Golden Soul : Freda Payne Come Back to Me Love by Michael A. Gonzales [FEATURE]

Golden Soul : Freda Payne Come Back to Me Love
by Michael A. Gonzales

At seventy-one, vocalist Freda Payne is still doing her thing. An ageless beauty who tours the world singing her iconic hits “Band of Gold,” “Deeper and Deeper,” “Bring the Boys Home,” as well as a few beloved jazz covers, Payne has returned to the studio to record her first new project since 2007.

“I’ve waited a long time to record an album like Come Back to Me Love,” Payne says in her still sultry voice from her Los Angeles home. “Doing the R&B stuff kind of widened me and gave me more of a variety and acceptance in the world, as far as getting to the public, but I always knew one day I’d get back to singing jazz.”

A Detroit native, Payne began her career as a jazz singer, performing with Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones while still a teenager. Before being transformed into a Black pop princess in the early 1970s, Payne’s debuted with the Bob Thiele produced After the Lights Go Low and Much More in 1964.

“I had gone to New York City when I was eighteen and was performing with Lionel Hampton,” Payne says “When I was about 19, I got that deal with ABC-Paramount/Impulse as a jazz singer. My first single was a lyrical version of the Stan Getz song ‘Desafinado.’ The single on was on ABC-Paramount, but the album was on the Impulse label.”

Last year, after performing at the Grosse Pointe jazz club the Dirty Dog, owned by Mack Avenue/Artistry Music proprietor Gretchen Valade, the vocalizing vet was offered a deal with the Michigan-based label whose roster includes Rahsaan Patterson, Stanley Jordan and Kevin Eubanks.

“I’m really high on this project, because I had more input into this than any other,” Payne says. “I was more involved as a woman and as a singer than any project I’ve ever done. In the past, usually, I do what the record company wants or what the producer wants you to do, but on Come Back to Me Love, there is more of the true me, who I really am.”

Working with arranger Bill Cunlife, the 14-song album was recorded at Capitol Records Studios earlier this year. Recording in Studio A, where Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra used to swing, Payne says, “We had forty musicians. It was a big band with strings section.” Although the project was just released in late-July, Payne has already started including a few of the songs into her live act.

“There are a few of the new songs that I do in my shows. ‘You’re So Nice to Come Home Too,’ because that’s a good opening,” she says. “I do ‘Haven’t We Met’ and do some of Gretchen’s tunes, which I love. One is called ‘You Don’t Know and another is called ‘I Just Have to Know.’ When I was touring with the Temptations, The Four Tops and the Platters in England, the ballad I did was from the album ‘Save Your Love for Me,’ which went over great; audiences love that. On some club dates do ‘I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,’ which I remember from Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls sang it.”

Going way back to when I was a kid in the 1970s, there was no escaping the beauty of Freda Payne. Whether it was Payne’s cinnamon hued complexion on the cover of Jet, sauntering on screen in her 1973 film debut Book of Numbers or wearing a glittering gown on The Johnny Carson Show, the Detroit native was seemingly everywhere.

However, while Freda’s undisputed fineness made her one of the era’s silky sex symbols, it was her wonderful voice, especially on the controversial classic “Band of Gold,” that brought her to the public’s attention in the first place. Released in April, 1970, the song detailed the wedding night of a young virgin whose husband either won’t or can’t make love to his bride.

“I wait in the darkness of my lonely room, filled with sadness, filled with gloom,” Payne sang dramatically. “Hoping soon that you’ll walk back through that door, and love me like you tried before.”

While the world openly wondered about the song’s meaning, speculating that dude might be gay or impotent, the record shot to the top of the charts in both America and England. “The song was bigger over there than it was here,” Payne says. “They still play it over there like it was a fresh song. Also, the Japanese market is like that as well.”

Considering that Payne originally balked at recording the song, believing that it was better suited for a teenager than a sophisticated singer, “Band of Gold” has become an endearing soul staple, an eternal blessing that sounds as stellar and special as it did blaring from the boxy living-room radio in 1970.

Six years after Freda Payne’s debut fizzled on the charts, she was lured back to her native Detroit to record soulful pop records for her old friends and former Supremes team Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland. Known simply as Holland-Dozier-Holland (HDH), as a team they were responsible for twenty-seven top ten hits between 1963 and 1967 at Motown Records. Competing with The Beatles and The Beach Boys, the magical touch of the HDH sound could be heard best on the perfectly crafted Diana Ross sung sides “I Hear a Symphony,” “Reflections,” “Love Is Here and “Now You’re Gone.”

“I was still in New York when I connected with Brian Holland,” Payne recalls. “We had gone to high school together. And, Lamont and I spent three years in school as well…from the 6th grade to the 8th grade. We went to Hutchins Intermediate, where Aretha Franklin also attended school.” Having left Motown in 1969 over a royalties dispute, the trio decided to play with the big boys and compete with Boss Berry. Starting their recording venture Invictus/Hot Wax Records, they needed to find their own star and flew Freda into town to begin working on sessions. “They had their own recording studio, which was on Grand River Avenue,” she says. “Working with them was a wonderful experience, because I finally felt as though I was on the right track in terms of becoming more successful in the recording industry.”

Originally recording out of the famed Terra Sherman studios, a few months later HDH bought and renovated the Tower Theater, converting the structure into their personal temple of sound. With the recording studio enclosed on the stage, the electronic lab and disc cutting lathe areas were up in the projection room and film storage vault.

