Makes her official Maui debut
Making her official Maui concert debut on Sunday night, Rita Coolidge remembers having fun in the old days singing at Lahaina clubs and she has fond memories of Hana, where she purchased land with Kris Kristofferson.
“We bought the land together,” she says. “And when we divorced, we divided it and whoever was going to build a house there, the other person would agree to sell. We always got along great. Hana is heaven, it’s the most beautiful place on earth.”
The legendary “Delta Lady” of the song and a two-time Grammy award winner, Coolidge is best known for hits like “Fever,” “We’re All Alone,” “One Fine Day,” “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher & Higher,” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” Featured on the legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour with Joe Cocker, over the years she toured and recorded with many greats including Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Duane Allman and Kristofferson.
Reviewing her career-spanning book, “Delta Lady: The Rita Coolidge Anthology,” AllMusic proclaimed: “No other singer — not Maria Muldaur, Bette Midler, Bonnie Bramlett, Carly Simon, or Linda Ronstadt — more perfectly embodied the wide range of changes that popular music underwent from the late ’60s through the mid-’80s, and continues to seek new means of expression today.”
Coolidge is excited about her new album of original material which will be released in March.
“I just finished an album and I probably had the best experience of my life in the studio,” says Coolidge. “With this record I wanted to kind of capture some of the organic feel and Southern roots that my first albums had. I think we were very successful. I wrote a couple of songs with Keb Mo and was able to bring a lot of people into the fold that I’ve been wanting to work with. It happened very much like my first record. People would go, ‘Oh my God, you’re recording! I want to be on your record.’ We recorded it at the same studio, Sunset Sound, where we did the first 10 albums.”
Growing up in rural Tennessee, her father was a full-blooded Cherokee and her mother was half Cherokee and half Scottish.
“I came from a very musical family,” she says. “My mother played the organ in church and mother and daddy both sang and wrote songs together. My sister studied opera when she was 12 years old. There were all kinds of music going on, plus I sang with my two sisters in a trio and began doing talent shows when I was probably three years old. We were little bitty kids when we started singing in public.”
After earning an art degree at Florida State University, she moved to Memphis where she met husband and wife duo, Delaney and Bonnie. When the pair signed a record deal, Coolidge headed to L.A. and was soon hired by Joe Cocker as a featured soloist on his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. Coolidge would perform a song she’d co-written, “Superstar,” which would later be a huge hit for The Carpenters.
“I loved working with Joe,” she says. “He was the sweetest man in the world. The Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour was like nothing that had ever been done before. (Maui’s Pamela Polland was also a backing singer on the tour) We were making history. Whether in the studio or on the road Joe was the most humble, sweetest guy in the world.”
One of Cocker’s early hits, “Delta Lady” had been composed by Leon Russell for Coolidge. He also wrote “Song for You” for her.
“I was living at Leon’s house then and was about to make a break for it, and I think that (‘Delta Lady’) was an effort to try and hold on to me,” she reveals. “I loved the song. I was there the day Joe recorded it. It was a great time. The song kind of became my handle and it’s the title of my book (released in 2016) and the title of my CD set. I can’t get away from it.”
When it came time to record her self-titled debut album for A&M Records, Coolidge assembled an extraordinarily talented ensemble including keyboardists Russell and Booker T. Jones, Stephen Stills, Ry Cooder, Byrds’ guitarist Clarence White, and John Lennon/George Harrison drummer Jim Keltner. Plus it featured a 19-piece horn section and a 10-piece string ensemble on many tracks.
Among the highlights are a terrific swampy version of Albert King’s blues classic “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.”
“It sold well and consistently and made A&M happy,” she says. “Stephen Stills said to me one time the importance of that record was that he and Booker, the great geniuses of our time, had met and it had nothing to do with me.”
As a popular backing singer in the early 1970s, Coolidge performed on classics such as Clapton’s “After Midnight” and Still’s “Love the One You’re With,” and on albums by Graham Nash, Dave Mason and Boz Scaggs.
And then came a switch to country teaming with Kristofferson. Their first duo album, “Full Moon,” recorded just before they got married, topped the country charts, sold gold and won a Grammy award for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. It marked the first of three duet albums by the couple, including another Grammy winner.
As a solo artist, it wasn’t until her 1977 album, “Anytime . . . Anywhere,” that she finally hit stardom with the biggest selling album of her career. It included covers of “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher & Higher,” and “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”
Taking on a famous tune, how did she go about adding something new?
“Maybe the song just needs a gender interpretation,” she says. “A song like ‘Higher & Higher’ had not been sung by a woman, and I felt there was something there that women want to say just as well, and of course I had Booker T.’s brilliant arrangement on there as well. But if Aretha Franklin has sung a song, I’m probably not going to cut it because that’s been done.”
Did she ever get feedback from composers of songs she covered like Scaggs with her fantastic version of his tune “We’re All Alone”?
“Boz loves me because he’s got ginormous checks in the mail,” she says laughing. “Boz loved my interpretation of it.”
In 1997, Coolidge returned to her Cherokee roots founding the Native American music trio Walela, with her sister Priscilla and niece Laura Satterfield. The group’s self-titled debut album (walela means hummingbird in Cherokee) featured a collection of soulful, soothing songs highlighted by their beautiful harmonies.
“It was one of the most fulfilling projects I was ever a part of, especially writing and being in the studio with Priscilla and my niece because it was family,” she says. “None of us had any idea how successful Walela would be. I attribute it to the spirituality of the music and the family harmonies.”
In an interview with Native Peoples magazine, Priscilla Coolidge talked about encountering an old Cherokee woman who told her listening to Walela’s music, she felt peace and healing in her soul.
“That music just grew wings and would appear in the strangest places,” Coolidge says. “It gave people a lot of peace and healing.”
In recent years, she released the acclaimed jazz album “Out of the Blues,” covering standards like “Stormy Monday” and “The Man I Love,” and a “A Rita Coolidge Christmas,” which includes a Cherokee version of “Amazing Grace.”
Heading to Maui with her four-piece backing band, Coolidge says: “Whether it’s in the studio or out on the road I just love playing music with people. The show is very eclectic. We play the hits and we do ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Cherokee,’ and a lot of other things. My band is so good, their musicianship is over the moon.”
Fiji, Ekolu, Anuhea and PeniDean will perform at the Shane Victorino Foundation’s “Mahalo Maui!” concert at 6 p.m. Friday at the MACC’s A&B Amphitheater. Admission is free.
Grammy-award winning musician Peter Rowan is best known as a leading exponent of bluegrass music. With a career spanning more than five decades, including time with Bill Monroe’s seminal Bluegrass Boys band and with Jerry Garcia in Old & In the Way, Rowan’s songs include “Panama Red,” a hit for the New Riders Of The Purple Sage.
He is also known for touring with the rock band The Free Mexican Airforce; Big Twang Theory playing bluegrass and rockabilly; and Peter Rowan & Crucial Reggae, featuring reggae legends Tony Chin and Fully Fullwood.
Rowan’s latest album, “My Aloha!” finds him exploring Hawaiian music. Recorded in Honolulu, it features noted players Douglas Po’oloa Tolentino, steel guitarist Jeff Au Hoy, Kilin Reece and Uncle Mike Souza.
“From old missionary hymns, ragtime jazz, the blues and what Jelly Roll Morton called the Spanish ‘tinge,’ bluegrass inherited much from Hawaiians and traditional Hawaiian music,” says Rowan.
• The Peter Rowan Trio plays the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $30, $45, and $60 (plus applicable fees). For more information, call 242-7649 or visit www.mauiarts.org.