A while back we had the pleasure of interviewing soul singer Gloria Jones, otherwise known as “The Queen of Northern Soul” thanks to her underground club hit “Tainted Love”. Ms. Jones was Motown Records’ third female producer who, along with co-producer Pam Sawyer, penned classics such as Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman”. She also sang back-up for an exhaustive list of 1970s rock and R&B acts, including The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Ike and Tina and glam rock band T-Rex.
In 1973 she recorded an album called Share My Love, a rousing gospel-and-reggae infused soul album which was re-issued earlier this year on Reel Music. For the past several years, she has been living in Sierra Leone where she has founded the Marc Bolan School of Music Film. We rang up The Gloria Jones to find out more about Share My Love and her expansive career. Read the full Q&A after the jump.
Gloria Jones performs her 1965 single, “Heartbeat” on the music variety show Shivaree.
What is the Marc Bolan School of Music all about?
Sierra Leone is my home as well as America is my home. The School of Music and Film in honor of Marc Bolan and it is to work with children to have a purpose for being. If you’re able to create, you never know what you may come up with. If you can learn how to write a proper song or play an instrument it can always give you a livelihood.
It’s just not per se only for the African children; it’s for all of the children. I will be sort of like the guardian angel but we have interests from people who find themselves in difficult situations now in our society.
Can you tell me about your approach to the recording of Share My Love?
When we were recording the album I was working with the producer Tom Thacker, Paul Riser, the famous arranger, and all of those musicians at that time were hot musicians on the road with Stephen Stills and Neil Young. It was all of the top quality players that were involved in the music of the ’70s. So it was high energy and we were ahead of our time because Tom Thacker allowed us to be free.
Stevie Wonder was in the next studio and he was recording with synthesizers. So that was new for Motown. I was still holding on to the analog and I still wanted that live feeling but really letting the musicians go for it and really create, and to combine rock with R&B and reggae and I think this is the reason the album still sounds fresh.
I did a European tour with Joe Cocker and we were the Sanctified Sisters and during that time Joe had new management. He had a very young manager by the name of Nigel Thomas. When I look back we were all young but age wasn’t a factor, it was about really living our craft and respecting our craft and trying new ideas. I’ll never forget one night the keyboard player had a misunderstanding with the management so the manager came and said, ‘Well Gloria, can you play the show?’ I said, ‘Of course I can!’ I had never played any of Joe Cocker’s tunes before! When you’re young, you’re a risk-taker and there are no limits. That’s why I love working with young people because we will continue to grow and that’s what Share My Love was about. It was about musicians that were called and tafter they got there they had a chance to really express and really enjoy what they were doing. As I said before the price of freedom is so important.
Freedom in the creative sense?
Freedom to express your ideas and then the freedom to be able to accept the criticism or having the faith in yourself, the confidence in yourself and this is the reason why there is a Motown. One thing at Motown that we were taught when we presented a song and the majority of the times we thought every song was a hit. But our chairman [Berry Gordy] would say, ‘If you were a person in an office and you heard this song, are you going to buy the record or are you going to buy the sandwich?
When did you first experience that freedom?
I grew up in the church. My father was a dedicated minister who had three churches to go out of his church and in his later years, he just had a small mission. But he told me in life that he’s had more harmony and peace with just those few members. The freedom came at the age of 10. My dad had problems with the piano players at the church. When you grow up in that environment, you deal with a lot of personalities and I’ll never forget my father was a little discouraged because every time he looked around there was never a piano player.
And one Sunday, the piano player didn’t show and he says, ‘My daughter, she will play for this service today.’ Kevin I can tell you I got on the piano and I played for that service and I was only 10. So I would say that my freedom came at that point because my father recognized my talent and the reason he moved from Ohio to California was because he wanted my brother and I to go into show biz. At an early age, I was playing the piano for the church plus studying classical music.
When did you first record Tainted Love?
Hal Davis from Motown asked me to come and meet Ed Cobb who’d just written the song for Brenda Holloway, “Every Little Bit Hurts”. So then Ed said, ‘I hear you have a great voice. I’d like to hear you one day.’ So I went and auditioned for him and he liked me. I went in the studio and recorded “Heartbeat” part one and part two and “Tainted Love”.
There was always something peculiar about “Tainted Love” because the melody that Ed had written to it, I wasn’t able to sing that melody so I said to Ed, ‘Let me interpret and sing the way I would sing the song.’ Which means you enhance that melody to make it your own, which you should’ve been given some credit for. But in those days you just don’t know because you just want to sing.
Why wasn’t it a hit in the United States?
It was never released in America, it was released in Europe and how that happened was that Motown had the dance floor. All of a sudden one day a DJ puts on “Tainted Love”. The kids WENT WILD! Now, I never knew this and I am still the Queen of Northern Soul. You’re talking about 40 some years ago. I said to myself, ‘What if I had known that record was so huge over there and I had gone over there? Maybe my life would’ve been better? But then who knows, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I had with Motown as the third female producer along with my [songwriting] partner Pam Sawyer.
