Interview With Darlene Love ('The Blossoms')

By: Michael Musto
Source: Village Voice
August 9, 2018

'It Was Fun to Be Wanted by Someone Like Elvis Presley': An Interview With Darlene Love

The gifted singer reflects on Elvis' collaborative presence and his relationship to gospel music

Darlene Love was the lead voice of 'The Blossoms' an American girl-group. During their height of success in the 1960s, the group's lineup most famously consisted of Darlene Love, Fanita James, and Jean King.

Although the group had a recording career in their own right, they were most famous for being the group to actually record the #1 hit 'He's a Rebel' (which producer Phil Spector credited to the Crystals), and for providing backing vocals for many of the biggest hits of the 1960s.

It has been said that the Blossoms were to the American West Coast what the Sweet Inspirations were to the East Coast and the Andantes were for Motown.

In 1968 they appeared in the Elvis (NBC TV Special).

Elvis Presley performs with the Blossoms featuring Darlene Love (far right) on his 1968 Comeback Special.
Elvis Presley performs with the Blossoms featuring Darlene Love (far right) on his 1968 Comeback Special.

Love is represented on the new project, 'Where No One Stands Alone', a fourteen-track compilation of Elvis' gospel work due out August 10 on RCA/Legacy.

Michael Musto: Hi, Darlene. What is some of the gospel work you did with Elvis?

Darlene Love: There is 'Let Us Pray', the one from the movie we did with Elvis, 'Change of Habit'. That was his last film.

Michael Musto: It was in 1969, with Elvis as a doctor and Mary Tyler Moore as a nun.

Darlene Love: We, the Blossoms, are in the first scene. And we were in his 1968 comeback special [Singer Presents … ELVIS].

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Michael Musto: His new gospel compilation album should be quite interesting.

Darlene Love: They [recently] had me do some fill-ins, what we call ad libs, throughout the album to make it sound more gospel. I haven't heard it yet. Hopefully it's a wonderful thing.

Michael Musto: Elvis went to church and listened to gospel singers to soak up what they did, right?

Darlene Love: Even today, it's more mixed than it was in the Fifties and Sixties. Whites and blacks didn't go to church together back then. What Elvis told me he would do - we had night service on Sunday night when we did what we called 'praise songs'. A lot of them were songs he loved, what we called 'hymn songs'.

We didn't have air conditioners. We had pushup windows, with a little rope. Elvis said he would stand outside the church rather than going in, because they didn't think black and white should be in the same churches together. He said he would listen through the windows. It gave him such a thrill. It's a big difference between the way blacks sang gospel and the way whites sang gospel.

Michael Musto: Do you feel he was dedicated to the music or he was just taking it for himself?

Darlene Love: I found out years later, when we were doing the comeback special, that his mother's favorite music was gospel. He would always sing gospel around her. I think if he could have had a big career in gospel music, that's where he would have been. But you can always make more money off secular hits. Elvis had 10 or 15,000 people come to his shows to see him. Today, they have mega churches that hold 25,000, but back then, you were doing great if you had 500 people.

I love gospel music. If I had a calling - meaning from the Lord - just to sing gospel, I would have, but the secular music got to more people. I bet a lot of secular singers like Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin felt the same way. They never paid us no money. 'Do it unto the Lord'. 'OK'. [Laughs] We would drive to the gigs and they'd give you an offering - gas money. They were hardly giving us a whole lot of money. But it was worth it, every penny of it. It was a wonderful experience singing gospel.

Darlene Love (2018).
Darlene Love (2018).

Michael Musto: But was Elvis appropriating the music, or that's just the way it was?

Darlene Love: That's just the way it was. A lot of people think a white person is copying the black person. He just loved the music and he was singing it the way he felt. He sang 'Hound Dog' completely different than Mama Thornton. [Elvis' version was rock, whereas Thornton's was blues.] Even today, they take secular music and put it in gospel, and vice versa. You know, Elvis won three Grammys, and they were all for gospel records.

Michael Musto: What were your experiences like with Elvis?

Darlene Love: One time, Elvis decided we'd all go to the movies. He bought this theater out that night.

Michael Musto: What did you watch - Change of Habit?

Darlene Love: Don't even ask me. I don't remember. [Laughs] We had a lot of free time when we were recording and when we were making the movie. That's when the Blossoms and myself got a chance to know the gospel side of Elvis. He'd want to know the songs we knew. He'd get his guitar and say, 'You know this song?' 'Yes, we grew up on it'. He'd say, 'Let's do it'.

Michael Musto: Was he funny or serious?

