Air Date: Thursday 3/21/13 on KLED Live FM (91.1FM) www.KLEDLive.com @ 9AM & 9PM (PST)
THE UNDERGROUND EXPERIENCE & UNCLE EARL Celebrates WOMEN’S MONTH!
“Exceptional Women & Those Who Admire Them”
Special Guest: MS. FREDA PAYNE!
We take a trip through the times in her life and we recap some memories about touring around the world working together!
The strikingly beautiful Freda Charcelia Payne was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 9th, 1942. And her road to The DiscoMuseum has many twists and turns along it’s way. Besides her singing career, she is a noted film and stage actress as well as a former talk show host. Freda developed her love of music at an early age. She cites Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holliday as her earliest influences. Her own career began as a jingles singer which brought the young vocalist to the attention of several music-biz heavyweights. At the age of 17, Pearl Bailey gave Payne her first professional job. Berry Gordy Jr. attempted to sign Payne to his then-burgeoning record company, Motown, and Duke Ellington employed Payne as the featured singer with his renowned orchestra for two nights in Pittsburgh, resulting in Ellington offering the teenager a ten-year contract. But in both cases, Freda’s mother turned them down.
During the early to mid-1960’s, Payne established herself as a top-notch jazz vocalist, touring the country with legends like Lionel Hampton, Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Eckstein, and Quincy Jones. The late Jazz impresario Bob Thiele (husband of the late Teresa Brewer) gave Payne her first recording session. Like all those that heard Freda sing he was undoubtedly impressed, so much so that he personally produced the sessions for her 1963 release “After The Lights Go Down” on his own Impulse label. The album is a mixed bag of big band numbers and jazz combo standards. Wedged between her beautiful version of “‘Round Midnight” and Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” is “Blue Piano.” Impressive to consider that Duke Ellington wrote the song specifically for this session.
There is an incredible wealth of material here, and it definitely shows just how diverse and indeed brilliant Freda Payne can be. The contributions of top-drawer jazz musicians such as pianist Walter Perkins, guitarist Jim Hall and alto saxophonist Phil Woods give this a polished sound. The album has been re-issued on compact disc and is still available. Touring and establishing her jazz career followed the next several years. She headlined with “The Smart Affairs Revue” and the “The Larry Steel Show” hitting spots from Atlantic City to Vegas and Hawaii. By 1966 she was poised for another album release. Her sophomore album was released on MGM records and has long been out of print. “How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore?” was another classic mix of jazz and standards. Benny Golson, composer of such hits as “Killer Joe” and “I Remember Clifford” arranged and conducted. Tom Wilson produced. The stellar standouts are her renditions of “Yesterday,” “Let It Be Me,” “Feeling Good” and “On Easy Street.” The album elevated her status amongst the jazz and supper club crowds but did not make her a commercial success.
Freda enjoyed further exposure via appearances on the Johnny Carson, David Frost, and Merv Griffin shows. But it wasn’t until Payne signed on to the Invictus label in 1969 (headed by longtime friends/former Motown songwriters and producers Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland) and issued the album “Band Of Gold” that she scored her breakthrough hit. The album’s title track, peaked at #-3 in the U.S. and topped the charts in the U.K. in 1970. The first single was “The Unhooked Generation” but it was her second single, the ambiguous wedding-night drama, “Band Of Gold” that made soul history. The album is chocked full of delicious gems like the third single “Deeper & Deeper” and “This Girl Is A Woman Now,” “The Easiest Way To Fall” and “Love On Borrowed Time.” The album went to #-17 (R&B) and #-60 (Pop) on Billboards charts and earned her a Gold album. It surely gave Invictus a positive cash flow to broaden it’s roster and further it’s catalogue.
Freda’s second Invictus album was a significant success, making it higher onto the Billboard charts than her first release. She found her niche in the early 1970’s, doing silky, sophisticated pop/soul with excellent production, arrangements, and material supplied by the Holland/Dozier/Holland team. They wisely chose not to make her a sassy or hard-edged vocalist, but putting her voice in a string and horn-dominated genre and emphasizing her soothing, yet lightly sensual side. The “Contact” album came complete with scandal by being banned from the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Network. Seems the hit single “Bring The Boys Home” didn’t sit well with the pro-war radio program.
Although much of Freda’s association with the mighty Invictus label would be fraught with stress, it was nevertheless a prolific period with masterpieces of epic proportions. The masterpieces on “Contact” are obviously “Bring The Boys Home,” “You Brought The Joy,” “You’ve Got To Love Somebody” and “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Thankfully Sequel Records has combined her first two Invictus albums on to one compact disc reissue. Despite it’s sexy cover with the bikini-clad Payne frolicking on the beach, “Reaching Out” was to be her third and final album of original material for Invictus. A “Best Of” was issued in 1973. The single “Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right” struggled to #-75 on the R&B charts and signaled the end of her pop/commercial success. Her version of “Rainy Days & Mondays” is yet another example of her incredible range and depth and makes the album worth the purchase alone.
