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LINDA CLIFFORD 2011 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
THE EVOLUTION OF A DISCO DIVA
Phone interview conducted July 22, 2011

During the 1970s, disco was king and every female recording artist was vying to be its queen. With hits like “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, “Red Light”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Runaway Love”, Linda Clifford’s name was at the top of that long list. However, disco was only a part of her story.

In a conversation that revisits some of the highs and the lows of her career, Linda shares how she went from child star, beauty queen and jazz stylist to conquering the crowded world of disco. And her last dance is nowhere in sight as she explains to Darnell Meyers-Johnson…



Darnell Meyers-Johnson: Good day, this is Darnell Meyers-Johnson for SoulMusic.com. Today I’m speaking with a lady who definitely left her mark on the disco era. She was all over the place with hits like “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, “Red Light”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Shoot Your Best Shot” and of course, “Runaway Love”. She is still on the scene and still involved with dance music. Without any further delay I would like to welcome Miss Linda Clifford. How are you, Miss Clifford?

Linda Clifford: Hi, hi, hi, how are you?

DMJ: I’m good. Thank you so much for speaking with us; we do appreciate the time that you’re taking out for this.

LC: Oh, it’s my pleasure—my pleasure.

DMJ: I always like to learn a little bit about people and who they were before the fame and before the hits and all of that. What can you tell me about your childhood growing up in Brooklyn?

LC: Well, let’s see… what can I tell you about my childhood? I don’t know. You want to go that far back, huh?

DMJ: Did you come from a musical family?

LC: I’ll tell you honestly, my dad had a wonderful, wonderful singing voice. In fact, he had been friends with Billy Eckstine—I don’t know if a lot of the listeners out there will know Billy Eckstine, but they had similar voices and they actually sang together a few times and my dad decided, “Oh, there’s no future in this music business. I’m going to be a plumber.” [Laughs]

DMJ: Yeah, a real job.

LC: Right, exactly. At that time it was really key to have something where you had a check coming in every week and you had something you could rely on—you didn’t go traipsing off into the arts. That just wasn’t done. And I always wanted to be involved with music and onstage, and I think partially because my parents started this whole mess—they put me in school for dancing. So when you grow up in that life and being onstage, which I did, how do you just switch all of a sudden and go, “I think I’ll be a schoolteacher.” It doesn’t make sense. If you grow up wanting to be a schoolteacher, that’s one thing—and it’s a great profession; I have the most respect for them—but I grew up onstage singing and dancing. And so when it was time for college and they couldn’t understand why I didn’t really want to go—I wanted to be onstage—they were like, “But why?” I’m like, “It’s what you put me in.”

DMJ: It’s your fault.

LC: Y’all did it.

DMJ: Now I understand at seven years old you were performing on a weekly television show. How does a seven-year-old get a weekly TV gig? I’m still trying to get one; that’s why I’m asking.

LC: I’m trying to get one now [laughs]. Actually I was studying dance at a school in New York called the Charlie Lowe Studios and many of the TV shows and theatres at that time, when they were looking for young people to perform, they would come there. And unknowingly, when we were in the middle of our classes, we were actually auditioning for these people. And so I happened to be performing at the studio one day and someone from “The Merry Mailman” show came in, and that was Ray Heatherton. It was a children’s show and he was a mailman who would show up with a mailbag and he would sing [sings]: “I am the merry mailman…” that kind of thing.

And so I was selected out of this group of kids to sing that song with him and to dance down the street with him. So I did it once or twice and then it became a regular thing. And shortly after that there used to be a show broadcast from Macy’s department store. We would be in our little fluffy dresses and come out and we’d be in the children’s department and they would do the TV show from the children’s department in Macy’s. Scary, huh?

DMJ: I want to see the footage. I wish it was available somewhere.

LC: I don’t think anybody has it… I hope they don’t; I was scared to death. But that’s how that all came to be. So it was a very different time—very different than it is now. And again, at that time and over the next fifteen, twenty years, young people had a place to practise our craft. We could go to the Catskill Mountains, which I did; we could go and work different theatre venues and that kind of thing to really get your act together, and I was very fortunate to be involved with that studio because I spent a few summers in the Catskill Mountains, so I learned how to speak and sing in different languages and I learned tap dance and ballet. It was just… entertainment was so different at that point. And I got to work with wonderful people. We would open for people like Red Buttons—and people, of course, that the younger generation may not be aware of now, but those were the people who were playing the circuits then—Alan King and all the big comics—Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope. So we opened for people like that. When we were young kids and we had no idea these people were major stars, and here we are sharing a dressing room or a stage or whatever.

DMJ: Sounds like a wonderful time.

LC: It was a wonderful time. It was kind of weird at the time because you’re like, “Why am I in the mountains? What am I doing in the country? I’m from Brooklyn!”

DMJ: In 1966, as a young lady, you became Miss New York State, which is one of the preliminaries to the Miss America contest. You were one of the first black women to ever win such a title; however, your name today doesn’t show up on their list of winners. I want to say for the audience that I’m a little bit aware of why that is, so I know it’s a bit uncomfortable for you to talk about, but if you can talk about it a little bit, I would appreciate it. Tell us just why your name doesn’t show up on their official list of winners.

