Candi Staton – Candy for your soul!

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Miss Staton has every reason to be happy and content with her recording career, as she has touched millions of fans with her music. From her first recording, made in the late 1960’s, she has proven time and time again that she is one of those singers who seem at home in almost every genre they try. She started out performing what is generally known as “Southern Soul”, then she moved on to being one of the 70’s “disco queens”. Then she spent 25 years performing mostly gospel music, and finally from 2006 onwards she has reclaimed her status as one of the finest soul music interpreters in the business.

Promotion photo, ca. 1990

Candi Staton was born in Alabama in 1940, and from early childhood she sang with a gospel choir called The Jewell Gospel Trio. This group recorded and released a couple of singles from 1953 to 1963. At the age of 19, Candi married Joe Williams, and by the time she took the first steps into secular music in 1968, she was already a mother of four children.

Signing with Rick Hall, she started recording for the Fame label, chalking up 16 R’n B hits along the way, and also being Grammy nominated twice. Her first hits was the saucy “I’d rather be an old mans sweetheart (Than a young mans fool)”, followed by other hits like “I’m just a prisoner (Of your good lovin’)”, “He called me baby” and the two songs that were Grammy nominees, “Stand by your man” and “In the ghetto”. So-called Southern soul might sound a little country influenced, and some of the songs she recorded during this time did indeed originate as country song. Still, Candi has no trouble making every one of her songs simply drip with soul and emotion. A stand-out track from her early years is “Mr. & Mrs. Untrue” – maybe the best “cheating” song ever committed to vinyl!

Great collection of songs, 1968-73

Candi signed with Warner Brothers in 1974, releasing her first album for that label, simply called “Candi”. From this album, the songs “Six night and a day”, “Here I am again” and “As long as he takes care of home” were all hits, and proved that Candi was still soulful but a bit less “southern” than earlier.Then, in 1976, Candi recorded what is regarded as her major break-through song, and one that still stands as an all-time classic: “Young hearts run free”! The song zoomed to the top of the charts around the world, and it is one of those songs that seem to have it all: It’s instantly recognizable, very catchy, it has a memorable lyric and is sung with a tremendous amount of sincerity! Candi herself at this point was twice divorced and a mother of five, so perhaps she was able to put some of her personal experiences into the song…. An album named after the big hit quickly followed, as did a similar sounding follow-up single, “Run to me”.

Her next album, “Music Speaks Louder Than Words” (1977) is notable for some stunning cover versions; Bee Gees’ “Nights on Broadway”, The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the music” and Freddy Fender’s “Before the next teardrop fall”. Although having  recently been dubbed “disco queen”, Candi apparently didn’t quite embrace that title – and chose instead to make an album that looked back at her early 70’s style.

She recorded and released 4 more albums in the disco/soul vein during 1978-1982: “House Of Love” (1978) produced the hit “Victim”. The 1979 six tracker “Chance” contains “When you wake up tomorrow”. Next up was 1980’s “Candi Staton”, from this album she saw some chart action with “Halfway to heaven”. It also includes her cover of The Marvelettes “The hunter gets captured by the game”.  Her last album under her WB contract was “Nightlites” (1982). Noted for its sexy cover photo, picturing Candi in a very low-cut lace negligee, looking like she’d rather turn the lights out… She does a very nice version of “Suspicious minds” on this album.

Her last secular album for 25 years. Sexy covershot too!

During early 1983, there were rumours of Candi being “worn out”, either depressed or just ill, some say she was battling alcoholism… Whatever she was dealing with at that time, she certainly chose a different direction; Starting yet another phase of her career, she spent the next 23 years performing gospel and religious music. She made 13 albums of gospel and religious music, and also made a Christmas album in 2000. Her only venture outside gospel during this period was her 1986 collaboration with The Source, “You got the love”, which was a Top 10 Club Hit in the UK and is nowadays regarded as a true classic.

