Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Linda Lewis: Songbird

Linda Lewis
Linda Lewis Linda Lewis Linda Lewis Linda Lewis

When mentioning the name Linda Lewis, you may remember hits that include "Rock-a-Doodle-Doo", "It's In His Kiss", "This Time I'll Be Sweeter", "Baby I'm Yours", and the Cat Stevens' penned "(Remember The Days Of The) Old Schoolyard" amongst others. Lewis was way ahead of her time, fusing seemingly disparate musical elements together - i.e. folk, soul, pop, rock and reggae into her totally five-octave unique signature sound.

Suffice it to say, it's a shame we haven't heard more from Lewis since those intermittent seventies releases, apart from backing the likes of David Bowie and Rod Stewart to name but two superstars, more solo material hasn't been on the cards until now. So what happened back then and how did it shape the future of the distinctly voiced UK songbird, Linda Lewis? I track her down for a spot of breakfast and chat about those good ol' times and the not-so-good ol' times in a quaint cafe in London's Portland Place to talk about her career and what the future may bring. One thing is for sure when asking my questions, our Linda has never been shy with her responses.

Lee: It's great to see you back. What has been the catalyst behind your return?

Linda: Well, I was doing this [2007 BBC documentary about the evolution of soul music in the UK] 'Soul Britannia thing' [Barbican show to accompany the series] about a year and a half ago. Then, I had a new album ready with all the material ready to go... then, my mum fell ill. I'm the oldest one so I'm the main caregiver. My mum had a stroke but she's stable now. My two sisters are both in LA. One is with George Michael and the other... we're all singers. I had to, sort of, take charge and take care of everything and it kinda put me in a not-very-nice place, really. My mum wanted to be a singer and she had a great voice, she really did. A bit deeper than mine, really rich, but she didn't have the opportunity. She tried to run away with a band before I was born. When I was born, she must have heard my dulcet tones and thought, "I'm going to put that girl to work."

My first memory was standing on a counter in a shop singing to people - I was about 3. Then, she then sent me to stage school... the Peggy O'Farrell School, of 101 children [in East London]. There were the posh people - the Coronas. And then there was the East End lot - cos I come from Canning Town, which is East End. As I said, my mum was in a coma for ages and it was bad news but, she's now stable and we've got her into a home now. (She giggles) cos we've all got different dads - and she keeps telling me my dad is Norman Wisdom! (erupts in laughter) I thought it was going to be someone like Nat King Cole!? (Jokingly) She's not all there. So, since she's been stable, my albums Lark and Fathoms Deep were re-released.

Lee: Did you know your album was getting re-released?

Linda: No. They called me up and said we've got these interviews for you. And Warner Brothers put out my music through Collector's Choice a few years ago. I had a compilation of those two albums but, this is like the 'complete' songs. All the songs that people haven't heard from years ago when they were on vinyl. Then, I thought I'd go away to Italy. I did some co-writing with Chris Difford (Squeeze) and Marti Pellow. I just threw myself into writing.

Lee: What made you go to Italy?

Linda: Because he (Difford) hired a farmhouse and asked me to go out and spend some time. I think he goes there now and again, he invites people to come out and he has invited me. I love their music (his band Squeeze) - clever lyrics. I love clever lyrics. He invited me before and I said, "No I can't, I don't like writing with other people. Although, I have written with the guys from Basement Jaxx and Jim Cregan (Lewis' husband and member of the group, Blossom Toes) obviously. It was such a great experience. I loved doing it. I've got a whole bunch of new songs... and I re-met Tony Visconti. Tony was on the cards to produce these songs a couple of years ago... that, sort of, set me off on a 'thing'.

Lee: You taught yourself how to play the keyboard and Guitar?

Linda: Yeah, I always loved the piano. I remember there was a piano in our school... when I went back to 'normal' school. I retired when I was about 7, I couldn't stand 'the stage school thing'. It was all the mums, pushy-pushy, and we did lots of film work. I was in A Hard Days Night. You see me for about 2 seconds in the film. Aparently, Phil Collins was there as well. I met him a while ago and I said to him, "Me and you were in a film together a while ago" and he sort of looked and me like, What film's that? I also met the Beatles... Not then. Later.

Lee: Do you read music?

Linda: Sort of. I got away with it when I was a backing vocalist. I was with these girls: Leslie Duncan, P. P. Arnold and Madeleine Bell. They said, "Can you read music?" And I went, "Yeah, of course, I can. I couldn't. But, I saw the music going up and down - then I heard the music - so I knew it goes like that. If you were to put some notes in front of me from a song, it would probably take me half an hour to work it out.

