The Second Disc is thrilled to welcome Charles Donovan for a very special guest post. In addition to being one of the finest music journalists working today, Charles has curated some of our favorite releases in recent years including Rupert Holmes' Songs That Sound Like Movies: The Complete Epic Recordings, Pamela Polland's Pamela Polland/Have You Heard the One About the Gas Station Attendant?, and Maxayn's Reloaded: The Complete Recordings 1972-1974. Today, Charles brings his knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm to shine a much-deserved light on the life and career of late singer/songwriter David Lasley and his 1970s vocal trio, Rosie. We're privileged to share this moving tribute which includes David's final interview.
Prologue: David Lasley (1947 to 2021) In Memoriam
When I began this piece, David Lasley - singer/songwriter, superstar backing vocalist - was alive. David passed away in early December 2021. He was one of those people who's been heard by millions even if most of them don't know it. David wasn't just among the preeminent backing vocalists of the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s (he was lucky enough to have two voices; a rich, resonant baritone and a thrilling, elastic counter-tenor), he was also a successful songwriter, whose compositions were placed with a variety of stars. But my interest in his work springs chiefly from his own recordings. David began recording in the 1960s with his group, The Utopias. He was quietly pioneering in the way he made no secret of his sexuality despite the potential for hostility and career disadvantage that this might have led to in the 70s and 80s. His EMI albums, Missin' Twenty Grand (1982) and Raindance (1984), deserve considerable elevation in the hierarchy of recorded music. But on equal footing with those albums are the two he recorded as part of Rosie, an arty cabaret-soul-pop trio he formed with two close friends he met in the cast of Hair. I spent two hours on the telephone with David for a feature about Rosie, one hour with his band-mate Lynn, and another with his band-mate and songwriting partner, Susan, known professionally as Lana.
Making contact with Lynn and Lana was straightforward, with the initial point of contact being Lana's niece, Danielle. Talking with David was more complicated - he was in hospital and then physical rehab following a leg amputation, so it took a few months. And when we did eventually speak, his conversation raced and raced at breakneck speed. Each sentence triggered a tangent, with additional tangents springing from the first tangent. He was so lovely, I didn't want to marshal him too aggressively, though I occasionally nudged him back to Rosie and the matter in hand. I couldn't quite understand why he was talking to me as if I were an amanuensis for his autobiography, giving me an excess of detail I couldn't possibly hope to make use of in a one-pager for a print mag. Now, sadly, it makes a sort of sense, because perhaps he knew his time was limited. On the other hand, he talked of future projects with frenetic verve and wild energy, particularly a Brit-girls covers album he longed to make, which would have included his favourite songs, not just from obvious candidates like Dusty, Sandie, Cilla et al, but also Dana Gillespie and Kiki Dee. The breadth of knowledge he displayed was quite astonishing. Like Elton John, he was an avid music collector, with tastes that extended far, far into the lesser-known corners. During our calls, he told me about Bill Puka, a man who made one Laura Nyro-esque album for CBS. He told me about Fonda Feingold, a fabulous piano-playing singer/songwriter who was on Mercury Records in the 1970s. He rhapsodised about Cory Braverman, a soulful talent whose Fire Sign album came out on Phantom Records in 1976. In the gap between our first and second chats, I acquired all three albums. Recommendations from David Lasley were not to be sniffed at. We then chatted enthusiastically about them, almost as if we were established friends. But we weren't - we were very newly acquainted. I didn't know about the cancer. I knew David's physical health had been compromised and that he'd had a leg amputated, but I left it to him to speak about that if he wanted to; I didn't prod him for medical information. When I made occasional donations to the crowd-founder set up by his friend, singer Arnold McCuller, I'd notice other, much bigger, donations from various luminaries - songwriter, Frannie Golde, and Carly Simon and James Taylor.
David mainly wanted to talk (and talk and talk) music. Other people's as much as his own. He was a delight. You'd have thought that people like Elton and David - stars who are also fans, musicians who love other people's music and have far-reaching tastes - would be the norm, but in fact they're unusual enough to stand out. With all his chatter about travelling to Britain to record, travelling to Sweden to record, the 'Brit Girls' concept and so on, I was shocked when I discovered in late November that David was in a hospice. Days later, he was dead. This piece contains his final interview. Bless you for those two hours, David; your singing voice, your songs, your recordings, will be with us forever and the world is incalculably richer for them.
