Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Time I Met Prince

I can’t believe it’s now been 35 years.  In many ways it seems like yesterday because the memory is still so strong.  Prince was not yet a household name at this point.  He had a few R&B hits and was getting rave reviews as a performer and recording artist but mainstream America hadn’t caught on yet.  April 4th, 1981…Dallas, Texas…SMU McFarlin Auditorium…PRINCE played the third to last show of his Dirty Mind Tour and I was there.

First a little history, I entered the musical world of Prince starting with his second album from 1979 that had the big hit; ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover.’  I LOVED the whole album.  This made me curious to get his first album ‘For You’, released one year earlier.  That album was off the hook as well.  At this time I knew I would like every Prince album the future would hold. 

Prince released his third album, ‘Dirty Mind’ in the second half of 1980.  I purchased it immediately and was totally blown away by this modern masterpiece.  It was funky, soulful and raunchy.  I’d never heard lyrics like this at that time.  However, it was the music that stood out over any racy lyrics.  For me the lyrics were fun. 

When news of the SMU concert became public I was among the first in line to get a pair for my cousin Lynette and myself.  You could actually afford a concert ticket and wait in line and get good seats, which is what I did.  I scored tenth row center seats to see Prince in a small theater!  

Back in those days I did many pencil drawings in a 9x12 sketch pad with rings at the top of each page.  One of the many drawings in the book was one of Prince, taken from his 1979 album cover.  I had been sketching and taking the results to concerts if I had a drawing of the performer.  

Occasionally I would be invited backstage to meet the star.  I also took to bringing along an album cover in case I could get it signed. So I took this simple sketch (and album) with me to SMU and I gave the drawing to a friendly looking Roadie and asked him if he would give it to Prince.  He kindly took the artwork wrapped in a PLASTIC sleeve and said, “Sure I will.” 

It was all very unpretentious and straight forward.  After giving the crew member the drawing I said to my cousin, “That’s it.  Prince will never want to meet me.”  He just seemed so untouchable already.  I was in for a wonderful surprise when a few minutes later the roadie came to my seat and told me Prince wanted to meet me after the show!  I was super excited!  My cousin and I were both ecstatic!  Then a sobering thud, only I could meet Prince.  No one else would be allowed.  Suddenly I was heartbroken for my cousin.  How NOT fun for her. 

Five minutes later the show started and out came a tiny creature wearing a military style jacket, a bandana on his head, in a G-string and leggings, wearing high heel boots and PLAYING a guitar.  One of the most dazzling and electrifying performances I have ever seen by anyone had just started.  Prince sang, danced and played for two hours that night to a very enthusiastic, near sold out crowd.  He earned his applause that night!  He was everything we wanted.  His performance was often erotic and at times down right blatantly sexual.  All of it done with swagger and confidence.  He didn’t rely on any kind of prop other than his guitar which became a phallic symbol throughout the whole show. Needless to say, everyone in the audience had a very satisfying evening based on the standing ovations and many curtain calls. 

I was told where to stand to wait for the Roadie to come out and get me now that the show was over.  My cousin was very gracious and told me not to feel guilty or worry about her not getting to meet Prince.  I’ll always be grateful for her attitude.  Within fifteen minutes the roadie appeared and told me to follow him.  I pleaded once more to allow my cousin to come with me.  I remember saying to him, “She’s very quiet and won’t say a word.” 

Glory Hallelujah, he told me they WOULD allow her to come back with me after all!  Now is an experience I had never had before this and have never had since then.  I had to go through three pre-interviews with road manager, publicist and personal assistant.  I was interrogated as to why I liked Prince and why I did a drawing of him and told I could not take a picture with Prince because Warner Brothers Records would not allow it. I was also instructed on the proper etiquette when Prince was in front of me like “don’t ask him anything personal”, or really anything. Just tell him how much you liked the show.

After all were satisfied that I wouldn’t embarrass them or make a fool of myself they took us to a tiny hallway by a dressing room door.  In a matter of moments the door opened and there stood the tiny creature. He was shirtless, still in his G-string, leggings, heels, minus the bandana and jacket.  I must admit he looked even smaller up close.

When we were introduced, Prince told me he really liked my drawing.  He then told me he could tell I was a gentle being based on the drawing and he wanted to meet whoever drew it.    I asked him if he would autograph my album and he was so humble and kind.  He then crouched on the floor and used his knees as a table to sign the album.  That was pretty much it.  Everyone involved seemed suddenly more relaxed.  We said our good-byes and thank you.  My cousin never said a word other than hello and a big smile. 