1974 was a pivotal year for Payne. MGM Records re-released “How Do I Say I Don’t Love You Anymore?” as part of their “Golden Archives Series.” And she fled Invictus for the more successful and polished ABC/Dunhill Records. Her debut for the new label was a masterpiece. “Payne & Pleasure” was a polished pop effort. Her versions of “I Won’t Last A Day (Without You),”The Way We Were” and “A Song For You” are worthy of comparison to the Carpenters and Barbra Streisand’s versions. The original cuts: “Run For Your Life,” “Don’t Wanna Be Left Out,” “It’s Yours To Have” and “I Get Carried Away” are unique unto themselves. The album peaked at #-55 on the Billboard charts and earned her a whole new legion of fans. Her sophomore release for ABC/Dunhill however didn’t fare as well.
1975’s “Out Of Payne Comes Love” failed to chart as an LP. And only one single, “It’s Yours To Have,” peaked at #-81 on Billboard’s R&B charts. The album in retrospect comes off as a hodgepodge of scattered material and arrangements. Whatever the album lacks in production coordination at least it has Payne’s stunning vocals. As gifted as a singer as she is, she still needs quality material. Songs like “Million Dollar Horse” just don’t cut it. The real gem of the album is her version of “You Brought The Woman Out In Me.” This sultry disco number was a minor club hit. With a remixed 12″ it could have been a monster hit. As with most labels, her poor chart showing and lackluster sales caused her to be dropped by ABC records after only two albums. The next few years saw a rapid shift in music from soul/pop to disco. Payne spent those years touring and doing television appearances. But by 1977 she was poised to record another album.
Enter Capitol records and Motown alumnus Frank Wilson and Tony Camillo to produce her disco masterpiece “Stares And Whispers.” The well known track is obviously the 12″ single of “Love Magnet.” But the overlooked “Master Of Love” gets my vote as the real treasure. Starting off as a slow seductive number about 3-4 minutes in it turns into a killer high energy toe-tapper. Other disco numbers are “Feed Me Your Love” and “Bring Back The Joy.” The latter co-written by former school teacher and 1990’s R&B star Gregory Abbott. 1977 was a key year in Freda’s life. Surviving the death of her beloved mother was a low point. The highlights were her new label, album and discocareer as well as the birth of her first son in October. The 35 year old beauty had never looked or sounded better. Motherhood and disco agreed with her. 1978 was another banner year for Freda, besides her marriage to husband Gregory Abbott, she gave birth to her second son, Gregory Abbott Jr. Her second disco album release, “Supernatural High,” spawned more club favorites.
Besides the 12″ single hits “Happy Days Are Here Again/Happy Music (Dance The Night Away” and “I’ll Do Anything For You” the album had the noteworthy tracks: “Just The Thought Of You (Supernatural High)” and “Storybook Romance.” The latter was written by little sister Scherrie Payne who would include her version of it on her 1979 Motown release “Partners” with Susaye Greene. This album marks the first, but not the last, time the sisters would collaborate. With her third Capitol records release, “Hot,” it rivaled her Invictus years for volume of output. Once again she scored another club hit with the 12″ single “Red Hot.” Despite a variety of well produced numbers, including the other club favorite “Gotta Keep Dancing,” the album failed to ignite any sales and quickly disappeared.
As 1979 was the pinnacle for disco and it’s death was looming on the horizon Freda began considering other avenues of creative expression. She continued touring and making personal appearances, but took more time to spend with her children and husband. The next several years found her raising a family, struggling with a divorce and starting a new career as a talk show hostess. Her 1981 talk show “Today’s Black Woman” was short lived. I did catch an episode where she interviewed her sister Scherrie Payne, which I found quite interesting. After the demise of her talk show Freda hit the studios again. First for her own release “In Motion.” A spunky number on the small independent label Sutra that received moderate club play. The song was written and produced by Edmund Sylvers (with whom she had a brief affair despite their 15 year age gap). And secondly as part of the “Stars On Background” for sister Scherrie’s mega-hit “Girl, You’re In Love/I’m Not In Love” both in1982.
In 1986 she re-recorded “Band Of Gold” with former Go-Go, Belinda Carlisle for Carlisle’s debut album. The 12″ single was a huge success. Besides her celluloid stint as talk show hostess and a 1988 video release of “Legendary Ladies Of Rock And Roll” she was pretty low-keyed in the 1980’s. In 1990 she started a comeback of sorts. She appeared as a backing vocalist on Nancy Wilson’s “Lady With A Song” compact disc. And Ian Levine coaxed her into recording a remake of “Band Of Gold” for his MotorCity label, which is undoubtedly a very “dated” sounding remake.
