Monday, April 13, 2015

Candy Clark: The Accidental Actress

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Candy Clark is best known for her role as Debbie Dunham in the film ‘American Graffiti,’ which garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. 'American Graffiti,' nominated for five Academy Awards and grossing more than $200 million, overshadows everything else.  The film was set in Modesto, California, but primarily filmed in Petaluma in only 28 days. The schedule was grueling for Candy and co-stars like Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford and Suzanne Somers.   She reprised the role for the sequel ‘More American Graffiti .’

Candy is also known for her role as Francine Hewitt in ‘The Blob.’  Her other films of note are ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth,’ with David Bowie, ‘The Big Sleep,’ ‘Blue Thunder,’ ‘Cat's Eye’ and ‘At Close Range.’  She has also made guest appearances on television series including ‘Dating Game,’’ Magnum, P.I.,’’ Simon & Simon,’ ‘Matlock,’ ‘Baywatch Nights’ and ‘Criminal Minds.’

Born in Norman, Oklahoma, she grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. She attended Green B. Trimble Technical High School.  She dated Jeff Bridges, whom she met on the set of Fat City, for several years.  After two brief marriages, Candy quickly replies “Never!” when asked if she would ever remarry .  Today, she attends many hot rod shows, and enjoys gardening, collecting antiques, and trading memorabilia on eBay.

Candy appears in the 2009 film The Informant! as the mother of Mark Whitacre, played by Matt Damon.  In 2011, Candy went to Berlin to work on the play Images of Louise Brooks directed by Sven Mundt.

I met with Candy at her home in Los Angeles for a casual photo shoot and a quick conversation in her backyard, where she has three chickens running around.

AM:  Candy, I think it’s wonderful that you just finished filming a new movie where you are the lead.  What is the title and what’s it about?

CC:  Yes, it’s called ‘Cold Moon’ based on the book ‘Cold Moon Over Babylon’ written by Michael McDowell.   The book was a big hit in the Eighties.   I play a character named Evelyn Larkin.

AM:  Did you enjoy the filming experience?

CC:  It was a lot of fun.   I enjoyed getting into a role where I played a grandma.  I wore a grey wig.  It was fun having more than a days work.  Lately I have been getting good films but small parts. 

AM:  That seems to be the norm for most actors.

CC:  I felt like a glorified extra on ‘Zodiac.’

AM:  Most of us remember you best from the classic ‘American Graffiti.’

CC:  That was the second film I did.  The first one was ‘Fat City’ directed by John Huston.   That’s a great movie.

AM:  That’s right!  How did it feel to know you had never made a movie and you were going to be working with a legend like John Huston?

CC:  Fortunately I didn’t really know who John Huston was.  I wasn’t the person who followed films or people in films at that time.  Being from Fort Worth, Texas, my highest aspiration was to be a secretary, suddenly I was working with Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell, Ray Stark, Stacy Keach and all these great people.  Ray Stark became my inspiration for collecting art.  Ray had big bronze Henry Moore sculptures in his backyard.  I realized I liked art so I started collecting.

AM:  So how did you even get into acting?

CC: From my modeling work.  I had moved to New York City and got involved in modeling. 

AM:  Did you enjoy being a model?

CC:  The first year was really hard because I didn’t know how to pose in front of a camera in a relaxed way.   I always thought you had to freeze for the camera but then after a year I realized the camera freezes you.  Big difference!  Then I fell in love with modeling.  I really, really enjoyed it.  Once I realized how it was done I had a knack for it. 

AM:  You don’t hear that very often from women who have modeled.

CC:  I thought I was going to stay in New York and model forever.  I didn’t think past that. 

AM:  So you didn’t have an aspiration to act, but you just happened to be talented.

CC:  Well, I wanted to do extra work so I got a gig on a Dustin Hoffman film, ‘Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?’  I was in a crowd scene of two hundred people and I thought this is great!

AM:  What did you like about it the most?

