Loleatta was born in Chicago in 1946 and, like most of her peers, began singing in gospel groups before striking out on a solo career through GRC subsidiary Aware. In 1976, she was signed to the Norman Harris-helmed Gold Mind, an offshoot of Salsoul Records, where she recorded all of her best work, usually working with Harris. Although she made a number of classic recordings it was through her live work that Loleatta excelled, often performing at the gay clubs of the era, like the Paradise Garage and Better Days. Her vocal were later sampled by Black Box for their controversial hit ‘Ride On Time’. Loleatta died on March 21st after a short period of ill health.
Tell me how you got signed to Salsoul?
OK, I was signed to GRC first, out of Atlanta Georgia, on Aware. The owner of the record company went to jail.
He was the pornography king. He was the one who did the movie Behind The Green Door. They put him in jail because it was illegal then, but once they got him in jail they made it legal but they still kept him in jail. We left from there and went to Salsoul.
How did you meet Ken Cayre?
Through my manager and my man, Floyd Smith.
How did you get on with Kenny?
With Kenny? I always got on with Kenny. Kenny is fine with me. No matter what I might think about Salsoul, Kenny was more of a friend to Floyd and myself. We were more of a family. Kenny was more of a family member to most of the artists. I was one – I might have been one of the only ones – but we often stayed at Kenny’s apartment when we came over. Even if we couldn’t we couldn’t get a room, we’d come and the doorman would let us in and Kenny would come home and our kids would be all over the house! He was more like a brother to me.
Tell me about your first recordings for Salsoul. What about ‘Hit & Run’?
Hit & Run was the first song I did and I thought it was the worst song I ever heard. I didn’t wanna sing a about ‘I’m an old fashioned country girl’ because I hadn’t been born in the country, I was from Chicago, so to me it was an insult. But once I heard the groove and the music started playing….!
Tell me about working with Norman Harris at Sigma Studios. He was supposed to be a nice guy.
Yeah, he was a really nice guy. At first Norman was little off but Kenny and he were like brothers…
Who else was playing in the band? Earl Young?
Yeah, Earl Young. Earl Young, actually, was the person that told Norman because there was conflict when I went there to record and my manager Floyd wanted me to sing some ballads, but Norman only wanted me to sing uptempo songs. There was an argument. Norman had never heard me sing. I was just someone that Kenny had brought and I guess Norman thought we were coming to the Philadelphia sound and you should be ready to record and my manager was like, “No, I want her to sing some ballads, she’s a rhythm and blues singer”. I didn’t know they was arguing for ages. I was ready to sing this song for hours! And so my manager told me – cos I could play a bit – “Loleatta, just play and sing.” So I started playing the piano and singing and Earl was in there and he starts beating the drums to my song and then he just stopped. And he got up and went and got Norman and said, “Listen guys, just stop the bullshit and let’s play. This woman can sing!” And that’s how it started.
What about those vamps of yours?
Like the ones when he says, “now let’s do the album version”?
At that time when they would give me a song, the song was so long they didn’t know what to do in the vamps, they would say, ‘Well let her go herself.’ So I would always put myself in the situation of the song: if this was me in this situation, what would I do? What would I say? So when it started I’d just go straight from the top of my head whatever I felt from the moment. In ‘Dreamin’’, for example, that is the stuff I would’ve said to another woman.
How did you come to do ‘Relight My Fire’ with Dan Hartman?
One day I did a show at a club called the Funhouse and Dan came by there and after the show he said, “I want you to do this song”. He was trying to figure out whether he wanted Bette Midler or Patti Labelle to sing it, but after he came by that night he wanted me to sing. So I said yes. Salsoul made an agreement that he had to write me a song and that was ‘Love Sensation’. So we did ‘Relight My Fire’ and then he wrote ‘Love Sensation’.
Dan produced that, too, didn’t he? Who were the players in the studio for that?