LC: Well actually, it was part of the Miss U.S.A. organization at the time—it wasn’t Miss America. So it was Miss U.S.A., and what happened initially was I entered this pageant on a dare. It was just one of those things, and who thinks when you go into this that you’re going to win? It’s like, crazy. So I entered this pageant with a girlfriend, I won the Miss Brooklyn Teenager thing and the deal is, which I didn’t realize at the time—if you win, you have to continue—you have to go on to the next round. So here I was, Miss Brooklyn Teenager and then Miss Brooklyn and I won that. So suddenly I’m thrown into this Miss New York thing, and again, in 1966… is that the year it was? Oh Dear God.

DMJ: I think so, but you would know better than I.

LC: It was a pretty turbulent time. I think that was the year. The civil rights movement was huge and there were a lot of things going on, and here I was up onstage against all these other young women who were from these suburban homes. And everybody was just flawless and had all this money behind them, and here was this little girl from Brooklyn, this little colored girl, thinking that she belonged up on the stage. Well, we did the whole pageant—we did the whole bathing suit thing and the whole evening gown—and I was not selected when the finals came around. So my parents and I were starting to get our things together, and as we’re about to leave, several of the judges rush over and they go, “Wait, there’s been a mistake.” So we thought, oh, well, maybe somehow I managed to get into the final three, which would be great. And it turns out, according to them, that I actually won Miss New York State, and that there was some funny business going on. So basically what had happened was that whoever tallied the votes made sure that I did not get the crown, and the crown was awarded to two young women from, I believe, Long Island, neither of whom was African-American or any “minority”.

The next thing I knew, the New York Daily News was in my face, they’re taking pictures, they’re writing up this story and they’re going through all this stuff. But what they actually did was they printed our home address in the newspaper, which at this particular time in our history was a little frightening because we started receiving threatening letters from the Klan and some groups of that type; to the point that we had to leave our home because my father was afraid for my mom and the rest of my family that someone was going to hurt us.

Because such a big deal was made out of it, the pageant decided, “Okay, we’re going to send you for the Miss U.S.A. pageant.” Well, they never gave me a crown; they never gave me a sash that said Miss New York. They sent the three of us there, and when I got there, they made me wear the sash that said Miss Brooklyn. Again, I never got a crown or a trophy, and my parents had to hire armed bodyguards to protect me because there were threats against my life.

So I talk about it now and I make light of the situation, and my folks were desperate for me not to go—they really begged me not to go—but I pretty much insisted because I knew that if I did not show up, then those people would win. The people who were making those threats would get what they wanted, and I did not want… I’m stubborn. I said, “Oh, no-no-no-no, I’m going. And if they get me, they get me, but I’m going to show my face. I’m going to take my bathing suit and my evening gown”—

Yeah, and my little Miss Brooklyn sash, that’s right—“and I will be on that stage with the rest of them.” So no, it was not the most pleasant time of my life; it is something that I’ll never forget. But things are so different now. It was almost like, at one point a few years ago, I kind of got my revenge—I shouldn’t say revenge, that’s a bad word—but my daughter… I saw something in the newspaper and I said, “Oh, please, do it for Mommy.” I kind of guilted her into entering this pageant—in this area where we live, and she won. And of course she had to continue to go on, and she became part of the Miss America system, which is a scholarship pageant which I just love. It is so different from what I had done, and in this day and age it was incredible. And she ended up becoming, I believe, first runner-up to Miss Illinois and ended up with fifty-eight thousand dollars in scholarship money for college, which was fabulous. It was a whole different event: it was so pleasant, and the people were very caring. She was not the only brown face involved—it was great. She said, “Okay, I’m going to do it for you this one time, but don’t ask me again.” [Laughs] I said, “Okay.”

DMJ: That’s funny. So this racism that you encountered early on in your career, what impression did it leave on you as a young woman? After all the pageant stuff was said and done and you’re thinking about what you’re going to do next with your life, what impression did that incident leave on you?

LC: I think obviously it made me, certainly, much more aware of things that were going on, not just around me but things that I was not privy to. When you grow up in Brooklyn, New York, you don’t see that kind of racism—it’s generally not as blatant, or you just turn a blind eye. But suddenly it was like, “Wait a second, this is not supposed to be happening.” And I started to become a little bit more involved in what was going on, not in my immediate area but in the rest of the country. And then of course, traveling on the road after that experience… I did join a band and we traveled quite a bit, and there were times we were driving through areas and they would say, “Okay, you have to get down on the floor.” I’m like, “What?” They’re like, “You have to stay on the floor because we don’t want the highway patrol to see a black and white in the same car.” This was areas in Georgia and very, very far south. When people hear these stories today they think, “Oh, that’s not true.” Well yeah, it is true.

And trying to find a place to live—people won’t rent to you. I experienced all of those things. People from the—I hate to keep bringing this group up, but—the KKK, who wanted to date me. I’m like, “Are you kidding?” Their idea of a date and mine is, I’m sure, two totally different things.

I thought, “What in the world? This is too strange.” But you know, you learn from your experiences. God bless you, if you use your brain, you will learn from your experiences, and I think I did learn that everybody is not racially motivated in that way. I don’t blame any particular race for the things that I encountered; I blame a particular group of people, maybe, or a person: that particular ignorance is what affected me, not an entire race of people.

So it would be like someone who is white saying all African-American people are the same: why would I perpetuate that on the other end of the scale? I wouldn’t want to do that, and I hope today people are smart enough to know that there are things that are changing—look at our President. Oh my God, I can’t believe it!