David Lasley and Rosie
Has there ever been a musical that spawned more young talent than Hair? The 1960s stage show which at one point could be seen in multiple productions, touring over a dozen territories, gave us Marsha Hunt, Jobriath, Peter Straker, Meat Loaf, Sonja Kristina, Jennifer Warnes, Gloria Jones, Tata Vega, Dobie Gray, Annabel Leventon, Maxine Nightingale, Donna Summer, Elaine Paige, John Waters and many more. And that's before you peer into some of the less illuminated recesses of the show's history, because there you'll find even more stories of gifted, questing, restlessly creative personalities.
During the early 70s, when nine simultaneous Hair productions were touring the US, two young performers and one very young performer were thrown into a lifelong bond. They discovered that their voices formed a unique blend. One of them wrote music, another lyrics. Soon, they were auditioning successfully for RCA Records. If talent were commensurate with fame, they'd be household names. The two exceptional albums they left behind have been reissued twice in Japan but never got beyond first pressing in the States and didn't come out at all in the UK. Yet they're singularly impressive works with a phenomenal amount of studio talent on board, from Michael Kamen to Genya Ravan and Dr John to James Taylor. Rosie were David Lasley, Susan Krauss (aka Lana Marrano) and Lynn Pitney, the three Hair graduates who formed a musical union for a handful of glorious years in the mid-late 1970s.
Rosie worked well live and on record for several reasons. Each member's voice served a different purpose. Marrano's was low, gritty and worldly-wise, Lasley brought two voices with him - a clear, ringing baritone and a brilliant, swooping falsetto recalling Laura Nyro and Valerie Carter - while Pitney's young, pure, Michelle Phillips-like soprano was the glue in the middle, holding the disparate elements together. They also looked great; countercultural without trying too hard. They fused the singer/songwriter, soul and musical theatre traditions. Working against their favour, however, was timing; it's easy to picture a brighter outcome for them in an alternative reality where they'd formed and been signed about five years earlier or later. As it was, they were up against the emergence of disco (not that, with their soulful leanings, they couldn't have appropriated aspects of that genre) and punk, battling it out in a crowded market where singer/songwriters were increasingly seen as passé. In the end, though, they were felled by Elvis Presley (more on that later).
"Roll me through the rushes like Moses/guide me to the new woman who waits/current, leave me on the banks by the cottage/where we will dine on silver cups and golden plates/roll me through the rushes like Moses"
Rosie: "Roll Me Through The Rushes" - LISTEN HERE
If those words are familiar, it's probably because they appear three tracks in on Chaka Khan's gorgeous first album, Chaka (Warner Bros, 1978), just after the thrill of Ashford & Simpson's 'I'm Every Woman' and the wonderful cover of Rotary Connection's 'Love Has Fallen On Me'. But few of the listeners who made Chaka a bestseller (and even fewer of those who hear it today on streaming) ever realised that it's a Rosie cover. 'Roll Me Through The Rushes' was one of the first fruits of David Lasley's songwriting partnership with Susan Krauss, by then calling herself Lana Marrano (note the flamboyant, trip-off-the-tongue internal rhyme in that stage-name). Before settling on its final line-up, earlier incarnations of Rosie had included Arnold McCuller (like Lasley, McCuller would go on to record solo and be part of James Taylor's touring company) and Ula Hedwig (one of Bette Midler's Harlettes).
First of all, Rosie needed a mentor, and just on cue came the perfect one. By the mid-70s, Genya Ravan, who'd made her name in Goldie And The Gingerbreads and then, even more famously, with Ten Wheel Drive, had begun to prove herself as a solo artist and a producer. RCA signed her to a production contract. Among her first finds were female singer/songwriter duo Cryer & Ford in 1975. The following year, she found Rosie. In her memoir, Lollipop Lounge, she recalls:
"I'd met the singer/songwriter, David Lasley, who was part of the band Rosie. He played me some of the music he'd been making with the other two members: Lynn Pitney and Lana Marrano. I was floored by it, and resolved to get the band a record deal. This was blue-eyed soul, and it was magnificent - music I could really get my teeth into.
Genya Ravan/Goldie And The Gingerbreads: "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat" - LISTEN HERE
"I wanted to produce them so bad it hurt. I got on the phone to Mike Berniker and raved to him about how good Rosie was. He was disposed to believe my judgment. We set up a meeting so he could hear Rosie for himself. I walked into his office and asked him if he was ready for a real treat. Smiling, he turned on his stereo ready for the tape he thought I was going to play. Instead, I called for David, Lynn, Lana and their pianist to come in, and they pitched straight into a live performance of their song 'Roll Me Through The Rushes'. At first, Mike was open-mouthed because nobody in the record business by then gave a live audition; he was amazed I'd had the balls to spring this on him. But after that he was opened-mouth because he loved what he was hearing. "Unbelievable," he mouthed to me.