“The team at Invictus was tremendous creating big, wall of sound productions that were nimble, stylish and lush,” critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote in the AllMusic Guide to Soul. “(It was) a perfect expansion of the Motown aesthetic for the post-psychedelic smooth soul era.” Because of HDH’s ongoing court battles with Motown, they used the pseudonym Edythe Wayne for their songwriting credits.

While the first disc released on Invictus was Chairman of the Board’s 1970 self-titled album (later changed to Give Me Just a Little More Time), it was Freda Payne’s seductive soul stylings that HDH was banking on to take them to the top of the Billboard charts. In the 1999 PBS documentary Band of Gold: The Invictus Story, label staff writer Ron Dunber said, “They wanted to find somebody who could be the (new) Supremes.”

Although Freda Payne undoubtedly possessed her own sound, like Diana Ross (or Dionne Warwick) she was more of a smooth-voiced stylist than a sacred screamer. Unlike former classmate Aretha Franklin, her soul came from a place that wasn’t about gospel wailing and holy ghost shrieks. In addition, having started out as a jazz vocalist, Freda had to get used to a new style of working.

“The difference between doing R&B session as opposed to jazz were, you never got to work with the musicians,” Payne says. “The tracks were done, pre-recorded, without you being there. So, I never was present during the time the musicians were in the studio recording.”

In keeping with the level of musical quality that HDH had grown accustomed at Motown, they brought along engineer Lawrence Horne, arranger H.B. Barnum and some of the Funk Brothers band members including Earl Van Dyke, Wah-Wah Watson, Bob Babbitt and guitar genius Dennis Coffey. “Motown had their head of security outside the theater taking video footage of the guys who were going inside to play on any HDH sessions,” Coffey recalls from his Detroit home. “I wasn’t under contract with them, but Motown did stop calling me to play on sessions for about two weeks, but after that I didn’t have any problems.”

As Coffey details in his autobiography Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars (2004), he started strumming at Motown a few years before playing on the Norman Whitfield/Temptation sessions for “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion”. Developing into an in-demand session player, his soulful funk guitar has laced Quincy Jones (Body Heat), Marvin Gaye (I Want You), Gladys Knight and the Pips (“If I Were Your Woman”), The Sylvers (“Boogie Fever”) and countless others. Coffey’s 1971 instrumental “Scorpio” is a soul/disco/hip-hop classic that has been sampled by Public Enemy (“Night of the Living Baseheads”) and LL Cool J’s “Jinglin’ Baby,” and used in thousands of break-dancing competitions.

“Brain and Lamont were the ones that were usually in the studio while we were tracking,” Coffey recalls. “We usually recorded one song an hour for three hours. We sat in front of an arrangement we’ve never seen before, then put our feel to it, some funky licks or whatever. For the ‘Band of Gold’ session, I played a coral sitar; there was one at the Hitsville (Motown) studio, but I had brought my own.”

When the track was ready to roll for Freda Payne to finally hear, it became the task of co-writer Ron Dunbar to coach her through the process of learning the song. Although he was well aware of her distain for the song he was quick to tell her, “You don’t have to like it, just sing it.”

Chuckling at the memory, Freda Payne says, “I wasn’t singing in my style, I was singing like they wanted me to sing. We did several takes for ‘Band of Gold,’ maybe as many as forty times and they edited together choruses and lines from the second time and mixed that with something from the twenty-fifth take.”

Although Payne was used to performing for crowds in smoky cabarets, she was a musical chameleon when it came time to slip into a pop persona, and she wore it well. “I felt, you can’t just be good at one thing, you have to stretch your limits and see how far you can go and learn other genres of music.”

Although the Invictus/Hot Wax label and the HDH team had a few more hits including the Honey Cones (“Stick Up,” “Want Ads”), Chairman of the Board (“Give Me Just a Little More Time”) Glass House (Crumbs Off the Table”), the 8th Day (She’s Not Just Another Woman”) and Freda Payne’s stirring “Deeper and Deeper,” none surpassed the sublime beauty of “Band of Gold.”

In 1974, after a failed partnering with Columbia Records, the HDH team called it quits and Invictus/Hot Wax locked their doors at 12813 Grand River Avenue for the last time. In 2010, Rolling Stone anointed “Band of Gold” #391 on their list of 500 Greatest Songs. Forty-four years after its release, the “Gold” still glimmers.

Upcoming Freda Payne Performances:

August 9 / BB King Blues Club / New York, NY
August 30 / Detroit Jazz Festival (w/ USAF Airmen of Note Big Band) / Detroit, MI
September 19 – 20 / Catalina’s Jazz Club / Los Angeles, CA

Freda Payne · Come Back To Me Love
Artistry Music · Release Date: July 22, 2014

For more information on Freda Payne, please visit: FredaPayne.com
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Michael_Gonzales-dreamMichael A. Gonzales has been writing about music since the 1980s. A few of his subjects include Barry White (Vibe), D’Angelo (Wax Poetics) and Lauryn Hill (The Source). In addition to soulhead, he contributes to Complex, Pitchfork Review, XXL, Baltimore City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly and The Weeklings. His essay on the DeBarge family appears in Best African-American Essays 2009. Gonzales blogs at Blackadelicpop.blogspot.com. Check out some of his work for soulhead.

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