Me.” And Doris was a great show- woman – I mean, she loved the audience and we loved her right back. When she came back to England [in ‘70], we just became friends. I used to go around to her flat near Baker Street and hang with her. I remember playing her a tape of me singing a Sam Cooke song (“A Change Is Gonna Come”) and she has always encouraged me to sing! When she was working on her album for Apple, she used to play me the songs – one I loved was “Ain’t That Cute” which is about all the false phony people you can meet in this business – she and I have both known our share of them! Yes, Doris is one of my best friends in the world. She’s somebody I speak to frequently, and probably the recording artist that I would regard more than anyone else as a really close friend. It’s just like we have a natural friendship; we just love each other. I absolutely love Doris. She has a heart of gold; she’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She’s just got this kind of indomitable spirit that is amazing, she’s a survivor. I love her so much.

Another person I met around the same time in England was Pat (P.P.) Arnold who had been an Ikette. She stayed in London and we met through Doris’ fan club secretary Enid. We have been friends ever since. I mean, we may not speak for months at a time but Pat is just a wonderful human being and as we have both gotten older, we feel more connected since we have both taken time to study in the area of spirituality. Definitely, a lifelong relationship. DF: And how did you get to meet Mable John?

DN: Mable I first met when she was a Raelette. She was with Ray Charles, and that would have been around 1970. I met Mable in that context, but I knew her work as a solo recording artist for Stax – “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” and “Able Mable” and “You’re Taking Up Another Man’s Place.”

DF: And “Left Over Love.” That’s a great one.

DN: Ooh, yes! Man, what a song! So that’s how I met her, and I remember doing an interview with her at a restaurant, and we just had this great meal. In fact, when I first came [to L.A.] to visit, I remember very vividly meeting Mable. Then, when I came to live here, we hooked up. In fact, I think I came out here a couple of times and stayed in her place. We were just really friends, and that’s continued through now, and she is now a minister and she does this incredible work. She’s the head of an organization called Joy Community Outreach, for the homeless. Almost every day, she gets up early in the morning and goes and feeds homeless people. So through the years, we’ve just maintained contact and relationships. She’s just a great spirit, and that for me is important – someone’s spirit, beyond even their singing. Those two women have really been bedrock women in my life.

DF: Another big thing that you began doing during the ‘80s is compiling CD releases. To date, you’ve written the liner notes for dozens of them and you’ve compiled several of your own, including the Soul Classics series on Ichiban. How did you choose which artists you wanted to profile?

DN: Well, I didn’t [laughs]. I think the very first liner note that I did was for Rhino, and it was for a reissue of Betty Wright Live. So it wasn’t like I called up and said, “Oh, I’d love to do a Betty Wright.” Gary Stewart, who’s still there, was the person who called and asked me, knowing that I had knowledge of R&B and so on. Then, the next one I did was for Andy McKaie at MCA, and that was a two-volume compilation focusing on the R&B artists of Chess, rather than the blues artists. So, at the beginning it wasn’t that I asked to do things. I think the very first compilation that I did – now, this is really testing my memory a little bit – was called Towering Soul, which I did for Capitol. It was a completely ignored compilation, which was just Capitol artists from the ‘70s and some ‘80s things. The artwork was horrible; nobody even knew it came out. They had some great things on there, like a Barbara Acklin track that was on Capitol; Candi Staton, “He Called Me Baby.” It’s obscure now; you can’ t get it. It was only in print for like a year. So it just kind of disappeared. The first one I really got excited about, where I did the compilation work, was a project I did for The Right Stuff called Movin’ on Up, which was two volumes, and it was really songs that I consider associated with the Civil Rights Movement. And that included Nina Simone, Aretha, Stevie Wonder, I think Donny Hathaway, Gil Scott-Heron. I was very proud of those. So those were amongst the first, until I started doing the stuff that I did with Ichiban. DF: And how did you select those particular vocalists [for the Ichiban series]?

