Thursday, February 04, 2010

An Interview With Pearly Gates

Late last year I wrote a post about 2009's most unexpected comeback - the charming return of 70s disco diva come 80s Hi-NRG dance queen Pearly Gates. Not only was "Stop For Love" a great tune, the stunning 63 year old became an overnight internet sensation by cavorting with gay porn star Zeb Atlas in the high camp video clip. Since then Pearly has been busy putting the finishing touches on her first (non-compilation) album, the appropriately titled "On A Winning Streak". And if the tracklisting is any indication, it's going to be amazing. There are twenty songs (including previously unreleased material from the 1970s) as well as a bonus disc with 12 videos and an interview. I can't wait to get my hands on it! The ageless diva kindly agreed to talk to me about her new album and the highlights of her five decades in the music business. It was a real honour to speak to such an enduring talent. I hope you enjoy the interview and make sure you hunt down "On A Winning Streak". It's already on iTunes with a physical release to follow on the 20th of February (try ordering your copy here closer to the date). Expect a review as soon as mine arrives!

Pearly, how did you get into the music industry? It must have been tough for a farm girl from country Alabama.
Ha ha, well I guess one could say, I got started in High School when I used to sing at junior and senior proms around the state of Alabama and I was persuaded to continue when I finished high school. So it was a choice at that time to go to college or straight into the industry and I chose the industry. Growing up in Alabama, I wouldn’t say it was hard. But it wasn’t easy either. One thing it did was make you very strong and build confidence that would later see you through the rocky road of show business.

The 60s was a golden era for girl groups. Did The Flirtations (the band that Pearly started her career in) feel a lot of pressure to live up to the success of The Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas?
No, The Gypsies/Flirtations were never a replicate of The Supremes because they had that ease and sexuality. Their songs portrayed that type of aura, which made them the queens of the 60s. Whereas Martha and the Vandellas, had more of a street, soulful feel. The Flirtations, on the other hand, was out and out R&B then stroke POP. Those groups were more smooth and we were more soulful as performers. We met Diana Ross and Mary Wilson and we’ve been on the same bill as Martha and the Vandellas but they had to leave, so we didn’t get the chance to talk to them.

Sexy Pearly in the late 70s

Why did the band move from America to the UK in 1968? Was the transition hard? We came first at the end of 1968 and arrived for good in February 1969. No, not hard at all. It was something that we knew we had to do. Because of the competition in America with so many girl groups at that time.

Your solo career kicked off in the early 70s. What are your favourites from that period? I love “Make It My Business (To Get To Know You Boy)”. It’s so cute and catchy!
Yes, my career as Pearly Gates started in 1974. My favourite has to be “Burning Love”. I love that song. I think it’s so, so, so cool! I also like “Making It My Business”. That’s also a good one. In 1985 I recorded “Action” that's the song that got me noticed on the dance scene BIG TIME!

This is one of my favourite clips on youtube

Olivia Newton-John is one of my all time favourite singers. Is it true you worked with her on Cliff Richard's TV show in the late 70s? What is she like?
Yes, we did do two television series with Cliff Richard. She was absolutely a joy to work with and girlfriend has got a wicked sense of humour. We got together in 2009 and I have to tell you, the sense of humour is still the same and she is still as beautiful as ever. Mind and body.

You mentioned “Burning Love” earlier. Like most fabulous divas, you dabbled in disco in the late 70s. Did you enjoy that era?
Thank you so much to referring to me as a diva. It makes me feel good. The 70s were absolutely amazing for disco music. And I’m glad to have been a part of it. I loved it because I used to go to the clubs and dance from 1am to 6am. There was no such thing as going to the gym. I got my workout on the dance floor!

I read that you recorded a full disco album with Ian Levine in 1979 called “Fading Into The Night” but it was never released. What happened?
That album had originally been intended for an American singer called Cobie Jones. However, she couldn't get a visa to get to the UK when the studio was booked so Ian called me and had me record those songs at London's Trident Studios. It was a very good album but due to the disco backlash, Ian couldn't get it released and it sat in the can for several years. Two of the songs, "Fading Into The Night" and "No Two Ways About It" came out as 12" singles in 1987. The whole album was finally released as part of my CD "The Best Of Pearly Gates" on Hot Productions in the mid-90s.

You then re-emerged in the mid-80s with “Action” - one of the most famous Hi-NRG hits of that decade. Did you know it was special when you recorded it?
It felt very special at the time. It was very happy go lucky in the lives of a lot of people. It was a fun song to sing. It told a story and it was very tongue in cheek and very, very cheeky.

Pearly demands "Action"!

That song (like a lot of your music) has really been embraced by the gay community. How do you explain it?
I would like to think that my music appeals to everybody and if there is a certain group of people who embodies the music more than others I’m very happy for that. I just think the gay community express themselves more than others. They love to have fun and I love being out there performing with them and enjoying myself.

You kind of disappeared in the 90s and early 00s. Were you having a well deserved rest?
No, I was getting married, trying to have a life for once in my life! So to speak. I was always a part of the music scene. I never went away. In the 90s I started my own management company. So I was still very much involved in the industry.

Having worked behined the scenes, what is your opinion on the current state of the music industry?
Yes I did spend quite a few years behind the scene as I still am doing, all I can say about the industry today is... I don’t think it’s as much fun as it used to be. You had a chance to be more hands on,with the people who were in charge, you could meet up, see people, have lunch. And just generally get to know the person you were on the phone to and had to deal with.

Beyoncé or Rihanna?
I absolutely respect them both in different ways. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Beyoncé and the rest of Destiny’s Child. And they were all really, really nice. Suffice to say, I am very happy to see Beyoncé continue on that winning streak - ohh that’s the name of my album (*laughs*). Hence 6 Grammy awards. Rihanna is on another trip all together, she really is new school and I am hoping that her career progresses further.

