ESTHER PHILLIPS 1973 INTERVIEW
ESTHER PHILLIPS: THE QUEEN OF THE BLUES
November 1973, Phone interview conducted by David Nathan (in London)

Esther Phillips was enjoying a much-earned career rejuventation following the 1972 release of her first Kudu album, "From A Whisper To A Scream." After a few years of tough times (including a spell in rehab during which she kicked a drug habit that had sidelined her career more than once, she seemed ready to reach a new plateau...


It's always a very gratifying and rewarding experience o see an artist in whom you have particular faith and in who you strongly believe, finally begin to show signs of obtaining the success you’ve always though was their due. We all have out personal favorites but far too many literally fall by the wayside in this very fickle business, and frequently sink into oblivion as a result of bad management, wrong record deals and so on. Then again, there are those whose personal burdens weight them down and whose careers and never able to flourish as a result.

Being completely frank, there are those who had marked Esther Phillips in such a manner more or less an artist who had little change of ever really making it big. Not every entertainer has the will or strength to conquer setback and setback in both their personal and public lives, but thankfully Miss Phillips had made in over and much to my own delight, is at last getting what’s long been due – public recognition for her great talent.

In a career which has spanned no less that 25 years, from her beginnings with the Johnny Otis Show at the tender age of thirteen through periods in which she enjoyed great success (“Release Me”, “And I Love Him”) to times when she was subject to such personal stress and illness that she had partially quite Esther Phillips has finally and unquestionably arrived and unhesitatingly I say now, she won’t be leaving....

...".Disc jockeys round the country put Kudu on to me – they told them I was free from contracts, so we signed a deal initially for one album. That was “From a Whisper To A Scream” and it did so very well that we went on to sign a three-year contract. I think it would be true to say that I am happier with Kudu than with any other company – they are interest in making good records and they won’t spare any expense in the effort”.

The success of the album (which will undoubtedly be equaled by its successor “Alone Again Naturally”, which has just been issued in the States) was due more than anything to the exceptional quality of the material, the excellent musicians used and the freer, looser approach on the part of Miss Philips. Indeed listening to her Kudu material, one is reminded of the same spirit of unbounding freedom which filled Aretha Franklin’s first Atlantic recordings – is many ways, this is the equivalent change for Esther Phillips. But the secret of the exceptionally superb material she’s used on Kudu lies with none other than Esther herself.

“For the first time”, she says happily, “I’ve been able to select the songs myself. As a result,, they are all things I really dig personally and many of them, like “Baby I’m for Real” and “To Lay Down Beside You” are things I’ve wanted to cut for years and never had the opportunity to. All the material relates to everyday life and people, and I can relate to it all myself, too”.

That probably accounts for the great feel that comes across on her Kudu work but on no other recording is that more evident than the more evident that the controversial ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is” from the “Whisper” LP which proved a big seller in the States when it was issued as Esther’s first single for the label. It’s stark lyrics are made that much more startling when one considers that the fight against drug addiction was one of the toughest problems that dogged Miss Phillips’ career until she finally beat it with a spell of intensive hospital treatment.

As she put it: “Creed Taylor (from Kudu) asked me to do the song but, naturally, I went through quite a lot of emotional changes before I agreed to do it. After all, although everyone knew about the problems I’d faced, singing the song was just like being interviewed in public about it all. Yeah, I really didn’t want to do it – fact is, I continually postponed recording it and it was the very last song we did for the album. I’ve now gotten used to the song after having sung it continually on stage, though”.

The song is a particularly strong one and was written by young poet Gil Scott-Heron, who hails from Washington, D.C. and who has built quite a name of himself within black circles in the States. Esther met him after she’d recorded the song and he wrote a poem especially for her to use as a monologue on “Georgia Rose”, one of the cuts on her latest album.

“I believe the song was originally done several years back by Tony Bennett but it was banned for some time by radio stations. It express the feeling of how black women should now lift their heads high with pride and dignity instead of bowing them in shame as they’ve done for years”. As on everything the lady sings, there is a biting soulful ring to the song that makes you know that it comes straight from the heart. In fact, Esther’s choice of material is indicative of what a soulful woman she really is.

The surprising thing is that she’s never written anything herself. “Oh, I’ve tried”, she laughed, “but I just can’t seem to get it all linked up, you know, You see I’m still building my career and I just haven’t cleared by head enough to be able to sit down and relax and concentrate on writing. Lots, of people tell me I should but I just haven’t gotten it all together yet”?

Indeed, she confirms that since joining Kudu, she’s been busier that at anytime in her career and the only area she feels she’s still got to tackle is television. She’s appeared in concert throughout the States, in such halls as the Hollywood Bowl and with such acts as The Jazz Crusaders and believe it or not, she’s been over to Europe. She came over with several Kudu/CTI artists to play at the Munich Jazz Festival and in Amsterdam, and she even spent one exceptionally under publicized week in London – through not performing.

She has in fact never worked live in this country although she was here several years back as a guest of The Beatles or a T.V. special they did then. The reason, she says, “is that no one’s ever asked me” but there may be good reason to think that the situation could be changed soon.

Right now, Esther’s working in a club in Detroit and she’s just finished moving home from New York, where she lived for some ten years, to Hollywood. She finds California much more relaxing and as it’s where she spent a good portion of her childhood, she feels quite at home – especially since her mother and sisters still live in Loss Angles. Certainly the future looks exceptionally bright for Esther and she does seem to have established herself as a force to be reckoned with. It comes as no surprise to those of us who knew it was there all the time and in fact, it we’re going to continue to tag our entertainers, Esther Phillips is undoubtedly the sole contender for the title of the new “Queen of The Blues”. No one is more deserving than this charming and delightful lady, for there is no doubt that Esther Phillips is a natural woman and natural star.

About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.
  
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