CC:  I got to meet movie stars and eat donuts.  I really enjoyed that too.  I had to hit pause a lot but I think I found myself in that crowd scene when I watched it on line.

AM:  So you thought extra work was awesome?

CC:  I wanted to do more extra work so I went to my agents office and met a very famous casting director, Fred Roos.  He asked me if I wanted to go watch the screen test for ‘The Godfather.’  So I said, “Sure!”  This was at a time when if someone looked nice you’d just go off with them.  It was more of a hippie era.  It was a nicer era when people were nicer and more trustworthy. 

AM:  You couldn’t do that today!  We live in a different world now.

CC:  I would never think of going off with a stranger now. 

AM:  I find it interesting and fascinating when someone ends up being successful as an actor when it wasn’t what they were going after.

CC: Yes it’s all by accident!

AM:  I’m used to people struggling and suffering.

CC:  Well I struggled and suffered for a year with modeling.  

AM:  George Lucas wasn’t a legend when you worked with him.

CC:  No he was just beginning. 

AM:  Did you enjoy working with him?

CC:  Yes, but I really enjoyed the script from ‘American Graffiti.’ 

AM:  You occupy a special place Candy.  No other actor is anything like you.

CC: Do you know any other actor raising chickens?

AM:  LOL I don’t know about that.  Your personality comes off as very unique.

CC: Thank you.

AM:  You seem to really appreciate life.

CC:  I do.  I come from a very poor background so I do appreciate a lot.  I appreciate animals, reading and collecting.  I love estate sales and yard sales.  I’m a garage sale junkie.

AM:  Is that how you fill your spare time?

CC:  Yes, most of the things in my house are from a second hand store or an estate sale.  I don’t care for new things. 

AM:  Do you feel the spirit in these things?

CC:  Yes, I even prefer used clothing because they’ve been broken in.  Now they make new clothing to look like it’s used. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Nick Guerra: The Little Long Haired Comic

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

With just under a decade into stand up, Nick Guerra has won over crowds from all walks of life. Whether it is performing from clubs to colleges to any place with a stage, Nick has shown that dedication and continuous work has paid off. His style balances all topics. Current events, relationship humor, and personal stories have become his arsenal when given a microphone. Many times the crowds never knew what to expect with Nick but were never disappointed.

Nick was an audience favorite on NBC’s 'Last Comic Standing' (Season 8). He was a writer, asst. director, actor and story producer for the Mun 2 reality show 'Pitbull’s La Esquina' (2nd season), performed on Comedy Central’s 'Gabriel Iglesias Stand Up Revolution' (2nd season) and Nuvo TV’s 'Stand Up & Deliver' (2nd season).

Nick is destined to be a major force in the comedy world.  I met with him on an afternoon in Dallas, where his career got started ten years ago.

AM:  Nick I can’t imagine being on a TV Comedy contest.  What was it like for you?

NG:  The experience was great.  I loved it.  The hardest part about doing a contest is the pre-screening where they want to see your act.  If you’re a joke writer, it’s always funny, but if you’re someone like me who is more performance based, it doesn’t read funny.  You have to see it.  So they had to see me on stage before they were able to get it.  I loved doing the show.  I got a standing ovation on the first episode.  I don’t know if they showed it because I never saw the actual episode.  If you focus on just doing your show you can forget about the cameras and the competition. 

AM:  How long have you been doing your act?

NG:   I’m ten years in now. 

AM:  Did you know you were funny at a young age?

NG:  You don’t know it through your own experience unless you have a really big ego.  You don’t live in the third person.   It was always other people who told me I was funny.  I was told I would always sing songs and try to make people laugh when I was a small child.  I don’t remember that, but I do remember always trying to get people to laugh.  Everyone in my life has told me I was funny. 

AM:  What gave you the confidence to go professional?

NG:   Going professional just snuck up on me. 

AM:  Did you have any other intentions or aspirations in your life?

