Marcella Detroit (2015)
'Gray Matterz: The Marcella Detroit Story'
Marcella Detroit (born Marcella Levy) is an American soprano vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter. Marcella released her debut album Marcella in 1982 before she joined Shakespear's Sister with ex-Bananarama member Siobhan Fahey. Detroit sang the lead vocals on their biggest hit, 'Stay', which was number one in the United Kingdom for eight consecutive weeks. Since leaving the band in 1993, Detroit has maintained a successful solo career, and from 2002 to 2007 fronted her own self-titled blues band.
Detroit-born Marcella "Marcy" Levy began playing for different bands in her home city during the early 1970s. The first major act she worked with was Bob Seger who signed her band Julia up to tour with him. She sang back-up vocals on his Back in '72 album, which then, eventually, led to touring with Leon Russell. After moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma to further pursue her musical career, she and her then-current band were hired by Eric Clapton for touring. She sang backing and group vocals on Clapton's album There's One in Every Crowd, and toured and recorded with him for the next four years. A few years later, and whilst working on her debut album, she was singing and songwriting for numerous artists including: Aretha Franklin, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Stanley Clarke, Chaka Khan, Belinda Carlisle, and Al Jarreau.
Having just released a brand new solo album this year, GRAY MATTERZ I sat down with the lovely Marcella Detroit, and I first wondered when had Marcy Levy become "Marcella Detroit"? "I adopted the name Marcella Detroit when I started with the UK based band, Shakespearís Sister. My partner - at the time - Siobhan Fahey, of Bananarama fame, and I, started working together in 1987 in Shakespearís Sister, which was her brainchild."
"She knew that I was mainly known for being a background singer and as I was going to be featured more in this new incarnation, she suggested I change my name to get a new lease on life, so to speak, in the music industry. I agreed and as my name is really Marcella, I thought of a few surnames and finally settled on Detroit; since itís my hometown and had been, and still is, the biggest influence on me musically."
It's a bloody good job you never came from Looneyville, TX! "LOL, thank goodness for the small things," she smiles.
Indeed, being that you are from Detroit, the very same city that I am interviewing you from today, I can only assume that one of your proudest musical moments in life was having your 70's band Julia open up for Bob Seger! "Actually, our band Julia was hired to be Bob Segerís backing band in 1971 after he stopped working with the great Teagarden and Van Winkle on the Smokiní Opís album. He was looking for a band, we were doing lots of gigs around the Midwest at the time, word got out. He heard us and hired us all. We were all together in the band for a while until Bob fired the rhythm section and hired in some Okies named Jamie Oldaker [drums] and Dick Sims [keyboards] from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bob also hired a percussionist named Sergio Pastora who was working with Jamie and Dick at the time."
"It really was a whirlwind and we toured across the states, mostly the south and southeast. It was through touring with Bob that I got to take my first plane ride, down to Florida. I was terrified, but loved it at the same time. We were all very excited and honored to be playing with Bob. It really was our big ďbreakĒ."
"But let me digress by saying Julia was really a great band led by Bill Mueller, now Blue Miller whoís a very successful guitarist/singer/producer/songwriter now living in Nashville and has some Grammy awards under his belt for the amazing work heís done producing and writing and touring with artist, India Arie. One of the highlights of working with Julia, other than being nabbed by Bob Seger to be his band, was Julia opening for David Bowie at the Fisher Theatre. I was in awe!! We werenít allowed backstage when David was there, but I managed to sneak back and catch a peak. He certainly was a spellbinding presence."
After that tour you were asked to sing backing vocals on his Back in '72 album, which was recorded at Leon Russell's studio, correct? "Well, as I said, it was after several tours in the states, and we were touring when we hit Oklahoma and Leonís studio out by the lake, called the ďlakeĒ studio, funnily enough. Yes, I was excited with the prospect of seeing Leon as he was one of my idols at the time, I just loved Mad Dogs and Englishmen and all of his solo stuff. I used to have his albums all over my bedroom walls and I said to my mother, ďIím going to sing with him one dayĒ. She just laughed and said, "ok, thatís nice," she laughs. "But recording the Back in í72 album was really great, of course, I was with Jamie and Dick and they were my friends and I brought along another great singer from Detroit named Luke Smith to do backing vocals with me while we were touring and he was also on that album, which was fun."
