Interview Recorded May 13, 2012
During the early 1970s, London native Linda Lewis began defying traditional parameters of popular music with her unique blend of soul and folk stylings. Writing her own songs whilst strumming a melodic guitar and emanating euphoric, wide-ranging vocals, she found herself in the company of musical heroes running the gamut from Cat Stevens to Luther Vandross. Big Break Records has recently reissued the majority of her album catalog in expanded CD format. In celebration, she recently chatted with SoulMusic.com's Justin Kantor about the making of the music—both the mellow and the madness, from the very beginning up to the present.
Justin: This is Justin Kantor of Soulmusic.com. Today, I am talking with the one and only Linda Lewis. Having established herself with influential soul-folk albums, such as LARK and FATHOMS DEEP, and even a bopping disco cover of Betty Everett’s “It’s in His Kiss," Linda is admired by everyone from Stevie Wonder to Joni Mitchell and Eric Clapton. On the occasion of Big Break Records' CD reissues of her ‘70s and ‘80s album catalog, she’s here to tell us about how it all started—and the meaning behind the music.
The occasion for our interview comes from Big Break Records reissuing your ‘70s and early ‘80s albums on CD recently. When you first found out about these reissues coming about, what was your response?
Linda: It was sort of like, "Oh, wow, someone’s interested." I was going through a divorce at the time, and I was more sort of thinking about those sort of things. My mom had just died and all that stuff. It was the beginning of last year, wasn’t it?
Justin: So you were going through a lot of personal crisis, I guess.
Linda: Yeah, and so when Wayne came around so enthusiastically, I thought, "Aw, how sweet." Then I met him and I just thought it was nice; I was glad.
Justin: In the liner notes to SAY NO MORE, which was your first full-length album—one of the reissues, you recalled growing up in East London, where I believe your first performing experience was standing on top of a counter in a local shop to sing for customers. So do you remember much about the feeling that you had when that was going on?
Linda: Yeah, I felt like, wow, this is good fun. Just being little, I remember someone lifting me up, and I was taller than them; I was high up. So I felt like I was sort of on top of the world, basically. Then when my mom saw that worked, then she started getting me singing on public transport. I didn’t really like that.
Justin: A little more stressful, huh?
Linda: Yeah, so if you went on a bus—which we did all the time, my mom was like, "Just get up!" It was sort of undercover singing, not "And now, ladies and gentlemen ..." It was more just getting up to start wandering up and down singing. So I did that and people used to give me money, so that was strange. I felt a bit embarrassed about that.
Justin: I don’t know what age you were, specifically, but that must have been hard. It seems like you would have been self-conscious if you weren't just doing it of your own choice.
Linda: Yeah, I was, and then my mom sent me to state school, so that was more structured.
Justin: On the public transport, when you would sing, would you just stand in the middle of the aisle, or did you have to hold out something to get money?
Linda: People would go, "Oh, what?" I just sort of would stand there. I went on a bus the other night. I haven’t been on the bus for ages! I said to the person, "I don’t like buses." And it came back to me--the reason why I don’t like buses is because, I mean, you have busses there?
Justin: Yeah, we have buses. Especially when I lived in New York, I would take the public buses a lot.
Linda: Yeah, this was like one of those ones that you can go upstairs on.
Justin: Oh yeah, because over once when I went to Europe, I went on something like that. So that was the kind that you were performing on—you would go on both levels and perform?
Linda: No, just wherever we were, my mom would just say to me, "Just start. Just wander up and down the aisle and start." Kids do funny things, don’t they? So it wasn’t sort of, “Oh, she’s wandering up and down the aisles.” There weren’t so many rules in those days, with seat belts and "You must keep in your seat" and all that stuff.
Justin: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Linda: I just used to wander up and down the aisle. I was always singing, anyway. I was singing all the time, wherever I walked, I was singing. It was one of those things that I did all the time, anyway, but my mom just wanted me to do it louder so that other people would hear me and give me money.
Justin: So you learned to perform on cue from a very young age.
Justin: I guess that’s sort of like the title of one of your later albums, BORN PERFORMER. So that’s kind of true to life.