That was just the first of many Prince Performances I attended throughout the 80’s and 90’s.  Prince only got better and better each time I saw him in much larger stadium shows.  Every time I saw him on stage, television or the movies I always felt a kinship from our brief and sweet meeting. He was precious.  R.I.P. Sweet Prince...I look forward to the music you left behind in your famous vaults!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Manuel: Designer To The Stars

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Manuel first learned how to sew in 1945 from his older brother, Adolfo, in Coalcoman, Michoacan, Mexico. "I started making prom dresses when I was 13," says Manuel. "You know that grandmothers and aunts made the prom dresses for all the kids. But I started making prom dresses that were pretty expensive, and all the girls said, 'Mommy I don't want you to make my prom dress. I want Manuel to make my prom dress!' I continued making prom dresses and in one year I made 77 dresses, then the next year I made 110, and from then on I hired people to help me sew. I made a fortune."

Clients knew Manuel as the quiet tailor in the back at Nudie's who also did all of the fittings. Manuel designed and created many of the suits that Nudie's Rodeo Tailors became famous for in the late 50's, 60's, and early 70's. Even though Nudie encouraged Manuel to make repeat "copies" of designs that sold well, Manuel refused. It was at Nudie's Rodeo Tailors that Manuel became known for his one-of-a-kind designs, making each piece unique.

In September 1965 Manuel married Nudie's only daughter, Barbara L. Cohn. They would go on to have a daughter, Morelia.  In 1975, after Manuel and Barbara got divorced, Manuel opened his own shop, Manuel Couture, just down the street from Nudie's Rodeo Tailors in North Hollywood.  Many of the friends and clients that Manuel made while working with Nudie, including Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart, and George Jones, supported Manuel and his new shop.

Manuel Couture became the "go-to" designer and image maker for up-and-coming musicians in Los Angeles. "His customers seem to place a near-blind faith in Manuel putting their professional images in his hands, believing that what he whips up for them will be right. 'That's partly why I have survived as a designer all these years. People put their trust in me to create something truly unique,' he says.” Throughout his North Hollywood career, Manuel also worked closely with famed costumer, Edith Head and made costumes for over 90 movies and 13 television shows, including making the jeans James Dean wore in the movie Giant, and Lone Ranger's infamous mask.

Before long, a new set of country-rock pioneers discovered Nudie, beginning with Gram Parsons, who had him design and create a decidedly counter-culture garment, featuring marijuana leaves, poppy plants, pills, and naked women, known as the “Sin City” suit. Gram forged a friendship with Manuel and his boss Nudie, and he introduced them to his friends, including the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, and his band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. Soon, customers included Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Elton John, who wore his best Nudie suit when he was presented to the Queen of England. Later, when Bob Dylan met the pope in 1997, he also wore Manuel.

In the 1980’s Manuel left Nudie to open his own business, and many of his long-time friends and clients, followed him. Manuel also rapidly attracted his own clientele, and pretty soon artists like Dwight Yoakam were coming to him for help developing their signature style. “I asked him about what I used to call the Buck Owens jacket,” according to Yoakam. “Manuel said, ‘Oh yes, the bolero. I did so many of them in the Fifties and Sixties.’” I said, “Yeah, I wanna try one of those,’ and he started making them for me.” Thus was born Yoakam’s signature style, as pictured on the cover of his famed CD, “Hillbilly Deluxe.”

With a completely different twist, Manuel helped create the image of the venerable “Man in Black”, Johnny Cash. His most subtle entertainment garments, the black clothes made for Cash supplant color in favor of a manly silhouette, thus empowering him through the negation of distracting ornamentation. This is not to say that these garments were without detail, it is just that the detail was in the art of tailoring.

Another famous achievement of Manuel is the famous “Trio” album cover, which features Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, and Emmy Lou Harris, who are diametrically opposed in terms of their stage personae. Manuel however, was able to connect their look using a well-known Mexican symbol, the rose. He was able to weave this thread into contemporary culture brilliantly and unite these very three diverse talents in terms of their visual performance on stage.

His client list continues to grow and includes but is not limited to: all four Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Porter Wagoner, John Wayne, Clayton Moore (the Lone Ranger), Dwight Eisenhower, Little Jimmy Dickens, John Lennon, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Glen Campbell, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, the Osmonds, David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Roy Rogers, Neil Young, Elton John, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush, the Bee Gees, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke), The Jackson Five, John Travolta (Urban Cowboy), Robert Redford (The Electric Horseman), Robert Taylor, Marlon Brando, Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch, David Lee Roth, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Shooter Jennings, Kid Rock, The Killers, Jack White, Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert, and countless others. 

AM:  Did you know you wanted to design costumes as a child?

Manuel:  Not really, it was a calling when I was standing in front of my brother who was a tailor and I asked, “How’s the tailor doing?”  He always thought I was sarcastic.  I was a bright child, one of those unwanted children.  He said, “Instead of looking pretty, why don’t you sit down and help me sew some pants?”  I said, “Why don’t I?”  I haven’t stopped since then. 

AM:  Did you realize you had a passion for this?