Soon after, you then toured with Leon Russell which then led, after you left Detroit to move to Tulsa, OK, to your band-at-the-time being asked to back Eric Clapton on his live dates! Further more, you then sang backing and group vocals on Clapton's There's One in Every Crowd album. Come on now, it's like you couldn't put a foot wrong back then! "So true! It seemed like I could do no wrong, at least with being a background singer. I was always trying to do my own thing as a solo artist in the meantime. But as I mentioned previously, after a while working with Bob Seger with Jamie and Dick, they invited me to move to Tulsa and promised weíd have a great band and take over the city. I left Segerís band and they did as well in early í73 and I moved to Tulsa to join them in September of í73 after doing some work with various bands including Skip Van Winkle [part of Segerís old band.] We had an amazing band in Tulsa and really played all the best clubs in town. Kind of like the big fish in a little pond, so to speak. It really got us noticed, and, me noticed."
"Leon Russell started coming in to hear us and sit in with us and so did people from the Gap Band, JJ Cale and loads of others, including the incredible bassist Carl Radle from Claptonís Derek and the Dominoes. And thatís how we got to work with Eric. He was looking to put a new band together and Carl told him about us, he came to Tulsa to hear us and hired everyone. I had already committed to working with Leon for a 9 month tour, it was something I had to do, especially since it was always my goal to work with Leon. Plus, I was madly in love with him! Jamie was also on the tour, but he left to do the Clapton tour. I joined them after 9 months for the recording of Thereís One in Every Crowd, as you mentioned. Dick and Carl called me from Jamaica where they were recording the album and they suggested I come down to hang out. So I did, and after singing background vocals on several songs, Eric asked me to be in the band. Of course, I said yes."
Now, is it true that you also co-wrote several songs with Clapton on those subsequent years of touring, including 'Lay Down Sallyí? "Indeed it is true. I wrote and co-wrote about 8 songs with and/or for him: 1. 'Hungry,' with Dick Sims; 2. 'Innocent Times,' with Eric, where I was vocally featured; 3. 'The Core,' with Eric; 4. 'Lay Down Sally,' with Eric and George Terry; 5. 'Roll It,' an album track written with Eric; 6. I even helped write a bit of 'Promises,' but as I only helped with that title and one line in the chorus I was not given writerís credit, only publishing credit; 7. 'Walk Away,' with Richard Feldman; and 8. 'Tangled in Love,' with Richard Feldman, which led me back to working with Eric again in 1985."
It was also around that time you wrote and recorded your debut solo album with David Foster, but sadly it never saw the light of day - and still hasn't. What happened back then to it, what was it's original title, and will it ever be released down the line, perhaps? "Oh no, it will never be released! The president of RSO records, Al Coury, let us record about 4 songs. There was no working title. Al didnít like it and didnít allow us to continue, thatís what happened with it, unfortunately. Maybe Iíll release it as a demo collection at some point, weíll see."
After leaving Clapton, you went on to work for Aretha Franklin, Burt Bacharach, Stanley Clarke, Chaka Khan, Belinda Carlisle and, amongst others, Al Jarreau. OK, as we're not called Exclusive Magazine for nothing, please tell us something you've not mentioned before about your musical associations with:
a) Eric Clapton - "We were doing Live Aid in í85. We were on a revolving stage getting ready to start our set. We all took our places, the stage came round, the curtains opened and the sound of the crowd of 105,000 people was deafening and overwhelming. Eric turned to me and shouted, ďWoahĒ!!! I nodded and agreed. It was one of the most exciting shows weíd ever done, just electrifying."
b) Bob Seger - "One night while on tour with Bob, the other backing singer, Shaun Murphy - then called Stoney Reese - and I were doing our solo spot in the show. We got to sing this really cool song called 'Think', not the Aretha song, but a song by one of James Brownsí proteges, Lynn Collins. We rocked it, crowdís cheering like crazy. That night, after the show, Bob fired Shaun and I! But he hired us back the next day. pretty funny thinking about it now."
c) Aretha Franklin - "Funny, my sister grew up with Arethaís son, Teddy Richards whoís been playing in Arethaís band for many years until recently. So we have the connection there too. I can tell you, It was a thrill to work with Aretha. I went to do a vocal session, hired by the late great producer, Arif Mardin, who was also one of my idols, what a genius. He called me to do this session for 'Love All the Hurt Away' a duet with Aretha and George Benson, gorgeous song. Aretha wasnít there for the session, but she came in at the end to listen and liked it. I was in awe and pretty tongue tied really: my vocal idol was there!"
