Tuesday, December 09, 2014

PRISCILLA COOLIDGE

Sometimes I check for news about old favorite singers. I found out recently that Turley Richards just published his autobiography. Great. I found that the neglected pop group Gunhill Road has put out their first new album in 40 years. Great.
I wondered what Priscilla Coolidge was up to (covered here June 9, 2010).
I learned that on the evening of October 3rd she was shot in the head by her husband, and he then turned the gun on himself.
It happened in their home, marked by the red dot, which is in a peaceful suburb of California called Thousand Oaks. You can see there's a golf course on one side. There are mountain views on the other.

While Illville is mostly populated by talented people who, for one reason or another, aren't as famous as they deserve to be, it's a bit surprising that Priscilla's death got almost no coverage in the news. She wasn't, as headlined here, merely "Priscilla Coolidge." Or Priscilla June Coolidge. She was the ex-wife of not one but two celebrities, Booker T. Jones (the 70's) and CBS "60 Minute" icon Ed Bradley (from 1981 to 1984). She was also the sister of Rita Coolidge, and together (with Priscilla's daughter) they formed Walela, singing an unusual mix of rock with some Native American-influenced rhythms and lyrics.

America is such an equal-opportunity for murder, isn't it? Look at that first album cover, "Gypsy Queen." With the blond hair, and carefully styled make-up, she was promoted in an almost Sharon Tate way. But no crazed hippies came after her. When she let her hair go back to natural brunette, and became (along with John and Yoko, I suppose, and Leon & Mary Russell) one of the few interracial couples issuing albums, she and Booker T.

Fortunately no racist tried to attack her on stage. No enemy of Ed Bradley came after her. No psycho with a grudge against "Indians" fired a rifle at Walela when they took the stage. No. She survived all through the years.

But retired, at 73, she was killed. Neighbors reported the sounds of an argument, and a few minutes later, this talented singer and lyricist, beloved sister, mother, grandmother...was gone.
It happened where it's clean and quiet; the modest three-bedroom homes go for the typical upper-Middle class price of about $600,000. Some folks rent their places out for $3,000 or so a month.

You'll find the basics of Priscilla's career in the entry for her elsewhere on the blog. Just type her name in the "search" feature in the upper left-hand corner. There's a "Priscilla June Coolidge" Facebook page that is adding, now and then, snapshots from happier times. It's apparently run by her daughter from the Booker T. marriage.
Below are a few tracks from Priscilla's first album. It was originally issued on Sussex. I have no idea what the label's strategy was, but the ambitious debut covered a lot of territory. Some cuts were soulful, some had a kind of funky bayou tang to them, and a few were more mainstream folk-rock. "Come On Sweet" could easily have been on the soundtrack to some "Easy Rider" type movie of the day, with its California dream of romance. Perhaps some reviewers shied away because Priscilla's lyrics (she wrote most of the album herself) were loaded up with some pretty erotic and obvious imagery:
"Catch me in the sunlight in the morning. Catch me in the morning when I'm new...
Flood me 'cause your rivers run so deep babe, and I will bear your seed before this noon...
Catch me when I'm blooming in the evening, and you can taste the honey from my tree..."
Soon we'll know the darkness coming home babe, just take my hand and lay down next to me."

OK, that stuff got my attention, and I played Priscilla's album on the radio, and that included the next track, "Salty Haze," which was loaded with the hippie-dippie heavy lyrics we disc jockeys were awed by, whether from a Dylan, a Keith Reid or a Gypsy Queen:
"Yesterday some people say, we change our ways and take the graves, but tomorrow, never came from yesterday.
Yesterday the wind would say, was only time and only play for people born into the world of no tomorrow.
But today the ocean waves a misty blue and salty haze over the eyes of people born of yesterday..."

Yes, the lyrics were on the back of the album, including the note that the album was produced by one Booker T. Jones.
Soon, "Booker T. and Priscilla" were on A&M, Priscilla's first album was re-issued on A&M, and there was some hope that perhaps the rising interest in A&M's Rita Coolidge might create some kind of dynasty. And let's not forget the "Kris and Rita" album. How about THIS picture, which includes Priscilla's daughter Laura from an earlier marriage (yes, the one who would later join Priscilla as part of Walela).

You know the rest, obviously. You've heard of Rita Coolidge. You know she was married to Kris. You might even have some of their albums. But it's only through this blog that you've ever heard of Priscilla. The third and last Booker-Priscilla album was issued to great apathy in 1973, and in 1979 she somehow managed one last shot at a solo career with "Flying," an album that you can find on eBay for a buck with no takers. A few years after that, she was the bride of newsman Ed Bradley, which does give you an idea that this very attractive and intelligent lady's range of interests went well beyond the world of rock.
Priscilla seemed to have no shortage of admirers. One of them was William D. Smith, a chunky-looking R&B singer and songwriter who made a few obscure (but not all that interesting, otherwise they'd be on this blog somewhere) albums in the 70's.
Smith: "Priscilla said hey come live with me…Even though I didn't want to move in with her, I did it anyway. The first month I moved in with her, we got along great. No fussing or fighting. She had a great sense of humor. I would walk in the room, and I could tell she had been there by the way it smelled. We hugged and kissed all the time…" Priscilla even wrote some lyrics for his songs, including "I Need You."
. The good times didn't last long: "Priscilla and I started to argue about all kinds of things. I was frustrated and she was frustrated. She had just gotten out of a bad marriage…both of us had come from bad marriages. She was seeing a therapist…Priscilla and I kept fussing…stomp-down arguments…Finally, we both agreed that if we could split up, we wouldn't have so many problems. You know, Priscilla and I could have had a beautiful friendship…"
It seemed that things were pretty nice in the house in Thousand Oaks, where a couple were growing older, and getting visits from loved ones, children, and grand-children just waiting to come into this lovely home in a sunny part of the world.

