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"I have never considered myself to be an R&B singer. But I do consider myself to be a soul singer"

IN three short years, Natalie Cole has risen to the point where today she is a household name. In the past few months, Natalie has had her own nationwide TV special, she has been awarded a Star in the famed Walk Of The Stars in Hollywood and, with the release of her new album, "I love You So", she has regained her perch on top of the charts.

Immediately prior to beginning her current worldwide tour — that will embrace every major American city, as well as London, Paris and several other major European cities — she took her time out to talk about her career to B&S editor, John Abbey. In her sumptuous, comfortable but not extravagant home overlooking Los Angeles. Natalie relaxed over breakfast…

JA: The logical place to start is with the new album, "I Love You So".
NC: Well, I wasn't there for a lot of the time this time because I was on the road. The recording schedule was pushed back and when it became time for them to cut the tracks, I was working. I didn't get back until five weeks later and by then, the tracks had been cut. I didn't even know the songs — except my own three, "Stand By", "Your Lonely Heart" and "Who Will Carry On".

JA: "Stand By" is the disco-ish one that is released as a single, right?
NC: Well, there are three uptempo ones but the remix of "Stand By" makes it sound a lot more disco to me.

JA: Are all three of your songs brand new!
NC: Yes, brand new.

JA: Are all the songs on the album brand new?
NC: Yes, they are.

JA: Do you feel this to be one of your best albums!
NC: I think it's the best since the first one.

JA: Since the first one?
NC: That probably sounds very conceited but I did my first album without knowing a thing about recording or studios and for a first album, I feel it was particularly good. It didn't stick to one thing and that's how I believe I got my first break through.

JA: Is the first album your favourite, then?
NC: Until the new one, yes.

JA: What do you feel was the ingredient in that first album that wasn't in the four between?
NC: Let's say that we didn't concentrate on the selection of material as much. I wasn't dissatisfied with the "Thankful" album, though. It came close to what I was trying to do. You just learn as you go along, I guess. Thank God, they've all gone Gold so we must be doing something right!

JA: Do you feel, then, that this album is more commercial?
NC: I can't tell you what the volume of sales is going to be but from a quality and artistic point of view, this, I feel, is my best album.

JA: You are completely happy with it?
NC: Completely! And that's unusual; it's never happened before.

JA: I understand that you are also featured on a gospel album that's coming up?
NC: Not really, that's not my album. Marvin (Yancy, Natalie's husband) and his brother, Keith, have a choir and they cut an album for T.K. They had one out last year and it did well in the gospel market. Anyway, it just so happens that Marvin and I sing together on one track and that is the track that has been released as a single. Really, I don't do too much actual singing — all I did was moan in the background! The whole album is really great, though — and they say that the single is a big hit in the gospel market.

JA: Are you featured on any other cuts on the album?
NC: No — but I did help direct the choir.

JA: How would you define jazz as far as your album is concerned?
NC: Oh — standing out in front of Count Basie's band! But I do want that big band sound so I would go to Nelson Riddle or Ralph Carmichael — or Count Basie.

JA: With existing songs or new material?
NC: Probably old material.

JA: Such as?
NC: I really don't know. But I remember an album called "Lambert, Hendricks And Ross" and they did all Count Basie's material but they put lyrics to the horn lines. It was very difficult to sing but they did it and it was excellent. That was one of the ideas we used on the new album — with a jazz tune called "The Winner". I may as well tell people now so they don't think I'm stealing somebody else's idea!

JA: That whole jazz era is something that you are particularly interested in
NC: I've always been a lover of jazz. It's the best music around and we all get our influence from it. You can't help it.

JA: Would you need different producers for such an album?
NC: Yes, I think so — although we have done very well with commercial jazz and none of us knows anything about it! But this kind of jazz would not be commercial in the way that a "Mr Melody" or "Lovers" was. It would be a little bit more intricate and require a special type of producer. But you never can tell because we have grown with this last album. I don't think we realised how far until the album was finished! We are all proud of this album, I think, because we used more outside tunes and Chuck and Marvin wrote some really good material for it.

JA: Is there not a danger of losing the R&B and pop market by going into jazz or gospel without keeping a steady flow of the kind of product that you have become known for?
NC: That's the risk I have to take. But people are always asking when I'll be doing an album of my father's tunes so I would automatically lose some of my audience just doing it. Maybe not lose but temporarily. But then there are a lot more Nat King Cole fans than Natalie Cole ones and I have not got to any of them yet really. And if I did a show of just my father's songs, I could work Vegas for the rest of my life! So, though there is a risk, I think it is justified.