Lee: Is it true that you went to Southend when you were 15 years of age, walked into a club and started singing with John Lee Hooker

Linda: It was in the afternoon. It was 1961 and I was with my mum. My mum was like, "Go on, get up there and sing! I didn't even know who John Lee Hooker was! And she said, "Go on, go and ask him!" So I got up and sang "Dancing In The Street". My mum then worked on him, you know what I mean (I think I do!?). And he introduced me to John Arden (Sharon Osborne's dad) at his place in Carnaby Street. They had the Small Faces and people like that on their books.

Lee: Is that when you met Ian Samwell?

Linda: Yes. I was discovered by Ian Samwell. I was about fourteen-fifteen. He wrote, "Watcha Gonna Do About it?" He's the one that introduced me to all the R&B stuff like Carl Thomas and The Dixie Cups. But, It didn't take off for me until I wrote two albums and had a bit of acclaim. The record company came to me and said, we need a hit single so I thought right, okay. I went to sleep one night thinking I need a hit single, and I wrote a list. I keep a list of the things I want under my pillow. I dreamt that I was on a "One Armed Bandit" and it came out 'Rock-a-doodle-do'! I thought OK, that's good. I told my little sister, she was eleven and she came up with some phrases.

Lee: There have been times when you have had hiatus in your career, did you impose that upon yourself?

Linda: That's right. That's exactly right. Yes I did, I just ran away... I dipped my toes in and ran away. Cat Stevens said to me, "You are frightened of fame"! I fell in love and 'stuff', instead of getting on with my work. Stuff like getting married etc...

Lee: You've had phenomenal success in Japan. Did that come as a surprise?

Linda: When I first went there with Cat Stevens, it was back in the 70s. We immediately fell in love with it. As the years went by Jamiroquai put something on his album ("Emergency On Planet Earth") and it was a hit in Japan and it started getting like, what happened to Linda Lewis? Then, this record company started chasing me. A little independent label called Terpin Records, run by Neil Warnock, son of Sir John Warnock. I had written loads of new songs so we recorded, and then had I another number-one in Japan.

Then, Cat Stevens had written, "(Remember the Days Of The) Old Schoolyard". He wrote the song for me. I didn't want to do it his way, I did it my way and we kind of fell out. Clive Davis then jumped on board and wanted me to be like Whitney... obviously, before she was around. He wanted me to do 'ballady type' songs. I didn't want to go with that, I'm rebellious. I admit, I cut my nose off to spite my face. I don't regret it, cos I wouldn't be the person I am now.

Lee: Do you regret staying here in the U.K.?

Linda: I've been to the States. Done that! I lived in LA, near Rod Stewart, and I was nearly burnt out with everything. I was like, madder than Amy [Winehouse] (laughs). I was like, mad and angry. I came back to rehabilitate myself and tried doing a thing with my two sisters, forming the group Lewis, we did that. It was fun, but a nightmare. You know how sisters can be.

Lee: Of all the places you have played, where's your favourite?

LL: Glastonbury has to be one. I played the very first Glastonbury - it's all on film. The other one I remember has to be the Festival Hall, it was my first big thing. I was the headline and I remember I had this long white dress on - it was see-through. How rude! (Laughs) I had to stand centre stage and I was riveted to the spot with stage fright. This was unbelievable stage fright! I thought I was gonna die! I just remember walking onto the stage as though I stepped through a looking glass. Then, I didn't know anything else, til I came off. I wasn't on drugs or anything. Apparently, I got this standing ovation - I wish I had been there! (Laughs). I wish someone had filmed it or something...

One I do remember is the first time I played Ronnies (Ronnie Scott's). I would walk in and I remember the walls full of these famous people. I went there to see all these different people... I saw Jimi [Hendrix] play the night before he died. It was a bit sad actually, he was just jamming with the group War. Very sad.

Lee: Can I ask you about singing with George Benson in Monte Carlo in 2006. What was that like?

LL: It was in front of the Princesses and they had the royal table and all that. It was fantastic. He is a wonderful singer and guitar player. We went to a funky little bar afterwards and there was a great jazz trio, and as you walk in everyone is like, woohoo! They are all drinking and dancing. This trio are like these old black guys in their 70's and they are like, "I just wanna sing with you." So, I go and sing! George is sitting there, he comes and joins in and it's like a competition. We had a drink, and he was serenading me at the bar. I was like, "Oh my god, George Benson is singing to me!"!

Linda Lewis plays London's Jazz Cafe on the 24th & 25th of Oct. Also The Colchester Arts Centre - 13th November. And finally 17th - 19th November @ Billboard Tokyo. Catch Linda also on DVD - Marc Bolan, The Celebration Concert. Featuring various artists, filmed at the Shepherds Bush Empire, London in September 2007.

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