d) Chaka Khan - "I never met Chaka, but I was really honored that she ended up doing a song I co-wrote with Richard Feldman and Pam Tillis back in the early í80ís. Sheís such an amazing singer and spirit."
e) Alice Cooper - "I used to go see Alice Cooper play around the Detroit area whenever he was playing before I started my foray into the music business. Loved him. I got to work with him through my association with David Foster who called me in to do the session with Alice. Heís such a down to earth guy, and very funny, although the song we did ['Millie and Billie'] was quite mad about two people in an insane asylum!"
In 1982 you finally released your (different) debut album, Marcella on Epic Records. Now, good and bad came from this as, the GOOD was you finally got your music out there, and on a major label, but the BAD was that when it didn't chart Epic then denied you the John Mellencamp tour as support. Reflecting back, what was that time period like for you and how did you get through it? "Iíd be a liar if I said it wasnít devastating! I did some gigs around LA, and Mellencampís people - his drummer and others - were in the audience at a place called the Roxy. Next thing I know theyíre wanting me to open up for him. I was so excited and really happy. But unfortunately the record company wouldnít come up with the tour support for it. I did a lot of press and some radio tours. The New York branch of Epic didnít ďgetĒ my record, and it was hard to fight when the major faction of the company was not behind it. I was pretty upset. Good thing I had already quit drugs," she smiles. "I just dug deeper into my music and expressing myself that way."
Also, what instantly comes to your mind when you look back at the Marcella album cover? "They were wanting to do this really glam thing. I wasnít too sure about it, but things and looks were evolving. I just remember at one point having a piece of that models - a guy - hair in my mouth, nice, tasted like hair gel; but he was pretty cute, so it was ok!"
After touring again with Clapton, come 1988 and you met Bananarama member Siobhan Fahey and after a while you became the duo better known as Shakespear's Sister. When your second single, 'You're History' reached the Top 10 in the UK, did you finally feel vindicated as an artist in your own right, perhaps? "Me, feel vindicated?? No, not really. We actually met in 1987 and that was released in that year as well. For that album I was still considered a hired hand by her and her label, London records."
Things got even better for you when the second SS album came out, Hormonally Yours, and its second single was 'Stay.' A track that marked the band's only #1 on the UK charts, it was made even more special by the fact that you sang lead, correct? "Yes, it was great for me that 'Stay' was so successful, but not great for the band as Siobhan felt "it didnít represent Shakespear's Sister." I sang the lead vocal on it and it was number one for 8 weeks which still holds the record for the longest running number one for a female band in the UK."
"For that album, when we started it, the record company saw me as more integral to the sound and they, and Siobhanís management, asked me to become a 50% member of the band. I was feeling slightly more vindicated then. It was really initially a concept album. We were trying to get the rights to a 50ís B Movie called Cat Women from the Moon. We wrote different songs around the movie and wanted to superimpose ourselves into it. But it proved to be too costly so it never happened. Still, the music spoke for itself."
After a few more chart adventures, SS finally broke up in 1993, just when Hormonally Yours won Best Contemporary Collection of Songs at the Ivor Novello Awards! Word has it that, sadly, you have not spoken to Siobhan since that very same time period, is that true? "Yes, itís all true, we havenít spoken since the split. She was not there to collect the Ivor Novello award and thatís where it was announced, unbeknownst to me, that I was no longer in the band, by her publisher reading out a letter from her. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We were very different people in so many ways. We made some crazy magical music together though and thatís the thing to be remembered and celebrated. Weíve emailed a few times in an attempt to get together, but itís not happened yet."
After that you released your second, third and fourth solo albums, along with a live album, Without Medication Plus MTV "Buzz Live." So, it begs the question, back in the day were drugs ever a part of your songwriting/performing live experiences, perhaps? "Drugs werenít necessarily a part of my songwriting, but they were definitely a big part of my life until around 1978. I had to stop as I had an addictive personality. And that was it, I made up my mind. Iíve tried almost everything at least once. Once, I was doing a gig in Tulsa, drunk on something and I listened back to the tape. It was dreadful!!! From that point on, I decided I would never get high for a performance again. Iíd wait till the encore of the show - if there was to be one - and have a Heineken on the side of the stage for me, that was in the Clapton days. After those Clapton days, I didnít indulge much in any drugs or alcohol very much any more, especially for performing."