DN: I called John Abbey, who had been my boss for Blues & Soul many years ago, and he had started a company called Ichiban, and I just approached him with the idea, because I saw there were a lot of projects that had not been reissued by Rhino. So then I thought, “Well, maybe we can license them.” So I went to John and talked to him, and he said, “Yeah, I’m interested,” and then I had a meeting with the Warner Special Products person. I had my laundry list: it was Doris Troy, Margie Joseph, Jackie Moore, the Sweet Inspirations, Barbara Lynn, Mary Wells, and there were a couple more that they said “no” to. But they said yes to Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. Billy Vera and Judy Clay, they were in the first lot too. So that was my first time where I ever had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. And then once the series kicked in, we went back to them and got Dee Dee Warwick, Arthur Conley, Lorraine Ellison, and Dionne Warwick, and then we started going to other companies to license from them, too.

DF: That was a great series – I loved all of those releases. You had so many great songs to choose from. How did you select which recordings to include, in cases where you couldn’t put their whole body of work on the CD?

DN: I tried to follow the rule of thumb that I had gotten from all the major labels that I had worked with, which was the first thing you do is put all the hits on, then you go for things that you know people want – you just kind of know, ‘cause people let you know they want them, and things that you personally like. And that’s really the criteria. In some cases, I just didn’t get to do as much as I wanted; like Margie Joseph, there were so many more things I wanted to put on, but we had restrictions because of the number of songs you could put on there. One of my favorites of all the work I did with Soul Classics was “Lifting The Spirit” because of its theme – and the music was so good. D.J. Rogers, The Emotions, Earth, Wind & Fire, New York Community Choir. I’m still very proud of that CD and I still play it – it’s the perfect record for getting the day started!

DF: Are there any singers you would like to do something similar with in the future?

DN: Well, I’m going to create a new, re-launched Soul Classics with Brunswick Records which is run by Paul Tarnopol. DF: Is he related to [former Brunswick owner] Nate?

DN: He’s his son. When his father died, he gave the company over to his son and daughter. Paul and I did a little work together – I did some liner notes for him for a Jackie Wilson greatest hits package. I just called him one day and said, “This is what I’m interested in doing. How do you feel about it?” And we went back and forth, and he said, “Sure.” So, we have submitted our first list of projects, and we’re waiting to hear back if they’ve been approved, but we plan to go ahead. We’re actually going to call it – I’m really flattered that we can call it this – “Ambassador Soul Classics.” DF: Who are some of the artists you hope to profile in the series?

DN: Some of the people I’d like to do reissues on include Dionne Warwick, the Staples Singers, Melba Moore, Cheryl Lynn, Deniece Williams, Nancy Wilson, Tavares – those are some of the people I would like to do reissues on. I’m a little reluctant to say too much ‘cause I don’t want other people to go and try to get what I’m wanna get! I’m excited about being able to make available the music that we didn’t get to the first time.

DF: In addition to the new Ambassador Soul Classics, what projects are you working on right now?

DN: Well, the biggest project that I have been working on is a Nancy Wilson box set, which comes out in February. It’s taken most of this year to create. Why it’s really exciting to me is that we were able to find an entire live album, never released. It was recorded at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, 1968. It was done over two days, and we found tapes from both days. The producer at the time had mixed seven of the songs, intending to release it as an album, and just never finished it. And we found another six songs that were part of the shows, but were never mixed. So we mixed them so that there’s not a big differential in the sound. It’s gorgeous; the album is so good. Most of the songs are songs she had not recorded before – “I Can’t Get Started,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” – great things, in addition to more contemporary material of that time: “Face It Girl, It’s Over,” “Peace of Mind,” that’s all in there. Plus, the rest of one of the discs is also unreleased material, some stuff that she did with Gamble & Huff. And there’s a whole other disc in which she chose songs, so she just picked songs from her career that she loves. Then, we have a lot of rare things, some singles that have never been on album. And we were able to license some things from Japan – there were some albums she did in Japan in the ‘80s that were never released here, plus there’s a Live in Japan album that she did for Capitol that never came out here either. For Nancy Wilson collectors, this is really a dream package. It’s coming out in February.

DF: I know that you’re also very active on the board of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. How did you get involved?