DMJ: Right, exactly. Who thought they would ever see that?

LC: Let me tell you something: when that vote came in, I was on the floor, crying. And I’m about to cry now. It’s just… I never thought I would ever see it. I understand that at this point what he’s going through with Congress right now is just another form of racism in many ways, and I think a lot of the American people are also seeing that, so they realize what’s happening. But the fact is, we have an African-American president: a man who can speak, a man who is intelligent, and I would put him up against anyone. That’s one of the proudest moments of my life; the fact that I lived to see that is just incredible. You’d think I was the President [laughs].

DMJ: It was profound, particularly for people who have experienced the things that you just talked about: having to deal with being in certain parts of the country, and having to hide yourself, so to speak, so you wouldn’t be seen and to avoid confrontation.

LC: Oh, yeah—going into a restaurant and having somebody say they won’t serve you. Having somebody hand me my food and then spit in it as they’re handing it to me. I’ve experienced those things firsthand. I know that pain; I know what it feels like. And to now have an African-American President; to be able to walk into any restaurant I want and sit anywhere I want—those things affect you for a lifetime. Sometimes it makes me very sad when I see a younger generation who does not appreciate the people who went through those things; who suffered those things so that they could have a better life, and then they don’t go to school. We were out there fighting to be able to go to school and they decide, “Nah, I’m not going.”

It is amazing and it’s very sad, and I desperately want people to understand that in spite of some of the things that we see in our country, it’s not everyone in the country: you can do better; you have to want to do better for yourself. But you can’t let other people hold you back and make decisions for your life. Okay, so I’m going to stop preaching now, I’m sorry.

DMJ: I’m going to let you say as much as you want to say. I recently interviewed Freda Payne, and what the two of you have in common is that you started out singing jazz in supper clubs. So I wanted to ask you: what is it about jazz music that attracted you initially?

LC: I think that way back in the day, before there was the Motown Sound or even rock and roll… yeah, they’ve been around a long time, but jazz and blues are something that have been around even longer. And in a family where there was always music playing in my home I got to hear all these wonderful singers--Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald—people like that. How could you not want to sing it?

It was like, whoa! in your face, “Listen to what she just did.” It just touched you. And so I tried to fashion myself a little bit after some of these great artists, and I thought, “They are so incredible.” So again, with music taking the turn that it’s taken over the last twenty years with rap and house and that kind of thing, I really would want young people to go back and listen to some of this other music and understand where the music of today actually came from. The jazz thing to me… I still enjoy listening to those same people. The clarity of their voices, the melodic tone—that’s something that you don’t get so much of today. So yeah, that affected me a great deal, and that’s why I started singing that.

DMJ: Do you ever wish that you could have had the same success that you’ve had but by doing jazz music? In other words, were you ever disappointed that you didn’t get an appreciation more for that? You sort of became a disco queen, eventually.

LC: Never—not one minute. Not one minute. I loved the music; I still listen to it. I so adore my fans and the people who listen to the music that got me to where I am. I love the kind of music that I do. You have to love what you’re doing, otherwise what’s the point?

At any given moment I could have walked away and said, “This is not for me.” But the minute I walk out on that stage and I see those faces and I hear that music, I’m in it—I am in it.

DMJ: I’ve seen you in action.

LC: So it’s like, oh, no. I don’t have any regrets about that at all. I love what I do.

DMJ: Ironically, given the racism thing that we talked about with that beauty pageant experience, your first mainstream single—I know you did some things as a teenager, but your first mainstream single was in ’73, I think, a song called “March Across the Land”. And that was a song that actually talked about racial harmony and equality. Was it important for you to have a message in your music at that time?

LC: It was, I think because of the things that we talked about and some of the things that I had gone through. When I heard the song I thought, “Wow, that kind of sums it up, doesn’t it? It kind of puts it right in your face.” And it just seemed to be the right song for me at the right time. So I was very pleased and excited to do it and yeah, it definitely was a great time and a great message. Unfortunately we’re still living in a time where that is not a complete scenario—there’s always going to be some ignorance out there somewhere. But yes, it’s better. It still has a long way to go—we all do—but I only pray that as we age and as we learn… when you know better, you do better. So I’m hoping that things will continue to change for the better.

DMJ: You started seeing some chart success with what I think was the B-side of that same song: it was a song called “It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Winter”.

LC: Yes. My goodness, Darnell, you’re going too far back now. (Laughs)

DMJ: What I was going to ask you about that song, because it was written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, who you had all that later success with, was: was that the first time that you guys worked together?

LC: It was the first time. Curtis was such a wonderful, wonderful guy and so easy to work with, and talented. I’m so glad that we got to spend more time working together and to be on the road doing shows and that kind of thing, because the rest of us suffered a terrible loss when we lost him.

DMJ: And I do want to ask you about that, but what I first want to ask you: he went on to form his own label and you eventually joined it; how did that deal happen?

LC: That’s a long story, but I’m going to give you the Reader’s Digest version. Basically what happened, at one point I had moved to Chicago; I had been living in Los Angeles and traveling around the country with my band, and we were playing clubs in Chicago and I just decided at one point, I need to do something more than just go from club to club to club in order for my dream to become a reality. I wanted to do more than just sing other people’s songs and travel around and live out of a suitcase. Unfortunately I didn’t realize at the time that the more success you got, the more traveling you actually did [laughs]. But I knew the record label here in town and I thought, “That’s the only record company I know, and I’m going to go over there and see who’s there.” I just got all dressed up one day and walked in like I knew somebody.