Now, another experience you recounted, which I thought was very interesting, was when you eventually transferred to a convent school. You described your escape as sort of sneaking off to the assembly room to play piano for segregated bits of time. I guess you thought you could get away with it, in order to sort of …
Linda: That was in primary school. That was a catholic school; it wasn’t convent. I remember that. There was this piano in the assembly hall, which no one ever played or anything. I just used to—it was like I was a moth to a flame. One day it was really, really cold and snowing.
We used to have to stay out in all kinds of weather, but it must have been so horrendous that day they let us stay in the assembly hall to play. I just remember getting on, all the kids were running because it was quite a tough area--the East End.
So everyone was pushing each other out of the way to have a go on this piano, and I just though, "Wow, this is brilliant. I want one of these." And then another time, when we were all outside, I just snuck in the assembly hall and locked myself in.
Justin: Did you have a plan of what you would do if someone came knocking on the door?
Linda: No! I didn’t, because I don’t think children plan ahead.
Justin: Yeah, that’s true.
Linda: They just live in the moment. I was just in the moment, and then I heard the teachers, "Open the door! Open the door!" It was run by these three Catholic sisters from Ireland who were very strict.
Justin: So what was their response when they found you in there? Did they punish you, or did they just let it slide?
Linda: Yeah, when they eventually got me out. I don’t think I was in there for long. It was just that I didn’t open the door when they asked me to. They made me go through this sort of ceremony that you have to go through. It was stupid really, because the teacher would, if it was your birthday, take you up into her office and she would give you a choice of having a piece worth about fifty pence, which was a lot still. You could get a lot of sweets with that … or a holy picture. A picture of the Virgin Mary or something. Of course, you were so wanting the fifty p, but you chose the holy picture.
Justin: That’s a pretty interesting selection there.
Linda: But this time I got—in those days, they used to give you the cane.
Justin: Yeah, I’ve heard about those kinds of things. I was wondering ...
Linda: Yeah, you hold our your hand and get caned.
Justin: So you had to endure that yourself then?
Justin: Wow, so that …
Linda: It sounds a bit barbaric. That’s what I had to endure, yeah.
Justin: You had to pay a price for your musical passion at a young age. I guess one brighter note from that time, you had also mentioned that you listened sometimes to radio Luxembourg.
Linda: Oh, yeah, that was later on when I was a teenager. And then I was in the convent.
Justin: And I believe that was some of your first exposure to the soul or blues music that you had access to. You mentioned earlier that it was kind of a tough area where you were growing up, but also you had mentioned in the liner notes that it was a very poor upbringing—so there wasn’t necessarily access to choices when it came to a lot of things like radio stations.
Linda: No, the radio stations were like the BBC, which was like--I think they had one black person on there. That was Winifred Atwell. She used to play the piano really fast and swell. I think that was the only black person we ever heard on the BBC.
But my mom used to have records of like Nat King Cole, the Platters, and things like that. So I always loved all that sort of stuff and, of course, my granddad, who was from the West Indies--he used to sing us Calypso songs. So that’s what I was sort of brought up on when I was very little.
But then when I was a teenager, I discovered the Radio Luxembourg, and then the pirate stations--they started playing Motown and Atlantic—just all the black music from the States, soul and everything like that, which I never heard of. The first song I ever heard of Motown, I just was like, "Wow." It was like the first time I ever heard the Beatles. The first time I ever heard a song from the Beatles …
Justin: A whole new world.
Linda: Yeah, you just wanted to climb inside the record player and just live there, or climb inside the radio and just become part of that, and I got sort of hooked on the lady called Mary Wells.
Justin: Yeah, “My Guy.”
Linda: Yeah, I used to use my hairbrush in my bedroom as a microphone while and sing Mary Wells songs.
Justin: She had such a classic voice. She wasn’t a belter, but she had that special tone to her voice that—she just sang naturally and emoted so much feeling.
Linda: Yeah, I was really attracted to her and Smokey Robinson, all those people who had those sort of light, high voices.