DN: I asked; I just simply asked if I could join the board. Fortunately, an attorney that I have known for a long time, Kendall Minter, was on the board at the time, and I just told him that I was really interested. He really sponsored me, ‘cause it is a process to join the board. You really have to demonstrate your dedication and commitment to the whole genre; people have to feel like you’re going to be a worthwhile addition to its constituency. It took a couple of years of lobbying before I was actually accepted and was able to join the board, and it’s been great. I’m very proud of being a part of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, because of the work that we do. People know about the Pioneer Awards; what they don’t necessarily know is the work we do year-round, where we respond to people’s financial requests – people who are in need, in terms of medical situations, financial situations. And the whole premise, of course, is that most of the people we serve did not get what one would call equitable recording deals. They were not necessarily covered by pension funds, and many times they’ve had to live off of whatever meager royalties they got, if any, and have had to continue to work up until the point of where they’re almost ready to pass on. I feel really privileged to be a part of an organization that’s trying to redress the inequity of the way artists were first treated in the industry back in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. I’m a very vocal member of the Foundation. The first couple of years I kind of spent in observation, and didn’t say much, and now they have a hard time shutting me up! One of my big allies is Bonnie Raitt. Bonnie and I first met at a retreat – the Foundation had a retreat – and we were discussing the whole issue of royalty reform, which is something I’m very passionate about, and she and I were so in sync, that we instantly bonded. She really is so passionately committed to the preservation of the music in the same way I am, which is what probably makes us R&B soul mates. I'm proud to say we've worked together on a few different projects outside of the R&B Foundation also.

DF: In addition to Bonnie Raitt, who are some of the industry people with whom you’ve maintained a close relationship?

DN: There are actually three people from my early days in New York who I still know and are a part of my life still. One is Vicki Wickham, who is Nona Hendryx’s manager. I knew Vicki as the producer of Ready Steady Go, which was a TV program in England that was on in the ‘60s. That was the only show where you could see your favorite American R&B artists. Vicki would make sure we saw Dionne, Maxine Brown, Betty Everett, Doris Troy. She was the first person to have Nina [Simone] on, Esther Phillips – these were all people who were on Ready Steady Go. So I met Vicki when I was a mere teenager, and when I came to New York in ‘74, she was one of the first people that I called, at which point she was managing Labelle. She was actually responsible for creating Labelle out of Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. So she’s been, ongoingly, a part of my life.

Another person is Kenn Reynolds. Kenn I met because he worked for Vicki when I first went to New York, and he now lives in Los Angeles – he’s a publicist out here. So we’ve maintained a relationship going back 27 years, which is amazing, given the way this industry works. The other person who falls into that category – not quite 27 years, but close – is another publicist, Barbara Shelley. Barbara for many years was a publicist at Arista, and she now has her own public relations company. She just did PR for the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. Just a great friend, just somebody I really cherish.

Then there’s another group, which is my LA contingent. There are two journalists and two industry veterans, one who no longer works in the industry who’s kind of like my godmother as a writer, and her name is Regina Jones, and Regina was the co-founder of a newspaper from back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s called Soul. Soul was really the forerunner to anything that you’ve ever seen done on black music in this country, in terms of a publication. Regina and I first met when I moved to L.A., and I just was so awed by meeting her. For me, she is a pioneer. One of the other publicists that’s been also someone I’ve known for a very long time is Bob Jones, who works with Michael Jackson. When I first met Bob Jones, he was the vice president of publicity at Motown, and I remember first meeting him when I was working for Blues & Soul and came out to L.A., and he set me up on this ridiculous schedule to interview almost every Motown act. It was the most intense interview day I ever had in my life. Over the years, we have developed a friendship, and I really admire him for his ability to survive in an industry that can be so fluid.

And then my two favorite journalist colleagues here in Los Angeles are Janine Coveney, who used to be the R&B editor at Billboard, so she used to be my “boss,” and we’re just best friends, and that doesn’t happen very often amongst journalists. And the other person is Scott Galloway, who I’m proud to say I was able to get him his first job writing liner notes. I referred him to a record company to write some liner notes, and he has since gone on to write many and be very prolific. I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to call myself his mentor, but I would say it’s been great to be able to encourage or assist people in expanding their own careers.