DMJ: “I have an appointment.”

LC: Yeah, I was like, “I would like to see Mr. Curtis Mayfield, please.” “Well, I’m sorry, he’s not here, but his partner is here—the president of the company is here, if you would like to…” I said “Yes” and I introduced myself. At the time I was working at the Playboy Club with my band, and I invited him and whatever group he cared to bring to the Playboy Club as my guest, you know: “Please come and hear me sing because I need a record deal.” Sometimes you just feel like: listen, I got nowhere else to go.

DMJ: Yeah, let’s keep it real.

LC: You just take a shot or you stay where you are, and I just felt at that stage of my life it was time for me to take my shot. And I guess about three nights later they showed up and I was like, “oh snap, they’re here!” It was Curtis, several friends, and they had this big, huge table right in the centre of the room. They sat and they listened to the band, and I went over and I spoke with them, and I guess about a week later I signed a contract.

DMJ: I was going to say, it probably wouldn’t have been that difficult, really, being that you already had that previous work experience.

LC: Right, exactly; but we hadn’t seen each for quite some time, so it wasn’t like, “Hey, girl, how you doing?” It wasn’t one of those—it was like, “Oh my God, that’s right, I remember you.” It was more of that. So it worked itself out so well, and Curtis and I worked well in the studio together, and we just started collecting these songs from everywhere. And that’s what led to the very first album.

DMJ: Was that the LINDA album in 1977?

LC: That was the LINDA album that had the song by Lou Rawls… oh gosh, now I can’t think of it. [Editorial Note: Ms. Clifford is referring to “From Now On” which appeared on Lou Rawls’ 1976 album ALL THINGS IN TIME.] But we did that, and it just became like a little radio hit. People were like, “Yeah” and I thought, wow—something’s happening. So it was just the beginning of things to come.

DMJ: That album had a nice mixture on it. It had some of the disco tunes, but you also did pop covers.

LC: Right.

DMJ: And you did some ballads on there.

LC: Exactly. And Phyllis Hyman and I [each] recorded the song “You Can Do It”. They both got released at the same time, and we were like, “Uh-oh. Y’all ain’t coordinate this mess?”

Yeah, so Phyllis and I, over the years, would constantly work together and would see each other and laugh about the fact that we both had that same song out at the same time.

DMJ: Did you actually strike up a genuine friendship, or was it more of seeing each other…?

LC: Actually, we would see each other in clubs quite a bit during that period—especially Studio 54, that was like a second home to both of us; we worked there quite a bit. And when you’re in New York you’re constantly running into each other, so it wasn’t a thing where we called each other and chatted on the phone every day. But we would see each other, I would say, at least once every two weeks. So we always had “new” news for each other, and that kind of thing.

DMJ: Your second album, 1978’s IF MY FRIENDS COULD SEE ME NOW, was probably your most commercially successful one: that’s the one that everybody knows the big hit “Runaway Love” from. Tell me what you remember about making that song in particular, “Runaway Love”.

LC: Child…

DMJ: Is that another long story?

LC: Yeah, child. Okay, all right. Listen: “Runaway Love”—huh?

DMJ: I said I’ve gotta sit down, but I was joking.

LC: Go ahead, sit down, child. It’s gonna take a minute. Actually, that particular tune, we were in the throes of trying to find songs for this album, because I don’t think anybody expected the success that the first album had. So everybody was like, “Oh. We need to get some stuff together, ’cause we’re gonna have to do this again.” So we started looking for tunes, and at that point—very different from today, where people have equipment in their basement: you go into the basement to record and there ain’t one live musician nowhere to be seen—in those days you had live musicians in a studio. So we’re sitting around and the band starts playing this groove, and we’re laughing and joking, and I got up and started talking about my ex-husband—that’s where “Runaway Love” came from. So all those lines about “You ain’t got no money, take your dog with you”, that kind of thing. So unknowingly, the engineer was recording. We stopped, and we’re laughing, and he comes running in and he goes, “That’s a hit!” and I’m like, “What’s a hit?” And he started playing it back and I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m so embarrassed. You can’t do that!”

DMJ: Don’t put that out there!

LC: Right—don’t put all my business out in the street. So we did remove a few lines because we couldn’t put any salty language out there, but we did keep a lot of things in that we thought made a good song. And by the time we pulled this thing together and put it out there, the next thing I know, we’re on the road, I turn on the radio, it was playing on one station and “If My Friends Could See Me Now” was playing on another. We were like, “Oh snap, this is unbelievable.” So it was quite an event.

DMJ: And Gil Askey was behind that, right?

LC: Gil actually was the producer for that album, correct.

DMJ: And he had success with people like Diana Ross and different people like that.

LC: Right, that’s my understanding.

DMJ: Did you ever feel a sense of rivalry with Diana Ross and Donna Summer and all these other people who were around during the disco era? It seems like disco was so big, everybody was trying to be the king or the queen of it.

LC: Oh God no, listen… let me tell you something, that’s just not the kind of person I am.

DMJ: Right. Well, I didn’t necessarily mean in a mean-spirited way. Just as healthy competition.