Justin: So it’s interesting: since you did start to get that exposure to hearing that kind of music, and then as it would turn out, the first record that you would cut as a teenager came to be a sought after soul classic, which was “You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet."
Linda: Yeah, it was done by Bettye Swann or Mary Love, I believe, in the beginning.
Justin: I only heard the update that you did in the ‘80s. I never actually heard the original version that you cut. I know it’s very sought after and collectable.
Linda: Yeah, I haven’t even got a copy.
Justin: Yeah, I saw an interview that you posted on YouTube where you were saying that. I was like, wow, that’s amazing how much that happens. These records that go for hundreds of pounds, and the artist themself doesn’t have one.
Linda: I remember doing the session. I went to EMI and there were all these amazing session guys there, including the guitar player with Led Zeppelin. All those people, John Paul Jones--they were all session guys on that. I was going into this great, huge studio, EMI.
I was so nervous, because I’d never done this before. You do it with the guys who are playing. So you’re behind a glass screen, the booth that separates you. They were so sort of worldly, and I was kind of young. They were like, "Here we go again."
Justin: Kind of cool.
Linda: Yeah, it had a very Northern Soul thing. They had the brass and everything.
Justin: As far as the song itself, was it like a natural thing for you? Did you feel in your element or out of your element as far as the type of song that you were actually recording? Because I think you did that one and another one called “Do You Believe?” That was the B-side, I think.
Linda: Yeah, and I did some others that didn’t come out. I did something by the, Dixie Cups called “I’m Gonna Get You Yet." I’ve actually got a little demo of that one. It was hard. I did that and something called “Selfish One."
Justin: Oh, Jackie Ross, right?
Linda: Yeah, I did that. They picked those two to come out.
Justin: So, stylistically, were you okay with it? Were you comfortable doing it?
Linda: Yeah, because by then, I’d met this guy called Ian Samwell. He’d actually toured with Cliff Richard, and been on a bus with the Dixie Cups and all the black acts, and witnessed all the prejudice.
Justin: Through the states, or was it over there?
Linda: Yeah, in the states.
Justin: In the South and so forth?
Linda: Yeah, We didn’t have such blatant—it was all undercover here. But he was producer and he’d written stuff for the Small Faces and things like that, their first hit.
I think I got up in the club and sang. I was with my mom again. She made me get up and sing with John Lee Hooker’s band. I think the only reason he let me get up and sing was because he fancied my mom. She had a short mini skirt on, and I was only about 13. So he wasn’t interested in me. So I got up and sang “Dancing in the Street” with the band. And that’s how I got introduced to Don Arden who--he and Sam had worked together. Don Arden was Sharon Osborne’s dad. Scary man, very scary.
Justin: Really? Like the way he looked or just the way he did things?
Linda: Well, he had a reputation like where he just had this …
Justin: A threatening kind of …
Linda: Also, the way he … I remember sort of, my legs were dangling off; I’m sitting on a desk--I was still growing, I was only about 15, and I had my hair cut in sort of this mod look, all the outfits.
He lectured me, saying, "I can’t understand what you’re saying, your diction is terrible. What are you saying?" And I just said, "I don’t know what I’m saying, because I’m just following the American." I didn’t actually know what they were saying either, because I was following the sounds rather than the actual words.
Justin: Yeah, phonetically.
Linda: Yeah, basically. So he was very scary. He got me signed to Polydor. That’s how I met Ian Samwell, and we went on to make an album with the Ferris Wheel.
Justin: Right, I was going to mention that. You had mentioned when you recorded that, somehow, through the process Dinah Washington came up—someone compared you, or you discovered her music somehow through that experience?
Linda: Oh, yeah, how did you know that?
Justin: Well, that was in the liner notes of SAY NO MORE, the interview that Christian did with you. So I read that you said that you weren’t familiar with her, but she became somebody you were familiar with. When I read that, I was wondering,--did she become someone who influenced your style? Was she someone you were listening to?
