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DAVID NATHAN: 40 YEARS OF SOUL, PT. 2
BY , (C) 2006, SOUL MUSIC.COM
DN: We had a period when the magazine ("Blues & Soul") went weekly, so that was completely beserk. I had to turn in a lot of work. And the time it went weekly was when I first moved to LA, in August of ’75. And I stayed there for about six months. Couldn’t handle it, and I was having relationship issues....

DF: Is that why you moved to LA in the first place?

DN: Ah, you’re good, David! I had fallen in love with a piano player, for a group called Revelation, who were friends of mine. And the problem with falling in love with this particular piano player was that he was straight. It wasn’t a good idea to fall in love with straight piano players. So, my friend Doris Troy said, “Oh, baby, baby, you’ve got to come out to California and visit.” So I finally came out in August of ’75, and I saw palm trees, and I thought, “You know what? I need a change.” But love is a strange thing. When I got back to New York, instead of saying, “I’m going to leave this person and New York behind,” I turned around to him and said, “I’m moving to Los Angeles. Do you want to move too?” Cause I thought somehow if we were away from New York, he would fall in love with me too! The mind is a terrible thing! So, off we trotted out here. One of my good people who helped us was Mable John. She really took us under her wing, and she helped us when we were trying to find a place and didn’t have any money, and were waiting for money from England. So he and I shacked up in this little motel room, eating Pioneer chicken and honey Grahams every day, cause we didn’t have any money to eat anything else. I kept thinking that something was going to change in the relationship. It wasn’t working, and so I went to England to collect money from John, from Blues & Soul.

DF: He couldn’t just mail it to you?

DN: Well, we were having issues with my money.

DF: Oh, so you went to do one of those, “Where the fuck is my money?” kind of things.

DN: Yes, I did an 'Esther Phillips,' you might say! And we worked it all out, I got my money and it was fine. Sometimes, we can all be a little dramatic, if you know what I mean! And before I left L.A., I had to write a check for the phone, and a 'friend' of mine in New York had given me a check, and it bounced while I was gone, so when I came back I had no phone. And I was like, “Well, how am I going to do business with no phone?” And so I tried to get my phone account opened, and the phone company were not cooperating. So I said, “Well, I can’t work here anymore.” So I left, and came back to New York and stayed with my friend Gary until I got my own place. The rest is history!

DF: So then you were back in New York, but things were going well with John Abbey.

DN: Well, we were now back on a good track, cause I still was writing in that time period when I was in LA. The financial thing started to work out better. We worked out how to get the money to me properly and all that. And I continued to write. ’76 to ’81, it was like nonstop.

DF: Can you think of one or two of your most memorable interviews during that time?

DN: Yes, Teddy Pendergrass, because he had left Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and there was speculation of who he was going to sign with, and at some point he was talking to RCA. And then he signed with Philadelphia International. I’m just remembering an interview with him after he signed to Philadelphia International. We just hit it off really well. There’s more about that but I’ll tell you about another time! For now let’s just say some interviews were memorable for different reasons!

The first time I ever met Roberta Flack, that was a big deal. Going up to the Dakota, meeting her, and telling her I was a little afraid because I’d heard she was not the easiest person to interview. And I actually told her, “People used to tell me you were a bitch.” She laughed, and said, “Oh, well. You can see I’m not, right?” She gave me tea; she was very friendly.

DF: When did you stop writing for Blues & Soul?

DN: Well, John Abbey married [singer] Tamiko Jones. And when he married her he moved to Atlanta, and at that point he still owned Blues & Soul, so it was still OK for me to continue to write. But John got into financial difficulties and he ended up selling the magazine to the printer, who became the publisher. He still retained some interest in it, but he wasn’t the hundred percent owner, and at that point, the new publisher said, “Well, we can’t afford you and David.” And obviously John wasn’t going to say, “We'll keep David and forget about me,” because he was still the editor. So that’s when I stopped writing for Blues & Soul.

DF: When was that?

DN: That was ’81. And I was like, “Oh, shit.” I had not been writing for anyone else, so I had not prepared. I didn’t have existing contacts with other publications. So I actually stopped writing because I didn’t have anything to do. I did some temp jobs, worked for a career development organization that specialized in doing workshops for people who had been laid off. I worked for a travel agency for a while, and I stopped writing. I was forced to, because I didn’t have anything else to do. And then I went to work for an organization called Warner Erhard and Associates, cause I had done the EST training, like Diana Ross - and that was all about transforming your life, about letting go of the past and really creating a new future. It was a very powerful experience - its' predecessor is called The Landmark Forum which really supports people in creating new possibilities in life and is an equally powerful experience. Anyway, I went to work for WE&A for a while. And then towards the end of ’82 I went to see Dionne Warwick in concert, and I had this idea for writing a book. I thought, “Well, maybe the way to get out of this and get back into writing is to write a book, so I’ll approach Dionne, because I know her, about writing her autobiography.” So I did. I went backstage and I asked her, “How do you feel about writing a book?” And she said, “Well, I’d love to.” So she paid for me to spend about three months in LA in the beginning of ’83, and I worked with her. I did a series of interviews with many different people who were part of her life. And she paid me and we started shopping the book. The problem we had was that all the publishers said basically it doesn’t have enough scandal in it. This is too much of a good story, nothing sensational. So they said, 'it’s just not worth doing.' It was kind of crushing.

DF: How did Dionne feel about that?