LC: I felt like there was room in this business for everybody, and Diana Ross—my God, she was so established as the supreme Supreme—do you know what I mean?—there was never a sense of (rivalry), not from me. And Donna Summer, she had her own… we all had a different sound. And even though they inevitably lumped it in the same music group—radio did—I never felt that there was that type of competition. Nobody was dissing on this diva or that diva. I don’t think that that was happening; at least it wasn’t happening for me. Why, did you hear something? You better tell me, Darnell.

DMJ: Wait, I’ve got to turn the recorder off—I’m joking. People still like to hear you sing the other song that we just mentioned, “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, and that’s known from the Broadway musical “Sweet Charity”. Did you ever consider or want to do a musical? As I was reading about you, I don’t know if I came across anything that said that you’ve ever done one.

LC: I love theatre. I would love to do theatre, and it so happens that initially, when they brought that song to me, I didn’t want to record it because I thought it was sacrilegious. I was actually in the movie with Shirley MacLaine, “Sweet Charity”.

DMJ: That’s right, I did read that.

LC: Certainly I would have loved to have been in the show, but I think at that point I was pretty young, and I really don’t know if I could have done the theatrical version. But I did get to work on the movie for a couple of weeks, and that was just the most incredible thing. Then when they brought me the song they said, “We think this would be a great disco hit.” And I’m like, “Oh, no, I’ll never sing it. That’s sacrilege.” Then they recorded it anyway and brought it to me, and I said, “Ooh, I like that.” Once I heard the music I was like, “It’s different but it’s the same.” Do you know what I mean?

And when you listen to the lyrics of that song, taking it from the Broadway show and then into the movie and then into the mainstream in clubs, people always have someone or a few people that they want to say, “Okay, you see what I’m doing now? See, you told me I couldn’t do it.” It’s like people want to hear that. I can’t go anywhere without singing that song—I have to do “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, because so many people relate to it for whatever reason. It’s like, “that’s my jam”.

DMJ: It feeds into the idea that success is the greatest revenge: anytime that you have someone who’s either done you wrong or hated on you or discouraged you…

LC: Honey, living well is without a doubt the greatest revenge. Do not tell me I can’t do something because I’m gonna go do it the next day, ’cause that’s just who I am. I can’t do that? Watch this.

DMJ: I like that attitude.

LC: Well, you have to, because you can’t let other people step on your dream.

If you decide that you don’t want to try something, that’s one thing, but don’t let somebody else tell you “You can’t.” Because you know what? That’s going to make me want to do it even harder. I just think it’s sad when people say, “I wish I woulda.” Don’t live your life that way. Try it—get out there and go for it, because only you know what’s going to make you happy. You can’t rely on other people to make you happy.

DMJ: Words to live by. And you would really know that because back at this time, particularly in ’79 and ’80, you were working really, really hard: in a two-year period of time you released four albums.

LC: Uuugghhh, tell me about it.

DMJ: Why were you working so hard?

LC: I was like, “Y’all trying to kill me?” And being on the road at the same time as that was going on. Yeah, it was a very busy time, but I was doing what I loved and that really makes a difference. It’s not like I was going to work in a retail shop or something that I didn’t want to do; it wasn’t that I was pushing my dream aside to go dig a ditch. I was doing something that I loved doing, and I think even at that age I appreciated the fact that I was fortunate enough to be able to do that, because so many people today are unhappy with their existence because they didn’t pursue that dream or they were unable, for whatever reason—there are lots of reasons out there that people do the things they do.

There was a period in my life when I had a young child, I was raising my teenage sister, I had a foster child—no husband—barely had a place to live, and my first thought was, “I got to go get me another job.” And instead of waiting tables, someone came to me and said, “Uh-uh, you ain’t waiting on tables. You’ve got too much talent to do that. You’re gonna sing.” And that pulled me out of what could have been a lifelong depression or funk or whatever you want to call it and it kept my dream alive. And I married that person—okay, I’ve been married to him for thirty-four years. I said, “You’re good for me!”

DMJ: That one was a keeper. Don’t go nowhere.

LC: Don’t go nowhere—you good for me [laughs]. So that worked out very well.

DMJ: Exactly—that was a hit; that was a hit right there.

LC: That was it.




DMJ: In ’79—I just want to talk about each of those years for a second—in ’79 the two albums you came out with were LET ME BE YOUR WOMAN and HERE’S MY LOVE. I was listening to LET ME BE YOUR WOMAN last night. We were just talking about the disco version of “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, but I want to ask you about the disco version on this one, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. That’s a classic song, everybody knows that the original song is a classic. Did you have any trepidation about making a disco version of that?

LC: Yes, I did.

DMJ: How did you overcome that?

LC: I overcame it simply because when you sit down and read the lyrics to that song, initially the song was geared towards one particular audience. But when you sit and you read that lyric, it’s like, “This is too good for everybody not to hear it.” We want other people to hear that you can count on me; there is a bridge; let me be there for you. That kind of thing does exist, and I thought, “I’m just going to go ahead and do it.” And I don’t regret it one bit. It’s such a great song. Paul Simon, who wrote it, I don’t know if he likes the disco version of it or not, but people take classics and rework them all the time. So “If My Friends Could See Me Now”—Cy Coleman, who was the writer of that particular tune, literally called in to a radio station that I was being interviewed on and thanked me over the air for doing his song and bringing it to the masses. So it just depends. I think everybody’s different in how they perceive what you’ve done with their work. I’m sure that this was very heartfelt for him and it came from a wonderful place, but I just felt that it should be shared with more than one particular group of people, and I think that we did that when we did this version.