A signed photo from her "religious" period

When Candi made an album called “His Hands” in 2006, it was easy to think it was yet another gospel record, but no! With this album she stepped back into the world of secular music, and proving once again that she is a force to be reckoned with in the soul department! The entire album is just great, and with an added edge in her voice, she makes you believe every syllable of songs like “You never really wanted me”, “When hearts grow cold” and “Running out of love”.

Three years later she made another earthy soul record, “Who’s Hurting Now” (2009), building on the foundation set by “His Hands”. A whole new generation of music lovers had grown up since her 70’s heyday – and these two albums attracted legions of new fans who had never heard her earlier albums. She sinks her teeth into “Dust on my pillow” and “Get your hands dirty”. No coy and cutesy stuff here, this is a mature soul survivor staking her claim and reclaiming her throne!

A recent photo of Candi on stage

So, how does one describe the voice of Candi Staton? A bit deep? Yeah, and with a little coarse edge sometimes… Soulful? Yes, indeed! Candi will put any amount of emotion into a song to make it work, and therefore – much like any opera singer – she is a singing actress! She will convey the meaning of the words in such a way, you’ll never doubt that she’s singing from her own experiences!

Also, she perfectly masters the art of holding back. Unlike full-throttle divas like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, Candi has learned to moderate her singing. It’s in the little pauses, the way she stops for breath, how she handles even a single word in a line, to make her point. Just when you expect her to raise her voice an octave to really get her point through, she does the exact opposite and lowers the next word into a hoarse whisper, and is all the more effective for doing it that way. It is a voice of exquisite beauty, and she uses it to convey every human emotion possible. THAT is the main reason for listening to Candi Staton, no matter what kind of material she sings. She is a story-teller of the first order, and will make you get into what she sings in such a way, you’ll feel it inside when she gets to the punchline…

Amii Stewart – The girl who knocked on wood

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Amii STEWART (Jan 29 1956 – ) is one of those singers who always get labelled a “one hit wonder”. In terms of chart action, that is partially correct, as she hit the top of the Hot 100 in the US just once; In 1979 with her discofied version of “Knock on wood”. She might also be considered one of the true disco divas, but she took her career in a completely different direction, and I will focus on her musical merits in other fields in this post.

Amii burst on the scene in 1979 when her break-through hit “Knock on wood” was a big success, its sales giving her a platinum record and a Grammy nomination along the way. She followed this one up with several other songs in the same style; Her 8 minute “Light my fire/137 Disco heaven” might be a little over the top, but at least her very fast reworking of The Doors’ classic hit proves that she has a very big and flexible voice that can scale the octaves in a way most singers could never do. She named her first album “Knock On Wood”, and in addition to the two afore-mentioned songs it also included “You really touch my heart” and “Get your love back”. Her next album “Paradise Bird” was released within the same year, and she had further hits with “Jealousy” and “The Letter”. This album also included the fabulous “Step into the loveline”.

Amii in her "Knock On Wood" gear!

Amii has stated that she was never really fond of disco, even though her success in that category started her career. She settled in Europe in the early 80’s (and now seems to have made Italy her permanent home), and her 1981 album “Images” was recorded and released in Europe only. On this album she steers away from disco, spreading her gorgeous voice over a lot of different styles; she’s funky on “Tonight”, soulful and sexy with duet partner Johnny Bristol on “My Guy/My Girl”, tantalizingly sensual on “Love is bad for your health” and she’s a subdued but still soulful pop singer on “Save this night for love” and Randy Edelman’s “Don’t let go of me”. The last song must have been one of the most popular that year, as it was also recorded by (Mrs. Edelman) Jackie DeShannon, Letta Mbulu and Jane Olivor… “Images” was given a new name, “I’m gonna get your love” and under that name saw a limited release in the US in 1982.

The 1981 single with soul man Johnny Bristol

For the rest of the 80’s, Amii put out several great albums; Her 1983 “Amii Stewart” was a pop slanted record, seeing her having some success in Europe with the single “Working late tonight”. “Try Love” from 1984 was a more urban contemporary production, and after her 1985 single “Friends” was a hit, it was included on the new pressings of the album.  She worked with Giorgio Moroder and the Dutch Bolland brothers on 1986 “Amii” which was an electro-up tempo affair, and the only one of her later albums that really show any connection at all to the 70’s disco diva she once was…. “Time For Fantasy” came out 1988 and is a rather soft and quiet album, quite unlike anything you’d expect from someone with Amii’s voice. It’s a record for late night cuddling!

