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20 Feet From Stardom singer talks exposure

Claudia Lennear, a US soul singer featured in Oscar-nominated documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, returned to the stage at Screen’s latest awards-season event.

The screening was presented with Altitude, who will release in the UK starting March 28, and TWC-Radius, which handles the US release where it has made $4.8m at the box office and been named the top-grossing doc of 2013.

Morgan Neville’s Oscar-nominated film looks at the work and lives of the world’s best backing singers. It features interviews with the likes of Mick Jagger, Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Bruce Springsteen and Sting.

Lennear told the audience at London’s Covent Garden hotel what she learned from the documentary. “Until I saw this film, I didn’t know that Darlene Love was the voice of The Crystals,” referring to music producer Phil Spector’s uncredited use of Love’s voice on the 1960s girl group’s singles.

Lennear made her name singing back-up for Ike and Tina Turner. She also sang bank-up vocals on Joe Cocker’s 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and live album and on George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh.

Talking about how she got involved with 20 Feet From Stardom, Lennear revealed that Sheryl Crow suggested the filmmakers contact her, despite the two having never met or worked together. “They found me 35 miles outside of Los Angeles, where I’d always been,” Lennear recalled.

Her meetings with Mick Jagger are often cited as inspiration for The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar while David Bowie is said to have written Lady Grinning Soul about Lennear.

Asked about an eye-roll she gives in the documentary when asked about Jagger and her appearance in Playboy, the singer said: “Looking back I don’t regret one moment. I remember meeting Hugh Heffner in his pyjamas and him talking me into it over the course of a year.

“There’s two ways of exposing yourself – and I’m sure you’ll get the double entendre there. The first is to get your name out there. There other is become a sex symbol. You can keep your shirt on but I was happy to take off mine.”

Following a short-lived solo career, Lennear left the music industry to become a teacher. “I don’t sing rock and roll anymore and do more choir and classical singing,” she added. “I wish I had known more about the business side but I loved the experience.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • OK, everyone performs brilliantly and memorably, BUT one of the more familiar names, Darlene Love, gets to re-write some pop history around herself. Love makes a desperately false claim to voicing Phil Spector's biggest hits only to be "held back" in her career (according to Love) because the original girl group,The Crystals, were given the credit for her work. Cue a video of the girls lip-syncing to Love's He's A Rebel.

    Case proved? No, because He's A Rebel was in Love's own admission just some early paid session work for Spector who she charged over the odds because he was in a hurry to record the track. As she has said many times over, Love never expected to get the credit or any publicity at all for He's A Rebel which Spector released on the unsuspecting Crystals who then had to promote it for him (that video clip).

    Love has given loads of interviews on this subject and is on record as saying that she only became interested when He's A Rebel began to take off. Surely if I can find this stuff out by looking on youtube anyone can.

    However, it gets worse. Love and the Blossoms (and I really like them) reform for the documentary and Love is asked to suggest a number to sing. Da Doo Ron Ron? Now things are getting really scary as far as The Crystals are concerned. The Crystals (who could really sing by the way) and whose fiery La La Brooks was just 15 years old when she cut the lead vocals on Da Doo Ron Ron, have been given a complete pasting in the edit by director, Morgan Neville.

    This isn't just bad journalism. With Neville's help, Love is treading all over these artists in her revised account of the early Spector years. And lets remember that The Crystals and La La Brooks are still alive and well, out there performing today. Brooks is now a solo artist, but her memories and background are of shooting to stardom at the age of 15 with Spector and of singing the lead vocals on Da Doo Ron Ron and Then he Kissed Me as well as there being a string of other songs charting for The Crystals in their own right.

    Darlene Love was nowhere near this stuff and her input as far as The Crystals are concerned has been greatly exaggerated to say the very least. This part of the documentary is almost a hit piece and it beggars belief that Neville does nothing to rein in Darlene Love's excesses.

    The more so as Love could genuinely refer to the issues which she faced a bit further on down the road under contract with Phil Spector. She finally pulled herself out of a hole in some style and went on to become famous in her own right. Alright, there is a lot more going for the documentary in terms of some great performances, but there is also a lot of sentiment contained in the premise for the documentary. It is all about being a great performer, about performing behind others who are receiving the stardom.

    Note how this documentary has worked in reverse for La La Brooks and The Crystals who are more or less having their work plagiarised from above. Can it get any worse for them? Very soon the "20 Feet From Stardom" circus will be coming to town to promote this film. If their US appearances at screenings of the film are anything to go by Darlene Love will be digging herself in even deeper on the subject of who sang what in the early Spector years, while Morgan Neville just smiles and looks on approvingly.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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