Manuel:  Well if I didn’t it sure crept on me internally. I’m still sitting in front of the sewing machine and sewing, cutting and designing.  My designs have gone through leaps and bounds through the years until I found what I really wanted to do.  I’ve always been this crazy person.  You have to really watch out when you walk in here as a priest or a lawman.  I will put some rhinestones on you before you leave! (Laughter)

AM:  Who was the first entertainer you designed anything for?

Manuel:  Yes, as a child I would walk five miles to watch episodes of ‘The Lone Ranger.’  Then when I got to the United States I met the real Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore and I got to make his mask and his outfits for his show. 

AM:  Did they recognize that you had talent?

Manuel:  Probably, I don’t know why they hired me.  I never had anyone help me out with that.  I did get into the movies in 1954 through Edith Head. 

AM:  Edith Head!  Did you like her?

Manuel:  Nobody liked her but I LOVED her!  She loved me and we became friends and dinner partners for many years.  I worked on 92 movies.  I also did 13 television shows like ‘Gunsmoke,” “Big Valley,’ ‘The Rifleman’ and others.  The studios like Universal and Fox really loved me because I could produce what they needed fast.  They paid me really great money for the time. 

AM:  How did you get into music?

Manuel:  That was a mission of friendships.  It was Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and George Jones.  Later on a twelve year old Marty Stuart came into my shop and my life.  He saved up his money and wanted to buy a suit for $250.00 but the suits were $2,500.00 so I told him one day he would be able to walk into the store and buy the whole thing, but for now he could have a free shirt. 

AM:  That’s a great story.

Manuel:  I had John Travolta, Ricky Nelson, The Monkees and Elton John, who was a lot of fun.  I got to make him nine outfits. 

AM:  How would you describe your relationship with these artists?

Manuel:  Believe it or not, it’s a love affair between designer and entertainer.  That’s the way it is with Dwight Yoakam.  I’ve been designing for him for years.  Before that I worked with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. 

AM:  Do people think of you as a Country Music tailor?

Manuel:  I have never been anyone’s tailor.  I am an international tailor and I would be a tailor for anyone in the world. 

AM:  Who are some of your favorite musicians?

Manuel:  Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Johnny Mathis, Earth, Wind & Fire, Little Richard and Bebe Buell. 

with Bebe Buell

AM:  Do you make time in your life for anything else except work?

Manuel:  I do what I do but what do you call it?  Do you want to call it fun?  I don’t know what to call it but I don’t call it work.  I would love to know what it means to work even one hour. 

AM:  What a great attitude that is! Do you get approached by young designers for advice?

Manuel:  I’ve been lecturing young designers since 1986.  I love it when they go on and do great things.  I hope they feel like I do.  I’ve had the best life.

AM:  What is left for you to do?

Manuel:  My greatest ambition now is that I want to die with the scissors in my hand.  I’m inspired by Merle Haggard who died on his birthday.  I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.

AM:  You were close friends?

Manuel:   He was like my brother.  We all grew up together, everyone one of us including Johnny Cash.  Then I liked the younger ones at the time like Glen Campbell and Gordon Lightfoot.  These were all beautiful people.  I have had such a great life with these people.

To learn more about Manuel visit his web site /

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Sheer Enjoyment of Táta Vega

All Photos: Alan Mercer 
 Make-up: Rudy Calvo  
 Make-up Asst.: Chloe Vega

A fresh and original blend of energy and effervescent personality combined with abundant talent, refreshing music and an eternal message. With Táta Vega, what you hear is what you get--and what you get is an artist whose music mirrors her spirit...and vice versa.​

​Táta is a rare and exceptional artist who has had the opportunity to cross nearly every musical boundary while all the while remaining true to who she is. Growing up in the Panama Canal Zone, she was surrounded by the sounds of Latin, Panamanian and Calypso music while developing a vast appreciation for the sounds of Rhythm and Blues, Soul, Gospel, Rock, Folk, Country and any other music that Táta could hear would also affect her in their own individual way.

By the age of sixteen, it was apparent that Táta was destined for a career in the music industry. She moved to California and made her way into the musical Hair. While in Hair, she met Dobie Gray (known for his international smash "Drift Away") who invited her to become a part of a counter-culture band called Pollution. After two albums under Atlantic with Pollution, Táta joined another band, Earthquire, who would sign a deal with Natural Resources, a division of Motown. As lead singer, songwriter and percussionist with the band, Táta's talents were immediately noticed by Motown who signed her as a soloist on the Tamla label.

As a soloist with Motown, Táta released four critically acclaimed albums ("Full Speed Ahead", "Totally Táta", "Try My Love", "Givin' All My Love"). These four albums covered every musical territory possible: Southern Soul, Disco, Gospel, Jazz, Funk, Country, Latin and Doo-Wop. Táta also scored two international hits ("I Just Keep Thinking About You Baby" and "Get It Up For Love") which topped Disco charts in both America and Europe. These songs were so contagiously funky that some critics dubbed her "The Godmother Of Funk".