DMJ: Right—expand the message to another audience.

LC: Yeah, it’s a good message—send it out, let everybody hear it.

DMJ: Around that same time, music videos started to become popular, and I understand that you did a video for that song. I’ve never seen it, though, but I understand you did it on the Brooklyn Bridge. Is that correct?

LC: (Laughs) Yes, we did; we did it on the Brooklyn Bridge. We were like, “Uh-oh, okay, wait. Cars are fixin’ to come through here, we’d better hurry up and start doing this.”

DMJ: So you guys didn’t get special permission, you just did it guerilla-style?

LC: No, we actually did get special permission. We had a certain amount of time that we could work, and when that time was up… you have to find this video, because I’m going to tell you the funniest thing in the world: at the end of the video you start to see people walking across the bridge with their gym shoes on, going to work. I’m like, “Y’all couldn’t wait for thirty seconds?” We’re at the end of the song, and this woman comes across in her business suit with her gym shoes and makes it across the bridge.

DMJ: Like, “I don’t care about your little video.”

LC: You’re going to have to look that up. Videos at that point were so different—now it’s like a movie production, and certainly Michael Jackson had a lot to do with that. I think at one point they stuck me in a fountain in Central Park for “Runaway Love”. I’m like, “You want me to do what?”

DMJ: Now I did see that one.

LC: Yeah, I’m like, “sit in the fountain?!” I said, “Do you see I’ve got pantyhose on? I can’t be sittin’ in no fountain.” So they put me in the fountain and they said, “Just do a lip-sync real quick.” And seriously, the camera came on and people started gathering around like…

DMJ: I was going to say, weren’t people watching you?

LC: They were like, “What is she doing up in there?” The song wasn’t a hit at that point. They were preparing because they thought that it was going to be huge, so they said, “Well, we’re in New York. Let’s go do this shoot and we’ll set it up real fast, no big deal.” People are standing around looking at me like, “Oh, they need to put her away.” I am doing a lip-sync at seven o’clock in the morning to “Runaway Love”, with the pantyhose, in a fountain.

DMJ: And the rest is history.

LC: Yeah. So this is a crazy business—when they say show business is crazy, they’re not kidding.

DMJ: The other album you did that year, HERE’S MY LOVE, it wasn’t a popular one for you, quite frankly. It wasn’t a hit, so to speak.

LC: I know and I was so disappointed. I loved that album.

DMJ: I was going to say, I understand it’s one of your favourites. I just want you to tell me why that one kind of stands out for you.

LC: I like that it was varied: it had “Only The Angels Know”, with that bossa nova feel. At that point people were expecting more of that bass drum disco blah-blah-blah, and at that time I just felt maybe we could try something a little bit different. I don’t necessarily want to be boxed into just this when there are other avenues that we can travel. I want to do be able to do all the music that I love, which would have been great. We had these songs which were pretty incredible, and so we went in, we recorded them; the album cover was shot by Francesco Scavullo… it was like, BAM! In your face kind of thing. And unfortunately people were like, “What’s this?”

DMJ: “What is she doing now?”

LC: “What is she doing now? She’s supposed to be making me dance and stuff.” So that was kind of disappointing to me, but I still love the album. I still play it, so it’s okay.

DMJ: In ’80, as I was saying before, you released two albums, and one of the ones that I want to talk about is the duet album that you did with Curtis called THE RIGHT COMBINATION. I also listened to that last night. I think that is one of the best duet albums ever made.

LC: That was such a good album. Wasn’t that really a good album?

DMJ: It really was, it was just nice and soulful and smooth. Tell me just a little about what you remember of working on that with him.

LC: I’ll tell you, I do remember that we laughed a lot. We went into the studio and just played with vocals, we listened to different things. Nowadays when two different acts go into the studio, one might record in New York and the other in Los Angeles. Well, we were in the same studio together at the same time, so we’re looking at each other—facing each other—singing these lines. And of course, I knew Curtis’ wife and he knew my husband, and they’re hanging around the studio, and we’re singing these great love ballads and stuff to each other—laughing, because he was like my brother. And we just had such a wonderful time doing some of those songs—“Rock You To Your Socks”—to me, that was a killer tune. I loved that song. And “The Right Combination” itself. We did a lot of good work together. So I remember that as being a fun time for both of us.

DMJ: We talked earlier a little bit about Curtis, and you were going to tell me how you remember him. This year will be the 12th anniversary of his passing. We all know him and you also mentioned that he’s a musical genius, that’s how the fans know him, but you were closer to him than most of us. How do you remember him from a personal perspective?

LC: I remember a very soft-spoken, genuine human being—just a very warm, make-you-feel-comfortable, down-to-earth guy who happened to be a genius. He just had a way about him: “Hey, it’s just me, Curtis, and I’ve got my little guitar, I’m getting on the bus and I’m going to go to sleep, now. Talk to y’all later.” That kind of guy, and just a wonderful person. Again, just a terrible tragedy to have lost him in the way we lost him. It was very bad. I do miss him—I miss him as a person. I think the planet misses him. He was a wonderful writer and he had a great, great mind. So yeah, I miss him a lot.

