Darlene Love returns to the historic Paramount Theater on Saturday, Aug. 27. Love’s summer performance in Asbury Park is quickly becoming a yearly tradition. Last year’s show celebrating the release of her new CD, which had Love performing alongside the album’s producer, Steven Van Zandt, was one for the music history books. Love’s relationship with Asbury Park led her to film a video that featured her cruising around town with Joan Jett & Paul Shaffer, cumulating with a performance of “Forbidden Nights” on the sand with a beach full of fans.
Since the early ’60s, as part of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” hit factory, this great lady has done it all…from major motion pictures like the highly successful Lethal Weapon series to Broadway hits like Hairspray and Grease. She even starred as herself in Leader of the Pack, credited as Broadway’s first “jukebox musical.” Darlene has appeared on numerous television programs, running the gamut from her weekly appearances on Shindig to a recent guest spot on the PBS special entitled Women Who Rock.
In 2011, Darlene Love received her industry’s highest award when Bette Midler, a great fan of her work, inducted her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During the celebration, the two ladies enjoyed performing “He’s A Rebel” together. As part of the festivities, Darlene also sang “He’s A Fine, Fine Boy” backed by another distinguished fan, Bruce Springsteen.
LaBamba & The Hubcaps will be making a long overdue return to Asbury Park as the show’s guest stars. Philadelphia-born Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg’s musical roots stem from the Jersey Shore sound. He has toured the world and recorded with Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Little Steven and Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, as well as countless others.
I spoke with Darlene recently about some of the high points in her life and continued and successful career.
Tell me about the Lincoln Outdoor Summer Concert Series. I heard there were some special birthday wishes for you?
Yeah, it was sort of unbelievable. It was for my birthday, and it was over 3,000 people. I didn’t expect that many people to be there. They all showed up and every nationality, the wealthy, the Chanel bag club, people with walkers, and I mean, just to see that many people clapping and dancing because that’s what I want them to do. I want them to have a good time, and they enjoy that music, so if they come out and see it, they should get up and dance. I invite them to get up and dance And dance they did. The messages [she didn’t know they were doing this] from Stevie Van Zandt to Joan Jett and Cousin Brucie, you know, just people that I talk to during the year, they all called in to wish me a happy birthday, and it was pretty amazing.
What was it like to receive the honorary doctorate in music degree from Providence College?
You never know what you’re doing when you’re in this business or who you’re relaying your message to and what it becomes. To get that honor was incredible, it’s very humbling. And not only just to get the doctorate but also to do the commencement speech that was way beyond anything I ever dreamed of. They knew I was the one who could bring that speech to the graduates. Matter of fact, one lady had said, “Well, who is she and why does she get to give that speech?” and they stated that after it was all over she said she understood why they chose me to give it. You know from experience and things that the students are going to go through once they get out of college, if they’re not on it, they’re going to experience a lot of ups and some downs. And a lot of downtime. And you have to know what to do with downtime; you can’t just waddle in it. You need to know how to get back up. That experience for me was one of the most challenging things that I’ve ever been a part of.
How has being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and winning a Grammy changed your career?
Well, more or less it has gotten me more recognition, has gotten me better jobs which is what you would hope for. Got me to more parts of the country that I never worked in before. Because for the first 15 years of doing my Christmas show and working in the New York area, it was like New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, maybe as far as Maryland, but now it has taken me all over the country. Places I never worked before. You go to these locations that others have worked before, and you say, “Wow, this is something!” Because they have pictures of other great entertainers that have worked where I’m going to now and that’s wonderful.
Tell me a little about 20 Ft from Stardom?
Well, that movie was such a pinnacle part of my life because I never dreamed that being a backup singer would get that much recognition. You don’t realize it, but when you look you’ll see that The Blossoms were the first black background singers on recorded record. There just weren’t any before we came. And I think what made us as big as we were is because we were a group, we had a sound. It wasn’t like they called our union and said we need five singers, and they just invited singers to come out. When they called us, they knew they were gonna get that sound that they wanted, and they knew that we were gonna be just as involved in the sessions as the musicians and the producers. To take my life that I started at when I was 16 and put it on screen and for it to win an Academy Award I was like, “OK, what’s next Lord? Come on, do it. You’re reaching farther than I ever thought about moving so just keep on doing it.”
What were the highlights of your Off-Broadway run?
That was another thing I never thought about doing. Before the show Leader of the Pack, there were no rock and roll shows on Broadway. Wasn’t there, they didn’t want them. That didn’t belong on Broadway. Well, that opened the door to all the shows today that are on Broadway. From Beautiful to Smoky Joes, all of those shows happened after Leader of the Pack. I’m always in something that happens first. That was another door that was open for me. It’s another grueling part of our business that you’ll never understand if you don’t work in it. Eight shows a week is very demanding. I did Hairspray for almost three years, and when I was done, I was tired. Because when you work you have to keep your body in that work mode. You have to stay physically in shape to do Broadway. Especially when you sing as hard as I do. They had to teach me that you can’t sing like that every night, you’re going to kill yourself. So I had to train myself to think, “OK, I can sing the way I wanna sing, but I can’t sing like I would for a single song.” That was perfect for me to learn how to extend myself for the show.
Tell me a little about your focus on the PBS concert.
As an entertainer, you always want your show to be filmed, especially when you think they’re good or great. If you can’t get to everybody all over the country, you can do that by doing a special on TV because it goes into places you may never go, and I had the opportunity to film my show exactly as it appears onstage. It was nothing changed. It was 90 minutes of Darlene Love, which was wonderful because I think I have the best singers and the best musicians in the world, and they get me where I want to be when I’m onstage, and they finally got it on film which is very exciting.
I know you’re going to be playing with Bette Midler this year. How did that come about?
I’ve been good friends with her for a long time too. I’ve either gone to see her shows or she’s taken the time to see me. And she has been helpful with me and my career because I had worked with her onstage before. We’ve had this little relationship going for years now. And I always wanted to see her Halloween show which is supposed to be phenomenal. And she always says, “You can’t go to that, it’s too expensive! You have to come as my guest.” Well, she surprised me this year because she invited me to perform with my band and singers which is as good if not better than just being there. So I’m going to be a part of her Halloween show this year which is very exciting.
What was it like to work with Elvis Presley?
It’s like one of those out of body experiences that you can’t even imagine doing because, why? I’m not in the same category he’s in, but I’m in the same category he’s in when he was looking for background singers. And that’s what The Blossoms were. We are the best, I’m sorry, but I think—especially in our time—we were the best, and working with Elvis was great because he loved gospel music and I was born and raised on gospel. So we had a real connection. If we ever had a 10- or 20-minute break, he would get his guitar, and we would sit over in the corner while they were on their break singing gospel songs.
We did have something in common beyond the traditional music of entertainers. He told me when we first met that he loved gospel music and growing up as a kid he would go by black churches and stand outside listening to their music. And back in those days in the South they didn’t have air conditioners, they had open windows, so you could hear the music by standing outside, and that’s what he did. That really was special that he told me that because he didn’t have to tell me. I don’t even know if anyone knows that about Elvis. I think he was very introverted. I believe he was such a huge star he couldn’t really go anywhere because anywhere he went it was like a storm. But he was a very nice man.
Darlene Love and her full band will be at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, NJ this Saturday, Aug. 27. She will also be playing at the St. George Theatre in Staten Island, NY on Oct. 7, and The Newton Theatre in Newton, NJ on Nov. 27. For more information, head over to darleneloveworld.com.