"I was walking around the Motown offices when I heard this girl singing her ass off. I walked in and there was this little1 munchkin, white girl. I said, 'Wow, you're really great.'"
Before there was Mariah Carey, there was Teena Marie. Lady T was one of the first, and still one of the few, female white artists completely embraced by R&B audiences. Thanks to her funky, soulful voice, and because her debut album did not feature her photo, programmers at urban radio assumed she was black. With her picture on her second album, the R&B world was shocked to discover her fair skin. But it didn't matter. Teena Marie was a true soul singer.
With her Old School R&B sound currently experiencing a revival, Teena Marie: The Ultimate Collection (HipO Records), released February 1, 2000, brings together 15 of her baddest love jams, and eight Top 10 R&B hits, including "I'm A Sucker For Your Love1" "I Need Your Lovin'" and "Square Biz," and her biggest success, the Grammy-nominated #4 pop hit "Lovergiri." Also included on Teena Marie: The Ultimate Collection is "Fire & Desire," a duet with one-time mentor Rick James heard on his 1981 Street Songs album, and her "Latin Lullaby" which appeared on 1996's Saxtress from smooth jazz sax goddess Pamela Williams.
But Marie (not to be confused with Brazilian jazz singer Tania Maria) was more than a girl singer. Though James produced her first album -- the critically acclaimed Wild And Peaceful (1979), which included "I'm A Sucker For Your Love" and Richard Rudolph (Minnie Riperton) her second -- 1980's Lady T, with "Now That I Have You" and "Behind The Groove," a Top 10 disco smash in the U.K. -- Marie would be the major writer and producer of her remaining albums.
Her third, 1980's Irons In The Fire, boasted the Top 40 pop hit "I Need Your Lovin'" and "Young Love." She went gold with 1981's It Must Be Magic, which included "Square Biz," the jazzy "Portuguese Love" and the Top 10 R&B title track. After 1983's Robbery, she finally scored a big pop hit with "Lovergirl" from her sixth album, the gold Starchild (which included "My Dear Mr. Gaye") . From her subsequent albums, The Ultimate Collection includes two Top 10 R&B hits: "Work It" from Naked To The World (1988) and "If I Were A Bell" from Ivory (1990).
Teena Marie continues to record and perform today, and is increasingly cited as a pioneer for women, a creative influence in R&B and a singer with soul.
Teena Marie - Congo Square Album + Commentary From Teena Marie. Hosted by Kevin Amos and additional commentary from Teena Marie)
" I been here before...."
At Motown, Rick James, the unofficial king of funk, took her under his wings and helped organize recording sessions for her label debut during late 1978 and early 1979. Besides handling production, Rick also wrote most of the material for the project. That LP, Wild And Peaceful (1979), showcased an artist who obviously was a diamond in the rough. While there were some inconsistencies in her treatment of the various numbers, overall it was an excellent first effort. The album provided two charted singles: "Im Just A Sucker For Your Love" and "Deja Vu".
Teenas impact on the music world was even greater thanks to her soon-demonstrated audience rapport in live performances.
A quick study, she rapidly picked up the basics of studio work as evidenced by a first-rate follow-up album, Lady T (1980). The record company culled two more hit singles from that album: "Behind The Groove" and "Can It Be Love." Teena quickly took more and more control of her career directions.
For her third album, she wrote most of the songs, arranged a considerable part of the rhythm and vocal tracks, and also co-produced the collection, Irons In The Fire (September 1980). Even more impressive than Lady T, it made the soul charts almost immediately. Its singles hits included "Young Love" and "I Need Your Lovin," the latter her first top 10 success on the soul charts. The album sold over 500,000 copies and earned Teena a gold-record award from the RIAA.
In June 1981, Gordy issued her album It Must Be Magic, another gem that a Rolling Stone reviewer called "superb thinking mans dance music. Ordinary lyrical concerns are made extraordinary by Teenas idiosyncratic imagery and wordplay. Your booty and your brain are equally motivated."
Teena herself commented once: "My songs are a reflection of my life as an English major and my life in the streets." Charted singles from the album included "Portuguese Love" and "Square Biz" (a song that did
well on pop charts as well and was named one of the years best in a readers poll conducted by New York Rocker magazine). After that album and the backing concert tour, Teenas association with Motown came to an end. This time there were plenty of suitors for her services from other
labels. The winner proved to be Epic Records. Her Epic debut, Robbery (September 1983), was in the top 25 on black charts at year-end and also starting to move up on the general pop list. The title track provided Teena with another hit single. For her next album, the gold Starchild
(1984), Teena was involved in almost every facet. She wrote six of its nine songs and co-wrote the other three. She also supervised much of the arranging and was overall producer.