NG:  I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for comedy right now.  I didn’t plan on this.  The funny thing about comedy is there is no real route.  There is nothing to tell you, you are advancing.  If you stay in it long enough you get fans and clubs get to know you.   It’s been gradual for me and that’s exactly how I want it.  More people recognize me since being on ‘Last Comic.’  It keeps you natural when it’s gradual.

AM:   Do you notice the laughs are bigger now that some people know who you are?

NG:  Yes, it helps a little bit.  The people who may not know me will laugh more because the other people are laughing.

AM:  Do you come from a big family?

NG:   I have a huge family, but my immediate family is just two sisters.  I have cousins, aunt and uncles everywhere!   The last show I did in Houston had seventeen family members in the audience. 

AM: Does family make you more nervous?

NG:  No, I grew up performing in front of family.  At this point they’ve been warned. 

AM:  You don’t have so much adult material.

NG:  No I don’t.  At this point it’s just growing up and I’ve gotten tired of such graphic material.  Back when I started I was a little more blue.

AM:  I think it’s smart to not be so graphic so you can be on television.  You have to be funny on network TV.

NG:  Yes that’s true.  It’s so much easier to be vulgar.  But often when a comic is vulgar they don’t have a point to back it up.  I try to relate to the audience and let them know this is what I’m going through. 

AM:  So your work is based on honesty?

NG:  Yes as much as I can. 

AM:  I see you on television on a sitcom.  Do you want that?

NG:  Yes, it’s always an interest.  I’ve got a lot of things coming up this year that will probably help with that.  That will also be a gradual step.  I do come in under the radar.  I’ve always known that.  When I get on stage, people don’t expect me to be funny.  I don’t look funny.  If you see my picture I don’t pop off the page.  I have to take my performance up a notch so I CAN stand out.  I give it my all.  I’ve never acted before so we’ll see how that goes. 

AM:  Do you know Cristela?

NG:  Yes I know her very well.  We both came from the same place and both started here in Dallas and moved to LA.  It’s very difficult to produce a Latino based comedy for ABC.  They have to be so careful.  They want it to be nice and non-offensive.  That’s what every show does on the first season. 

AM:  Do you have any idea what the concept for a show for you would be?

NG:  Oh man, it would just be me getting mad at women for 30 minutes.  I do have ideas.  Mine would be about my bad romantic life.  For some reason that is something I’m good at.  I love to pick up on couples interactions.  I have to force myself to write other topics otherwise my act would be an hour of relationship talk. 

AM:  Do you write all the time or is it more spontaneous?

NG:  It’s both.  I always have comedy in my head and I’m always thinking of ways to improve a bit. 

To learn more about Nick Guerra visit his web site

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mamie Van Doren: Ten Year Anniversary Portfolio

Mamie Van Doren      March 2015

Our first "classic" photo 2005

In 2005 I had been working in Los Angeles four years already.  I was blessed to be working steadily as a Celebrity Photographer during this time, shooting people like Smokey Robinson and Steven Speilberg.  I also had a bucket list of people I really wanted to photograph and number one on that list was the sexy Actress, Mamie Van Doren.  Luckily for me, Mamie was ahead of her time and already had a big web site filled with current, as well as vintage photographs.  I could see Mamie still looked sensational, even though she was into her mid Seventies.  I composed an email telling her how much I adored her and would she be interested in shooting with me.  She wrote back immediately with an astounding, "YES!"

I was over the moon with excitement, but she didn't give me any clue as to WHEN she would be ready to shoot, so I wrote her back and boldly asked, "When?"  It took her a few days to answer this time but she gave me a date a couple weeks away and we were set for a day in March.

The day finally arrived when Mamie, her husband Thomas and my four assistants were in the North Hollywood studio.  One always imagines what someone they have looked up to and admired will be like once reality comes and you hope you will not be disappointed.  I didn't have to be concerned.  Mamie was everything I could ever want and MORE!  She was so alive and full of positive energy.  We had an amazing photo shoot and I honestly felt like I made a new friend.