I’ve got to mention a few other people: Jeff Forman – Jeff’s been a longtime friend of mine. He’s the brother of Mtume, and used to be the A&R person at Virgin, so he was responsible for people like Lalah Hathaway and Gary Taylor. Also, Gail Mitchell, the current R&B editor of Billboard. And one of my favorite people in the industry is Dyana Williams, who runs IAAAM (International Association of African-American Music) – such a dynamic, wonderful person who is eloquent, articulate and a whole lotta fun to hang out with. Gordon Chambers – he’s a fabulous songwriter and we have developed a solid friendship over the last year or so – a sweetheart, a good guy and very talented. Rudy Calvo, one of the premier stylists in the business, who is a dedicated R&B collector and a truly great friend, someone who really knows his stuff when it comes to soul music – like, for real! Sid Johnson, who I first met when he was managing the group Manchild – whose line-up included a teenage Babyface – and with whom I share a love for the music of Aretha Franklin. Sharon Heyward, an industry veteran who I met back when I came to New York when she worked for Curtom – she’s always been so supportive and so great with me. She told me that when I first arrived in New York writing for Blues & Soul, all the publicists were like ‘who is this white child who knows all about R&B?’ They really accepted me and I felt welcomed from early on, especially by folks like Sharon, and LaVerne Perry at Epic, Sandra Trim DaCosta, Irene Gandy, Barbara Harris, Simo Doe, Elliot Horne, Beverly Paige – these were your great publicists who I first met during that era.

I also had a great photographer, Bill Pierce Jr. who I worked with for Blues & Soul – we were quite the team, doing the rounds, going to all the industry functions! Someday, if I ever get the courage, I’ll tell all about some of the behind-the-scenes stuff we encountered! Not quite ready to do that yet!

Then, when I came out to L.A., I was fortunate to encounter more wonderful folks – the journalist Steve Ivory, Lee Bailey of Radioscope and EUR who I’ve known for so long, Miller London who was Motown at the time, Steve McKeever of Hidden Beach, Mike Greene, Angelia Sanders and Art Arellano at The Recording Academy, publicists like Ron Carter and Pat Tobin, J. R. Reynolds with whom I worked at Billboard, Billy Vera, Ernie Singleton, Iris Gordy – all who are on the R&B Foundation board… More recently, I have met Alan Mercer, a photographer who has done amazing work with me and with many of the divas and Toney Redmond who has been skillfully managing Angela Bofill for the last few years…

Oh, and lest I forget, there’s Archbishop Carl Bean – a really great friend! We met when I interviewed him years ago for the reissue of “I Was Born This Way,” a disco classic of the ‘70s. He was the first openly gay black male recording artist. He went on to create The Minority AIDS Project and Unity Fellowship Church and for a while, I sang in the choir. I lost a lot of close friends to AIDS in the early ‘80s, so his work with MAP has been particularly important to me on a personal level. An amazing human being who has contributed so much to many. We are doing some work together which will bear fruit in 2002. I love spending time with him - a real music buff and a man who knows a good deal about African-American history, so he’s an incredible resource and someone I can spend hours talking with. He has such a rich history in gospel music as one of the Alex Bradford Singers, and he was around in New York in the early ‘60s so he knows so many of the people I have met through the years – Dionne, Dee Dee Warwick, Judy Clay, Big Maybelle, Esther Phillips. Of course, he thinks it’s hilarious that I love so many of the ‘gutbucket’ kind of women! I told him I must have been a blues mama in a former life!

But seriously, I’ve just been very blessed to know a lot of great people, and I feel very fortunate to include some of those people as friends, outside of our business dealings, and that just really is not necessarily the way it usually goes in this business.

DF: What made you decide to write the book, The Soulful Divas? What gave you the inspiration to put all of the material into book format?

DN: I’ll answer that, but I also want to make sure that I mention that it is coming out in paperback in January. Fortunately, I now have, so people can purchase it from me directly. For those people who are going to ask, it has not been revised. It is in the exact same form as the original hardcover; however, there will at some point be a reprinting in the paperback form, which will have some corrections in it. I don’t know that it will necessarily be revised in terms of the entire text, but there will be some corrections.