Its tracks included the well-recieved "My Dear Mr. Gaye" and "Out On A Limb," while "Lovegirl" reached the top 10 on Billboards pop charts and made Teena a 1985 Grammy finalist for best R&B Vocal Solo Performance, Female. The next album too was produced by Teena, who wrote five songs herself and collaborated on the other three. Among the backing musicians
were some of the best-known names in jazz, rock, and funk:
· Stevie Ray Vaughan
· Bootsy Collins
· Bradford Marsalis
· Stanley Clarke
· Paulinho daCosta
· Nathan East
The album, Emerald City, reflected Teenas efforts to expand her musical horizons a bit, though without betraying her R&B heritage. She pointed out: "Shangri La has a strong Italian flavor to it and You So Heavy [featuring Vaughan on guitar] shows off my rock and Beatles influences." Besides those, she noted, "Sunny Skies" (with solos by Marsalis and
Clarke) was a fortyish jazz ballad and "Battacuda Suite" was intended to have a strong Brazilian flavorm as she noted, "built around eight percussion instruments." The July 1986 album quickly made both pop and black charts as did the single "Lips To Find You." Her fourth Epic LP was Naked To The World (March 1988).
And thinking about it now I still do not see it in that light. Emerald City had to be one of her most unique albums, but the vibe this writer got is certainly not the vibe I got from it.
"If listing this manifesto of freethink in a metal -guide weren’t so perverse I n probably list it even higher, so cal me gutless, but don't deny it belongs. Side One is the hardest rock any woman's ever made, and it may welI be the on y legitimately "psychedelic in' music of the eighties.
Onetime Rick James protégée Teena is a true feminist who cannot be pigeonholed into any womanly role outlined by Phyllis Schlafy or Helen Reddy or their moms; she's an open-souled soul who drinks in the whole world and refuses value judgments and omits nothing. A white person who's spent her adult Iife entertaining blacks, a miracle offspring of Part Smith and James Brown and Robert Plant (c. 'Foor in The Rain") and Minnie Riperton who's been known to toboggan down moonnbeams and visit Atlants and Neptune, she's got a batch of LPs on Motown and Epic, most of 'em rather guitarless. Here, she hits Shangr-la and Oz and the southern tip of Spain, lustily stretching and snapping ann bending her voice, tasting life into words for alI They're worth, slipping into trances, exploding into jive asides and spit-in-your-eye taunts.
She works her scats gymnastic as a Hendrix solo, her soul leaves her body, she breaks syllables into subatomic particles like she's just learning to talk. Which she is. The lyrics are too silly. too ingenuous, to believe. "To live inside the major not the minor chordland forget now we mane love in a '57 Ford." One song's metaphors are almost all edible-candy-coated kisses, heavenly Milky Ways, ice cream "sammiches," Beaujolais
Guests include Branford Marsalis and Stanley Clarke, the first voice you
hear belongs to Bootsy CoIlins, the excitement takes a couple minutes to get started, ann it calms nown sooner than it should, wth Brazilian bossa novas and lush torch-lulabies.
"The rhythms used on Emerald City are called Sha Sha a la Fum," says the sleeve, which also features instrument-credit hieroglyphics as crazily cryptic as any tunes Zeppelin ever devised. A whole new language.
So it's hard to figure out who plays what, but I think the guitars, fuzzers that roar toward internal-combustion culmination’s like Hawkwind helping out Funkadelic, belong to Teena and to Nikki Slick. (Teena's ax on the cover has aquamarine paisleys, the brand doesn't matter.) "Once Is Not Enough," "Lips to Find You," and "You So Heavy" are frantically bongoed salsa-meta the latter, an instructively named ripchord-ripper dedicated to Rick James, concludes with what sounds like frets being sawed in half before the feedback's disappeared.
Since Teena hates no music, and absorbs everything she likes, the sounds hint at possibilities no one e se has even considered, None of it's art, and all of it is, and no other eighties rock 'n' roll derives so much pleasure out of its singing and dancing and nombast. Nobody else is so cosmic, nobody lets so much hang out Teena's in her own galaxy, and she cannot be controlled."
-- Stairway To Hell
Then on Monday Nov. 5, 2001 at 10 pm est... in the Soul Patrol chat room at: Soul Patrol chat room and join us as we discuss the life and times of Rick James as we listen to the LIVE CONCERT from 1981 Hosted by the producer of the CD DELUXE version of the classic album: Rick James: Street Songs!. Harry Weinger..ALL ARE WELCOME