DMJ: The beautiful thing about music and when you have somebody who has such a great talent like that and they’re so creative is that even when they’re no longer here to appreciate, that great music just lives on forever.

LC: It goes on and on.

DMJ: It doesn’t matter what the fad of the day is, it doesn’t matter what’s the sound of the day; classic music like that always fits in and people always appreciate it.

LC: Absolutely; absolutely.

DMJ: That same year you came out with a solo album I’M YOURS that featured the hit “Red Light”, which was also on the soundtrack to the movie “Fame”. Just one more time, if you could tell me what you remember about making the song and how you got on the soundtrack to the movie.

LC: Actually we recorded it for the soundtrack and then it was used on the album, so it was kind of a reversal. The writers were actually fans of mine, they had heard some of my other work and they loved it—that was Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore, the guys who wrote the soundtrack for “Fame”. And they contacted the company and asked if I thought I would be interested in possibly doing a song for them. When I heard the song I said, “Wow, that’s pretty hot. I might be able to do something with that.” So I flew into New York and recorded the song. At the time I was eight months’ pregnant with my daughter, and there I was in the studio recording this song. It went so beautifully, and we got to know each other and became friends. As a result of that when my daughter was born I received all these huge packages at my front door, and they were from Michael and Dean for the baby. Things like that you don’t forget. And so when it was time to do the next album we contacted them and decided: “Because we got to know each other, maybe you could write something for the album. So again I went back to New York, with the baby in arms this time—

DMJ: Still carrying it, though.

LC: Yeah. And I spent a month there living in New York, talking with them, getting to know them and them getting to know me, and they started writing for me. And that was really the first time I felt that this was such a personal album that they’d written, and one of the first things they wrote was “All The Man That I Need”.

DMJ: Right. I was actually going to ask you about that—next question.

LC: I bet you were, okay! Now, that was written for my husband and I, and it was written for us and about us. At the time the record company was going through a thing where they were… Curtom was a subsidiary of RSO Records and then was moving to Capitol Records. So we had this stuff that we recorded, and then when they moved to Capitol Records, Capitol was looking for something that was a lot more R&B, they said, so they didn’t feel that that song was R&B enough. So they canned it—they pretty much canned the whole album; they didn’t want to do anything with the album. And because it was going through this transition, RSO didn’t want to do anything with it and Capitol didn’t want to do anything with it, so it was kind of in limbo.

As a result that song just sat there. And then of course, Clive Davis heard it and said, “Oh, we got something for Whitney!” And Whitney recorded it, and of course it was a huge hit. A lot of people didn’t know that I had actually recorded it maybe three years previous to that.

DMJ: I think it was more than three years, wasn’t it?

LC: Yeah, maybe it was, actually, because I recorded it in 1980 or ’81.

DMJ: Yeah, and Whitney did it in 1990, I think.

LC: Okay. So yeah, there you go.

DMJ: I’m glad you spoke on it because I wanted to clear up that bit of music trivia, because people were still debating about who did the original version of that, whether it was you or Sister Sledge.

LC: Somebody told me that Sister Sledge recorded it as well, and to this day I have not heard their version.

DMJ: Yeah, it’s a duet. I believe the gentleman’s name is David Simmons or something like that, and I think they did it the year after you did yours.

LC: Oh, really?

DMJ: Yeah.

LC: See, I wasn’t even aware. Someone told me, as I said, but I didn’t know when they recorded it or any of that, so like I said I have not heard it. I’m going to have to go on YouTube and see if I can find it.

DMJ: I’m sure it’s there because they came out with some sort of greatest hits thing some years ago and it was on there. So now that we’ve covered all that history, we’ve got to talk about what you’re doing today. I understand that you’re making quite a name for yourself within the house music genre and that you have a new song out right now. Is that right?

LC: I do and I’m very excited. It’s actually on the iTunes dance chart at Number 25, so I’m like, “Go ahead, girl. I’m still out there. Okay”

DMJ: What’s the name of it so we can look for it?

LC: It’s called “Baby I’m Yours”. It’s not the older one that people might think: [sings] “Baby, I’m yours…” which is a song that I happen to love, by the way. This one is entirely new, it’s very different. There are… oh, my gosh, if you buy the entire CD I think there’s fourteen different mixes on it. So it is a single that’s out right now, and it is available on iTunes and Music Plant Records, which is the label I’m recording for. It’s a fabulous tune no matter what you like: there’s a Latin version, there’s a house version—you know how they do it now.

DMJ: And you’re used to putting a different spin on things from your earlier work.

LC: Exactly.

DMJ: And you had a single out last year too, didn’t you also?

LC: Yeah, child, I don’t play. I’m not sitting still.

DMJ: Well, give us the name of that—we’re going to look for everything so you might as well put it all out there.

LC: Well, let me think now—see, you’ve caught me off-guard—the single last year was… let’s see, I had one called “How Long”, then I had “Baby I’m Yours”, and then of course you know “Changin’ ”, and wait a second, let me think. What was that other one before the last one? I’m going to have to think about it for a second but it’ll come to me. [Editorial Note: Ms. Clifford released “With You” last year and various mixes can be found on iTunes.]

DMJ: The music industry right now seems to be kind of singles-driven. We see a lot of people, like what you’re doing now, coming out with singles. But do you think we’ll ever get another full album from you?