Once the photos were available, we all loved them.  We even got a classic shot the very first time out.  You can see the red skirt flowing here while Mamie danced around joyfully.  After this session we decided we had to do it again.  We had more great results.  We kept shooting and shooting routinely after this and built up quite a large portfolio with the passing years.  Now ten years after we started we got together in 2015 to celebrate our ten year working relationship and even more importantly, our ten year friendship.  

I do not believe I will ever have another relationship with anyone else I photograph even remotely like the one I have with the larger than life, Miss Van Doren.  I am her photographer, her student, her creative partner, her admirer and her friend.  She is my eternal creative muse.

I have picked out ten of my favorite photos over the past ten years to share on my blog.  I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed creating them with Mamie!

To learn more about Mamie van Doren visit her web site

Monday, February 23, 2015

Marcia Ball: Louisiana Music Woman

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Marcia Ball is a blues singer and pianist, born in Orange, Texas who was raised in Vinton, Louisiana.  She was described in USA Today as "a sensation, saucy singer and superb pianist... where Texas stomp-rock and Louisiana blues-swamp meet."  The Boston Globe described her music as "an irresistible celebratory blend of rollicking, two-fisted New Orleans piano, Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues from a contemporary storyteller."

Marcia was born into a musical family. Her grandmother and aunt both played piano music of their time and Ball started piano lessons when she started school, and showed an early interest in New Orleans style piano playing, as exemplified by Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, and James Booker. She has named Irma Thomas, the New Orleans vocalist, as her chief vocal inspiration. Ball studied English at Louisiana State University in the 1960s while playing in a band called Gum.  In 1970, at age 21, she started a progressive country band called Freda and the Firedogs in Austin, Texas, and began her solo career in 1974.

Marcia Ball's piano style includes elements of zydeco, swamp blues, Louisiana blues and boogie woogie.  She began her recording career as a solo artist with Rounder Records in the 1980s and early 1990s.  In 2001, she joined Chicago-based Alligator Records.

Her Rounder album, ‘Sing It!,’ which featured vocalists Irma Thomas and Tracy Nelson, released in January 1998 was nominated for a Grammy Award and a Blues Music Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album." Marcia received the 1998 Blues Music Award for "Contemporary Female Vocalist of the Year" and "Best Blues Instrumentalist-Keyboards."  She was awarded "Contemporary Blues Album of the Year" for her albums ‘Presumed Innocent’ in 2002 and ‘So Many Rivers.’  The same year she also won "Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year-Female."  She won the "Best Blues Instrumentalist-Keyboards" again in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. Her 2003 Alligator release, ‘So Many Rivers,’ was nominated for a Grammy as were ‘Live! Down The Road’ in 2005 and ‘Peace, Love & BBQ’ in 2008. She was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame in 1990.

Marcia has continued to work with Irma Thomas. In 2006, the two contributed a duet ("Look Up") on the New Orleans Social Club release, ‘Sing Me Back Home.’  In 2007, the two contributed another duet ("I Can't Get New Orleans Off My Mind") to ‘Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino.’

Marcia Ball continues to play at nightclubs, particularly in Austin and New Orleans, and performs at music festivals in North America and overseas.  Her newest album is titled 'The Tatooed Lady and the Alligator Man.'

AM:  Marcia, Can you talk a little about growing up in Louisiana?

MB:  I’m from a little town on the Texas/Louisiana state line.  My entire family heritage is in Louisiana.  I come from a deeply rooted Cajun family. 

AM:  Was music a natural part of your life from day one?

MB:  My grandmother’s father was a musician and composer.  My grandmother played piano and her daughter, my aunt, played piano and her daughter, my cousin, played piano.  I remember one day a piano appeared in my house and I started piano lessons. 

AM:  When was this?

MB:  At the same time I started going to school. 

AM:  So playing piano seemed natural for you?

MB:  It was natural and it was what we did.  I come from a generation that still gathered after Sunday dinner around the piano.  We’d all take turns playing the piano. 

AM:  Did you sing as a child?

MB:  No I didn’t sing.