I had thought about doing [the book] a long time ago, in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, and I just never really pursued it. There were two people who were inspirational in me moving on it – one was a guy who’s no longer with us, he’s an attorney by the name of Barry Rosenthal, and the other person was Bonnie Raitt. They were inspirational in motivating me, ‘cause I just always thought it’d be great for me to do a book, which was like a tribute to some of the women who had been such an important part of my life. The whole concept was: I don’t want it just to be my opinion, but I do want some of my opinion to be in there, alongside quotes – do like an overview of their careers, some of which would be spoken in their own words. The research part was not difficult, ‘cause I have almost all the back issues of Blues & Soul going back to ’67. So I was able to literally walk into my living room and get to the material, which was a big help. The biggest issue that has come out of it is all of the people that I didn’t include and some questions about a couple of the people that I did. DF: What kind of questions?

DN: Well, people want to know why certain people are not in there. Why isn’t Nancy Wilson in there? Why isn’t Angela Bofill in there? Why isn’t Maxine Brown? And the answer is really simple: I couldn’t write that kind of book. It would have been too voluminous. As it was, the editors had a nightmare with what I wrote, ‘cause it was much longer than what you see. So that was the first thing. The second thing was I had to really look and see from the point of view of a book that people would buy. I wanted to include as many name, “first-tier” artists that I could. The third thing was that it was really based on the number of interviews I had done with someone, so I couldn’t do a Nancy Wilson, ‘cause I had probably only interviewed her maybe three or four times. Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight [both included in the book], these were people I had been interviewing over a 25- plus year period, and it wouldn’t be fair to have put in an Angela Bofill, for example, who I love, but maybe I’ve only interviewed four times. It’s not enough to create a chapter. So that was the kind of justification for who was included. But there are many people I would have included – I would have included Brenda Russell, I would have definitely included Patti Austin, Mavis Staples, but there just wasn’t any more room to put them in there. And the only criticism that I’ve ever had about who was included has been around Janet Jackson, as recently as yesterday. DF: Really? And why?

DN: Well, because people feel that she’s not a diva, they definitely question her soulfulness, and they just feel she didn’t belong. Now, she is part of a chapter with two other women, so it’s not like I gave a whole chapter to Janet Jackson. And my only response is that I used the author’s prerogative to include who I wanted to include. I don’t think of her as a soulful diva in the same way that one would think of an Aretha or a Patti LaBelle or a Gladys Knight – as a singer, she’s light years from them. But that’s not what it’s about, it’s about the fact that I feel like she has a sustained career, and I had enough reference for her, having done stuff with her a few times, to include her in the chapter. DF: How long did it take you to write the book?

DN: Honestly, it took about four months, but that’s because I really knew what I was writing about, and I kind of knew what I wanted to say. It flowed pretty easily. I had some heavy debates with the editors. There was a lot of material in the original edit that they wanted to keep out, which was more the personal stuff, and I was adamant about keeping it in, because that’s to me what made it interesting. It was the behind the scenes stuff, particularly with someone like Phyllis Hyman or Roberta Flack. And originally the editors were kind of leery about that: “Well, that’s not really what people want to read.” And I was like, “No, the people who want to buy this book, they do want to read that.” It made it more personal. DF: How did you feel when it came out?

DN: Very proud. I felt, for the first time, connected with the people who had been reading my work. By doing the book, it opened it up to do the website, the website opened up doing the mailing list, the mailing list led to the newsletter, so a lot of things came out of it. I really discovered a whole community of people who love this music. One of the questions I get asked is: why haven’t you done a male equivalent book?

DF: Why haven’t you?