Amii’s albums of the 1990’s present an interesting collection, as she spread her talents to even other different musical genres: Having settled in Italy, what was more natural than making a collection of Ennio Morricone’s music – the album was called “Pearls” (1990). 1992 saw her collaborating with Narada Michael Walden and the British team of Climie & Fisher, resulting in the album “Magic” and it’s two singles “Don’t stop” and “Don’t be so shy”. This album also included the totally stunning “Le Storie Lunghe”. Next up were her two “tribute” albums, “Lady To Ladies” (1994) and “The Men I Love” (1996). The first one sees Amii doing songs made famous by Streisand, Ross, Nina Simone, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Labelle and other female singers. Without ever falling into the trap of copying any of the original singers styles, it proves that Amii can sing anything! The male “counter-part” that came out 2 years later took on a similar approach, with Amii interpreting songs by The Beatles, Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, Sting and Elton John, and it is another proof of her power as a song interpreter of the first order… She did more urban contemporary stuff on 1996 “Love Affair” which also includes a beautiful duet with Salvatore Campanile, “How could I know”. Her next album “Unstoppable” contained 2 new songs; The title track and “Can I come home”, the other songs are Amii’s re-recordings of her previous hits, and these are very good too, even if I don’t really see the point – as the originals are just great!

Lady Stewart as "Lady Day" 2004

In addition to making records, Amii has also done stage work, and her 2004 musical “Lady Day”, written and performed by herself had an original cast recording put in the shops. Her last album so far, “Caracciolo Street” was released in 2010, and it’s a 2 disc album, where one disc is entirely in Italian, the other in English – but it’s the same songs.

A few words about her stage work and other interests: Even before she started out as a recording artist, Amii starred in the musical “Bubbling Brown Sugar” on Broadway, and staying with the play when it reached London’s West End. Returning to the stage, she played Mary Magdalene in the 2000 revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, and then her own cabaret-musical “Lady Day” in 2003/2004. Also, since 2001 she’s been appointed a goodwill ambassador for Italian UNICEF, concentrating her affords towards children with AIDS. She’s recorded a single to raise funds for these causes: “Love Song” (2006), followed by a 2007 single made as a duet with Mike Francis called “Nothing can come between us”. She also performed one of the entries at the 2007 San Remo Festival, a song called “Schiavo d’amore” performed with Piero Mazzocchetti. Having lived in Italy for many years, Amii is fluent in Italian…

With Ivo Monte, early 2000's

My hope is that this little blog post will show all of you that Amii Stewart, for all her “disco diva” status, is so much more, and that she instead deserves to be regarded as one of the finest singers since the 70’s who just happened to make a great disco hit somewhere along the way….

Linda Clifford – Sure, I’ll keep on loving you!

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Of all the soulful girl singers of the 70’s, no one has made such a lasting impression on me as Linda Clifford. She’s been labeled a “disco diva” and of course she is THAT, but she’s so much more than just that! Her voice is one of the most wondrous musical instruments of the 20th century, and I will talk in-depth about her music here…

La Clifford was born in the mid 1940’s and had already explored other branches of the entertainment field when she made her first record. Physically very beautiful, it is no wonder she was once voted Miss New York State. She also sang with a jazz trio, and acted in some films; you can see her in supporting parts in some late 60’s movies like “The Boston Strangler”, “Coogans Bluff” and “Sweet Charity”. One of the songs from the last movie would play a significant part in Linda’s career some 10 years later…

In the early 70’s, she released a few singles, i.e. “It’s gonna be a long, long winter”, “March across the land” and “Can’t get enough”. In 1976 she signed with the Curtom label, and the next year her first album “Linda” was released. It’s a great record, and shows off her talent and diversity to great advantage. From the dance floor groove of “From now on” to the sexy ballad “You can do it”, this album offers one treat after another. She covers Rod Stewart’s recent no. 1 hit “Tonight’s the night” and Evie Sand’s “One thing on my mind” in addition to the Bee Gees’ “Be tender with my love” – and Linda’s versions more than hold their own to the originals.