"The harmonies knocked him out. David's voice had a tremendous range. One moment he was sounding high and light in falsetto; the next he was hitting all the deep notes. Someone once said David's singing was like a "visual vocal ballet," whatever that means. The girls were singing lusciously around David's vocals.
"Rosie did three songs for him. I'd promised him a treat and he surely got it: a real live show in his office. Other RCA staffers were gathering outside in the corridor to listen. There was no question but that I'd successfully sold Rosie to Mike - or, really, given them the opportunity to do it. The album that came out, Better Late Than Never, sounded fabulous. I'd used the top sessions musicians and the best arrangers I could find. However, RCA gave it no promotion whatsoever, so it didn't become the hit it deserved to be. That made twice in a row RCA had done this to me. I had also heard that Lou Reed had complained bitterly to everyone, including the press, about how lousy RCA was as a label, and had moved mountains to get out of his contract there. I should have paid more attention at the time."
Kiki Dee: "Dark Side Of Your Soul" - LISTEN HERE
Rosie's two albums were Better Late Than Never (produced by Genya Raven) and Last Dance (produced by Michael Kamen). They're slightly different in musical character. The first is refreshingly earthy and pleasingly rough around the edges. It includes 'Roll Me Through The Rushes' and the wistful ballad, 'Safe Harbor', which Kiki Dee covered during her tenure with Rocket Records (David Lasley returned the favour by co-writing the stunning 'Dark Side Of Your Soul' with Kiki for her 1979 LP, Stay With Me, on which he also sang, and you can hear characteristically aerodynamic Lasley melodic manoeuvres throughout the song). The second Rosie album is polished to a fine shine, luscious and soulful and is, to my tastes, very slightly superior. 'Back On The Street Again', with its glorious crescendo and key change before the final chorus, the swelling 'I See Home' (swiftly covered by Patti LaBelle) and 'Out Of Pawn', with backing vocals by James Taylor, seem to capture everything that made this trio so dazzling and luminescent.
Rosie: "Back On The Street Again" - LISTEN HERE
In the aftermath of Rosie, the members have remained close friends, and all have gone on to fulfilling lives, though only Lasley, who died in early December 2021, remained in the music industry, making two solo albums for EMI in the early 80s, becoming a prominent part of the James Taylor touring company, and singing backup for a galaxy of talents in the studio. Not only that, his touching, soulful, highly expressive songs have recorded by a glittering roll-call of stars, including Kiki Dee, Patti LaBelle, Rita Coolidge, Crystal Gayle, Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield, Lani Hall, Boz Scaggs, Jennifer Holliday and dozens more.
I caught up with the three members of Rosie between late 2020 and 2021.
Patti LaBelle: "I See Home" - LISTEN HERE
"I was bisexual. I was gay, really, but I had crushes on girls. I loved women and men. When I was growing up, my father beat my mother. He was an alcoholic. So I didn't like men because of that. He would torture my mother and force her to have sex. And I would stand upstairs in my room and say, 'I'm going to be Dionne Warwick one day. I'm going to be Ronnie Spector one day. He can hit me, I don't care. I don't feel it.' He would take my hand and hit it with a hammer and it got to the point where I just couldn't feel it any more. In my head I'd be singing 'Be my baby/be my little baby'. That's how I developed my falsetto. My Mom said to my father, 'Roy, if you don't stop you're going to kill us' and he'd say, 'I hope I do kill you, you fucking asshole'. That was my father. He was a drunk. When I got drafted into the military, I was living in Detroit, singing in clubs, but I had to go all the way back home, 235 miles, to Michigan to get on this stupid military bus and ride all the way back to Detroit.
