Wednesday, June 09, 2010
PRISCILLA COOLIDGE - GYPSY QUEEN & BOOKER T
Most who've heard of Priscilla Coolidge have to mention a second, more famous name. "She's Rita Coolidge's sister." Or, "She was once married to Booker T. Jones."
Well, once upon a Sussex recording contract, and an album called "Gypsy Queen," it looked like she might make a name for herself as a solo artist. She had a soulful, bluesy voice that was bayou-deep, but the album cover was very commercial, showing the world a pale hippie-chick with dyed blonde tresses.
The music and lyrics reflected an intriguing ethnic mix. "Good Morning Freedom" was a kickass hippie anthem, with the full-bodied belting of a Janis Joplin or Genya Ravan. Freedom here, was just another word for no virginity left to lose: "Good morning Freedom, will you lay with me today…" And in the low, conspiratorial voice usually used by soul sisters only, the confession: "I dared to tell myself my life could be worth more and I slipped and learned to give and found my body at your door."
The title track seemed to have nothing to do with her Cherokee roots, or her burgeoning love for a black guy (Booker T. Jones, who produced the album). It suggested a fascination with some Bayou gypsy who could've had a French connection or some Hungarian blood: "Gypsy King, Lord he danced me good. Made me mama too. I was his lady. He laid me down where his campfire burns, eyes black as coal. They hypnotized me…" Of course astute listeners may have put together Booker T. Jones' name on the credits and a sassy track called "T My T," and realized it was he who was shaking the fruit on her "Southern tree."
The album, for all its "Gypsy" references, and the production of Booker T., sounded like the work of a Delta lady, especially with Leon Russell's "Hummingbird" track on it. Mr. Russell would eventually write a rather famous song called "Delta Lady," but that was about sister Rita Coolidge. Rita was the charmer who had left Stephen Stills for Graham Nash (therefore considered the "Yoko Ono" behind the temporary break-up of CSN&Y), and was "the Raven" in Stills' song "Sit Yourself Down" and on his debut album with Manassas. Rita would later spend most of the 70's married to Kris Kristofferson. But after the first Priscilla album...
A&M signed up the team of Booker T. & Priscilla, and released an ambitious double set. Probably for some kind of ironic shock appeal, the front cover showed the couple from behind, walking arm and arm. Flip the album over and…woah, an interracial couple… very uncommon in those days. More remarkably for Priscilla fans, the blonde hippie chick had washed out the hair dye and now was looking like a natural woman…in fact a part-Cherokee who could pass for a light-skinned black. Most all the tracks were written by Priscilla, with a few credited to Booker T, and another three or four to both. The strongest cuts actually are the covers: "She" by Chris Ethridge and Graham Parsons, and "Sweet Child You're not Alone" by Donna Weiss.
Another album followed, "Home Grown" in 1972, and Priscilla's first album was re-issued on her new label, A&M. Another album followed, called "Chronicles." Well, by that time Rita Coolidge was the star in the family, and remained so. Booker T. and Priscilla eventually parted (he does not list his albums with her on the discography page of bookert.com) and Priscilla's final attempt at a solo career was the indifferent 1979 album hopefully titled "Flying," and credited to Priscilla Coolidge-Jones. Cuts included "Disco Scene," "Woncha Come On Home" and "You Got Me Spinnin'" but the mix of soul, dance and roots was not only confusing, but not particularly well executed. Rita sang on it, not that anyone noticed, and Priscilla sang on Rita's "Satisfied" album the same year, a fact also not noteworthy, since Rita had peaked with "Anytime Anywhere" in 1977.
And so Priscilla remained an Illfolks favorite, which is rarely a sign of commercial success, and usually denotes someone who left the business entirely. The world of vinyl was indeed left behind as Priscilla pursued other interests, including a brief marriage (1981-1984) to "60 minutes" newsman Ed Bradley. It took nearly 20 years for Priscilla to make any kind of comeback in front of recording studio microphones. By that time, she had a daughter (Laura Satterfield) and sister Rita was no longer selling licorice pizzas like hotcakes. The trio called themselves "Walela," which means hummingbird in Cherokee. (Reference the above mention of Priscilla covering "Hummingbird" by Leon Russell.)
The trio released albums in 1997 and 2000, and received great publicity…for NOT being real authentic Native Americans. Pretty ironic that nearly 30 years after her brush with interracial marketing on the "Booker T. and Priscilla" albums, cultural anxiety would surface again. Some Native American groups protested that the Coolidge sisters were part-Cherokee at best, and that "legally" the threesome should not be promoting themselves as Native Americans because, as one writer put it, " Native Americans are the only ethnic group who have to carry cards issued by the U.S. Government to prove they are members of federally recognized tribes, and Rita Coolidge does not meet the criteria as set forth by law to call herself a Cherokee." It is also "a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to market or sell merchandise as Native American or to use the name of a tribe if you are not a member of that tribe."
For more on that situation, go to: http://www.free-press-release.com/news/200709/1189741684.html.
The question is whether offering a few tracks from Priscilla's early albums would lead anyone to call Illfolks an "Indian giver." It might be a question better left un-asked, but the blog generally has an offensive joke in most every post. Moving right along, your download features three tracks from Priscilla's solo debut: On the Road, Let it Shine and Good Morning Freedom, and three from the first album she made with Booker T., including The Wedding Song, She and Sweet Child You're Not Alone. This should give you a pretty good idea whether you want to pick up the Priscilla vinyl or the Booker T. Jones & Priscilla re-issue CD.
6 Songs by Priscilla and Booker T. & Priscilla