Born Darlene Wright, 26 July 1941, East Los Angeles, California
Darlene Love has one of the greatest voices in pop music, yet her moment in the sun lasted only fifteen months, from September 1962 to December 1963. During that short period she had no less than eight hits on Billboard's Hot 100 (including a number one), all produced by Phil Spector and issued on his Philles label. However, only three of these were under her own name. Spector didn't care too much whose name was on the label, as long as his own name was there. In fact, he would get very annoyed if you spoke about a "Darlene Love record". He would say "That was a Phil Spector record!" After 1963 : just one tiny Christmas hit in 1993. Life is cruel sometimes.
Born in 1941 (not 1938, as many sources say), Darlene Wright was the second of five children. Her father was a minister and she grew up listening to gospel music and singing in the church choir. Her first (pop) group was The Echoes, three boys and two girls, who broke up shortly after Darlene joined, but according to her autobiography she was with them long enough to make one record with the group. This was probably "Over the Rainbow"/ "Someone" (Specialty 601), though she clearly doesn't sing lead there. At the age of sixteen she was recruited by the Blossoms, an all-female group that had developed out of The Dreamers. They did session work as background singers and also had their own record deal with Capitol. The Blossoms were looking for a replacement for Nanette Williams, who was pregnant. The other members were Gloria Jones, Fanita Barrett and Nanette's twin sister Annette Williams (who would leave the group in 1960). Darlene first sang lead on the third (and last) Blossoms single for Capitol, "No Other Love" (1958). She would stay with the group until 1975. For the history of the Blossoms see my earlier piece (posted January 4, 2008) : http://www.rockabilly.nl/references/messages/blossoms.htm
In July 1962 Darlene was introduced to Phil Spector by Lester Sill. Spector offered her a flat fee of $ 3000 (triple scale) if she would record Gene Pitney's composition "He's A Rebel". There were two conditions : the record would be credited to The Crystals and the job had to be done within a few days. Spector was in a hurry because he had heard Pitney's demo and felt the song would be a hit. But Snuff Garrett had already recorded it with Vikki Carr for Liberty. That version had not yet been released and Phil wanted to rush out a version on his Philles label. But his main act, the Crystals, was in New York while he was in L.A. Darlene agreed, thinking it was good money for a song that probably wouldn't go anywhere. But she was wrong and Spector was right : in the first week of November 1962, "He's A Rebel" hit the top spot of Billboard's Hot 100. In the meantime, on August 24, Spector had called upon Darlene for a second one-song session. This time she recorded "Zip-A-Dee Do-Dah", from a 1946 Walt Disney movie, backed by three guitars, three bass players, three pianists, two saxes, a drummer and a percussionist. It was the first "Wall of Sound" production. The record was credited to "Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans", the other two members of this group being Bobby Sheen and Fanita James (née Barrett, member of the Blossoms from 1954 until 1990), who sang background. This too went Top 10 (# 8) and two follow-ups by Bob B. Soxx (again with Darlene on powerhouse lead) also charted in 1963.
Darlene wanted her next record to appear under her own name, or at least the new name that Spector had given her, Darlene Love. Phil promised her this, but when she first heard "He's Sure the Boy I Love" (which would peak at # 11) on her car radio, anticipating the deejay announcing "That was Darlene Love", she was in for a cold shower. The deejay came on, all right, only to say that this was the new smash from ... the Crystals. Darlene was furious. "I had more arguments with Phil than all his wives, all his managers and all his lawyers put together", she told Spencer Leigh in a 1999 interview (Now Dig This # 201).
But in 1963 Spector did release four Philles singles under Darlene's name : "(Today I Met) the Boy I'm Gonna Married" (# 39), "Wait 'Til My Bobby Gets Home" (# 26), "A Fine Fine Boy" (# 53) and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". The latter was one of the four songs she had recorded for the album "A Christmas Gift For You". Unfortunately the LP was released on November 22, 1963, the day of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and few Americans felt inclined to pick up on Spector's jolly Christmas gift. Later though, the album would find the recognition it deserved.
Only one more Darlene Love 45 came out on Philles, "Stumble And Fall"/ "(He's A) Quiet Guy", in 1964. But the Blossoms had plenty of work in the studio (sometimes doing four sessions a day) and on the "Shindig" TV show. After divorcing her first husband, Leonard Peete, in 1968, Darlene began dating Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and came close to marrying him. She would remarry in 1972 and again in 1984.
When Darlene thought she was finally freed from her contract with Spector, her new producers, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, sold her contract to ... Phil Spector. It was now 1974. Spector had signed a deal with Warner Bros to start a new label called Warner Spector. The reunion was far from pleasant and resulted in only one single, "Lord If You're A Woman", released by Phil in 1977, two years after it was recorded.
After leaving the Blossoms in 1975, Darlene joined Dionne Warwick's group of background singers. Times weren't easy and in the early 1980s, she had to supplement her meagre musical income by cleaning houses in Beverly Hills. (She still drove a 1975 Mercedes, but made sure it was parked out of the sight of the people she worked for. A maid with a Mercedes? Too many questions would be asked. 'A maid with a Mercedes wouldn't know her place.')
A roots-rock revival brought Love back into the limelight during the Eighties. First she resumed her solo career with club shows in and around Los Angeles. In 1984-85 she starred in the musical "Leader of the Pack" based on the life and songs of Ellie Greenwich, who had co-written most of her Philles hits. She also did acting work, starring in all four "Lethal Weapon" films (as Danny Glover's wife) and a stage adaptation of Stephen King's "Carrie". Her first album as a solo artist, "Paint Another Picture", appeared in 1988. In January 1993 she returned to the charts (# 83) with "All Alone On Christmas" (from the movie "Home Alone 2"), written and produced by Steve Van Zandt, who successfully reproduced Spector's Wall of Sound with his E Street Band. In 1997, a New York jury awarded her $ 263,000 in back royalties from Spector. A gospel record, "Unconditional Love" (1998) brought Love back to her roots in church music.
She appeared as Motormouth Maybelle in the Broadway version of "Hairspray" from August 2005 until April 2008. A Christmas album, "It's Christmas, Of Course" was released in 2007. In March 2011 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with a speech by Bette Midler.
In the 90-minute documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom" (2013), about the underexposed role of Afro-American backup singers, she is one of the five main subjects. The film closes with her Madison Square Garden performance of "A Fine Fine Boy" (see YouTube link below), after which there was a roar of applause at the cinema where I saw the movie.
More info :
Autobiography : Darlene Love with Rob Hoerburger, My Name Is Love : The Darlene Love Story. New York : Morrow, 1998. 303 pages. Recommended. Reprint paperback edition 2013 (with a short postscript, written in June 2013).
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/blossoms.htm
Acknowledgements : The autobiography, Mick Patrick, Fred Bronson, Spencer Leigh, Wikipedia.
Dik, December 2013
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