Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online. He can be reached at claycane@gmail.com.


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    Monday, November 03, 2008

    This election is tomorrow and I am overly anxious. I can't get it off my mind, I feel like Sen. Obama is going to win, but as my grandfather used to say, "That train is never late." Then I think times have changed. Then I think there will be voter fraud. Then I think Obama has run the best campaign in presidential history. Then I think he win by a landslide. Then I think it will take two weeks, like previous elections, to find out who the winner is. Either way -- I can't take it and need something else on my mind. Please check out my interview withe the ladies of Labelle!

    ***

    Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash, and of course, Miss Patti LaBelle, are the ladies of the funk ‘n soul group Labelle. After thirty years, the gals who made the lines, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?” and “mocca chocolata ya ya” famous reunited for the highly anticipated album Back to Now.

    Back to Now revives their signature fusion of soul-rock-funk that made Labelle an international smash. The ten-track album includes production from Wyclef Jean, rock divo Lenny Kravitz, and of course Nona Hendryx, who produced many of the songs for Labelle over three decades ago.

    In a one-on-one, the vibrant Labelle chats about the new album, gay fans, and how they were once mistaken for ladies of the night! Plus Miss Patti, talks about the current Aretha Franklin vs. Tina Turner feud.

    Tell me about the moment when you realized it was time for a Labelle reunion.
    Nona: There was an accumulation of moments that happened. The first one was I felt like I needed to speak to Miss LaBelle and say, "You have to stop announcing that we're doing this tour reunion if we're not going to do it." I thought at some point we needed to do this, it just grew out of that place.

    What do you think has changed the most about Labelle as a group?
    Sara: The only thing I feel that has changed about us is our age! [Laughs] We're mature, we've come together, we're looking at each other, having individual solo careers defining us as Nona does rock, Patti does R&B, and I do jazz, blues, rock. Bringing all that together, nothing has really changed—it's just we're bringing back our maturity and we are more defined in our direction as to what we can do musically. We still feel there is nothing we can't do. Our ages have changed and with that came a lot of wisdom.

    LaBelle did a remake of Sylvester’s disco classic "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” Patti, I know you were close with Sylvester, could you give us some reflections on your friendship with him?
    Patti: He was a good, good friend. I went to his house about a month before he died, sat on the bed, fed him and he gave me this beautiful gold purse. We did the song, but we didn't do it justice. It sounded just like him so if you're going to do someone's song, try and do it differently. So, we're having a guy do some remixes of the song and it will be available on iTunes.

    Nona, you did some producing on this album. What was your approach to producing for Labelle thirty years later?
    Nona:
    It was very natural. It's very much in a way what I enjoy most, which is writing and producing as opposed to being the artist on stage. It's a little more challenging working with my cohorts! [Laughs] That's the most challenging, specifically producing a Patti LaBelle vocal—I don't know how you produce that! [Laughs] But, once we were in the studio, the music starts and we have we're headed, it creates itself.
    Is there anything challenging about having such an aggressive gay following?
    Patti: Heck no! That's how we've been all of our lives. We've had the biggest gay following and people would always ask me why—I still can't tell you why. It would be a heartbreak if they stopped! Labelle with no gay following? That wouldn't be cute! Patti LaBelle with no gay following? That would not be nice! The gay following has been there forever.
    Is it true that one time Labelle was mistaken for hookers in an elevator?

    Patti: Yes, we were doing a show with Ann Murray and this man thought we were hookers. We took him to the room and had him take off his clothes. We put him in a hall, locked the door, and had his clothes. We made him beg for his clothes back and said, "Every black woman you see, don't assume she's a hooker!" We had on our costumes, which weren't hooker costumes. I forgot about that, he learned a lesson night that! Sara said she was going to be his lady for the evening! [Laughs]

    Patti, do you ever watch yourself on YouTube?
    Patti: Yes, I saw some things that Labelle and I did that I never saw before. Which one are you talking about?

    My favorite one is you performing "You'll Never Walk Alone" for a Motown event at the Apollo.
    Patti: That was with the spiked hair?

    Yes! Little Richard--
    Patti: And Al Green!

    Yeah, it was amazing, it's my favorite.
    Patti: That's one of mine too.

    Labelle as a group were so ahead of their time. Can you point to any artist or group where you see that Labelle influence?
    Sara: I can look at many groups and see that. It started back after we did the space age clothes; there were so many groups that started following that pattern of dress. Also, we opened up a new way of female groups performing. When we go back into the old way, most of the girls had the same wigs and the same gown. We came out and said you can dress differently according to your body shape. When I look at female groups or other groups today, especially black artists, the uniformed look is not as important anymore. I know we influenced them that way. The overall image of performing, we affected The Rolling Stones, Elton John—so many people with what we did.

    Patti, You have spoken so highly of Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. What are your thoughts on this back and forth they've recently had in the press?
    Patti: My thoughts are that they're both queens, they're phenomenal women. Any of them who wants to take that title and hold it as their own, that's her prerogative because they've worked hard enough to be called queens, kings, or whatever they want to be called. Aretha Franklin is one of my favorite singers. Tina Turner is one of my favorite performers. So, it could be that some of the press is getting it mixed up too. It might not be so deep that everybody is saying. They know how great they are. I don't think they would be battling or whatever they're talking about. I don't even listen to it, I couldn't tell you, but I could tell you they are both phenomenal women. The crown belongs to both of them.

    Any last shout to your gay fans?
    Patti: Thank you for 47 years that you've been in my life and Labelle's life. You've been consistent, you never changed. To me that's wonderful because they never turned their back. We appreciate all of the gay following!

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    Posted by Clay :: 9:25 AM :: 4 comments

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