Q&A: Darlene Love On Her Wig Collection, Her Pentecostal Past, And Phil Spector

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Alan Hamlin
After singing lead on so many Phil Spector -produced standards--"He's A Rebel," "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),""He's Sure The Boy I Love"--Darlene Love was recognized for her stellar pipes last month, when she was granted a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This left her practically floating in midair, she affirms from her NYC home: "The only reason I knew I had come down a little bit I had to make up my own bed, and start washing my own clothes!"

Daughter of a preacher man, Love bolstered her chops in her father's church choir. In 1959, as a teenager, she joined a female vocal group called the Blossoms, which, while not always properly credited, sang backups for the likes of Elvis, Marvin Gaye, Patty Duke, and Bobby "Boris" Pickett (when He's A Rebel" knocked Pickett's "Monster Mash" out of the number one slot on the singles chart in 1962, one Love song replaced another). But her leads on Spector productions assured her luxury placement in the pop music firmament.

Closing in on age 70, Love attributes her vocal longevity to staying very quiet in the early morning hours. She lets her husband handle the telephone ("I retired him, so he can come home and help me") and still tours--and she can always be counted on to sing Spector's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on Late Show With David Letterman come holiday season. She's working on a movie about her life, and she's prepared to spill the beans on Phil Spector. (Turns out he could sometimes be a very nice guy.)

So you're waiting to give your Hall of Fame induction speech; is this a whole-life-flashing-in-front of you proposition, or something else?

No, it is my whole life flashing in front of me. And it's a nerve-wracking thing. You gotta be able to say everything you want to say, that's why I wrote mine out, specifically so I could remember.

You're not using to getting your accolades. People do all that after you die, so you don't get to hear all that. To sit there and listen to what somebody like Bette Midler's saying about you,that in itself is overwhelming.

Where were you and what were you up to when the Hall of Fame's message came through?

I was on my way to Atlantic City to do a show and I was in this limousine, I tell everybody that it was longer than my house. I don't know why they sent a limousine that long to pick me and my husband up, but they did. My cell phone rang and one of the Presidents from the Hall of Fame, Terry Stewart, called me and he says, "Well, welcome to the family!" And I said, "Who is this? Welcome to what family?" (laughs)

And he said, "You're in, but you can't tell nobody!" (laughs)

Oh, that must have been so horrible--

--because they weren't going to make the announcement for two more weeks! My husband was in the car, he was right there, and knew, and so I was like, "I can't tell nobody?!?" (laughs) I actually started screaming. And then I said, "Let me stop screaming, 'cause the driver might think my husband's back here killing me. Or I'm killing him."

You were raised Pentecostal?

Oh definitely. (laughs) No lipstick, you couldn't wear pants. Back in the early days we couldn't go to movies. We said, they should just put a sign in front of our church that "NO." (laughs)

Was it during the recording of Phil Spector's Christmas album that your red wig fell off?

We had been in the studio for twelve hours, non-stop, and I was actually sitting with my head back listening to a playback, when Sonny Bono came up behind me and hit the bass drum, and I jumped up and my wig just fell off my head. That brought everybody back to reality, "Okay, it's time to go home!" (laughs)

Did you own many wigs at the time?

Yeah, back in the '60s, that's when we were the Wig Kids. We couldn't do our hair back in those days. On the road we all had straightening combs and curlers. We all carried around cans of Sterno to heat up them curling irons. So it was easier, actually, to wear wigs.

Did you ever offer to switch wigs with Phil Spector?

(boisterous laughter) No, but I wish I had! That's a very good point. I used to just stare at this head all the time. [He'd say] "Why do you keep looking at my head?" and I'd say, "I don't know."

I think he knew, that I knew that he had one on. I think everybody knew that, but nobody ever said anything. I saw him in more wigs at the trial than I'd ever seen in my life! When he was on trial for murder.

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1 comments
JensenLee
JensenLee

Darlene Love is a national treasure. I recently posted on my Rockaeology blog at http://bit.ly/hd9TDO a Blossoms/Spector story regarding Lesley Gore's “It’s My Party," which was the first number one hit produced by a young Quincy Jones.

Phil Spector also loved this song and produced a version with the Blossoms a few days before Quincy. When Quincy Jones learned that Spector had produced the track, he was determined not to be beaten out. Within two days, Jones made one hundred copies of the record from a test pressing and sent them to radio programmers in the top markets. The plan worked; “It’s My Party” hit number one in four weeks; the Blossoms' version was never released.

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