Following her tenure at Motown, Táta maintained a hectic schedule as a studio singer while simultaneously moving into Gospel music. She became the cornerstone of Andraé Crouch's back-up group and as a featured vocalist who began touring with him internationally, earning her a Grammy Nomination for the song "Oh It is Jesus".

In 1985 Táta landed back on billboards' top 100 with "Learn to Love Again" a duet sung with legendary entertainer Lou Rawls.

Perhaps the pinnacle of the eighties for Táta was being the voice of the infamous Shug Avery in motion picture, ‘The Color Purple.’ This recording led to an Oscar nomination and performance, followed by other motion picture soundtracks including ‘The Lion King,’ ‘The Circle Of Life’ for  Spanish speaking countries, Amistad, Forrest Gump and others.

Táta signed with Quincy Jones' Qwest Records in 1998 and released her long-awaited Gospel solo debut, ‘Now I See.’  The album was birthed from her life experiences and testifies of the salvation, mercy and devotion of God. The album was also critically acclaimed and earned a Stellar Award nomination.​

In October of 2009 Táta released her 8th Studio album ‘This Joy’ with Music Producer Alan Abrahams. ‘This Joy’ delivers heart-wrenching vocals not created by studio tricks, but by the spontaneous spirit of an artist souled-out for her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!​

In January 2013, Táta's long awaited dream was fulfilled when she along with Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill premiered "Twenty Feet From Stardom".  A film that explores the lives of the women behind the biggest headliners today, The Backing Vocalists, often referred by Táta as the "Frame for the Painting". In March 2014, “Twenty Feet...” went on to win The Academy Award and Grammy for Best Documentary and Best music in a film.

Táta has been recognized as one of the most successful session singers of today and has sung back-up for a number of artists including legendary entertainers, Sir Elton John, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and new artists' such as Iggy Azalea, Natasha Beddingfield, and countless others.

Today, Táta while touring with Elton John, maintains a simplicity and sweetness that has endeared millions of people around the world. Her fan base spans the United States to Sweden, Spain to Japan. No matter the cultural surrounding, Táta carries an indescribable something that everyone can relate to. Her heart's desire is to reach as many people as possible-by any means necessary-with a message of love, hope and prosperity.

AM:  Táta, when ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ came out and won all the awards and acclaim, did it change your life?

TV:  Yes, ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ changed my life by helping me become more confident.  It’s a story for all people, not just background singers.  I’ve made so many new friends.  It’s a whirlwind.  We had no clue it would be so powerful. 

AM:  You could never guess it would win an Oscar?

TV:  No, we didn’t know.  Let me put it this way.  I heard a curdling scream when they made the announcement and I realized the sound came out of me.  I didn’t realize how excited I was and how much I wanted it to win. 

AM:  How did you end up touring with Elton John?

TV:  Bill Maxwell, who is in the movie, put in a good word for me on an Elton John recording session and to tour with him so that’s how I got that job.  Mr. Maxwell is also who got me in the movie.

AM:  I bet that made you happy!

TV:  I thought it was going to be a reality program so at first I didn’t want anything to do with it.  Then I realized it was a legitimate documentary.

AM:  Now you’re really set in history.

TV:  You think so? 

AM:  Of course, Academy Award winning movies don’t go away.  You’ve had a long career in music even if you haven’t had a number one hit.  You were born to sing!

TV:  I think so.  There is always so much to do.  Listening to all the other girls and what they had to say made me think about, what is it that really makes me happy?  Not everybody does it for money and fame.  Some do it for the sheer enjoyment.

AM:  I get the feeling you’re that way as well.

TV:   Sometimes you do get pulled away and it does become about paying the bills, but then you stop having fun. 

AM:  You also have another place in film history with Steven Spielberg and ‘The Color Purple.” Do you enjoy singing ‘Miss Celie's Blues?’

TV:  Yes, every chance I get.  

AM:  Do people go crazy when they hear it?

TV:  Yes, they love it.

AM:  You also sing ‘Maybe God Is trying To Tell You Something.’

TV:  Yes, it’s a prayer actually.  I recorded it at four or five o’clock in the morning.  There were no words.  That’s something the Lord gave me right then and there. 

AM:  You also worked with another legend, Mr. Andraé Crouch.  I know we recently lost him and that he was a wonderful man.

TV:  I loved him and I still love him.  He’s still alive, even though he’s left this plane.  He was my mentor, my dad, my brother and my friend.  He taught me so much.  I really believe that if it wasn’t for Andraé Crouch I probably wouldn’t have been able to have done all the work that I’m doing today.

AM:  I’m so glad he mentored you.  What a gift!

TV:  He taught me about being balanced and staying focused, he taught me about God.  The face of Gospel music today wouldn’t be the same without Andraé Crouch because he was the one that changed the face for all time, just like the Beatles did for pop music.

