Last night THC went to his local library (for the first time!) to see a screening of 20 Feet From Stardom, a 2013 film which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film's theme is that the difference between being a backup and a star is not just about the 20 feet onstage, it's about a leap that is often not directly related to talent. Chronicling the careers of a slew of rock n roll backup singers from the early 1960s to today (and they still sound great today) it's a lot of fun to watch. The film includes interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow and Bette Midler and clips of many performers including David Bowie, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, Ike & Tina Turner and Luther Vandross but the heart of the film is its focus on four singers.
(photos from rockhall.com and huffington post)
Darlene Love was an uncredited voice on many of Phil Spector's huge hits of the early 1960s. She did the lead vocals on She's A Rebel and Da Doo Run Run which were credited to The Crystals though they did not sing on the recordings as well as Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). As part of the backup group The Blossoms she sang backup on a ton of other hit songs including Be My Baby by the Ronettes, Monster Mash by Bobby Pickett, That's Life by Frank Sinatra and appeared with Elvis Presley in his 1968 TV comeback special. After briefly retiring from the business she returned in the 1980s and was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. And she played Danny Glover's wife in the Lethal Weapon series!
You may not know the name Merry Clayton but you know her voice. She sang with Jagger on Gimme Shelter, a performance that everyone who's heard the song, then and now, remembers. In the clip below she tells the funny story behind the making of the song. About two minutes in you can hear her unaccompanied solo part and it'll give you chills. Mick Jagger is also in the segment along with another woman who turns out to be Gloria Jones who we wrote about in Tainted Love.
She sang with Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ray Charles and Carole King among others. Merry also sang on Sweet Home Alabama, another good story told in the film. Sadly, Clayton was very seriously injured in a terrible car crash in June 2014 and faces a long and difficult recovery.
(photos from fancarpet.com and film)
The Stones wrote Brown Sugar for Claudia Lennear and, as we learn from the movie, she and Jagger had a thing. From the late 60s to through the mid-70s she sang with Stephen Stills, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Dave Mason, David Bowie, Humble Pie, Gene
Clark, Taj Mahal, Al Kooper, Delaney & Bonnie and Ike & Tina
Turner. After a try at a solo career failed she left music, got a college degree in French literature and art history and now teaches French, Spanish, English and remedial math at a community college. You can hear her sing at this link.
The revelation for THC was Lisa Fischer. She started as a backup singer with Luther Vandross, had a brief solo career and since 1989 has been the female vocalist on every Rolling Stones tour. She can rock with anyone but can also do gorgeous subtle intonations and listening to her singing acapella is a stunning experience. All of these singers were wonderful but she was celestial. You can watch her sing solo at a screening of 20 Feet here and this is her solo hit How Can I Ease The Pain:
Here she is with the Stones doing Gimme Shelter in concert. The clip drags along until Lisa moves upstage with Mick around 2:45.
She's still singing with the Stones - this is Lisa in concert with them this past summer.
And finally this is her own haunting interpretation of Gimme Shelter from a performance in Brooklyn in August 2014.