DIONNE WARWICK’S beautiful performance in concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall last week was a demonstration of how a rare talent overcomes any sort of categorisation in music.
She doesn’t sing rhythm and blues, gospel, pop or jazz. Instead it’s a mixture of all those forms combined with an ability to communicate an emotion to all kinds of people… an emotion that’s best expressed through the love songs of Bacharach and David.
After her first appearance in London for nearly four years, which she described as “the second most exciting thing to happen to me. the first one was my baby,” I asked Dionne how she first met the songwriters and producers who’ve guided her career from the beginning:
“It was about ten years ago. I was doing some back up work for Atlantic records in New York and this particular session was for the Drifters who were recording ‘Mexican Divorce’.
“I’ve done back up work for just about every record company that exists today. On this session Burt Bacharach was conducting and he heard me. We did some demos of his songs and that was the start of a wonderful partnership. I guess the three of us discovered each other and we’ve been working together ever since.
“I think that’s why I still think of ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ as my favourite song. It was the start of a gorgeous relationship. Prior to meeting Hal, Burt’s writing partner, and Burt I’d been doing back up work for about six years.”
The combination of Dionne’s voice and Barcharach-David’s songs has resulted in a series of songs like ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’, ‘Walk On By’, ‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose’, ‘Who Can I Turn To’ and ‘What The World Needs Now’ which have been hits for Dionne. Others that she includes in her London concert like ‘Alfie’, ‘Promises, Promises’ and ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ have also been hits for other artists.
Dionne’s relationship with David and Bacharach is a close one after the years they have worked together. They are her favourite songwriting team although she also admires the work of other people like Leiber-Stoller and some of the Motown writers.
Hal David, she says, is one of the most sensitive human beings she has ever met. “I love that man, he’s so unaffected and quiet, you’d never think by looking at him that he could ever write the lyrics he does.
“The only two numbers that I’ve done that haven’t been theirs were ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, the Righteous Brothers hit, and ‘Valley Of The Dolls’.
“I would record other people’s material of course but when anyone writes for me, they tend to write like Bacharach and David and no one’s going to take second best when you already have the best. If it’s good no one’s going to turn it down, including me, though.”
Dionne comes from a musical family; her mother Lee formed the five strong gospel group, the Drinkard Singers, and her younger sister Dee Dee is a solo singer and worked with Dionne on some of her early backing sessions.
“My family were my biggest influences, we used to sing in a church choir together and my initial training was in gospel. I still sing gospel whenever I’m home and whenever I feel I want to sing, I sing.
“I went to the Hart College Of Music at the university in Connecticut as I planned to teach music I went back to school for my last year and when I came out I found I had a hit record which is why I got side-tracked from teaching.”
Dionne has also found time to move into films. She made her debut last year in the film Slaves which dealt with slavery in America’s Deep South.
“I feel it was one of the most timely films ever as it dealt with black history and the problems that affected black people then. Eventually I hope to do more films and I would also like to do a stage musical; the problem is finding something suitable, something that is typically me. And also it has to be something good. Although at this stage of my career I could probably afford a flop I’d prefer to be associated with a hit.”
Dionne prompted such a reaction at the close of her spot at the Albert Hall that she was forced to come back on after changing out of her gown to placate an almost delirious crowd. It was a performance that isn’t likely to be repeated for some years here.
“Being American I like to work where I live and I’m planning to take a couple of years off from touring. My baby is fifteen months old and as soon as he’s three I’d like to be with him more as I feel I should be with him at that age. I can only bring him with me when I’m in one place for longer than two weeks and that’s not very often.”
© Royston Eldridge, Melody Maker, 25 April 1970