AM:  Do you enjoy singing gospel more than other styles?

TV:  Oh I LOVE ALL MUSIC!  If it’s something that’s uplifting, that’s even better. 

AM:  I want you to record a Latin flavored salsa type album.

TV:  Thank you, I would like to record some music like that too.

AM:  OK Universe, let’s get Tata to record a Latin album!  Maybe a tribute to Celia Cruz?

TV:  That could happen. 

AM:  Can you tell me what it was like to be a part of Motown?

TV:  I was with them eleven years.  It’s like a dream now.  The albums are still going.  They just re-released some of them.  It’s hard to believe I was ever there.  What a life.

AM:  I have always loved the song ‘Get It Up For Love.’

TV:  I fell in love with that when I heard the Average White Band do it.  Even my Mom liked that song because she understood it was about getting people up and celebrating love.

AM:  Wasn’t that song banned from the radio in England?

TV: Yes and I couldn’t believe it.  People with dirty minds!

AM:  And you always put a gospel song on your albums.  Did Motown ever try to get you not to do one?

TV:  Yes, they didn’t want me recording songs that had to do with God.  Luckily Iris Gordy fought for me every time.

AM:  You certainly have had a great career.

TV:  I really appreciate that.  Sometimes I need to be reminded. 

Jewelry: Claudia Tate

To learn more about Táta Vega visit her web site

Monday, February 15, 2016

Thelma Houston And Her One Woman Show!

All Photos:  Alan Mercer    Make-Up: Rudy Calvo   Hair: Leverne Tate

After 45 years of performing, Thelma Houston continues to celebrate her long and outstanding career and shows no signs of slowing down!

Over the course of many years, promoters have been asking Thelma, when is she going to return to her Motown roots? After much thought, Thelma decided the timing was right to launch a brand new show called: Thelma Houston: Motown Memories & Me! The show features non-stop classic Motown songs (that we all know and love,) along with tributes to her gospel roots, and to the legendary Jimmy Webb.

A Mississippi native, Thelma started out in the 60's performing in gospel music with the Art Reynolds Singers. She then signed to Capitol Records (home of the Beatles, Nat King Cole and Nancy Wilson) in 1967 and had her first hit song called ‘Baby Mine.’

Soon Thelma was courted by several record labels and signed with ABC/Dunhill where she recorded and released her first solo album called ‘Sunshower’ which was written, arranged and produced by the legendary Jimmy Webb. After this critically acclaimed album was released, Thelma decided to accept an offer from one of the biggest record companies around, Motown Records.

With Motown Records, Thelma claimed the top of the Pop, R&B and Dance charts with her high-powered rendition of ‘Don't Leave Me This Way.’ That Gold Record classic gave Thelma the distinction of being the first solo female artist at Motown to win the Grammy Award for "Best R&B Female Vocal Performance."

Thelma has rocked Rockefeller Center on NBC's The Today Show and along with Aretha Franklin and Mary Wilson, she raised the roof on ‘Love, Rhythm and Blues’ for PBS.  Thelma appeared with Phoebe Snow, Chaka Khan, Mavis Staples and CeCe Peniston as the ‘Sisters of Glory’ in New York City in a rousing performance that received a special request to perform at The Vatican for The Pope.

The legendary Nile Rogers called upon Thelma to be his special guest for a sold out concert at the Hollywood Bowl and she toured with Cher on her Living Proof Concert Tour. Additionally, Thelma headlined at Harrah's in Las Vegas. She has also been inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York City and honored as an "Apollo Legend" on the syndicated hit TV show, ‘Showtime at the Apollo.’

In April 2009, Thelma performed on the #1 rated television show in the USA, Fox's ‘American Idol,’ where she tore it up for an estimated audience of over 25 million people.
Thelma was honored to perform in Denver when Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination. In January 2009, Thelma then was asked to headline the official inauguration dinner for President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., at the Mayflower Hotel along with her friends, Cyndi Lauper and Melissa Etheridge.

With appearances from Tokyo to Las Vegas to London and beyond, Thelma continues to bring audiences to their feet with her dynamic, energetic show. This Diva logs over 200 performances annually and is enjoying every moment of her success. 

Thelma was first on my blog in November 2009
You can read it here 

AM:  Thelma, it is very exciting that you are doing a One Woman Show!  What can you tell me about it? 

TH:  This story is my music history.  I focus a lot on the music of Motown.  You know how when you hear an old song it can remind you of certain things that were going on in your life at the time? 

AM:  Yes!

TH:  Well that is what this show is like.  It goes all the way up to my hit, ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way.’  Motown is the record label I always wanted to be signed with.  So eventually I had an opportunity to be on the label and that’s what this show is.  It’s about my experiences on Motown once I joined the label and my interactions with some of the other artists’ on the label.

AM:  Can you give me some examples?