AM:  When did you start singing?

MB:  When I got to college.  That’s the other part in the incredible timing of my life.  When I got to college in 1966 the whole world was changing.  I met a girl who sang.  She had been doing folk music duos with another girl who went back home.  So I was recruited to sing harmony and it turns out I could sing them.  I think I never thought of singing because growing up on Tin Pan Alley sheet music, all those girl parts were high.  I couldn’t reach those notes so I thought I couldn’t sing.  When I first heard Odetta, I was thunderstruck. 

AM:  What classes were you taking in college?

MB:  Mostly English.

AM:  What did you think you were going to do?

MB:  Well, mostly I like to read and write so I took some journalism classes.  I didn’t know what I was going to do.  If I had kept on going I would probably have been a librarian.  But I dropped out of school to follow music.

AM:  When was it apparent that music would be your career?

MB:  I got in a band not long after I dropped out and enjoyed it, but I also had a day job at a radio station.  Also I got married and moved to Austin.  I met some people in Austin who were a lot more established with a following and some connections.  So I got in a band with them and from that time on, which was 1972, I never looked back.

AM:  Were you surprised to know you could actually sing lead?

MB:  Yes and at that time I was singing Top 40 which was Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, so singing was not exactly what I was doing.  It was more like shouting. 

AM:  So you must have learned how to refine your vocals.

MB:  Along the way I did.  The first band I was a part of in Austin was a Country Music band.  In Texas, Country Music had a lot of currency.  We all had long hair but we really loved the old, traditional music.  So we were singing traditional Country Music with frizzy hair sticking out of our cowboy hats and Austin went for it completely.  This is when Austin became the drawing place for anyone who wanted to perform like that.  This is right before Willie Nelson moved there. 

AM:  Are you happy living in Austin?

MB:  I am!  I loved it from the moment I got there.  My husband and I had been living in Baton Rouge and we were moving to San Francisco but we went through Austin and stopped to see some friends and we never left. 

AM:  Where did you record ‘Circuit Queen’ album?

MB:  I actually recorded that one in Nashville for Capitol Records.  They signed a bunch of young talent at the time but for most of us, nothing happened. 

AM:  It’s a really good album.  Were you happy with it?

MB:  I was happy with it but I was scared to death at that time.  It was a great opportunity. 

AM:  You have been able to keep a long term recording career going.

MB:  Yes, it’s been remarkable.  I haven’t been on a lot of labels either. 

AM:  What is one of your favorite albums that you recorded?

MB:  One that I am most proud of is the one I did with Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton called ‘Dreams Come True’ and it took us five years to complete it.  That’s why we titled it ‘Dreams Come True.’

AM:  You name Irma Thomas as a major influence.

MB:  Yes I do.

AM:  I have photographed Irma and I love her as an artist and person.

MB:  She is a lovely person.  I saw her in New Orleans for the first time when I was thirteen. 

AM:  You are actually more associated with New Orleans than Austin.

MB: My music certainly is.  I always say about Austin, that I’m a piano player in a guitar town.  I’ve always played that Louisiana music. 

AM:  Do you play New Orleans a lot?

MB:  As much as I can.  We do real well there.  I’m pretty highly recognized there. 

AM:  You have a new album out and it’s so much fun!

MB:  It was just time to record a new album because we get tired of playing the same songs. 

AM:  I like how all your music is so much fun.

MB:   I like my music to be fun.  I don’t write or play from a place of angst. 

To learn more about Marcia Ball visit her web site

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Libby Villari Shines

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Libby Villari is best known for her recurring role as Mayor Lucy Rodell on the TV show,  ‘Friday Night Lights.’ Her film appearances include ‘Infamous,’ ‘What's Eating Gilbert Grape,’ ‘Boy's Don't Cry,’ ‘The Faculty’ and the Academy Award nominated ‘Boyhood.’

She was born Margaret Elizabeth Webb in North Carolina where she lived until she was 11. The family moved to California, later moving to Texas.  She graduated from University of North Texas with a B.A in Theatre.  An active performer in the Texas theatre community, she often acts in productions that film in Texas.