Linda: I’d never heard of her before. I did this track with Ferris Wheel and, apparently, at the end, I did all this stuff that sounded like Dinah Washington, and they were like, "Oh, my God, Dinah Washington!" I was like, "Who’s she? I don’t know who she is." I didn’t know very much. But, of course, I love her now. I’ve got loads of her stuff.
Justin: So around that same time, I guess you would say it was sort of a life-changing experience when you moved to North London and the house that you had on Hampstead Way, with a variety of friends.
I was taking a look earlier at the documentary film from that time, with, I guess, Samwell and some of the other people, and you were talking about how living there was a very creative environment.
Linda: That was true, yeah. It was one of those little suburban houses, but we sort of turned it into a little creative commune, had a little garden at the back, and we spent a lot of time sitting around the kitchen table. There were lots of instruments in the house. People would pop in like Cat Stevens and Mark Bowen, and people like John Martin.
There was a guy there that was also a famous DJ in London; his name was Jeff Dexter. So he ran this place called the Round House, which was very famous big to-do. So we had all these people coming in and out, playing the guitars or singing. I mean, I’d written song before. I’d written a couple songs with Ferris Wheel, but just in my head. But that’s when I got a guitar. I picked it up and learned how to play.
Justin: So it must have been a very different experience from growing up with the hard circumstances you had, and then being in a more--it seemed like a comfortable environment where you didn’t maybe have to worry so much about the nitty gritty quite as much.
Linda: Yeah, it was heaven, really. I thought, oh, my gosh, because it wasn’t much longer after I’d left school that I went off and joined these people, and I was like, "Oh, my God. This is what grown-ups do! This is fantastic, why didn’t someone tell me?"
Justin: That’s a nice start for adulthood.
Linda: Yeah. I felt like I had no responsibilities, because Ian Samwell used to go to work everyday to Warner Brothers and work, like a proper job and all that, and I had had proper jobs when I was younger. I worked in shops and on the market stand, and I always wanted to earn my living, and stuff like that, so I could help out. I never wanted to just be poor like my mom and scraping around, even though she worked so hard all her life.
So I just thought, okay, well, this seems like a good way to do it, and I liked doing it, as well, so it didn’t feel like work. It felt like I was just having a lovely time, and people were just, "Oh, why don’t you--you should record that; that sounds great!" It wasn’t ‘til this guy from Warner Brothers came by for tea, because we did a lot of tea drinking.
Justin: I saw that in the film. I saw that you were drinking tea as Sammy was talking—you were very quietly to the side drinking your tea.
Linda: Yeah, you didn’t see us having quite a big joint before that.
Justin: No, I didn’t see that part.
Linda: No, no, no. It was quite, it was like one of those households where you sort of just wandered, like the day kind where it just seems sunny all day, because people are always high on something.
Justin: Kind of floating by.
Linda: Yeah. So then he come ‘round, and I just was plucking on the guitar some little tune—not because someone said, “Go and play that.” It was just me just doing it. People just used to take turns,and things, sit ‘round. And he was like “Oh, wow.” And that’s when I got signed to Raft, I think it was, which is …
Justin: The subsidiary?
Justin: And, was it, I guess, just before that when you had performed at Glastonbury Fair?
Linda: Yeah. Just before that. From Glastonbury on, I started doing these little folk clubs, I suppose, around London. I started getting a little following of people, and doing sessions, as well.
I did quite a lot of sessions in those days. I did Aladdin Sane, and I did Cat Stevens stuff, Al Cooper ... It was like just one of those things where they were like, "Oh, get that girl who can sing those really high notes!" So I was doing all that, but writing songs at the same time, not ever thinking ahead, really.
Justin: Yeah, not thinking it’s leading to something, maybe.
Linda: Yeah, the only time I started thinking about it was when I did my first album, when they said "Oh, this would be great" Oh, no, for my second album; I’m going too fast here. Then I’m on tour with Cat Stevens and kept hearing, "We need a hit single." And that’s when I started thinking, "I’ll show them how to do a hit single. I’ll make up this silly rhyme, like 'Rock-a-Doodle-Do’ that didn’t mean anything.” Well, I dreamt the words, actually.