Freda had dabbled in acting early in her career. Her first movie role was in 1973’s blaxplotation film “Book Of Numbers” which starred a pre-“Miami Vice” Phillip Michael Thomas. In 1976 she won favorable reviews for her appearance on an episode of “Police Story” entitled “$.50 First Half-Hour, $1.75 All Day.” In the 1990’s she decided to move to another phase of her career as an actress. She played a boutique sales director in the 1995 thriller “Private Obsession.” She played a vocalist in Tisha Campbell’s 1997 hit-movie “Sprung.” Next came the role of “Gran” in the 1999 horror film “Ragdoll.”
Then came a prized role alongside Janet Jackson and Eddie Murphy in the 2000 release “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps,” her funniest work to date. In 2001 she was seen as “Jean Aimes” in the made-for-T.V. film “Fire And Ice” and appeared alongside Ice-T and M.C. Hammer in the music business thriller “Deadly Rhapsody” as “Lily Potter.” In 2006 she appeared with her son Greg Abbott Jr. in the television sci-fi horror film “Saurian” as “Sylvia Madson” and starred in 2007’s “Cordially Invited” as “Ann Sheffield.” She has amassed a nice body of work for a singer turned actress. But Payne has not abandoned her recording career, in fact, she enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990’s with her releases.
Her 1995 release, “Freda Payne Sings the (Unauthorized) I Hate Barney Songbook: A Parody” was her first since her Sutra 12″ single three years earlier. What can be said about the Dove Records compact disc? The title says it all! The next year her release of “An Evening With Freda Payne Live In Concert” brought her back to her glory days. The 19 track extravaganza features stunning numbers like “C’Est Si Bon,” “Take The A-Train,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing, “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and of course her hits “Band Of Gold” and “Bring The Boys Home.” Freda looks and sounds more incredible than ever! For this concert recording she brought in sister Scherrie and former Tony Orlando And Dawn star Joyce Vincent-Wilson. Joyce dragged in her sister Pamela Vincent to round out the backing trio. This makes the recording a unique “Sister Act.”
Later that same year Freda tackled new ground by recording her first Christmas album. “Christmas With Freda And Friends” is a delightful release. All the usual holiday standards are here. “The Christmas Song,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and “O Holy Night/Silent Night.” The new material includes gems like “What Is Christmas To You?” and “The Perfect Time Of The Year” (which Freda wrote). Two unusual classics are here as well. Covers of Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” and the late Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” The “Friends” are Cuba Gooding, Mel Carter, O.C. Smith and Carolyn Willis. Remember her? She was the female voice on the Seals & Crofts hit “Get Closer.” And of course what would a holiday be without family……sister Scherrie’s here as well. All in all a nice holiday package that is still in-print.
1999’s “Live In Concert” is a recording of a live performance that Payne made in Los Angeles on November 6th, 1993. It is actually an edited version of the live album “An Evening With Freda Payne: Live in Concert.” This release contains the medley of “Who Can I Turn To/Didn’t We” that was not on the previous release. When Freda signed with the reactivated Volt label in 2000, many of her die hard soul lovers were no doubt hoping for an album of Detroit soul and Holland/Dozier/Holland classics. But the veteran singer is more versatile than that. Released in 2001, “Come See About Me” contains only a few examples of retro soul. “First Impression” and the title track (a cover of The Supremes’ 1964 smash) recall her soul output of the 1970’s, but the CD also offers everything from urban and quiet storm to adult contemporary.
Payne (who was 57 when this album was recorded) even gets back into dance-pop on the anthemic “I Live For New York City.” None of the material is straight-ahead jazz, although “Let’s Make Beautiful Music,” “You Complete Me,” and an arrangement of the standard “You Turned The Tables On Me” are the sort of mellow quiet storm offerings that one would expect from Anita Baker. The album shows that like a fine wine Payne only gets more mellow and beautiful as time goes by. It also demonstrates her ability to be both progressive and yet classic simultaneously. Her latest release “On The Inside” is available in her store via her web site. We’re happy to see that this legend is still going strong in the new millennium.
In early 2003, she performed in a show called “Love & Payne,” with Darlene Love at Feinstein’s at the Regency in New York, and at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, getting excellent reviews. On April 22nd, 2009 Freda appeared on “American Idol” and sang her smash “Band of Gold.” And in February 2010, Freda joined Kanye West, Jordan Sparks, Jennifer Hudson, Barbra Streisand and many more on the remake of “We Are The World” for Haiti Relief. She is available for bookings and is very active today. To purchase her compact discs or to see her tour schedule visit her web site at: www.fredapayne.com
Air Date: Thursday 3/21/13 on KLED Live FM (91.1FM) www.KLEDLive.com @ 9AM & 9PM (PST)
Broadcast # 165A
Direct Links also on website: www.UltimateUnderground.com
Podcast will be available on iTunes. Podomatic and Website!