DN: Well, because there’s not as much to say about most of them, and I didn’t have the same kind of in-depth relationships with most of them to be able to comment, to be able to write a whole chapter. But having said that, there are probably four or five men that I think of as, not diva in the sense of temperament, but in the sense of their accomplishments. I want people to know that I do listen to male vocalists. In spite of my personal experience with him, I still think Donny Hathaway is just one of the most amazing vocalists we’ve ever heard. I’ve actually interviewed Stevie Wonder quite a few times over the years, starting back in England, and my appreciation is hard to put into words. When I listen back to his work in the ‘70s, it’s just awesome, it’ s just genius: Talking Book, Songs in the Key of Life, Innervisions. I saw Luther [Vandross] recently perform, and for my money he is still the best black male vocalist who is currently working. He’s just phenomenal. And what I love about Luther more than anything else is the joy. There’s a joy in his singing. I watched him really closely, and you can see that he loves the art of singing, and that’s what I so appreciate in him. There’s a whole group of male vocalists that I really always enjoyed: Peabo Bryson, James Ingram, Gary Taylor, Jeffrey Osborne, these are great singers. So I just want to make sure that I set the record straight – I do listen to guys! I don’t just sit here and bathe in the glow of the divas!

DF: Is there anyone new on the scene you think has the potential these days to become a great artist? Who are some of the people you like of the younger generation, who are just coming up now?

DN: Jill Scott, Eric Benét – his lyrics, the sensitivity of his music, to me, is head and shoulders above everybody, in terms of male vocalists of his generation. I don’t know if Toni Braxton fits in that, if she’s still considered of a younger generation, Kenny Lattimore. Those are some of them. I don’t have a lot of new people that I really listen to that I really, really love. DF: What about Blu Cantrell? I know you did the liner notes…

DN: Oh, yes, yes, yes, sorry, sorry, sorry! Oops. I think she is phenomenal. I saw her perform in person and I was completely blown away. She has such a powerful voice. She is amongst the most soulful of the younger singers, absolutely. As a singer, she can really sing, in the vein of some of the older ones, or some of the traditional ones. DF: Anyone else?

DN: Although she’s not brand-new in the sense of a Jill Scott, one of my absolute, complete favorite singers of the last ten years is Sandra St. Victor. For me, she really pre-dates whatever’s been happening with the Jill Scotts and your Angie Stones. She made an album – I think it was 1996…

DF: Mack Diva Saves the World?

DN: Yes, and I still play that album. I love that album, and I love her. She really is a great human being. Again, I guess she’s more like a ‘90s version of the Esthers and the Judys in her spirit – no bullshit. She sings her feet off. For some reason, the songs she writes, I really identify with. There’s a song on her latest CD, Gemini: Both Sides – which I’m really proud we’re selling on the website – called “Holding Out,” that is really about being willing to hold out for the real thing, in terms of love. And every time I hear that song I get chills. And then the other one who also is not new in the sense of not just started recording, but who is somebody who has emerged in the last ten years, is Ann Nesby.

DF: I love that album she did with “This Weekend” and “I’m Still Wearing Your Name.”

DN: Yes, yes. I first met Ann with the Sounds of Blackness, who as a group blew me away when I first met them. I was never really deep in gospel – a lot of the people that I’ve loved started in gospel, but I don’t necessarily follow gospel music. And they are not really a gospel group, but they do lean heavily in that direction. When they first came to L.A., they did a whole tour of churches here, and I went on the bus with them. So I’m an honorary “Sounds” – I’m the honorary white Sounds of Blackness person! [laughs]. You cannot imagine, until you’ve seen Ann Nesby in a church, what she’s like. That’s something that you have to experience. Church folks – we’re talking about die-hard church folks – do not get up on their feet for just anybody, but Ann Nesby, everywhere we went, people got on their feet, ‘cause she’s a sure-nuff singer. Just a powerhouse.

DF: Do you have a personal favorite record – one that means a tremendous amount to you?

DN: Yeah, I do. “Walk on By,” by Dionne Warwick. That record, I could still play today. I still love it. That’s it, that’s my favorite record.

DF: What about your future plans? What do you hope to be working on in the future?