Justin: I was curious—for me, not being from there, and not having spent much time in England--Glastonbury Fair, or Festival as it’s called more recently ... What is the significance of that event? Would you describe it as a big scale thing that people aspire to if they’re trying to make it in music; or is it known for a certain style?
Linda: Well, I was on the very first one, when it was still called Glastonbury Fair. So, to me, it was huge, singing to all these people on this sort of pyramid-shaped stage.
But compared to what it is now, it was nothing, just a couple of thousand people were there. Now you get thousands and thousands, and they’ve got these central stages. This only had the one stage, the pyramid stage. And I was still sort of being a hippie and taking acid [unintelligible] and I was like, "Oh, God, okay." I would just be skipping around a tree or something.
Justin: Right, that was the thing I think you talked about on the Daily Mail piece you wrote a few years ago. I read that you had to go on stage all of a sudden, and you realized you weren’t sure what you were supposed to be doing?
Linda: Yeah, I just went with my instincts, really--had no clue what I was doing, and apparently, I’d sat up the night before talking to David Bowie. He had an interview with someone a couple years ago with someone at a famous magazine called Time Out. He was talking about Glastonbury Fair and he said, "I sat up with Linda Lewis talking with her," and I cannot remember that at all.
That is just … I didn’t know what was going on, basically. I was very naïve. I wasn’t ambitious until I’d got to my second album, and then I started thinking, after you’ve had these people at your record company kind of, basically, saying that you’ve got to make hit records, that’s when I thought, "Right, I’ll show you then!"
Justin: Well, I think when you were recording the first album—from what I read, the way you wrote up until that point, it was pretty much in your head. It’s not like you were writing out notation of melodies and so forth. I believe that there were some other musicians involved in the sessions that would translate into notation. So what was that process like? Was that something that sort of changed the way that you wrote, or was it just you went along with it, and still wrote just the ideas in your head and then somebody wrote it down? How did that work?
Linda: Well, with SAY NO MORE, I just sang them the tune, it was all sort of in different timing—just my timing, basically.
Justin: Not a certain time signature.
Linda: Yeah, they just put it down into like, well that’s 4/4, and that bit there is 3/4, and that changed, and then you’ve got an extra bar of 2 and all that business, and I hadn’t got a clue what they were talking about, and when it first came out I thought it sounded very stiff, but now I listen to it, it sounds brilliant.
Justin: Yeah, hindsight 20/20, right?
Linda: Yeah, probably I would sound like some avant garde person.
Justin: Well, I don’t know the time, but, from the standpoint of business, I don’t know if they were marketing it as a soul album or folk album or what, but to me it was unique in that it had elements of both of those, and it wasn’t necessarily like an all-out soul album, but it also wasn’t strictly like a Bob Dylan kind of thing. It had the influences of both of those worlds, which was what made it unique. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that, but that was my take on it.
Linda: Yeah, it was more like, as far as if it came out--if I was a youngster today and had that sort of stuff, they probably would … I don’t know what. People have always had difficulty in labeling me—especially in America. They had a great difficulty labeling me, in fact, the number one, well, the second one, they didn’t even have my picture on the front because they didn’t want to have a black face.
Justin: On LARK, you mean?
Linda: On LARK, yeah.
Justin: Oh, okay; I didn’t know that that was the reason.
Linda: Things like"Spring Song" and stuff like that--that wasn’t really like black music.
Justin: Because it wasn’t associated with a black artist. I see. And that’s interesting, because I know even some of the English artists I spoke to say even in England in the ‘70s—Billy Ocean had said that to a large degree--a lot of the black artists couldn’t even get album deals, because they didn’t want to invest that much money in them. It was just singles unless they proved to be a really smashing success, and then they would get an album. It’s interesting to hear that even here in America in the ‘70s that they wouldn’t put your face on the cover because you didn’t have that certain sound.
Linda: Yeah, it was like a mixture of stuff. It wasn’t until I started getting into FATHOMS DEEP and the influences like Stevie Wonder and that sort of stuff.
Justin: The funkier edge to it.
Linda: Yeah, exactly.