Libby made her television debut in the 1985 television movie ‘Stormin' Home’ and followed this with ‘Adam: His Song Continues’ and the Emmy-nominated television film ‘Little Girl Lost’ with Tess Harper. In 1986 she played Mrs. Pritchard in ‘Bonnie & Clyde: The True Story.’

She made her film debut in 1993 as Camille McCloud in ‘My Boyfriend's Back,’ also Matthew McConaughey's first film. She next appeared in ‘Flesh and Bone,’ and as a reporter in Clint Eastwood's ‘A Perfect World,’ and in the 1994 television film ‘Without Consent.’

In 1995, she appeared in ‘The Big Green’ and in 1996 in ‘Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering’ and ‘The Whole Wide World’ as the mother of RenĂ©e Zellweger. She has also appeared on the series ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ and in Robert Altman's ‘Dr. T & the Women.’

In 2014, Libby Villari's film ‘Boyhood’ by Richard Linklater opened at the Sundance Film Festival. She plays the mother of Patricia Arquette's character in the film.

Libby is also an acting coach and works with children's literacy programs.  I met with Libby in Sundance Square in the heart of downtown Fort Worth for a quick photo session and a chat before she was off to Los Angeles for pilot season and to go to the Vanity Fair Oscar party!

AM:  Hi Libby!  I think it’s so exciting that you are going to the Vanity Fair Academy Awards Party this year.  Did you ever imagine going to them?

LV:  No, I wasn’t sure I would ever go but when Rick Linkletter asked, I couldn’t say no.

AM:  That is such a big deal!  Did you think that ‘Boyhood’ would get a lot of nominations?

LV:  We didn’t know what to expect, but now I expect the biggest and the best for everything. 

AM:  It’s already been several years since you filmed it, right?

LV:  I started 13 years ago.  I’m in one of the very first scenes. 

AM:  What did you think about the movie 13 years ago when you started filming?

LV:  We knew it would be special because what we were doing had never been done.  It’s the most critically acclaimed film since ‘The Godfather.’  I always knew it would be good because I was there and I could see that really terrific work was happening.  I’m a huge fan of Rick Linkletter so I felt that no matter what, it would be a good movie.  I was so fascinated and envious that he was documenting his own child’s life from first grade to twelfth grade.  I have a granddaughter who is 2 years younger than Mason (the lead actor in the film) and that is what got me the role.

AM:  You must be close to your granddaughter.

LV:  We are tremendously close.  I helped raise her. 

AM:  Can you tell me a little about your audition?

LV:  I went in and it was not a first round audition.  Ethan Hawke and Rick Linkletter were there in the room.  We ended up doing a very long improv.  First though we sat and talked about our relationships to our children and our grandchildren and what experience we’d had with divorce and what that does to a family.  It just so happened that my son was going through a very hard divorce at the time.  My granddaughter was four years old so the feelings I had about the subject were right on the surface.  Ethan had just gone through his divorce with Uma Thurman, so his feelings were also on the surface.


AM:  So it was all very real for you.

LV:  I’m certain that is what got me the role.  I think it really helped Ethan to play that role.  So thirteen years later here we are.  My granddaughter is all grown and the kids in the movie are all grown.  I think the characters evolve in such interesting ways that you couldn’t possibly have in a three month shoot.  Since we shot over a period of years, we all brought new experiences to it every year.  You just can’t beat that.  The more experiences you have, the better actor you are. 

AM:  Are you working more these days?

LV:  I have been working but I think it has to do with my age.  ‘Boyhood’ was a secret until this past October.  There was a bit of talk in the film industry but nobody knew how terrific it was until it was released.

AM:  This is the most high profile film you’ve ever done isn’t it?

LV:  Absolutely and I’ve done some huge films and worked with some terrific directors.

AM:  Your list of directors is amazing!