TH:  For instance I performed at Carnegie Hall with Smokey Robinson. Stevie Wonder produced a song for me.  I toured with the Four Tops and with the Temptations.  The show is a bunch of personal stories and my quest to be on the Motown label.  Also we cover my time in Gospel music which is where I started and my dream to go on to Motown that was implanted in me by my junior high school principal. 

AM:  Who wrote it for you?

TH:  Iona Morris is the writer and the director.

AM:  I love this Thelma.  This opens you up to a whole new type of audience and theaters.  

TH:  Exactly!  The first time we did the show was last October at the Catalina’s in Los Angeles.  I did two nights and both were sold out.  They asked me to come back again so I’m doing it on April 29 and 30th.  Before that I’m doing the show at Yoshi’s in Oakland on April 26 and 27. 

AM:  I know you will be in New York soon!

TH:  I hope so.  I want to tour this around.  People seem to really like it and they are interested in the stories. 

AM:  Does it feel cathartic to you?

TH:  Yes it did while we were writing it. 

AM:  How did the idea to do a One Woman Show come about?

TH: I have always done an eight minute Motown medley in my show and through the years people have asked me if I would do longer versions of those songs.  So I thought about it and decided instead of just doing a Motown review I wanted to add a more personal touch to it.

AM:  That always makes the show more enjoyable.

TH:  All the Motown artists like Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Martha Reeves and myself, we are all in the same age range.  We are contemporaries who are pretty much the same age. 

AM:  I guess you all are.

TH:  Smokey was well into his career when I was seventeen.  In 1960 he had a hit with ‘You Better Shop Around.’  The reason I remember that song is because at the time my boyfriend and I, who later became my husband and the father of my children, (Laughter) would sit in the car in the parking lot of a hamburger joint.  This is what all the kids did back then.  So anyway, I would smell the burgers, the onions and the chili and it would make me sick because I was pregnant.

AM: (laughter) What a memory!

TH:   I would be so nauseous and that song would always be playing in the background.  Then nine months later I was waiting on my own delivery and I would hear the Marvelettes sing, ‘Please Mr. Postman.’  So those are a couple examples of the stories I tell.  All the songs have a personal attachment to me. 

Thelma Houston performs at Yoshi's in Oakland on April 26 & 27.  You can purchase tickets here:

Thelma will then perform at Catalina's in Los Angeles on April 29 & 30.  You can purchase tickets here:  

To learn more about Thelma Houston visit her web site

Monday, January 25, 2016

7th Anniversary Blog with Mary Wilson

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Mary Wilson still performs with the same passion as she did singing with the original Supremes, but the world renowned celebrity is now using her fame and flair to promote humanitarian efforts to end hunger, raise AIDS awareness and encourage world peace.

While Ms. Wilson is best known as a founding member of the world’s most famous female trio – they recorded 12 No.1 hits from 1964 to 1969 – the legendary singer’s career did not stop there, and she continues to soar to untold heights.

Ms. Wilson is a best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, the recipient of an Associate Degree from New York University in 2001, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. In 2007, Ms. Wilson was named international spokeswoman for the Humpty Dumpty Institute, a platform she uses to condemn the death and destruction caused by hidden landmines and unexploded ordnances in less developed countries.

Ms. Wilson’s “Dare to Dream” lecture, which she gives to young people, emphasizes the need for personal perseverance to achieve their goals, despite obstacles and adversities in their lives. The topic is the foundation of her best-selling autobiography “Dreamgirl - My Life as a Supreme.” Ms. Wilson later authored its sequel, “Supreme Faith - Someday We’ll Be Together.” In 2000, these two books, along with updated chapters, were combined to complete her third book. She is currently working on a fourth book, which will be a coffee table hardcover featuring the gowns, history and legacy of the Supremes.

Moreover, she has spread the Supremes’ legacy from the world stage to international museums with a touring exhibit entitled, “The Story of the Supremes from the Mary Wilson Gown Collection,” featuring their show-stopping gowns and coveted memorabilia. The gowns were on exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and will be touring The United Kingdom before going on to Europe for another two years.

Over the years, Ms. Wilson has been highly recognized as the consummate humanitarian. She continues to devote her time and talent to assisting a diverse group of non-profit organizations, including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the American Cancer Society, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The Po Leung Kuk schools of Hong Kung, UNICEF, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Figure Skaters of Harlem, a youth organization committed to helping children realize their dreams o compete in the Olympics. She has been active with Child Research, supporting a child around the world for the past 20 years.

In 1988, Mary Wilson accepted the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Supremes when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994, the Supremes received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1998, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

As a mother and a grandmother, Ms. Wilson’s personal desire is to be involved in worthy causes around the world that improve the lives of individuals, families and all humanity. Ms. Wilson’s experience as a Supreme and cultural ambassador broadened her horizons and afforded her the opportunity to be an advocate for social and economic challenges in the United States and abroad.

AM:  Mary, you have this great new music out now.  How did that happen?