Justin: I had sort of gotten the impression up to this point—like, I knew that by the time that you went to Arista that there was definitely more creative compromise. But I had thought that the Warner Brothers period or Raft/Reprise was more creatively free of those outside influences.
Linda: It was. I mean, we did a lot of it in the Apple studio, which is the Beatles' studio. I just remember it all just being—well, SAY NO MORE wasn’t done in Apple; that was done in Trident, and that was a lot more structured to the producers’ and arrangers' ideas of what my songs were. Whereas, when I got onto LARK, I had full control of whatever I wanted to do.
Justin: Okay, you did? That’s cool. So then, after doing LARK and FATHOMS DEEP, was there a specific reason then that you transitioned to Arista at that point, as opposed to staying with Warner Brothers or Raft?
Linda: Yeah, because I’m just basically chasing fame at that time, really.
Justin: Was that on your own account or on the account of those around you? You wanted fame more, or the people around you thought you should be more famous?
Linda: Well, it was both, really. I just wanted more of everything. I wanted to buy a house. I wanted more money.
Justin: Yeah, that’s what it comes down to.
Linda: I just wanted to. Then I had this guy, Clive Davis, who was just over the moon with me. How wonderful he was; he’d heard a track that we’d just done a demo of. We’d just come off the Cat Stevens tour, and it was Cat Stevens’ song that he wrote for me. But he and I fell out—it was a silly thing.
I wanted to do it with Jim Cregan, who I was in with. So we did this version. Clive Davis heard it and that’s what took him over the brink, like, "Rush over to England and sign that girl up!"
Justin: Was this the version of “It’s in His Kiss,” or something else?
Linda: No, this was “The Old Schoolyard.”
Justin: Oh, the Cat Stevens; he wrote that with you?
Linda: No, for me. But then I wanted Jim to do it with me, so we did a different version from how he’d imagined it. Then Clive sent me over to New York to work with Bert DeCoteaux, who’d done Sister Sledge and people like that. And that’s when I did “It’s in His Kiss” and “Rock 'N Roller Coaster."
And I had all these amazing backing vocalists, like Deniece Williams and Luther Vandross in the studio. I was like, "Oh, my God!" I’m just this little girl from the East End. When I heard their voices, I was like, “Oh, my God!” I just went in the studio and just hit the nail on the head, apparently. Then it became a big hit in England and Europe, and I think it got into the clubs in America. I think it was a big club hit in America.
Justin: Oh, in the discos, okay. Yeah, because that was kind of the beginning of the disco era here, so that would make sense.
Linda: I never really broke in America, per se, although I went to Boston when I went on tour.
Justin: Oh, really? That’s my college town, I went to Berklee College of Music there.
Linda: Really? There was this great station called WBCN, and there was this guy— I can’t even remember his name now--something Jackson, and he sort of pioneered my music. He was always playing it on the air.
Justin: I’ll have to look that up to see who that is. It’s interesting because the first time that I actually saw a performance of yours, which introduced me to your work, was when you were—well it was a lip-sync performance, because that’s what they did then—it was of “It’s in His Kiss” on the German show "Supersonic."
And it’s funny, because you’re standing there and they have the confetti falling all over you the whole time that you’re performing. It was funny to see that and then to go later and hear how you started with the much more acoustic and rootsy kind of sounds, or sounds that would not call for that type of a performance … how one song, I guess, can really change the direction of a career for awhile.
I definitely got the impression from what I’ve read that you’ve said, that it was certainly more at Arista, a mixed bag as far as your feelings about what you were recording over the course of those three albums, NOT A LITTLE GIRL ANYMORE, WOMAN OVERBOARD, and HACIENDA VIEW. It seemed you did an interesting selection of cover versions throughout your time there. It’s interesting to look from “It’s in His Kiss” to the song from Evita, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You." You mentioned you were looking for more fame, but as the music changed along with that to some degree, did you feel that ...
Linda: When I got it, it was not what I thought it was going to be like, because you often want things and then, when you get them, it’s like, "Oh, that’s not what I thought." I didn’t know you had to get that and all that comes with it.