JA: You have deliberately avoided getting into 'disco', as such?
NC: Yes, I have always said that — and I lied! Because the opening song on the album is all the way disco. In fact, there are three tunes on the album that could, I gues, be called 'disco'.

JA: That's the first time. Can I ask why?
NC: Well, I refused to let them do that disco rhythm and as long as they didn't do that, I said it was O.K. And, I liked the songs, too. They seem to be a little more classy than the average disco songs. So many of them are corny to me — almost foolish. And as an artist, I think that my material reflects my taste. Maybe if I was a muscian, I wouldn't care so much.

JA: Natalie, you have just been awarded a Star on the Walk Of Stars here in Hollywood. Is that something you are particularly proud of?
NC: You could say that! In a mild way! I'm very, very proud of it.

JA: Did it come as a surprise to you?
NC: In a way, yes. You see, I reneged my first chance when I heard that Paul Robeson was supposed to get one but didn't. I felt he had done ten time more than I had and he deserved it far more than me. Ben Vereen and Carol O'Connor both offered to give up their stars and there was a petition in existence. Anyway, they finally gave one to him so that got straightened out.

JA: You felt that strongly about it?
NC: He deserved it. That man travelled the world and kept saying how great America is. And he is also highly talented and extremely highly thought of. I don't feel that the Stars should only be about music or acting, too.

JA: But do you consider it an honor to be chosen in the first place?
NC: Yes, I do. I wish I could have done more to warrant it.

JA: Last year, you have your first TV special. Are there plans for another?
NC: It was very impulsive — I'm very impulsive. You see, I have my daily planner here — well, my plans don't come from my daily planner! They come from my manager at the last minute! And he says — guess what! And that is exactly how the TV special came about. It's also how most of my career has happened to this point. If we planned it, it would probably fall flat on its face. But I am sure there will be another TV special — I just don't know when.

JA: Were you happy with it?
NC: Yes, I was.

JA: Who chose the guests who appeared on it?
NC: Me!

JA: Why did you choose the ones you chose!
NC: They were the people I wanted. We were looking for a crossover type of special so my manager and I sat down and chose artists we felt everybody would want to see. Stephen Bishop is a crossover artist. Johnny Mathis is, of course. And Earth Wind and Fire are just hot — everywhere! And then there was me. I was really the hostess of the show and I wanted it to be that way. I didn't want to always be on camera. And it worked.

JA: Natalie, I want to talk about your songwriting. Do you have a set routine for writing?
NC: No, I don't. I can't see how someone can write with a set pattern. I don't see how it can come on a schedule like that. It has to be inspired. I get inspiration at the strangest of times. Sometimes — as with "Your Lonely Heart", which I wrote on the road — I can't get to a piano and I have to keep it in my head. I have been taking piano lessons for about a year and that is helping me.

JA: Are you planning to become more involved in writing?
NC: I really want to be a publisher of songs, too. I have a publishing company — Cole-arama Music — that should be looking pretty good by the end of the year. I have just signed two writers — Scott English, who used to be with Barry Manilow's company; and Lisa Hart, who is a new girl from Canada and who plays guitar and is really great. She's wild and yet subtle at the same time — a kind of soulfolk rock.

JA: Are you planning to expand your activities so that you are not just an entertainer?
NC: I guess so. For example, I don't want to go on Broadway, where you work for 365 days a year, two shows a night. I did that for three years — six shows a night, 45 minutes each set. It may not have been Broadway — but it was hard work! I really have a great deal of respect for people who do that. I'm really not into that Broadway thing and if I had to go, I would rather it be as a straight actress.

JA: Is that something you'd like to do?
NC: I really don't know. Sometimes, if you get me in front of a camera, I can freeze. Sometimes, I have to be pushed. I love TV and cameras but they are not for me, let's say. I prefer the spontaneity of a 'live' audience at a concert. I hate having monitors following me around. It's just too technical for me. That's why "Saturday Night Live" is such a success on TV — because it is 'live'. Whatever it is they're doing, they are doing it right. Their guests are allowed to perform in the way they are most comfortable. If I am used to doing a song moving around and I'm told to stay in one spot to sing it, I don't think I can deliver the song as well. It restricts me and that is important. For the special, we tried to get a warmth across and that's why we used so few cue-cards.