DN: The first thing is expanding the website, making it even more of a community. Streaming audio, that’s something I would love to be able to do for the site. Try to set it up so we could have more chat discussions. Really expand that, and have that be much more community-based. And the other thing is kind of more…it’s not personal, because it does involve others, but over the years I have flirted with singing. At different times I’ve performed. I’ve performed here probably in Los Angeles more than I have anywhere else, and it’s sporadic. I don’t do it with much consistency, but one of my commitments for next year is definitely to complete a CD, do my own CD. It probably will mostly be just songs that I love, and it may include some originals. Interestingly, even though I’m really an R&B person in the very depths of my soul, the kind of songs that I like to sing tend to be more jazz-oriented or torch songs. I’m not a funky R&B singer by any means – this is not what I do. It’s kind of interesting, because people would expect you to be real R&B. No, my singing voice has of course the influence of a lot of the singers that I’ve grown up with, but it’s more jazzy than anything else. So that’s one of my definite goals for 2002. Also, I have written some songs with one of my very best friends in L.A., singer-songwriter Byron Motley, and he has recorded a couple of them for his CD, which is available on my website. I hope to include some of our collaborations on the CD I want to do next year. DF: What about doing another book?

DN: I’m not in a hurry to do that. It’s a tremendous amount of work, as you know. I don’t know what I would do as a book now, I really don’t. What I really would like to be able to do is put a lot of the material that I have written on my website. That would either be in the form of reprinting liner notes, or take the articles that I did from Blues & Soul and reformatting them as Q&A’s. I would love to do that, ‘cause I think that would be so great to have an archive of all the interviews I’ve ever done. DF: Well, one sort of flip question…

DN: Am I single? Yes...! DF: No, that wasn’t the question!

DN: Am I looking? Yes...! When you’re a single man….!

DF: This is actually about one of the artists.

DN: (laughs) I’m sorry!

DF: I was so curious – you left us hanging in The Soulful Divas. Did Roberta Flack ever call you back?

DN: No.

DF: I see. I was hoping she had.

DN: I have never seen Roberta Flack since that book was written.

DF: I was hoping that you would have a great reconciliation.

DN: Well, it's not that we really 'fell out' - she never responded to any of my calls so I stopped calling. And the weird thing is that she and I have been in the same place, like she’s performed here on shows with other people, and I would go backstage and she’d be gone. I don’t think it’s ‘cause she thought I was coming; she just wasn’t there. So we have never seen each other since that book was published in 1999. And had not seen each other for the few years before that, either. So, no, there’s been no nothing. “No nothing” – that’s very bad English. There’s been absolutely nothing! I would doubt that she hasn’t read it. At this point, somebody would have let her know about the book. She would most likely have read the book or read the chapter, but if she did, it did not motivate her to pick up the phone. No, sorry, no happy endings!

DF: What, in your opinion, is your greatest single achievement? What are you most proud of?

DN: There are four things that I’m thinking about. Firstly, doing the book, The Soulful Divas. Starting the Soul Music Store and creating a place where people can buy the music that they love that is hard to get – that’s a great achievement for me. Having the Ichiban Soul Classics series, and within that, doing a compilation of Dionne Warwick material called From the Vaults, which was the actual songs that I grew up with that were the backdrop for my first experiences of being in love. Those very songs on that compilation were the songs I would listen to over and over and over again, and sing along with and knew every word of. And then the last thing, I guess, is the fact that I’ve survived, that I have actually been able to sustain myself with only one break, where I stopped writing for about a year, two years. But other than that, I’ve been able to sustain a career as a writer and author. That I’ve been able to do that and earn a living at it since 1975, for me is the biggest accomplishment. That I get to get up every day and still do what I love is the biggest accomplishment. And I truly don’t take it for granted; I take it as a blessing. And I’m also really grateful to all the people who have supported me, either professionally or personally, and for the community of people that I’m now in touch with as a result of the Internet and through the website. Being aware that, somehow, what I’ve been doing through my work has made some kind of impact on others – that’s really the greatest achievement.

David Freeland is the author of the great book, "LADIES OF SOUL" with excellent chapters on MAXINE BROWN, BETTYE LAVETTE, DENISE LASALLE, RUBY JOHNSON, CARLA THOMAS, BARBARA MASON and TIMI YURO. A 'must' read for all soulful diva-lovers!

  

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