As Darlene Love had to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Iowa, asking her to participate in a show—even Thursday night’s Sixth Annual Little Kids Rock Benefit at the Hammerstein Ballroom honoring Joan Jett as “Rocker of the Year”—was asking a lot.
“I’m only doing it because it’s Joan,” said Love, in her dressing room prior to delivering a stunning version of Jett’s “Little Liar.” “I used to be managed by her manager and haven’t seen her in years.”
And then it was a rush home and off to Iowa.
“Can you believe it? I’ve never played there!” said Love, who’s played nearly everywhere in her extraordinary 50 years-plus career. “And then I’m going to Texas, Shreveport [Louisiana]. Places where they’ve heard me, but never seen me before.”
That Love has been incredibly busy touring of late is due to a readily apparent reason: The Oscars. When 20 Feet From Stardom, last year’s documentary on female background singers, won the Academy Award this year, distributor Harvey Weinstein insisted that she join the team that went up to accept it. Handed the mic, Love spontaneously sang a cappella the chorus from the gospel hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” instantly removing the Rock and Roll all of Fame vocal legend from background singing once and for all.
“It was totally unplanned!” said Love. “There were so many other great documentaries that were nominated. But we won and Harvey wanted me on stage to represent the ladies in the movie. He said I should say something, so I asked the Lord, ‘Give me a song’–and that’s the song he gave me. I was so nervous. After the first notes, I heard a rumble in the audience, like, ‘What is she doing?’ But then Bill Murray stood up, and Brad Pitt, and everyone.”
And the Vanity Fair party planner who had turned Love down offered to send a car.
“We didn’t’ know you could get that many emails!” said Love, whose husband’s inbox quickly topped 2,000. As she had a gig booked in Palm Springs long before the Oscars (“Boy, did we luck out!”), all the flowers and gifts sent to the house back East had to be sent back temporarily.
Love, who claims to be 73, then seized the moment–and has been running full speed ever since.
“Off days are travel days now,” she said. “And I’ve gotten out of Christmas!”
She means that instead of only getting work doing her annual holiday shows—Love remains, after all, the main voice on many songs on the the historic 1963 A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector Christmas album–she has certified her message that she’s eager and able to perform year-round.
“I love working Christmas, but there are 11 more months of the year!” she said. And even though she’s expanded her New York Christmas shows to three at B.B. King’s this year, she’ll return to the club for a post-holiday gig in January.
“That’s four times there in one and a-half months,” Love calculated.
And while a Darlene Love biopic is in the works, up first is a new album, being produced by her longtime friend and supporter Steven Van Zandt. Among heavyweight writers submitting songs are Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Dion, Jimmy Webb, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. She’ll also finally record the lead on the Spector classic “River Deep—Mountain High,” having sung backup on the historic Ike & Tina Turner session and made it a high point of her concerts ever since.
Meanwhile, Love duets with Bette Midler on the latter’s new girl-group album tribute It’s the Girls, out Nov. 4. She and Midler, who inducted Love into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, sing the Spector-produced classic “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” which she sang as lead singer of The Crystals and was penned by Mann and Weil.
And just before Christmas, she’ll usher in the holiday once again by performing her A Christmas Gift for You centerpiece “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” for the 28th and final time on Late Night With David Letterman.
“I’m ready!” said Love, about to go on stage, and then head to Iowa after. “That’s the great thing.”
[The Examiner wrote the liner notes for The Sound Of Love: The Very Best Of Darlene Love, and for a reissue of A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector.]
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