IT'S been more than a while since we heard from one young lady whose consistently good records seemed to never hit quite as big as they should. In case you thought that Ms. Dee Dee Warwick was destined to fade into semi-obscurity, take heart because the lady is very much back in action with a brand new record deal and a potential hit single already showing signs of making up for lost time.
"I haven't actually stopped working," Dee Dee informed B&S from her home in Beverley Hills (where she's resided for nearly two years now), "but I didn't record until we found the right deal. For about the last year or so, I've actually been out on the road with Dionne. The thing was, she needed some backing singers and why give the money to anyone else when I can do it just as well? We might as well keep it in the family!" Much of Dee Dee's career has been dogged with bad luck of one kind or another in respect of her record deals. Her earliest recordings were back in the early Sixties after she'd spent several years making demos for many of soul's top stars and singing background on nearly every decent soul sound that came out of New York. Originally a member of the Drinkard Singers alongside sister Dionne, aunt Cissy Houston and step-sister Judy Clay, Dee Dee cut the original version of "You're No Good" (later a hit for Betty Everett) and was the very first lady to sing "I (Who Have Nothing)" — even before Ben E. King tackled it! Needless to say, those very early records are now rarities of the highest order and gave Dee Dee very little recognition.
She signed up with Blue Rock Records around 1965, then a subsidiary of Mercury Records directly aimed at the R&B market. Her session work took a back seat whilst she concentrated on establishing a career for herself and some of Dee Dee's early sides for the company saw some action on the soul charts — notably "Do It With All Your Heart", "We're Doing Fine" (which saw some pop activity) and the ultra-soulful "Gotta Get A Hold Of Myself". It wasn't until 1966, with a change of label to the main Mercury logo that Dee Dee scored with her first really big pop crossover in "I Want To Be With You" from the musical "Golden Boy". She remained with Mercury for several years during which she recorded prolifically but somehow failed to make it in the big way she deserved. Some of her Mercury sides are considered classics by soul fans today and Dee Dee was the original artiste to cut the now-famous Gamble & Huff side, "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me". Other Mercury tracks of note include "Lover's Chant" (written by none other than Lorraine Ellison), "I'd Be Far Better Off Without You", "When Love Slips Away" and Dee Dee's London-cut version of "Alfie". The lady's second big hit came with "Foolish Fool", a turgid, powerhouse R&B side which nearly went pop but didn't quite make it. It made way for an album which is today almost impossible to find. It's interesting to note that Dee Dee's own personal favourite side is featured on the flip of that single, titled "Thank God", cut together with a church choir in Engelwood. "I'd love to be able to cut that again some day, because I feel that it got lost on the 'B' side."
After cutting a few more sides with Mercury which garnered little attention (including another version of "I (Who Have Nothing)" and the theme from "Ring of Bright Water", Dee Dee moved on to Atco Records in 1970 hoping that her record success rate might improve. She cut what was undisputedly a dynamite album in Criteria Studios, Florida entitled "Turning Around" — which gave birth to "She Didn't Know" her only really major hit during her spell with the company. That track, like most of the other cuts, is a fine example of just how this ultra-soulful lady can handle a lyric. If you should ever run across a copy of the album, grab it!
Subsequent sessions for Atlantic produced an inspired version of "Suspicious Minds" and a mini-hit in "Cold Night In Georgia" and although an album was reputedly en route, it never materialized. "The problem is simply that the company has a lot of other big female acts — like Aretha and Roberta — and you get into a situation where you don't get the right kind of material or production or promotion. So I just felt it was time to move on." That was around the middle of 1973 and for the first few months of 1974, Dee Dee moved back to Mercury Records, teaming with ace producer Paul Vance. The pair cut a few sides for the company with one single "slipping out!" coupling "All The Love That Went To Waste" from the film, "A Touch of Class" and "I Haven't Got Anything Better To Do". "The record got absolutely nothing — no trade reviews, no promotion whatsoever, so I just figured that we'd better call it a day with the company."
Dee Dee explains that a lot of the problems over the years came because "I started out in the business when I was young and I wanted a lot of things to happen very quickly. Plus I didn't have the kind of management and direction I needed. And you can hardly go out and do everything for yourself! I think I had a lot to learn so I don't feel that all the blame lies with the companies we dealt with. I made my share of mistakes but I hope that they're all in the past now." So why the move out to the West Coast? "Well, up until about two years ago, all my work had centred around New York — I lived in Jersey. But you can only go so far, doing things like the chitlin' circuit and work in the city became so slow. And since I've been out here, things have been happening for me. Aside from my work with Dionne, I've done a couple of things myself in San Francisco. Right now, we're talking to two agencies regarding television out here too. But I will continue to record in New York and we hope to have an album out soon."
The lady is very happy to be with Private Stock Records under the aegis of Larry Uttal, formerly head of Bell Records for many years. "I feel the company is young and not burdened down with lots of artists so it can take care of each one individually. The single is looking very good right now — we should make it to the pop charts, I hope!" It's very unlikely that you'll hear Dee Dee Warwick on any back up singing in the future because "I've done as much of that as I can and I'm gonna concentrate on my own career now". If that means that Dee Dee is at last going to grace our charts with some kind of consistency and continuity, then that's the best news any self-respecting soul fan could get.
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.