I don’t know. I think Dan did most of it himself. He did most of the backgrounds, too. When I went to record it, I did it at his house, most of it was finished except for maybe some of the backgrounds. But he gave me a rough of the song a month before so I had chance to know it frontwards and backwards. That was the difference then. So you went into the studio you really knew the song well. You gotta give me the song in advance to get the best of me, to get the feeling and the meaning.
Dan was a quite hard taskmaster in the studio wasn’t he?
I sang that song 30 times! When I went in there I was as clear as a bell [she says this in such a Chicago accented way that it’s got three syllables!]. The first time I did it it was perfect, I thought. I did it a second time. Then he said, “You’re voice is too clear I want it hard and deep!” So he’d be working in there with me, jamming, and at the end he’d go, “That’s great! Let’s do another one!”
At the end where I hold that note I was so hoarse I didn’t know what to do. He said, “Now I want you to hold that note.” I was so hoarse that I couldn’t talk. He said, “What can I do to help?” I said “sometimes I eat Vicks!”
So he went and got some Vicks and I had some coffee and I held the note. But he wanted it longer. I was cursing. So I had to wait overnight, go to sleep and I got up the next evening just to hold that note. But the song really paid off for somebody!
What was it like working for Tom Moulton?
Great. I did the song one time. There was something going on with Norman at the time because was Norman was being a little spoiled brat. I don’t think he wanted me to record with anyone other than himself and Floyd. So it was like a sneak job. We had to sneak in and do the song upstairs in the studio because Norman was trippin’ out. We did the song one time and they were like [whispering conspiratorially], “We got it, we got it!” Guess they didn’t want any arguments. But Tom was great, it was really quick, because itr was a simple little song.
What was it like playing in clubs like the Paradise Garage?
Great. You know there are a couple of clubs in London. One was Heaven and the other wasn’t in London, we had to drive to this place, a resort?
Yes. That reminded me of the Garage because it would be packed and there would be a really good crowd. The crowds I had in London were just as good as the ones in New York. They treated me just as well as an entertainer. They always made me feel that they appreciated me. I performed so much that people, I guess, would see me a few times. I remember one Christmas, I did four shows that night and I got to the last club and I couldn’t talk and when I got up there and it was six o’clock and they gave me a Santa Claus outfit to put on and I went up there and not a word came out. Tears started coming out my eyes. Then, all of s sudden, the crowd just starts screamin’! Next thing I know my voice started comin’ back, while the crowd was singin’ my song for me. It was great, they just lifted me all the way up.
Johnny Dynell always said that anyone who performed well at the Garage had Loleatta’s Blessing.
I called it the Gay-rage, because that was my home. I could do whatever I wanted when I was there because that was my home. You know, Larry might have been the Man but I was the Bitch of the House! [cackles manically].
You also performed at the Better Days, right?
Black club, right? Very sophisticated crowd, but a lovely club. I loved that crowd.
Why do you think your music has lasted so well?
Yeah, well I think it would’ve been even better if they’d have made some videos. They might have places that caught me doin’ shows, but I would have to hunt down those. I’m talkin’ about a true video. If they had done that it would have been even better because Love Sensation is a song that has been played forever.
Does it annoy you that your voice still gets sampled today or do you feel proud?
You know, at one time, with the Black Box situation, I thought I was gonna lose my mind. Seriously. I almost had a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t talk about it without cryin’. I’d spent so long tryin’ to be an entertainer and then here’s this big record in London of all places, one of the biggest records, and I’m not even getting’ a credit for it? It was like, ‘How dare they?’ Someone’s just taken something from you, right in front of your face… For years it destroyed me, it made me a person I don’t like and I’m not a bad person. But in life you get what you got comin’. You know the other day Marky Mark was on the Tv talkin’ about that record and he never even mentioned my name. I’m so used to people like this that it doesn’t even phase me anymore. I remember a time that would’ve hurt me. I’ve come a long way!
You can watch stuff like that without throwing the TV out the window!
That’s over now!
Well, thanks for talking to me Loleatta!
I’m glad we talked!
Me too. Bye!
© DJhistory.com 2011 Interview conducted over the phone by Bill Brewster on 6th January, 2005