Priscilla, married at least four times, found a fatal match in Michael J. Seibert. I have limited time in researching material for this free blog, but I tried to get some background on him. He seems to have been previously married to a lady named Toshiko Kikuzaki, and worked for Catapult Entertainment, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and WebTV. He's also used the alias Michael Seibertreata. There was a minor legal action filed against him on August 8, nearly two months before the murder/suicide. Seibert was asked to fork over about $7,000 in attorney fees involving a "confession judgment" against him going back to 2009. The judge "denied without prejudice" the claim, based on a technicality. The judge was leaving the case open for the plaintiff to file once again against Seibert. I don't know if this, or other financial woes weighed on Seibert over the two months he (and Priscilla) had left.
Priscilla had at least four children, including Paul and Laura Satterfield from her first marriage, and a son and daughter via Booker T. Jones: Booker T. Jones III and Lonnie, who has her own Facebook page, the one for Priscilla, and an Instagram account with lovely photos of herself, her husband and kids, and her beloved mom. Rita's only public statement is a simple one: "“Words cannot express the devastation our family is feeling with the loss of my sister, Priscilla. We are asking for privacy during this time of mourning.”
Two songs from Priscilla's first solo album: Come On Sweet/Salty Haze
























7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dang... I had no idea. Thanks for this update.

Anonymous said...

Dear Priscilla has a body of work that is sometimes frustrating, but more often than not, is deeply satisfying and beautiful. I don't think she ever really wanted to be a "star". She just wanted to be what she was. She was a fantastic singer who could belt with the best. She was also one who sang with palpable emotion. She sang it as she felt it, and sometimes that could be a little much. A bit more control here and there would have done her well, but that opinion aside, there is no denying her brilliance.

Her wonderful debut lp is finally out on cd, like all of the BOOKER T & PRISCILLA works. It really is the best place to start. The single could have been a double-sided hit. ON THE ROAD b/w GOOD MORNING FREEDOM. Double KO's!

The 1973 album by Booker and Priscilla (that went largely ignored) is their best and most consistent: CHRONICLES. CHEROKEE RIVER and BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE are amazing. A superb collection of songs.

The two lp self-titled debut was loose and wandered. I believe they would have been more celebrated if they had made it a single lp. There really isn't a bad song on it, and arguing over highlights would have been tough, but they should have done so. WATER BROTHERS, WEDDING SONG, THE DELTA SONG, OLD MAN TROUBLE, EARTH CHILDREN are among my favorites. An individual listener can program whatever songs they like best, or take it as a whole. I've done both.

The second lp, HOME GROWN, has a live in studio vibe...in fact, I'm certain that's how they did it. Here, cutting Priscilla loose on her own composition COLOR YOUR MAMA, brings forth a soul drenched masterpiece. Their take on MAGGIE'S FARM is unique and has not been equaled. A gritty and courageous album.

Many have found her second solo lp to be inferior, but I love it. Produced by Booker T, it is full of songs that reflect the state of their marriage. Listen to the closing track, STRANGER TO ME NOW, MY CREW, DOWN TO THE WIRE and IF YOU DON'T WANT MY LOVE. Thus far, this is the only album to not hit cd. I hope it will soon.

Thank you for writing this piece. It seems all too common that it is someone we know and love that can bring us violence. On the flip-side of tragedy, check out her sublime WHEN LOVE WAS ALL WE KNEW from WALELA's cd, UNBEARABLE LOVE.

I am one of the lucky people who know her music and spirit. Repeated listens bring rich rewards.

Rest in peace, sweet lady.

Chris O

Terance said...

Priscilla had a poets spirit and way about her. When it came to the music she showed great joy when performing.

Those who know the piano coda from Eric Clapton's Layla might recognize if on Priscilla's album. It was actually a complete song called TIME. I believe that Priscilla may have made the only recording of the tune which is instantly recognizable as part of the Clapton song.

ChrisO said...

Hey Terance,

According to Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Gordon flat out stole that melody bit from TIME, which he says was solely written by Rita. I dig Booker and Priscilla's version from CHRONICLES, but I would love for Rita to record it now.

Ill Folks said...

Interesting, the "Time" and "Layla" connection. "Time" appears on the third (and most obscure) of the Booker T and Priscilla albums.

One story is that Rita Coolidge wrote it by herself. Another, is that it was a co-write with Jim Gordon (I don't have it on vinyl so I can't confirm what the credit line is). Either way, Gordon had it in his head as suitable for the fade out to "Layla."

"Time" as sung by Booker T. and Priscilla can be heard on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IJPLcwHOes

sana christian said...

I adored Priscilla for her abandon and freedom when she'd sing her heart - and guts- out! I named my baby after her in 1979. I know those angel choirs are dang lucky to receive her passionate voice. I only today learned of her passing. Godspeed, Brilliant and Beloved Priscilla!!! -Sana Christian

Sherry Kenachu said...

I love my sweet Priscilla.....I miss her so very much. Never did I think that her time of passing would be like this. I'll never understand. But I'm so thankful that I have all of her LPs now on CDs.... her two solos and the others with Booker. And of course Walela. I love her dearly and always will ... she's my sister/friend ��
Love Sherry