LV:  I know, Clint Eastwood, Alan Parker, Robert Altman, Robert Rodriguez.  It’s real unusual to live on Eagle Mountain Lake, hide from the public and be able to say you’ve done that.

AM:  You are more than an actress, right?  You do other things as well?

LV:  I have a landscape business. 

AM:  Is that a lifelong interest?

LV:  Yes, absolutely, I’m a fanatic organic gardener.  I never intended to have a landscape business but I had reached an age where I was too young to play a grandmother and too old to play a young mother and I needed a job.  I went back to college and got my horticulture degree because it was something I wanted to know more about.  I already had two other degrees.  I’m passionate about gardens and plants.  It keeps me really earthbound too. 

AM:  I’ve also enjoyed your performances as the mayor in the TV show ‘Friday Night Lights.”

LV:  I did 21 episodes. 

AM:  Are you anything like that character?

LV:  I can be kind of bitchy.  I am like her in the sense that I am tenacious and go after what I want but I’m a lot kinder.

AM:  She is pretty firm.

LV:  That’s a nice way of saying it.  Also I’m not a lesbian.  I had already filmed two seasons when they decided to go that direction.  She’s pretty clearly a Republican.  So when they wrote that in I was just stunned.  I did think it would be fun to play.  The director asked me what did I think of this character development and I told him it would be a real stretch playing a Republican!  (Laughter)  I knew a lot of lesbians, but Republicans are pretty rare in my life.

Monday, January 19, 2015

6 Year Anniversary Blog with Freda Payne

All Photos:  Alan Mercer                   Assistant: Psymon Imagery

Though best known for her 1970 R&B crossover smash hit 'Band of Gold,' Freda Payne has always first and foremost been a jazz singer, dating back to The Jimmy Wilkins Big Band at age 14. Her debut album, 'After The Lights Go Down Low And Much More!!!' was arranged by Manny Albam, while a more pop-oriented follow-up entitled 'How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore' was helmed by saxophonist/arranger Benny Golson. Freda performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem alongside Billy Eckstine backed by Quincy Jones and His Orchestra, comedian Redd Foxx and the dance team Coles & Atkins. She also graced the stage with Duke Ellington for two nights in Pittsburgh, after which he composed “Blue Piano” just for her. Freda Payne’s training and experience render her a rare vocal artist who is stylistically beyond category.

As iconic in 2015 for her timeless beauty and stage appeal as she is for her artistic versatility, Freda Payne remains among music’s and show business’ brightest shining star survivors. Her latest album, ‘Come Back To Me Love’ and her first for the Artistry Music imprint, marks not only a return to the big band and strings-laden classics from her mid-`60s beginnings with Impulse! but also marks a return to her hometown of Detroit.

“It’s a dream come true,” Freda enthuses with a smile, “Just like in 1968 when I was living in New York seeking my fame and fortune, and ran into Brian Holland of Holland-Dozier-Holland. He told me they had just left Motown and started their own company, Invictus. I flew back to Detroit, signed with them and a year later had a Top 5 record, ‘Band of Gold.’ So releasing this album on Mack Avenue’s Artistry Music imprint is truly serendipitous—a flashback to something really good happening for me at home in Detroit, my good luck charm.” Berry did write those three songs for me.  However, they were never released.

In 2011 she was asked to record with Sir Cliff Richards when he did an all soul CD recorded mostly in Memphis, Tn. This all came about through her association with entrepreneur,  David Gest. She was then booked to tour with Cliff Richards in his SOULICOUS  TOUR in the UK playing all arena’s. Freda’s latest recording  is now on the Artistry Music label for Mack Ave. records.  It is titled  ‘COME BACK TO ME LOVE.’  It’s her first CD in twelve years.  This is probably one of her best recordings to date. This CD takes Freda back to her original jazz roots with big bands , Strings, and small trio.  All this goes in concert with her starring in the musical play ELLA FITZGERALD FIRST LADY OF SONG, which got her a rave review in the Washington Post in 2014.  She is currently performing  in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Asked if much has changed since those first 1963 jazz recordings, she marvels, “In `63 I was nervous as hell—uptight and pushing too hard to be perfect. This time I felt like I was in heaven. I was in Capitol Records’ Studio A [another company she recorded for in the mid-`70s] with 40 musicians, singing over impeccable arrangements. I was much more relaxed and secure within myself.