LC: I would like to do that, I actually would. I think the music industry has changed so much and the way people are buying songs right now is different, so it’s just not…. oh gosh, I don’t even know how to say it. It’s just a whole different animal. And the companies are trying to protect themselves and save money, of course, by only doing certain things. So if they produce a single and it sells enough to stir enough interest, they might come out and do an album. But it’s so rare that that’s happening nowadays because people go on iTunes, they pick one song—they’re not buying an entire album anymore. As a result, the industry itself is just kind of upside-down. I would love to, as I said, do an album, and maybe a jazz album would be the way to go.

DMJ: Well, there you go. It would be full circle for you since that’s kind of how you started.

LC: Yeah, it would be, and that would be incredible. I would love to do that. In fact, I was telling my husband, who has sort of come full circle because he is the house drummer for the new show that’s coming on NBC, “The Playboy Club”, which is where we met—he’s the one that talked me into working at the Playboy Club and singing. And now this new show that’s coming on, he got hired to do that and I’m like, “You just came full circle.”

DMJ: “You are back again.”

LC: “You are back again. Leave them Bunnies alone, okay? Don’t mess with them Bunnies, now.”

DMJ: There you go, it’ll get you in trouble.

LC: That’s right.

DMJ: People say that house music is basically an extension or evolution of what was going on in the disco era. Would you agree with that?

LC: I think I do to some extent, because a lot of house music… listen, I think all of it comes from way back: you had your blues, your jazz, which led to your rock. You had your rock and your funk. You had everything—

DMJ: It’s all connected.

LC: It’s all connected. And I’ve heard so many different versions where somebody will take a so-called disco tune—disco, which came from Motown—and they’ll put a different beat behind it; they’ll change a little keyboard thing or something, just to make it different. And then you’ve got house. So I think that just as all of us are connected on the planet, I think music is connected in the same way. So yeah, I think it’s all an extension and it just gives different people different outlets. Everybody can identify with what makes them feel the best, and that’s fabulous. What’s wrong with that, you know what I mean?

DMJ: Right, exactly. I know that you stay very busy and you’re still out there performing—people can find your current performances all over YouTube if they wish to look it up. What is it that keeps you motivated after all these years?

LC: It’s the audience—I love to perform for a live audience. What do you mean, after all these years? You make it sound like I’m a hundred. Wait a minute...

DMJ: [Laughs]

LC: Okay, Darnell, you better stop [laughs].

DMJ: I meant that in a respectful way. There’s something to be said for longevity—some people don’t even last four or five years.

LC: Yeah, that’s very true. I’ve really been blessed in that aspect. I do have a wonderful, wonderful group of people who continue to dance to my music, who remember my music—I’m grateful for that. When I am appearing somewhere and I walk out on the stage and people start to sing all my songs with me, there is nothing in the world like that feeling. I don’t know about other entertainers and other performers—I can only speak for myself— but still, after all these years of doing it, I still get a little butterfly thing going on, because every audience is different and you want to please desperately. That is your thing: you want them to be happy with what they see and with what you do. So I always have that little butterfly thing. But when I walk out on that stage and people start screaming and they go into my songs with me, they can have everything. It’s like, “What do you want? Take all my income. What you want?” So that feeling is something that is just amazing, and I’m so grateful to be able to have that when I walk out onstage. It’s fabulous.

DMJ: So how can everybody keep updated on where you’re going to be? As I said, you’re busy, you’re always out somewhere. Where can they stay abreast of your calendar and know when you’re going to be in their area?

LC: Well actually, they can check me out on Facebook. I’m on Facebook and there’s a fan page that always has a list of events and where I’m going to be. We are in the process of updating now. And I’m redoing my website, so the website that’s there, the dates are passé at this point, but we are going to redo the entire site. So what I would recommend right now is to go onto Facebook, just type my name in in the search and you will see Linda Clifford musician. Jump on there and get all the info you need.

DMJ: Now, are you involved in Twitter at all, or you don’t mess with that?

LC: Child... I sent out a tweet this morning. I just got involved with Twitter, so I don’t even tell people I’m on it because I don’t know what I’m doing yet.

DMJ: Don’t feel bad, because I just joined too recently and I’m still kind of learning what to do with it.

LC: My daughter’s like, “Mom, your tweet is not right. You have to do this and this and this and this…” I’m like, “You do it for me.”

DMJ: At least you have a coach. I have to figure it out on my own.

LC: We going to have to get you a coach too then, I guess.

DMJ: Is there anything that you would like to mention that we haven’t talked about?

LC: Actually, no. I think we’ve covered a lot, quite honestly. Just how grateful I am, really, to everyone who comes to the shows and to all of the people over the years who have supported me—the DJs. There are no words, really, to say to these people who have been so loyal and so wonderful to me for so long. And I’m very appreciative and I hope they don’t stop. That’s all I’m going to say.

DMJ: And we hope you don’t stop performing. I just want to say that I appreciate your coming through, and any time that you want to come through at SoulMusic.com and let us know what you’re doing, our doors are always open. So definitely feel free—we’re here for you.

LC: Thank you so much, darling. I really appreciate it and I really enjoyed the time we spent.

DMJ: I know, this was a nice conversation. Thank you so much.

LC: It was; it was great.

DMJ: All right, enjoy your day.

LC: You too. Bye-bye.

DMJ: Bye-bye.




About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.
  
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