MW:  It’s nice to have a new disco song out.  I have some other songs that are getting ready to be released as well.  They are all pending at the moment. 

AM:  I’m also liking the song, ‘Johnny Mae’ about your mother.

MW:  I LOVE that song.  It was written for me. 

AM:  How did that come to you?

MW:  It’s part of a project I’ve been working on for twelve years.  It was produced by the Holland, Dosier, Holland people.  This is an independent release.  They came up with an idea to ask me questions and then they wrote all the songs for me.  I was a part of the writing in terms of giving them topics for me to sing about.  They wrote the songs based on my thoughts.  I was very pleased with all of it. 

AM:  I know you have been doing a tribute show to Lena Horne.  Are you enjoying that?

MW:  Yes, very much.  I sing ten of her most famous songs.  I have always loved jazz music. 

AM:  How have you kept yourself relevant for so long Mary?

MW:  Well, I really enjoy it and I haven’t reached the end of what I want to do so I guess I just keep going.

AM:  Are you writing any more books?

MW:  I am working on a coffee table book right now.  It’s about the gowns we wore as Supremes. 

AM:  Like the ones on display at the Grammy Museum.

MW:  Yes. That’s it.

AM:  Did you ever imagine the gowns would have a life of their own?

MW:  At first we bought our gowns off the rack, but we all loved glamour and playing dress up.  Thank goodness Motown realized we should be glamorous.  They didn’t make us dress that way.  We told them this is who we are and they agreed. 

AM:  How did you end up with the gowns?

MW:  I’m the only one who stayed with the group so I inherited them. 

AM:  Are you surprised that you have such a large and long lasting fan base?

MW:  I don’t know if surprised is the word but it has been a long time.  The Supremes were pretty well admired.

AM:  When you left the group were you excited at the thought of being alone on stage?

MW:  Well, I knew it was time to leave when I did but I didn’t know how well prepared I was as a solo singer.  I didn’t know if people would like me or if my voice was even strong enough. 

AM:  What year did you officially leave the Supremes?

MW:  We had our last performance in 1977.

AM:  You never considered doing anything else?

MW:  No, I have always known that I love being on stage.  It’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.

AM:  What makes you happy these days?

MW:  Being with my grandchildren.  Also I enjoy being my age and doing what I want to do.

AM:  Is there anything left for you to do?

MW:  Yes, I’m taking acting classes now with every intention of going into that.  I’m still writing books. 

AM:  Your books are really good!

MW:  Thank you, I love to write.  

To learn more about Mary Wilson visit her web site:

Monday, January 11, 2016

George Ducas: Country Music Trendsetter

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

A Lone Star native whose heart and soul are rooted in the honky tonks, roadhouses and dancehalls, George Ducas is a musical talent seasoned with experience, driven by passion and humbled by a God-given talent. With a string of Billboard charting songs that established him early as a country music trendsetter, George Ducas is a recording artist, hit songwriter, global entertainer and father to his children; his musical offerings encompass a creativity, sentiment, edge and wisdom of a man who lives life with a passion.

Ducas entered the country music genre as a deep-rooted traditionalist and defined vocalist who brought a contemporary edge to the format in the mid-90s. A Capitol-Nashville Records artist, Ducas was among a hefty roster of award-winning label mates Garth Brooks, Trace Adkins, Deana Carter and Suzy Bogguss.

Since his success as a national major label and critically acclaimed recording artist (with a string of hits including the Top 10 single "Lipstick Promises”), Ducas took an intended “recording hiatus” to devote his attention to raising his son and daughter (Will and Grace) in their early years.

With a noticeable personal “presence missed” on mainstream radio in recent years, Ducas has remained a mainstay in the country recording industry –his talents for putting words into music have been recognized by his peers and heard loud and clear echoing throughout stadiums, across the dance floors, and booming from stereo speakers over the past decade. It is only his voice that has been quieted from the “front and center” over the airwaves. His reputation has made him a sought-after songcrafter.

Making a subtle yet impacting and lasting impression on the country audience and the music industry from the shadows, Ducas has become the “go-to” guy for good songs. His name can be found behind the pen of some of country music's biggest hits including: Sara Evan's No. 1 "Real Fine Place To Start," Josh Thompson's "Won't Be Lonely Long," The Eli Young Band's "Always The Love Songs" as well as cuts recorded by George Jones and Garth Brooks, The Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood and the Randy Rogers Band, only to name a few.

I met with George at the live music venue and restaurant, The Rustic in Dallas for this photo session and interview right before he went on stage.

AM:  George, you are a wonderful and unique artist who has been around a while but you dropped out of the business for a few years.  What caused you to make that decision?

GD:  A number of things contribute to the ups and downs of your career in this business.  I was on Capitol Records and had four or five top forty hits and one bonafide hit with ‘Lipstick Promises.’  It was a great ride.  We had a hit video and toured the world.  Three record label presidents later, the game changed.

