While mainstream record buyers may know Freda Payne as the voice behind the '70s classic "Band Of Gold," soul music lovers are familiar with the Detroit-born songstress through her albums for Invictus, ABC, Capitol and Sutra (and early on, for Impulse! and MGM). Although she's been consistently busy in musicals like the award-winning "Blues In The Night," "Sophisticated Ladies," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Jelly's Last Jam" and has made appearances in the films "Nutty Professor II" and "Ragdoll," Freda hasn't made a new pop/R&B album in almost seven years. Originally recorded in 1994, her "Live" set was reissued by Varese Vintage in 1997; and since then, she's done one Christmas album - "Freda & Friends" with guests O.C. Smith, Cuba Gooding and sister Scherrie Payne, for Dove Audio.
All of which is why the release of a new Payne CD is indeed welcome to her many fans the world over. Released on the Volt label, "Come See About Me" (named after Freda's cover of The Supremes' chestnut) is an eleven-track set produced by Fantasy staff producer Fred Pittman, Preston Glass and co-produced by Steve Fontano. In addition to several original tunes, Freda brings her special vocal magic to Billy Vera's "At This Moment" (an undoubted highlight) and Tom Jones' "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" while giving Petula Clark's 1966 "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" a soulful workout. A strong duet with former Temptation Ali Ollie Woodson on the tune "Just Like That" closes out the album and Freda sounds in fine form throughout on songs like "Let's Make Beautiful Music" and "You Complete Me."
While renowned stylist Rudy Calvo prepares Freda for a shoot with top class photographer Alan Mercer (specifically for the David Nathan website's new series, "Soul Portraits"), we talk about the new album and reflects on an illustrious career. "I'd kinda given up on recording for a while," Freda notes, "because it's difficult for veteran artists like myself to get a record deal. The companies all want 'the next big thing' and like some of my colleagues, I was considering doing my own thing, putting out a record independently and through the Internet."
Freda had been doing several shows with The Marvelettes and The Temptations in 1999 and 2000 and it was through a conversation with the Temps' manager Shelley Berger that Freda became aware of the possibility of making a new album for Fantasy Records. "We were discussing what I needed to do in my career and Shelley said he would talk with Phil Jones at Fantasy. A few days later, I got a call and we went over the deal points over the phone," she recalls. "We verbally agreed to proceed and I asked what we would do about the music…"
It turned out that producers Pittman and Glass had cut tracks for another female artist who was supposed to sign with Fantasy and Freda first heard them while on tour with "Blues In The Night" late last year: "I was praying that I’d like them!" she smiles. "The folks at Fantasy told me that if I didn't, we could talk about it. But I really did - especially "Beautiful Music," "Nice To Be With You," "At This Moment" and "I'll Never Fall In Love Again.' I was a little concerned about doing "Come See About Me" and wondering if I should be doing a Supremes' song but after all, Holland-Dozier-Holland (who wrote the tune) are my old buddies!"
Talk of the famed production team is a reminder that Freda's 'breakthrough' came when she joined their then-newly formed label Invictus Records in 1969. Prior to that, Freda had pretty much been known as a jazz singer. "My first record was entitled "After The Lights Go Down And More" and it was on the Impulse! label. I was nineteen or twenty and I was very nervous. We recorded the whole album with the entire orchestra in the studio and it was mostly standards along with an Ornette Coleman song "Lonely Woman." I stayed with the label for a couple of years and then I did a live record, "Freda Payne In Stockholm" before I went to MGM to do "How Do You Say I Don't Love You Aymore." Then, a few years later, I went to Invictus…"
When she looks back on the three albums she made for the label between 1970 and 1973, Freda says, "It represented a good time in my life. If I could do some of those records now, I know I could do them better…but that's how I feel about everything I do! After Invictus, I did a couple of albums at ABC which are still among my favorites - "Payne And Pleasure" and "Out Of Payne Comes Love." Vocally, they were very pure…"
Following two good late '70s albums for Capitol ("Stares And Whispers" and "Supernatural High"), Freda began focusing on performing rather than recording: "I've been a working entertainer since I was seventeen, eighteen," she reflects. "I haven't had a hit since 1970 and I've focused more on acting than recording and when I have bookings, I go where I'm wanted. It's been difficult at times and maybe I could have married a rich man and been a rich man's wife," Freda smiles, "but I wanted to be independent and accomplish something…"
And accomplished she has: known in Japan, Europe and the U.S. for her great live performances, acknowledged as an actress through her stage work and revered for her body of recorded works, Freda Payne shows no signs of slowing down. With the release of her new album, her career is decidedly taking an upturn.
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.