Have you ever performed in the UK?
I was there a year ago. When I walked out on stage, I fell in love with the audience and they fell in love with me and I told them I said, ‘Wow you guys, it took me 42 years to get here to see you.’ There’s this love affair that will always be.
How did you first meet Marc Bolan?
We met in 1969 at a party in Hollywood at Mercy’s, who was a member of the GTOs and Jobriath; we were in Hair together, the Los Angeles version. So Jobriath came and said, ‘Gloria you have to come to this party tonight, Tyrannosaurus Rex just performed at Citadel, and they’re coming to Mercy’s party.’ I was like, ‘Oh I don’t know.’ He said, ‘No really, you should come.’ And I went to the party and I was sitting at the piano and Marc Bolan walks in ⎯ he’s got the beautiful flying cape and the glitter. Just good looking and everything. When Marc walked into the room its like there can only be one star.
The second time was at the Speakeasy. There was this white Rolls Royce in front of the Speakeasy and he was coming out and The Sanctified Sisters was going in with Joe Cocker because it was his last night in London. So when Marc saw Joe he said ‘be careful, don’t let those girls rob you.’ [laughs]
The third time the late Bob Reiger of Warner Brothers recommended me to [T-Rex road manager] Tony Howard. I had said before that time that I was going to stay home and raise my oldest son. His father was a football coach so I said, ‘This’ll be my last tour, I’ going to go home, raise my son and be housewife and let that be it.’ Then I got the call and they said, ‘Please come to the Beverly Hills Hotel we’d like to introduce you to Marc.’ I had my nephew around and he still remembers to this day, when I walked in he said he saw it then. He said ‘Auntie, Marc was in love with you.’ But we had a very, very wonderful relationship we were friends before we became intimate, we met each other at time in our lives that we really needed one another, that was not only spiritually and physically, but musically.
Because at that time Marc had new ideas to mix his sound with electric and soul influences. You’re looking at a change in music. This is before disco ⎯ this is the reason Boy George happened because he said Marc was the person that helped him to find himself.
What did he teach you about music?
He gave me the confidence that I needed. With “If I Were Your Woman”, for example, I broke every rule with the melody of that song because I actually wrote it in thirds. I would add different bass line notes to what I was writing and Paul Riser who was young, also, it didn’t intimidate him. He was like, ‘this is what this girl is feeling.’ That’s why he and I have worked together for so many years because he’s always respected y approach to music.
Rock n’ roll is four chords and it’s all about what can you get out of those four chords. I was willing to say I’m going to use these four chords but also integrate other things because I could hear it. I had some orchestrators who would say, ‘Oh she can’t do that.’ I was like why? They said because that’s not in theory. I said well that’s what I hear.
Gloria Jones performs “Go Now” on Supersonic in 1977.
What advice would you give to an aspiring back-up singer?
I would suggest that you always follow the lead… They know where they want to go and they know what they want to hear and when you’re good, you can always slip in your little things and they’ll tell you whether you’re good or not.
For instance, the first time we went to Winterland up in San Francisco with Marc in 1972, it was Julia Tillman of The Waters, Stephanie Spruill, the late Oma Drake and myself. We had a sound! Well, that night Oma put on a rainbow Afro wig. She was a very, very heavyweight person but she could sing. Kevin, I’ll never forget it. For some reason, Oma and Marc, they just didn’t gel. But it was never said.
That night, we got on stage and Oma had on the rainbow wig. Marc was FURIOUS and after the show I said ‘Oh boy.’ When she put it on I said, ‘Do you really think you should wear that wig?’ You could tell that Marc was the star and nobody was going to upstage him. We got on the stage and he rolled his eyes at that girl all night long. When we got off the stage, we went in the dressing room and the valet came over and he said, ‘Marc would like to speak with you’ ⎯ because I was always the contractor. I went over there and he said, ‘She’s fired’.
That was my first time ever being in a position of making an executive decision. I could’ve said, ‘If she goes, well I go.’ But I had to be professional and understand that, first of all, she had no business wearing the wig.
What gave me a lot of my knowledge and experience was working as a background singer because it took me five years to master the mic. So many kids sing all over the mic ⎯ you have to sing straight into the center, even if you’re on the side. You’re tone has to go straight in to the middle. These are the things the kids need to know.
What was your favorite T-Rex song to perform live?
“What ever happened to the Teenage Dream?” We were traveling from New York to Los Angeles and we were in first class with War and we met [singer] Lonnie Jordan and Lonnie and Marc took a liking to one another and Marc invited him to come down to the studio and he played the piano for us on that. You could tell that Lonnie felt the “Teenage Dream”. Because no matter what in life, we can all still relate to our teenage years. It goes, “surprise surprise the boys are home/our guardian angel rung up the telephone.”
T-Rex performs “Teenage Dream”.