Darlene Love: He was funny and he was serious sometimes. If he didn't think he was doing great, he'd say, 'Hey, girls, how'm I doing?' He was very, very funny. I call it that 'country funny'. He would do his moves in the studio the way he was gonna do them onstage. It made it easy to be around him, but sometimes it was not easy because his bodyguards were keeping people from him. He wanted to be with the Blossoms, where he could pull out his guitar. We'd say, 'We think you'd better go. You're gonna get us in trouble'. We'd never forget, because he'd be giving us his personal time.

Michael Musto: You'd just be hanging out and singing?

Darlene Love: Yes! Whatever song he knew - 'Amazing Grace' or 'River of Jordan' or 'Heaven Is a Wonderful Place' or 'Sweet Hour of Prayer'. We called them hymns of the church. There was another one called 'Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior'. The Blossoms were known for their harmony. We'd harmonize with him. There's something we had with Elvis that others didn't have. It was fun to be wanted by someone like Elvis Presley.

Michael Musto: He had tremendous respect for you.

Darlene Love: Yes, he did. That was great. I always say he left us way too soon. He is where I plan to go one day, so I'll see him again.

Michael Musto: You were all rather young and great-looking. Was there any sexual tension in the air?

Darlene Love: There was. It could have been. But I was too scared to do anything.

Michael Musto: You fool! [Laughs] Kidding. You wanted to keep it professional.

Darlene Love: And I definitely did. Something about dating someone you're working for, it takes away from that. 'I know he's never gonna look at me the same after this'. [Laughs] He'd start playing with me. He'd tap you on the shoulder or do a hip shake, and me and Elvis knew what that meant.

Michael Musto: Flirting?

Darlene Love: Yeah, I think so, and I think it showed his human side. I wasn't bad-looking - and I was thin, too. [Laughs] He wanted to take out time and be around us. The reason we sang on his '68 comeback special is he was the one that insisted that the Blossoms sing in the music section of the show.

Michael Musto: So Elvis treated you better than Phil Spector did?

Darlene Love: Oh my God, I'd say so.

Michael Musto: That's an easy one.

Darlene Love: That's a real easy one. Phil took advantage of me and my talent. With Elvis, he wanted us to work, and we got paid well. It wasn't like Phil Spector cracking the whip and us running around!

Buy Elvis: 'Where No One Stands Alone' CD

Elvis: 'Where No One Stands Alone' celebrates the power and passion of Elvis Presley's gospel recordings. Produced by Joel Weinshanker, Andy Childs and Lisa Marie Presley, the album features Elvis' most treasured performances of inspirational songs with newly-recorded instrumentation and backing vocals, including members of gospel and vocal groups that shared the stage with him, including Darlene Love; Cissy Houston; Terry Blackwood, Armond Morales and Jim Murray of The Imperials; and Bill Baize, Ed Hill and Larry Strickland of The Stamps Quartet.

The album also includes a new duet with Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis' daughter, on the title track'. Since I was two years old', Elvis Presley once said, 'all I knew was gospel music. It became such a part of my life, it was as natural as dancing. A way to escape my problems, and my way of release'.

It was gospel music that most ferociously stoked his musical passions, even as his unique synthesis of country, popular and rhythm and blues styles made him an idol to millions around the world. Friends and family would often recall hearing Elvis sing gospel tunes at home and to warm up before concerts.

A year into his contract on RCA Records, Elvis recorded his first gospel sessions, issued as the EP Peace In The Valley and on Elvis' Christmas Album in 1957. Three full-length gospel albums followed: His Hand In Mine (1960), How Great Thou Art (1967) and He Touched Me (1972). Each of these LPs transcended the modest sales expectations for gospel albums, earning Presley platinum or multi-platinum certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America. How Great Thou Art and He Touched Me also earned Elvis his sole competitive Grammy Awards.

This was his favorite genre – no question about it. He seemed to be at his most passionate, and at peace while singing gospel. He would truly come alive – whether he was singing just for himself and me at home, or on stage in front of thousands of fans'. - Lisa Marie Presley (co-producer).

Track listing.

1. I've Got Confidence
2. Where No One Stands Alone (with Lisa Marie Presley)
3. Saved
4. Crying In The Chapel
5. So High
6. Stand By Me
7. Bosom Of Abraham
8. How Great Thou Art
9. I, John
10. You'll Never Walk Alone
11. He Touched Me
12. In The Garden
13. He Is My Everything
14. Amazing Grace

Artist: Elvis Presley
Title: Where No One Stands Alone
Release Date: 10-August
Elvis: 'Where No One Stands Alone' CD.

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