AM:  How are you Freda?

FP:  I’m fine.  I’m just dealing with life.

AM:  Did you have a good New Years?

FP:  I had a wonderful New Years.  I didn’t work on that night but I did a sold-out  engagement on December 23 at Vibratto in Beverly Hills.   Have you been there?

AM:  Yes, it’s so beautiful.

FP:  It’s a lovely restaurant/club.  Everybody loved it.  Berry Gordy and Billy Dee Williams came and loved it. 

AM:  I’m sure you performed songs off your latest album.

FP:  Yes that album has been out and it has sold really good. 

AM:  I sure hope you are able to record another album for the same label.

FP:  I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they want me to do another one since this one was so well received.

AM:  It’s the most high profile recording you’ve done in a long time.

FP:  You’re right.  I haven’t had a major record deal since the 80’s when I recorded a song called ‘In Motion.’ 

AM:  Wasn’t Leon Sylvers involved in some way?

FP:  Leon’s brother Edmond Sylvers produced the song.  I ended up getting into a little squabble with the label because they wanted Leon to produce the whole album.  Here’s where I learned a lesson.  I was doing like that song, ‘Stand By Your Man’ because Edmond was my boyfriend at the time.  The label wanted Leon to produce the whole thing and Edmond wasn’t happy about it.  I stood by Edmond and the label said they were done.  That’s what happened.  So I learned my lesson about standing by my man.  If it’s not in my best interest I’m not standing! (Laughter)

AM:  Do you have some dates booked for 2015 yet?

FP:  Yes I’m coming back to Texas in a town called Teague about 100 miles outside Dallas. 

AM:  What are you doing there?

FP:  I’m doing a Gospel Musical called ‘Crowns.’  It was written by the actress Regina Taylor.  It’s been around for about 10 or 15 years.  It’s about these Black church women who wear their hats.  All the songs are Gospel tunes. 

AM:  Is this your first time performing in a Gospel play?

FP:  Yes, but it’s not staged.  We will be standing there with our hats on, reading the dialogue off the music stands.  We are performing the show three nights on January 29, 30 and 31.  I’ll be home on February 1.

AM:  Did you enjoy performing in the play in Dallas a couple months ago?

FP:  I enjoyed it a lot.  I had to work hard because I needed to learn a lot of lines and it was a staged play.  You saw it.  Did I do OK?

AM:  You did great!  Any live performance piece is lucky to have you be a part of it. 

FP:  Thanks, I’m glad I got to sing one of the songs from my new CD.  Then I’m doing the Portland Jazz Festival in February.

AM:  Do you think you will be doing jazz festivals now?

FP:  I want to do jazz festivals.  In May I’m going back to the Dirty Dog in Grove Point, Michigan.  That’s where my record company is located. 

AM:  I saw this great video of you performing in Detroit.

FP:  Yes, that was August 30 at the Detroit Jazz Festival.  The band was the Jazz Men of Note from the Air Force.  The band was spot on. 

AM:  You are an A List performer Freda!

FP:  Well…my dear…I’d like to believe that after all these years I am.  (laughter)

AM:  You won’t have time for any plays.

FP:  The thing with plays is you have to donate so much time learning everything.

AM:  Do you receive the same creative fulfillment from doing a play as you do a concert?

FP:  No because I feel like it’s not my thing and I feel that my singing sells me more.  I also like performing on my own.  I hope that doesn’t sound narcissistic.

AM:  No it makes sense.  You are always gracious and generous with people.

FP:  Well that’s how I want to be.  People who are more narcissistic seem to make it bigger faster but they pay for that karma in the later years. 

To learn more about Freda Payne visit her web site