So the other stuff was just being … feeling trapped, and having to do what other people say, and not really doing what was in my heart. Just not being strong enough to say, "Well, I don’t want to do that. I want to do this." And that’s when people like Minnie Riperton and Deniece Williams come along, and it was like, "That’s what I was doing anyway! Why did they make me go in a different direction?" Because I was doing just what they said, because I was still sort of scared of these …
Justin: The big wigs?
Linda: Yeah, the big wigs; that’s a good way to put it. The polite way!
Justin: Yeah, right; I know. Well, I thought to myself--because I watched your Top of the Pops performance of “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You”-- I really enjoyed it. I was very impressed, because I don’t think anybody could just do the song that well out of the context of the actual musical.
But there was a part of me that wondered if some of your mixed feelings might have been … it almost seemed that by them having you do these different kinds of cover versions, it was making it more of a novelty almost. It’s not about the artist, but it’s like, "Oh, this will be interesting to do." I don’t know, that was just my take on it. I don’t know if you felt the same way?
Linda: Yeah, I remember doing that on "Top of the Pops," and I sort of basically was taking the mick out of it. Do you know what “taking the mick out of it” means? I was like making fun of it, really.
Justin: Oh, I see what you’re saying.
Linda: It’s supposed to be such a serious song, and I was just, basically, making fun, being overly dramatic. I was wearing a shawl, and I don’t know, prancing around like I was from Argentina!
Justin: So that’s part of what made it work. Maybe you don’t take it so seriously, I guess.
Linda: Yeah, and that’s when I started losing interest about it all. I was like, "Oh, this isn’t what I want anyway."
Justin: So you were kind of quiet for a while, and then—and we don’t have to spend much time on it, because I know it’s probably not your favorite highlight of your career, but it’s just worth noting—a few years later, you did an album with Epic Records, A TEAR AND A SMILE, which, again had some really cool people involved with it. It had, I believe, one of the first recorded songs written by Diane Warren, “Destination Love." And, obviously, she went on to do …
Linda: Do you know she messaged me and said the reason she got into song writing was because she heard “Reach for the Truth” and she loved it so much.
Justin: I knew that Allee Willis had said that. I didn’t know that Diane Warren did, also. That’s pretty cool!
Linda: Yeah, so the reason why she started songwriting was because she heard “Reach for the Truth,” and she thought it was the most wonderful song ever, which is lovely.
Justin: That’s awesome. What a great compliment.
Linda: Yeah, so I was really over the moon when that happened. But I was just getting back into it. I was sort of stepping in the pool, putting my toe in the water to see if I really wanted to do it, and I was also going though a divorce.
Justin: Not easy to work and concentrate when you’re going through that.
Linda: Yeah, I’m basically one of these people--I don’t know--I’m sort of like a wandering minstral. I go from town to town, seeing where I end up.
Justin: Well, when you did, during that period, “Class/Style”—which I think is a really fun dance record--your sisters were involved in that, and you even did the group with them, Lewis, Then you guys did the original version of “Can’t Wait Another Minute” that became a hit for Five Star.
Linda: Right, yeah. It was with my sisters, yeah.
Justin: So, from a musical standpoint, since that was very different than what you started with, and even different than what you’ve done more recently with albums like SECOND NATURE and WHATEVER. Were you just going through the motions, musically, when you did some of that more dance-pop material, or was that just how you were feeling at the time, doing that?
Linda: Well, I had my sisters around me, and for one thing, it was nice working with my family and helping them, because they were very young. They were still teenagers or in their early twenties, and I just wanted to help them, as well, to get into their strides, and it did help them. One sings with George Michael still.
Linda: Yeah, and Dee had a big hit in England at one point, and now she sings on movie tracks. So they’re both in the business and doing that, but it was just nice having my sisters around—and then the sibling sort of thing--squabbles came.
Justin: Just yesterday, I did an interview with Kathy Sledge from Sister Sledge, and she was saying how hard it can be, especially with music. She said, in her case, sometimes music kind of took them apart in some ways, because it’s just a lot of pressure, I think.