The comeback album of 2010

Why did you decide to embark on a comeback? Did you ever think you’d be releasing what is essentially your debut album at the age of 63?
I’m not calling it a comeback, I’m calling it a continuation of what I started out doing 45 years ago. I know... Isn’t it wonderful that you can stand up proud and say that your 63? I actually feel very blessed. I feel like RuPaul - “Looking good, feeling fine”!

Tell us about your new album. Are you keeping it old school?
The sound on the album has a little bit of everything. I’m trying to bring it up to date, it has a little bit of something for everybody. And I hope people can look back and reminisce with me on this journey. I hope I’ve come up to the present!

Who have you worked with? I hear there’s an Ian Levine collaboration. Is the old chemistry still there?
On this album producers range from the great H.B. Barnum from Motown Stable to the High Energy giant Ian Levine. Søren Jensen, The Soundcarvers (Frank Savannah & Crazy Pitcher), Alias 1 and Doc B and the late, great Clive Scott all contributed to the album.

Is it true you recorded a song that the Bee Gees originally wrote for Dionne Warwick's "Heartbreaker" album in the 80s?
I received this song in the late 80s in the form of a disco track. And I just couldn’t imagine how I could get my chops around the melody of the track. So I put it aside. But I always liked the words of the song. So when we were putting together the album, I played it to Alias 1 and Doc B, expressing the fact that I’d love to do it but I wanted a complete new concept. And what we came up with, I think, is glorious. And I hope the feedback will be positive from people.

Will there be any old classics on the album?
Yes there is an old classic on the album. An old Marvin Gaye classic “Ain’t That Peculiar”. Yet again I asked Alias 1 and Doc B to give it a new treatment and what they came up with is amazing. There are also four previously unreleased songs from my 1977 sessions in Los Angeles.

Zeb Atlas - Pearly's toy boy

The video for “Stop For Love” (below) has become a youtube sensation! Whose idea was it to involve porn star Zeb Atlas?
Darren Harvey-Beswick thought I should have a love interest for the video. It was just a lot of fun on the day. It was such a joy to work with him. He was such a gentleman. And a lot of fun. We both enjoyed the day. I don’t think I could have found another man better than Zeb Atlas.

What was it like acting out love scenes with Zeb? Was he overcome by your fabulousness?
It was a video shoot, Zeb is a professional. I am long in the tooth.. in this business! We had a job to do that allowed us to have fun and I hope it came out that way that we were having a good time. And it was great because we are two fellow Americans, who really just had a good time on the day.

When is the album released and can we expect more stunning video clips?
The album will be available the middle of February. And yes there are a couple videos in the package and I hope people enjoy listening and watching my work. God knows I’ve had a great time helping put it all together. And BIG UP to Søren and Darren for ALL their support and help.

Thanks so much for your time and good luck with "On A Winning Streak"!
Thank you. It was great talking to you.


tommie said...

Damn you Mike! Now I had to buy her album on iTunes, haha. I can't resist someone who quotes RuPaul of all people!

tommie said...

Am I the only one that's having problem downloading One Too Many?! The rest of the album is fine, but for some reason that one comes up as error=8003 when I try to get it on my computer! RUE!

Søren said...

Søren here - the producer of Pearly's album. First and foremost thank you for the wonderful article you've done here, Mike, we're very pleased to be featured. Secondly, Tommie, vad bra att träffa en svenska här! Thank you for already purchasing the album although jag är ledsen to hear you had problems downloading "One Time Too Many" - did you report the problem to iTunes? If they didn't fix it, please send me your email and I'll get the track your way.

I do hope some of you will consider purchasing the physical copy though because of the stunning artwork (fold-out digipac sleeve) + 16-page booklet with photos + 12-track DVD that also includes a filmed interview with this wonderful lady. Stay tuned for Mike's review!

undisco_me said...

I still can't believe I fell for a fake gaydar profile using pictures of Zeb Atlas...

Anyway, the Diva is magnificent.

Mike said...

Tommie - I haven't heard of any problems downloading the album but it wouldn't be the first time iTunes fucked up. I'm holding out for the physical CD. I want Pearly's stunning videos!

Søren - You're welcome. It was an honour showcasing the amazing talent of Pearly Gates!

D'luv said...

Okay, wait....Ian Levine is still alive?

Paul said...

Am going to have to track down the physical copy because it sounds lush. absolutely great interview, can't wait to get the album :)

tommie said...

I restarted iTunes and to my annoyance I can't even attempt to download it now! Urgh.

Oh well, I'll get the physical release too sooner or later, so I guess I'll just view it as a bonus track!

tommie said...

@ Søren/Sören - tack! I had no idea Swedish people had anything to do with the album! Although I suspect you might be Danish/Norwegian?

Anyway... I'll just write it off as a physical bonus. I'll get it eventually. Pearly deserves the sale!

Søren said...

Hi Tommie,

yes, I am Danish of nationality as you guessed, although living in the south of Sweden. Thank you again, I'm really glad for the support; every single copy sold counts.

D'luv - yes, Ian Levine is still alive and runs his label Centre City. My label Night Dance Records was originally supposed to be a sub-label of his which never worked out between us. He did, however, license a handful of Pearly's tracks from various compilations for us to include here.

AOTG said...

What a fabulous interview! Though surely she can't be 63 - she looks no older than 25!

tommie said...

Søren - great! If you only could find the rock Madleen Kane has crawled under and force her to do another album my life would be complete...

Mike said...

Tommie - I swear we were separated at birth. Madleen is amazing! I'm working on a post about her stunning career. I think Søren should definitely reignite her career the same way that he helped Pearly!