Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Natalie Cole
Natalie Cole

As strange as it sounds, Natalie Cole – an 8 times Grammy winner and daughter of the legendary performer Nat ‘King’ Cole - didn’t always want to be a singer.

“I studied psychology and was going to be a doctor,” she reveals, then adds with a laugh: “but what I do now is not much different.” How so? “Because you get into people’s heads,” she explains. “Your music ends up in peoples’ heads – it inspires people or uplifts them or makes them sad or makes them reflect. It can upset them too. People think of certain songs that I’ve recorded and they think of a particular time in their life – whether it be good or bad or whatever. So music is really a beautiful tool to use to realise our dreams, inspire us or relax us. It means so many things to the human heart and to the spirit. It’s a very precious thing and I can’t imagine the world without it.”
The versatile chanteuse – who is consummately able to blur the boundaries between R&B, jazz and pop - is keenly anticipating her short sojourn to London. “We’ve got a really strong show,” she says. “Of course, we’ll be doing songs from the new record (‘Leavin’’). The music is of a very high note and we have a very strong band. We’re really having a good time with this record and the combination of being able to blend some jazz and some of my old R&B standards in with this music is great.”

As the title of her eclectic current album implies, ‘Leavin’’ represents something of a stylistic departure. “One of the reasons why I wanted to call it ‘Leavin’’ was because the label expected me to do another jazz record,” she says. “But I changed my management to help change my direction. I wanted to do different records and I got a lot of resistance from the label. But we persevered and it was really so much fun. It took about a year to do - I worked with Dallas Austin - because we could only work ten days a month. He had other projects and I had touring to do so it was a little challenging to get it done but we always knew that once we got the business together, myself and Dallas, we wanted to pick cover songs and turn them inside out.”

The end result is one of Natalie Cole’s best ever recordings and she feels vindicated that one of the songs, ‘Day Dreaming,’ got nominated at the recent Grammy Awards (for ‘Best R&B Song’ in the female category). “Mary J. Blige won,” states Natalie, “but it was just a great feeling to be nominated, especially given where the industry is right now. There are a lot of questions and a lot of concerns with what’s going on with music.”
The singer discloses that the inclusion of ‘Day Dreaming’ was almost an after-thought. “It was the last song that came on board,” she confesses. “We had done everything and the record company said we’d really like it if you do one more song. So I went back down to Atlanta, which is where the record was being recorded, and Dallas and I just sat in the studio, looked at each other and said well, what do you want to do? Literally we were sitting there eating chips and fries and just out of the blue he started humming (sings) ‘day dreaming and I’m thinking of you’ and I thought that’s the song, right there. It was really just odd.”

Ironically, back in the mid-70s when Natalie made her recording debut for Capitol Records, critics were comparing her with Aretha. “They did that right away when I came out,” says Cole ruefully. “I didn’t have a prayer and, of course, she was my icon. I worshiped the ground that Aretha walked on and still do as a matter of fact. It created quite a bone of contention between us and for a long time we were at odds with one another, which was very difficult for me. I was young and very impressionable and I was a huge fan of hers and she didn’t like me for a while because the press were pitting us against one another.” Since then, however, the daughter of the late great Nat ‘King’ Cole and the Queen of Soul have made up and become firm friends. “I can breathe a lot easier now,” she sighs. “I love her.”

With a successful career stretching back thirty-two years to 1975, Natalie Cole has witnessed myriad changes in the music business but she reveals she’s deeply concerned about the current state of the industry. “The Internet has changed everything,” she laments. “It has crippled the music business and brought it to its knees in one fell swoop. Music is just not valued the same as it was. Records aren’t selling like they used to. People don’t want to buy records any more: they just want to buy one or two songs. And the reason that CDs aren’t selling like they used to is because people aren’t making records like they used to – they’ll put two or three or even maybe just one good song on the record and the rest of it is trash. When I was coming up and I was making records, every song had to be something special - it wasn’t I’ll throw that on there just to fill up space.”

Natalie also feels that the role of the artist has changed to a detrimental extent: “The producers are making more money than the artists. What’s that about? That’s crazy. Without the artist you can’t make any music. It’s really ass-backwards what’s happened.” Despite her grave concerns, Natalie Cole nevertheless remains cautiously optimistic about the future. “I believe that it will turn around,” she says. “I think that what has to happen is that the music business has to fall all the way down so that it can be built back up again. I don’t know who is responsible or who the individuals are to make that happen but it’s kind of like all of us.”

Natalie Cole is set to perform at IndigO2 on Thursday July 5. ‘Leavin’’ is out now on Verve Records.
Words Charles Waring

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