In the subsequent years thereafter you created the Marcy Levy Band, worked with Willie Dixon's grandson on an album, participated in a British reality TV show, released your first Christmas EP, set up a not-for-profit charity organization [The Madison Morr Foundation], released yet another Christmas EP, and released yet more solo albums! Phew, well, it seems that you truly hate to be stood in the same spot for too long, so what perpetually motivates you, Marcy? "Wow, you know a lot about me! What motivates me is MUSIC!! And my sincere LOVE to create as well as my interest in the many sides and adventures of this thing called LIFE. The Madison Morr Foundation, I set up for my little niece who was sadly found not breathing in her crib, only 5 months old. It was hard and took a few years to set it up, and Iíve yet to do enough fundraising for it. But itís my intention."
"My sister is a teacher in the Detroit area and has been raising money for kids in need of school supplies, so thatís what this organization is also intending to do, to help those less fortunate by providing funds for educational supplies. www.madisonmorrfoundation.org. I think Iíll be doing an auction fund raiser soon of my old stage clothes."
Now here in 2015 and you have just-released a brand new solo album entitled GRAY MATTERZ. Did it always have that title, what can we expect from it, and does it differ in anyway to anything that's gone before it? "Yes, the working title was always Gray Matterz. I was talking with a label in the UK about it for a while. Itís an adventure not too dissimilar from my electronic Dancing Madly Sideways album that I released in 2000. More of a dance/pop record."
Indeed, from your first self-titled solo album on through to this upcoming new one, how has your voice; and songwriting style therein, changed over the years? "I feel my voice has become stronger, it used to be pretty thin, but itís toughened up over the years. as far as my songwriting goes, well, I like to experiment in different genres and really learn by listening to other music and working with others. I try not to be too much of a purist and try to maintain an open mind. Iím much more disciplined than I used to be, lyrics come a lot easier to me now. I only write about what I know about, itís mostly autobiographical, really, which makes it more believable for me, and the listener."
OK, being that you were born here in Detroit will you ever come back and play shows here some day? To promote the new album, perhaps? "I hope so, weíll see what transpires. I was there in January and sat in with my friend Corky Siegel of the Siegel Schwall Blues band who inspired me greatly when I was just starting out. They were playing at the Magic Bag in Ferndale and I did a few songs with them."
And with that regard, how will you be promoting this new album, in this day and age? One a million miles away from 1982 when Marcella came out on vinyl back in the day "Youíre not kidding! Itís such a different world. I am trying to navigate my way around it, trying to keep an open mind, itís definitely not how it used to be. I will most likely be working with press and PR people who are good at social media as thatís the way itís going now. Plus YouTube is huge and provides a vast platform for music these days. But vinyl has made a huge comeback which Iím happy to hear about. Itís so much warmer than digital music."
With regard social media, in general re: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. is it all a good thing ... or bad? "It just ďisĒ. And thereís no way of changing it until the next thing comes along. Iíve made loads of lucrative connections on Facebook and done some very interesting and successful things through it. The good news is: anyone can get noticed. The bad news: everybody is trying to get noticed and thereís a glut of talent and you really have to be different or excellent to be noticed. Or, like I heard Lady Gaga say in an interview, if you ďtake your clothes off, youíll be a starĒ, which I wonít be doing. I'm too old for that sh*t...!"
Are you a big "tweeter"? "NO, I donít get it, I do tweet though, but not religiously."
Knowing that you like to keep yourself busy, now this new album is released, what's next for you? "Simultaneously, I wrote my autobiography. It took me about 5 years. Iíve got a literary agent in New York helping me with that right now. Weíre looking at editing it. That will most likely be the next thing. Other than that, just trying to relax and stop being so result oriented which Iíve done my entire life!! It certainly doesnít enable me to enjoy being in the moment which Iím currently working on. I call it ďthe De-escalation of Marcella," she smiles.
Finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine LOVE penguins. So, we wondered if you did also and, if so, if you had any personal stories about one/them? "I do love them. I think they are adorable, but Iíve not had any personal experiences with them. I saw an amazing documentary about them on HBO a few years ago and was completely amazed at the structure of their society, their lives and how hard they work to stay alive."
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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