Her second album, “If My Friends Could See Me Now” came out 1978, and supplied Linda with two substantial hits, the title track (from “Sweet Charity” but revamped as a 7 minute disco work out) and the enduring soul classic “Runaway love”. She covers Curtis Mayfield’s “You are, you are” and also wraps her sexy pipes around “Broadway Gypsy Lady”, a pop song with some nice guitar work and another dancer, “Gypsy Lady” (probably not from Broadway?) in addition to a couple of nice ballads. This album proved once and for all that Linda Clifford had the voice to sing any kind of material presented to her, and that’s exactly what she did!

The very first Clifford album I owned, was the third one she made: “Let Me Be Your Woman” (1979) and I still have the original vinyl LP at home – four sides of pure pleasure! Her extended versions of two classics each clocked in at around 10 minutes and filled one side each: “One of those songs” and “Bridge over troubled water”. The last one is of course, one of the classic ballads of all time, yet Linda proved that when completely rearranged, it could also be a disco classic. The title track is another wonderful ballad, with Linda doing the verses nice and easy, then going into full voice and raising the roof in the chorus. I never saw the point in Helen Reddy covering that song a year later, as it’s done the definite way by Linda.

The same year saw another Clifford album hit the shelves, titled “Here’s My Love”. With the disco factor tuned a little down, this album focuses more on some other sides of Linda, like pop singer, and soul ballad interpreter par excellence! A good example is the title track; in the first half of the song, she coos and sexily offers her love to the listener in a way that says “HERE‘s my love”… Mid-way through the song, she changes her approach altogether, raising her voice as if to fight off competition and most definitely grabbing your attention by changing it to “here’s MY!! love”. It’s a stunning number, and it might just be the finest five minutes of music she’s ever recorded! “Never gonna stop” and “King for a night” are both nice pop songs, “Lonely night”, “Bailin’ out” and “Repossessed” will make you dance, “I just wanna wanna” is a dancey pop song that is also very good. She also made a duet album on Curtom, with its owner Curtis Mayfield. Called “The Right Combination”, it contains a couple of very good tracks like “It’s loving time” and “Rock you to your socks”. What is painfully clear though is that Curtis is not up to his best, and the albums shows Linda stealing all the thunder and making even the most saccharine ballads sound convincing.

In 1980, Linda recorded the song for which she is probably best remembered, “Red Light”. It was featured in the movie “Fame” and also on the Soundtrack album before it was included on Linda’s own “Im Yours” the same year. It’s one of three stand-out tracks, the other two being the funky dancer “Shoot your best shot” and her fabulous version of Mitty Collier’s 1966 hit “I had a talk with my man”. If this track doesn’t prove that Linda deserves to be labeled soul singer, nothing ever will!

The great Linda Clifford made three more albums during the 80’s: “I’ll keep on loving you” (1981), “Sneakin’ Out” (1984) and “My Heart’s On Fire” (1985). The 1981 album is notable for her soulful disco hit “Don’t come crying to me” and the original version of “All the man that I need”, later recorded by Sister Sledge and also Whitney Houston. The 1984/85 albums are the only ones in Linda’s discography that have seen no CD releases (at least not in Europe so far), and I think it’s about time they were put out on a nice two-fer very soon (do you hear me record companies!!??)

The music of Linda Clifford has followed me for more than thirty years, and I never tire of listening to that rich, warm “red velvet” voice. She’s still active, releasing singles like “How long”, “Going back to my roots” and quite recently, “Baby, I’m yours”.

Yes, you sure are “mine”, your voice is the soundtrack of my life and I will keep on loving you…. Forever!

Me at home in 2010 with some original Clifford LPs

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