DN: She was okay, she understood. We tried a couple of times after that, we revised stuff, I rewrote things, but it just never took hold. People never picked up on it and said it wasn't 'controversial' enough: they wanted 'gossip' and 'scandal' and that's not what Dionne and I were giving them. And then by ’84, I really missed writing by that point. I started to miss it, so I took my Dionne Warwick proposal, went to England, hoping we could get a book deal in England, met with Virgin Books. The guy I met with said, “This is a really well-done proposal, and we know who Dionne Warwick is, but how would you feel about writing a book on Lionel Richie? Here’s some money – go write the book.” At that point, I left London, and I said, well, since I had started making friends in LA, and I had given up my apartment in New York, I might as well go to LA. Came here in ’84 to work on the book, and it wasn’t enough money for me to live on permanently, so I started working for this company that used to do workshops for actors called Impact Studios. I got the book finished, and then I went back to England to present them with the book, and it happened to coincide with my mother being really sick. After I turned in the manuscript, I came back to LA, I got a call from my sister saying, “Mother’s in the hospital.” And I went back and she died. So at that point everything was like thrown into a different place. I used some part of the money that I got from Virgin to go to Egypt, to just go on a spiritual journey for myself, to heal the death of my mother. And it was an incredible experience; it was a life-altering experience.

The Lionel Richie book came out in ’85. And that’s when I started doing free-lance journalism, writing for USA Today, Tower Records Pulse, a paper here called the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, started doing bios. That was the beginning of my freelance journalist career. And then I resumed my writing for Blues & Soul. Well, we had a little incident, because there was another magazine started in England called The Street Scene, and they offered me all this money to leave Blues & Soul. So I did, but I did it in a really shameful way. I had been set up to do an interview with Stevie Wonder, it was supposed to be for Blues & Soul, and instead of giving it to Blues & Soul, I gave it to Street Scene as their first cover story.

(Photo: Street Scene magazine with David's Stevie Wonder article, November 1985)



DF: Now why would you do that?

DN: Because they paid me a lot of money, and I was being a ‘ho!

DF: How did Blues & Soul feel?

DN: They were very pissed off. They threatened to sue me. It wasn’t a good period for me and Blues & Soul [laughs]. And then unfortunately, the magazine, Street Scene, lasted for about a year then it went out of business, so I had to go back to Blues & Soul, cap in hand: “Oh, I’m so sorry.” So then I wrote for Blues & Soul from about ‘86 into the early part of the 2000s and I still do contribute to the magazine, though not as frequently as I once did. In fact, I have the dubious distinction of having my name listed in Blues & Soul longer than any other single person, including the original editor John Abbey! During that time period – ’86 to ’99 – I also wrote a tremendous number of bios, I launched media coaching with then-new artists such as Brian McKnight, Toni Braxton and Mint Condition.

DF: And of course liner notes. How many have you done altogether?

DN: Oh, I don’t know, six or seven hundred – since 1988.

DF: You’ve done so much writing. What are you interested in pursuing at this time?

DN: Well, I always had two ambitions that were strong. One was that I really wanted to sing. One of the first people to really encourage me to sing was Doris Troy. I had recorded an a cappella version of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” inspired by Aretha, and I took it to Doris Troy, and she put it on her tape recorder and she said, “Oh, child, you can sing!” She was very encouraging and supportive. And it gave me hope. The other thing was that I wanted to be in a relationship. And that was all I knew. I didn’t have any career aspirations at that point. And then life conspired to provide me with an opportunity to write. It was something I knew I could do, but there wasn’t a burning ambition to be a journalist.

DF: It wasn’t the thing that gave you the most joy?

DN: No. The thing that gave me the most joy was singing. And I wanted to be married, or the equivalent of being married. That’s all I want now too! I’m doing another CD now. Tomorrow I’m rehearsing three songs. The producer is Preston Glass, who’s produced and written a number of songs for people like Aretha and Whitney Houston. It’s going to be very unplugged – me, a piano, and various horn instruments, and a little percussion on some songs, very simple. The working title is "Wistful Elegance."




DF: And do you want to make singing your profession?

DN: When I look forward, the things that are the most important to me are expanding the website business and having it become even more successful, having it reach more people, creating more opportunities to sell many more CDs, to really develop Soul Music.com as a brand name. My intention is to spend time next year developing the Soul Music.com community outside the U.S. by doing a series of “Meet & Greet” sessions in different European cities/countries where we have an accumulation of customers and supporters of the site – such as Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Madrid, Brussels, Munich, and Helsinki.

Then personally, there are other exciting things happening: I recently made my film debut, acting alongside the one and only Millie Jackson! I also want to make a commitment to education, through my work as part of the board of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and through classes, lectures, and workshops. And then, musically, I want to continue making CDs, increasing performances, doing whatever I need to do to sing on a regular basis, and have that be the expression of my creativity.

In concluding there are so many people I'd want to thank - the list would go on for pages but I'd be remiss if I didn't express my eternal gratitude, appreciation and soulful love to my sister Sylvia, my Soul Music.com partner and best friend Michael Lewis, Dionne Warwick (for that initial 'hit' and my intro to soul music), Maurice White (for the life-changing 1975 interview), Aretha Franklin (for all the 'firsts'), Bob Killbourn (trusty editor of "Blues & Soul"), my London and NY crews, my L.A. friends (especially Thelma Jones, Archbishop Carl Bean, Stephanie Jourdan and Jane Halsey for constant spiritual nourishment) and the 'angels' who look over me - who include my Mum, my Dad, Doris Troy, Nina Simone, Esther Phillips, Eric Brogdon, Gary Walcott, Hayden Sealy, Dave Godin, John Simmons and Phillip Ballou. I love you all and know that these forty years could not have been as rich and fulfilled without you.

Special thanks to David Freeland for taking the time to listen. I appreciate and thank you so much!

  
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