I was in the original Detroit company of Hair in 1970 when Lana got in. It was the hardest thing I ever did. It almost killed you. And they actually said, 'This is going to almost kill you. You're going to rehearse 12 hours a day.' And we sometimes worked 20 hours a day. That was illegal! But we didn't say so - we had to learn the show. They made me audition about 15 times but they said they knew that I was in from the beginning. I sang 'Take A Look' and 'God Bless The Child' for my auditions. And Roger Bass, who wrote 'Girls Are Against Me' for The Utopias [Lasley's 1960s pop group], that Northern soul hit, was my piano player. Years later, he was the piano player for my solo album, Missin' Twenty Grand. The Utopias were two girls and a boy. And then I formed Rosie, not even realising that once again it was two girls and a boy. Anyway, I met Lana and my first impressions were that I was blown away by her. Her real name was Susan, but she used Lana Marrano because her father was a Marrano, Jewish and from Spain. She had to learn Hair by watching us, and that is so difficult. I knew she was really smart if she could learn those dances for a serious Broadway show, without being taught by a choreographer. I loved her - she was great. Meat Loaf was in the company too. He was in the Detroit company though he came from Texas. He sang 'Aquarius'. And nobody would share a dressing room with him because he stank so bad because he sweated so much. And he had such a bad temper. I was the only person who would share a room with him. I said 'I don't mind, I'll hang with the Meat'. He'd sweat so bad that when he'd take off his vest, his hippie vest, at the end of the show, he could stand it up in the corner where it would dry.
The Utopias: "Girls Are Against Me" - LISTEN HERE
After that, they told us about another Hair company in Cleveland and we auditioned and that's where I met Lynn. She auditioned from scratch. Lynn was fabulous and I liked her voice. And the choreographer was Joann Harris. Years later, I wrote the song 'Where Is Charlie and Joann?' about her. We were soulmates though I was completely gay.
When Lana, Lynn and me were in the same Hair company, I said to them, 'well, I'm a songwriter, you know, and I'm going to go to the orchestra pit in every city and play the piano'. We'd be in a big city, like for a week or maybe for 10 days or half a week. And I'd go to the orchestra pit during down-time and play the piano. I said, 'why don't we start a group?' It was around the time we got to Kansas City. Lana put a poetry book under my door. She said, 'I write poetry and I'd like to share it with you.' I looked at it and it blew me away. She had 'Roll Me Through The Rushes', kind of out of sequence, but completely perfect. And I went, 'Oh my god, she's a songwriter and she doesn't even know it!'. I said, 'I'm gonna write music to this'. And it took me a long time. It took me about nine months. I started composing as if I was almost writing a Broadway show. And then I'd say, 'Well, you know, Arnold's [McCuller] a great singer, why don't you and me and Arnold get together, if that's the kind of blend we want? Why don't we try to learn these songs?' So we learned a little bit on the road. But by the time we got to Philadelphia, I had to quit the tour and go to New York to be in a show called Dude, Gerome Ragni's follow-up to Hair. Gerome and Jim Rado were boyfriends and they got into a fight so Jim Rado went and wrote Rainbow and Gerome wrote Dude. Rainbow was off Broadway, and Hair and Dude were on Broadway. Very confusing.
Dude: Original Broadway Cast: LISTEN HERE
Lana said, 'Oh, why are you going? Why are you going? Why are you leaving?' At that point Lana and I lived in a cheap old Russian motel because they gave you a salary in the theatre, and you could stay where you wanted. If the show was a 'sit down', which means more than two weeks in the venue, you could live in any dive you wanted. As long as you got to the show in time, they didn't care where you lived. We all travelled together, we flew on the same plane. We travelled with luggage and stereos and trunks like steamer trunks, like in the old days, and we put them on the truck, and they would take our suitcases to the next city. And when I got to the next city, my luggage would be there. We were Broadway gypsies. I would wear two pairs of underwear, because that way I could take the dirty pair off and have a clean pair if I didn't have any clothing was because my trunk was still at the theatre. And that's the way it was. And we did that for two years. We were naked, we were in love, we were gay, we were straight, we were bi, we got the keys to the city, we got totally drunk. The North was racist and fucked up. They tried to burn our hotel down! Lana said to me, "we come to Cleveland and they fucking try to kill us but in the South they say, 'Hi, how you doing? Come and have a party, come and get drunk with us in New Orleans'. Lana loved that place; she was obsessed with New Orleans, and Royal Street and the antiques and the candy and the wine and the beer and the coffee and the people and the drug addicts and the musicians most of all.
Lana and I would write songs and by that time we had songs with actual melodies and I'd teach them 'Roll Me Through The Rushes', with the harmonies. Our early songs were 'I'll Give You My Good Years for A Valentine', 'Michael My Lover' and 'Lost On London Bridge'. These are songs that Rosie didn't record that are brilliant. And 'Crackerjack Rings', 'Mondays All Alone', 'Comic Book Man', 'Hold Me Till My Winter Fades Away', 'I Love You Like I Should'.