JA: I think it came across.
NC: We have done some really terrific TV spots for the album, though, and we tried to emanate that warmth again. And there are a couple of special TV shorts that we did for the overseas market, too.

JA: Do you feel that success has changed you?
NC: Absolutely! I can live again. As for thing like always being recognised, that's a drag. I can't even go to church sometimes without being hassled. I judge my success by the amount of respect I gain as I climb the ladder. It's like when I am able to do a Frank Sinatra show and where I'm the baby of the show. Or, like the "Tribute To The Apollo" show, where again I was the baby of the guests. For example, too, I did a Johnny Carson TV show recently and Don Rickles was so nice to me — on and off the camera. I felt I had gained respect from someone important and that is how I measure my success.

JA: How about the trappings of success?
NC: The trappings of success is the money, right? When some people get money, they think they can do, say and be anything they want to be. And that is not fair to people who are trying to make this a respectable business. You know, show business used to be considered a lowdown profession. My aunt told my mother when she married my father that she was a disgrace and how could she marry a wandering minstrel! It's only now that singers are getting any kind of respect and that's why they should feel more responsible to the public. Fortuntely, there are a lot of technical people behind the scenes who see to it that we don't go wrong more often.

JA: Do you consider yourself to be an R&B singer?
NC: No, I have never considered myself to be an R&B singer. But I do consider myself to be a soul singer.

JA: Is there that much diference?
NC: In the music business, I guess there isn't. Because soul has come to mean R&B. But to me, soul means heart — and I am a heart singer. I am dedicated to my profession and I don't really categorise what I am singing. Whatever I like, I sing. Except for disco!

JA: So, if they were to release a 12" disco-disc on you, it would be the kiss of death?
NC: Who did that? I'll kill 'em!!!

JA: Is the fact that you and your father are both on Capitol purely a coincidence?
NC: Purely a coincidence. They were the last company I wanted to go with. Not becuase of anything bad but because I didn't want them to feel obligated to taking me because of my dad. As it turned out, my tape sat there for four months so I wasn't getting any special favors! And I'm glad. All of the companies wanted me — but they all wanted me to change my style, my material, my producers, my face or something or other. Or they wanted me to sound like my father. Capitol didn't and so that's why I chose them. And it looks like I made the right decision. Let's face it, if I had wanted to cash in on my dad, I would have gone straight to them.

JA: Has your son had a big effect on your life?
NC: Oh, yes. I'll talk about him all day. I'll just say he's walkin', talkin', and dancin', and clappin', his hands — in rhythm! And his hair is growing and he has to go shopping for some clothes! He looks just like his father, too. Oh, and he's learning to play piano. He's just fifteeen months old. And when he's away, I miss him very much!

JA: Do you take him on the road with you?
NC: Only on location — not on one-niters. The year he was born, we did 200 one-niters but he won't remember that because he was inside! When I look back and think about it! I was planning to go to the World Series just before he was born — on October 14th, 1977. My mother said I was a fool and that I might give birth to the baby at the stadium! Anyway, on the Thursday night before the game, I was taking a mother's class and I started having these contractions. By the time I had gotten home, they were becoming more and more frequent — though we still stopped off and got some great fried chicken! Anyway, I missed the world series — but my mother didn't! She saw it all and the baby was there when she got back.

JA: I know you said that you didn't plan ahead much but are there any plans that you have for this year?
NC: Yes, I plan to produce two people for my production company, Production Three. They are both very young, very talented people. I'll co-produce one with another guy and the other with Mark Davis. Musically, the direction is very different from me but the girl, Lisa, reminds me of me because she is so excitable and fresh and not afraid to try something new. But, like I say, there will be no musical conflict.

JA: You are in the midst of a nationwide and international tour?
NC: Yes — and it's much better than the last two years, believe me! The first year was pretty tough and though the second year was better, this tour has been really wonderful so far.

JA: Is the show staged — are you planning lots of props!
NC: No, we tried that! Just lights and some choreography. It's no Parliament show!

JA: Finally, Natalie, you received a whole lot of nominations for various awards for last year, didn't you?
NC: Well, there was the American Music Awards and the Grammys. And I co-hosted the "Tribute To The Apollo" show. And I headlined the MGM in Las Vegas — which, although it wasn't my first time there, it was my first time headlining.




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Natalie Cole June 1976 Interview
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