AM:  Oh I get it now.  You didn’t feel the same kind of support from the new executives.

GD:   Then you’re left with picking up the pieces and figuring out what to do with the rest of your career.  A lot of people don’t know this but I actually got started as a songwriter before I got signed to Capitol Records.

AM:  What was your first hit as writer?

GD:  I had written a big hit titled ‘Just Call Me Lonesome’ that I co-wrote with Radney Foster.  I had just stumbled into town and we got hooked up.  He took me under his wing.  I refer to him as my uncle or a big brother that I never had in the music business.  That song was his first single as a solo artist.  It really catapulted me to my first publishing deal and that led to my first record deal. 

AM:  So even though you weren’t recording you were still writing hit songs.

GD:  After the Capitol Records deal ended it was a natural segue to move back into songwriting until I figured things out.  I had a good run that lasted about ten years.  My songs were cut by the Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks and George Jones.

AM:  How did it feel to have a song recorded by George Jones?

GD:  It means so much because he is the kind of legend that will probably never be again.  That era of music had a longer shelf life.  The world has sped up.  If you can build a career real quick now, that’s great, but it probably won’t be there for very long.

AM:  Are you pleased when other singers record your songs?

GD:  It’s always a huge compliment when other people record my songs.  It’s been a career builder for me.  I work all the songs I’ve written into my live show.  Often people don’t know that I wrote the song. 

AM:  What do you sing at your live shows?

GD:  It’s a mishmash of songs I recorded on Capitol to my new songs from ‘4340.’

AM:  That is such a good album!

GD:  Thank you.

AM:  Did you write all those songs specifically for that album?

GD:  Yes, it was originally a 6 song EP that I released five years ago.  So we added a few more songs that I’d written over the past five years and made a full album.  The record is two years old now. 

AM:  Are you writing songs for your next album?

GD:  I’ve got another seven or eight songs ready for the next album. 

AM:  Are you planning that release yet?

GD:  Yeah, I’ve already recorded quite a few.  Some of the songs were recorded a year ago so I’ll look back at those songs now and some may not apply anymore. 

AM:  Will you ever record the songs that were hits for other artists?

GD:  A lot of people have asked that.  I could do something acoustic with them.

AM:  Do you plan to continue writing new songs for a while?

GD:  I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay plugged into the Nashville songwriting machine.  I’m not concerned one way or the other.  I’m happy with what it’s provided me.  Unfortunately for those of us who love getting on stage, the money is really in the songwriting.

AM:  So it serves you to keep writing those hits!

GD:  That’s how you stay in the business to do what you love to do.  Unless you’re out there on the road selling a bunch of t-shirts every night with major label support, it’s pretty tough.  We rely on our songwriter income.  With that said, it’s been really good to me. I’ve had way more than my share of good fortune.  I anticipate at some point on moving back to Texas.   

AM:  Do you live in Nashville now?

GD:  Yes but I tour Texas more than any other state.  I have a place in Nashville because that’s where the songwriting community is.  I’ll stay at least a couple more years. 

AM:  Is that where your children are?

GD:  Yes.

AM:  How old are they now?

GD:  I’ve got a fourteen year old and an eleven year old.

AM:  You’re with them all the time then?

GD:  All the time!  If I’m writing a song that day, I’ll be finished by 2:00 and the highlight of my day is picking up my kids and being a Dad.  I love taking my son to football practice and taking my daughter to wherever she’s got to go.  It’s great to come home and grill steaks with them.

AM:  You’re really a family guy.

GD:  I am!  I really love spending time with my kids.  It may not sound sexy, or maybe it does.  It’s funny to me because if I had never had kids I wouldn’t miss it.  I was never the kind of guy who said, “I can’t wait to have kids.”  Now that they’re here and so incredible, I can’t imagine not having them.  We laugh a lot and learn life lessons together.  I have to get them off to college and then I’ll be able to do whatever I want. 

AM:  It seems to me your priorities are pretty much in order.

GD:  They feel like they are pretty well aligned.  I always feel like I’m teetering.  I wonder, how do  I keep this little train rolling.  At the beginning of my career it was all rolling for me automatically.  The Nashville machine had kicked in and it kept me amazed that my music could take me to so many places.

AM:  I’m sure it kept you very busy.

 GD:  I was always on tour and playing giant stadiums with Alan Jackson in front of 50,000 people.  You can think it’s all you but it’s not, it’s a marketing machine.  I understand that now, but at the time I was barely twenty years old.  You don’t know any better. 

AM:  You seem to blend the traditional country sound with the more contemporary music.

GD:  I try hard not to stay in the same box.  I’m still really proud of the neo-traditional country sound records I made but I was really lifting the sound from the old records I played.  Now I’m more my own thing.  I have maintained some of those elements because they are so ingrained in me.  

To learn more about George Ducas visit his web site