Interview conducted in person at Salsoul Records in New York City in March 1977
WITH ALL the current trends taking everyone from Melba Moore to Eddie Kendricks and Thelma Houston into the 'disco' arena, it should come as no surprise to find Ms. Loleatta Holloway up in there burning up the discos with her latest album, "Loleatta" on Salsoul Records, a company noted for its involvement in the disco market via, of course, The Salsoul Orchestra and Double Exposure.
Now, via Gold Mind Records and the genius of Norman Harris, the company has access to yet another set of strong acts, including First Choice.
Now if you're in any way familiar with Ms. Holloway's previous work (two albums on the now defunct GRC label and a single way back in 1971 on Apache Records, which surfaced on UA in England for a brief while with "Bring It Up" as the topside), you'll know that her forte is soulful ballads.
In the hands of Ms. Holloway, a meaningful ballad (particularly some of the songs of one, Mr. Sam Dees!) becomes really 'something else' — she wails, she soars, she interprets and gets the song over. And lets you know that the days of the soulful wailer are not over!
But her new album reflects not just Loleatta's incredible talent when it comes to ballads (which, she confesses, she prefers "because I can really put myself into them, get into the lyrics, whether I've personally been in those situations or not") but indicates her ability to get into Philly's disco music of today.
As a result, Loleatta has found herself with a whole new audience who dig cuts like "Dreamin"', "Hit And Run" and "Ripped Off" but making sure that she's lost none of her faithful followers with such soulful scorchers as "What Now", a Curtis Mayfield composition, and
"Worn Out Broken Heart", part penned by Sam Dees. In fact, the latter song was Loleatta's fist single for Salsoul but was quickly flipped when "Dreamin"' started to take off with such immediate impact via the discos.
"Yes, it was a different kind of recording situation for me to deal with," confesses Loleatta, in New York on a brief promtional visit. "I know I had to change with the times and although at first I wondered how on earth I was gonna be able to sing that fast, I managed to do it.
"It was so different though. You see, Floyd Smith (my manager and producer) usually records me — in fact, he produced two of the cuts on the album and wrote another, 'Is It Just A Man's Way?' and what happens is that because we've been working together for a few years now, he'll be particularly critical — because he knows what I can do.
"Plus our method of working is different: we'll maybe start working on a tune at the piano and go from there. Whereas with Norman, I went down to Philly and they had the music more or less ready.
"I kept wondering what I was gonna do, you know, were the songs in the right key for me, the whole trip! And with Norman and the guys, it was like one take and they'd say, yeah, it was cool.
"I only got the songs to learn like two days before hand and I wondered how I was ever gonna do it! But I took them back to Chicago, studied them and when it came time to cut them, we just went ahead!"
The result of course was five cuts on the album, the balance having been cut in Chicago, Loleatta's home town. "Aside from recording in Philly, I recorded in Atlanta when we were with GRC.
"Sure I dig cutting in Chicago, cause it's home. I've worked with the musicians before on sessions there. But that whole Philadelphia thing was really interesting for me.
"I have to confess that to begin with, I hated some of the cuts, though! Like 'Hit And Run', I really hated it! But now, I've got into it more, checked it out. I really dig the whole album.
"What I found really was that in Philly, they're more into the music aspect — you know those long cuts — it really took me out to begin with! But I'm real satisfied with it now!"
Understandably so, since the album is giving Loleatta her biggest success since she hit the charts during 1975 with the ultra-soulful "Cry To Me".
"I was with GRC for about two and a half years. Before that, I'd met Floyd back in '71 which was when we cut 'Rainbow '71' the old Gene Chandler hit, re-done. That did well in and around Chicago and we did a deal with Fantasy Records but nothing really materialized from that. Anyway, I worked behind that one record for about a year or so.
"And then, Floyd got into talks with Michael Thevis, who was the President of GRC. In between times. I joined the cast of 'Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope', the musical, in Chicago and we did real well. Anyway, we signed with GRC and cut about two albums' worth of material straight off. In fact, the sessions included everything I did with the company — right from 'Mother Of Shame' (Loleatta's big r&b hit of 1973) through to 'Cry To Me'.
"Now when that was released, we all felt it could have been bigger but almost as it was released, the company started to have real problems, so it didn't get the kind of promotion and exposure it should have done. I'm convinced that if the record had been with another company, we could have had a million seller. Yeah, that's one of the things I really want, a gold record!"
Loleatta's "Cry To Me" album fared well and the follow-up "I'll Be Gone", which revealed the lady's songwriting talents (something she intends to really get more into in the future) also scored well.
"But GRC folded and Floyd had cut something on himself which he took to Salsoul. He told them about me and after all the legal aspects of me getting a relase from GRC, we signed with the company and they suggested Norman Harris to produce most of the sessions.
"I guess the whole album took around six months or more to complete — you know, those guys are so busy down there in Philly! But it was worth the wait, it seems!"
A consistantly popular in-person performer, Loleatta has developed a particularly strong following in the South. "I guess that's because the people there really relate to the slow tunes, the ballads. They can really dig where they're coming from. It must have something to do with just the different life-styles in different places. But we always go down well down South — places like Houston, Atlanta.
"But I'm gonna tell you, it can be tough on the road — especially when you're in between hits! Real tough. Like we were on the road at one point with a total of fourteen people and that's really too much until everything is totally established, that's hard. Because you've got to pay the musicians, they've got to eat, have somewhere to stay.
"And sometimes, we don't get paid on time. So it can be a lot of hassles. But I do spend a good proportion of time on the road and I imagine when things really break through, we'll be able to spend more time at home. I have a family — three children, with one more on the way. So it will be good to spend more time with them."
And Europe? "Well I'd love to come across to Europe but to be honest, I'm not too keen on flying! But I won't say I'll never go, I'll just have to be prepared a few weeks in advance, you know, psyche myself out about crossing all that water!"
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.