“And now, I’m going to do David Letterman’s favorite Christmas song,” Darlene Love announced at her holiday show at BB King’s this past weekend, and went into a fiery Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) to the delight of the SRO crowd. When Love performs in NYC, she knows two things: that her tour is winding down and that it’s Christmas time. “Next month, I can take a vacation,” she says before soaring into another number. Love is performing three shows this weekend at the Times Square club (and one in January) sharing her memories about Phil Spector, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, and Bruce.
Love’s story is featured in the award-winning film, 20 Feet From Stardom which chronicles the lives of rock and roll’s early backup singers. After joining the Blossoms, she backed up Sam Moore and Bobby Darin, and one story goes that as part of the Blossoms, she sang backup on a record but when it was released, all credit went to another Spector group, The Crystals. She watched as He’s a Rebel topped the charts. It was Spector who changed Darlene Wright to Darlene Love, and who gave others credit for songs she sang, but although life has been full of ups and downs, she’s immensely grateful because of those songs which fans still want to hear. At one point in the show, after concluding one of her classic numbers, the crowd jumped to its feet, and Love stood with head and eyes gazing upwards, arms outstretched, as if giving thanks.
As rock and roll changed, and her backup singing career floundered, she was out of work, and cleaning homes in LA. It was during a cleaning job that her Christmas song came on the radio — the one she now sings on Letterman’s show and has since the late 1980’s – that she realized she was born to sing and that her songs still entertain. She borrowed money from friends, and resurrected her career, catching the attention of Bruce Springsteen who invited her to join him on stage at his concerts. And tonight, how fitting was it that after introducing her own backup singers, Love left the stage to give them the spotlight.
Included in her set, Love sang White Christmas, Joy to the World, It’s A Marshmallow World, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and shared stories of running the talk show circuit this week with appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The View, and Good Day New York. In 2011, as Bette Midler inducted Love into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Midler said, “to one of the greatest voices in the history of rock and roll…Listening to those songs, you had to move, you had to dance.” And then added that it’s not Christmas until she “wails” Christmas, (Baby Please Come Home).
It’s now Christmas. Thank you, Darlene.
Photos: MJ Hanley-Goff