Sunday, December 17, 2017
Stage

Darlene Love talks Phil Spector and classics before Clearwater show

Darlene Love was touring Canada around Christmas, singing sock-hop memories, when she heard an unwanted blast from the past.

On a hotel room television, Love, 74, instantly recognized a cellphone commercial's music, and wasn't pleased.

"Hey, wait a minute," she recalled thinking. "That's me.

"I started calling everybody (in my entourage) saying, 'Hey, turn on channel so and so. That's me singing Marshmallow World.' "

Love was offended that Google hadn't asked her permission to use the 1963 hit in an ad for Nexus cellphones. "Same old same old," she said in a recent telephone interview in advance of her performance Wednesday at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater.

Whether Google legally needed to obtain Love's permission will be determined in California federal court. She filed a lawsuit in January, claiming violation of publicity rights under California law.

Nothing new for Love, who contended with artist rights and recognition throughout her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career, an uphill struggle chronicled in the Oscar-winning documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom.

"And I went, 'Oh, no, not again,' " Love said. "Not after I took Phil to court, sued him and won. They're still trying to get around that, and this (was) 2015? Nothing ever changes, only faces and places."

Of course, "Phil" is Phil Spector, the infamously gifted producer of many of rock and roll's greatest early hits, now in prison for murdering actor Lana Clarkson in his Los Angeles home in 2003.

Spector gave Love her show biz break, then nearly broke her with it.

In 1962, Love sang lead with the Blossoms, a trio Spector used to record the eventual No. 1 hit He's a Rebel. However, Spector credited the single to the Crystals, a more established act, then did it again with He's Sure the Boy I Love.

The Blossoms and Love mostly stayed in the background of dozens of the decade's biggest hits, ranging from Frank Sinatra's That's Life to Monster Mash. Just as the Wrecking Crew were the music industry's go-to session musicians, the Blossoms were everyone's preferred backup singers, anonymous and underpaid.

In 2004, Love successfully sued Spector for unpaid royalties, recovering only a fraction of what she was owed.

Taking her rightful place in the spotlight took the singer nearly as long. Love became a pet reclamation project of actor and E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who first saw her perform in California in the mid-1980s and urged her to move to New York.

"He said he could probably get me some work," Love said. "I said, well, who's going to hire me? At that time I wasn't really doing that much. When (promoters) hear your name, they want to know if you can put butts in the seats."

Love laughed.

"They know now, yes, she can."

Throughout their friendship, Van Zandt has told Love he would someday produce her first solo album. After 54 storied years behind a microphone, it's here, ironically titled Introducing Darlene Love.

"He kept saying, 'We're going to go into the studio and do this,' " Love said. "One night we were at B.B. King's and Steven asked what we were doing tomorrow. I said, 'We have the day off.' He said, 'No, you don't. We're going into the studio. If we don't start it, we're never going to.' "

As a producer, Van Zandt provides a solid impression of Spector's famed Wall of Sound, wrapping Love's voice in orchestral curtains as she sings compositions by Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Webb and Joan Jett, among others.

"Steven kept telling me, 'Your voice demands this kind of music with the horns and the strings.' I asked what we were going to do when we get on the road, Mr. Steven Van Zandt. You going to pay for a whole orchestra?"

In concert with a nine-piece band, Love performs several tracks from the album, along with a few golden oldies, properly credited at the time or not.

"Oh, listen, if I didn't incorporate at least three or four (classic songs) they'd probably boo me off the stage," Love said.

One song Love's audiences won't hear these days is her most famous, the evergreen hit (Christmas) Baby, Please Come Home. She performed it 27 times on David Letterman's late-night variety shows, becoming a holiday tradition.

After the New Year, Love planned to store away that song, Marshmallow World and others from the classic 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector in the closet like all holiday ornaments. That lasted one show.

"The next day, my publisher called and asked what happened last night," Love said. "I was getting all this criticism on my Facebook page. People didn't understand why I didn't do (Christmas) Baby, Please Come Home. I said Christmas is over. That's why.

"So, now I do it all the way to Jan. 31 then that's it. This boy's going to sleep until next year."

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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