Linda: Yeah, well, it’s more between the younger two, really, because they were more closer in age than me. It was those two who were squabbling most of the time, and I was the one that was like, "Break it up!" And in the end, I was like, "I can’t be doing this." So I went off on another track.
Justin: Well, it’s interesting, because, for me, growing up, I actually became familiar with you by way of Shirley’s music. She was on television on a program over here called "Video Soul." It was BET in its earlier days, with a guy named Donnie Simpson, who used to interview all the soul artists that were coming out with new records … it would have been when she had her PASSION album out.
Later, I found out that you guys were sisters. I started hearing your work and eventually I heard some of Dee’s work, too. Because there's a considerable age difference, it seems it’s very different experiences in the music business. But, in the more recent years, you’ve gotten back to doing more of the music that is you and that comes from you—without maybe all of the other extraneous considerations. I felt, when I listened to SECOND NATURE, with songs like “What’s This All This About” and “So Sixties," it reminded me of your early stuff, but with a fresh spin on it. Is that the case?
Linda: Oh, yeah, definitely. All that stuff is much more me, and what I truly am about, really. But I’m constantly changing, you know. Yesterday I was listening to a bird in the garden, and I just started picking up the tune from the bird.
Justin: Oh, that’s great. I love that, because I have four birds.
Linda: It was sort of like [singing]. I can’t remember what the bird was singing, and I was thinking, “I feel like I’d like to go right back to where I began, with my guitar and just stuff that comes from my heart.” Don’t worry about if it’s going to make money or if it’s not going to make money, or all that stuff.
I’ve got a quite comfortable life. It’s not like I live in a mansion or anything, but I live comfortably, compared to most people, so I don’t have to worry about that sort of thing much. So I was like, "Why don’t I start doing stuff that is coming from my heart, that I want to say, and just be that, and if people like it, that’s okay. If they don’t like it, that’s okay, as well."
Justin: Do you foresee yourself doing more albums in the future?
Linda: Yeah. Me and Wayne were talking about doing something new. I think he’s doing that sort of thing with Bill Withers, as well.
Justin: Really? Okay, awesome. So you’re still performing pretty regularly, right? At least in England.
Linda: I’m not performing regularly, because, as I said, last year my mom died, but I kept performing because that was keeping me going. I just came out of this divorce, and then I bought this big bull mastiff dog, and she ran—she couldn’t help it—into the back of my leg and she basically fractured my knee, so I had to cancel lots of gigs. And so I just started off again recently.
Justin: An unexpected setback, so …
Linda: Yeah, so I think I keep my guardian angel well busy.
Justin: Well, as they say, “When it rains it pours,” but then the sun comes out, eventually, it seems like. So, hopefully, it will allow for you to, as long as you’re enjoying it, to keep performing and doing what you love. Are there any other areas outside of music that interest you, as far as your creativity or passion, or is it always about the music, would you say?
Linda: No, I’ve always been interested in healing and spiritual stuff. Music does actually help heal, and I was thinking about that, as well, like using music as some sort of therapy for people.
Justin: That’s a good idea. Well, at the school I went to, they have a music therapy major, actually. I didn’t major in that but it's a really interesting field, and I just think it really helps people of different ages from different circumstances. I've always found music healing, especially recently, going through my own personal crisis, it was validated, just how much of a healer it is.
So you're thinking of different ways you can use it and keep that alive. You certainly have made a big impact on a lot of people with what you’ve done up until now, so it’s really good to see you keep doing it. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. I know I had a lot of questions. So thank you for your patience, and for sharing what you have. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.
Linda: That’s okay. I know you tried to get through before. It’s not the morning now. I’m supposed to be going to my brother’s for lunch, so just looking at my watch thinking, "Oh!"
Justin: Yeah, it’s been a lot of time. So have a nice lunch, I’ll talk with you later.
Linda: Alright. Have a nice day. Bye.
Justin: Thanks, Linda. Bye.
About the Writer
Justin Kantor is a freelance music journalist with published works in Wax Poetics and the All-Music Guide. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Business and Management program, he regularly writes liner notes for reissue labels.