In New York, we got a manager. He managed us, but in a small way. He gave us money for groceries. Lana lived on the East Side - she always had a better quality of life. And Lynn always saved money and had a loft and was in love with a drummer. We played Max's Kansas City and opened for the New York Dolls. Ula Hedwig also became one of Rosie. It was Ula, Susie, Lynn and me, and Arnold left to be in a group called Revelation who were on RSO Records and opened for the Bee Gees. We did a demo of 'Roll Me Through The Rushes' and Marsha Malamet played piano on it. We did brilliant demos for Medress & Appell - they were going to produce us. Then Clive Davis wanted to sign us but just for a singles deal - he thought 'Roll Me Through The Rushes' was a hit but that our other stuff was too theatrical. Some people labour over songwriting and it takes them years to write, but I can write two songs in 25 minutes and Lana was the same - she channeled - everything she wrote was first-draft. She doesn't change it, she doesn't move it around. She writes from spirit and that's what I do.
Between me and Revelation and Luther's group, plus Patti Austin, we pretty much conquered the backing vocal scene in Manhattan, but we weren't really working much. Rosie's main competition was Manhattan Transfer and they started making it. We auditioned for everybody and everyone wanted to sign us, but just for a single. Lana and I kept writing songs, she writing the words, me writing the music. I told her, 'that's how I want it to be - like Bacharach & David - I don't want to be writing the words because I'm inferior to you at it'.
Genya Ravan: "Jerry's Pigeons": LISTEN HERE
When I met Genya Ravan, I knew about Goldie & The Gingerbreads and Ten Wheel Drive. In fact, I had been a background singer for Michael Zager from Ten Wheel Drive. I also knew Genya's solo albums, like the one on Janus that came out under her birth-name, Goldie Zelkowitz. I loved the album she'd made on Dunhill, too. She asked Arnold and me to sing on 'Feel The Need In Me' in Philly at Sigma, or maybe it was in New York. At the time, I also sang on records by Kool & The Gang, The Crown Heights Affair and The Persuasions. Rosie started gigging on the East Side, gigs in good clubs and we got paid. Manhattan Transfer were starting to get record deals. I thought, 'If they can get a record deal, damn it, we can get a record deal. This isn't fair!' Then we met Genya. She said, 'I want to hear your group'. She took us to Arista, she took us to Columbia, she took us to RCA. And RCA said right away 'we want to sign you'. It was around the time of Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band and we said, 'We're not like that. We're commercial but we're not like that. We're really into Kokomo [UK soul-troupe on CBS]. We like Skylark [David Foster's group on Capitol Records]. We like the 5th Dimension but we don't want to be bubblegum. We're serious writers, we want to be like Broadway show writers. We're all dancers and actors'. Genya said, 'You're really good live. I think it's going to work' and we finally had a deal with RCA, with Harvey Goldberg as the engineer and Genya as the producer. And she had a different style. She wanted us to be a bit hard-edged. She wanted me to sing low, not high, except on one song 'Ole Man Trouble'. But the album wasn't a hit. Everybody thought 'Roll Me' would be a hit, but sometimes it just doesn't happen. We were going to make the second record with Genya but were told that RCA didn't want us to do that; they wanted us to do half the album with her and half with someone else. We thought that wasn't fair to her. We had to call her up and do a horrible break-up call and tell her she couldn't do our next album. But she wasn't upset - she understood the business, you know. She'd been through all that she'd been through. And then she had Urban Desire, that big come-back, which I sang on.
Rosie: "Ole Man Trouble": LISTEN HERE
In the meantime, Arnold and I sang 'Native New Yorker' for Odyssey. We were Odyssey really. We padded the lead vocalist out. We loved her, but we couldn't believe it. We said, 'Meat Loaf's got a hit, Jane Olivor's got a deal, and this record sucks and it's probably going to be a hit. What about us?!'
With the second album I thought, 'I'm gonna sing high on this one, I'm only going to sing low on one track - we're gonna reverse it'. So I only sang one with my low voice, 'Dancing On Rivers'. We'd been to the RCA convention in San Francisco and we fucking blew their minds. It was us and Starland Vocal Band and DJ Rogers. We flew out to Frisco, we'd never been to California. RCA was going to drop us but DJ Rogers went to the executives and said, 'I don't know what you're planning, but if you drop these people you're out of your fucking minds. I'm going to produce them.' He straight up went to the president of RCA and said, 'Are you out of your fucking mind, dude? These kids are from another planet'.
I think we must have met Michael Kamen, who produced our second album, through my attorney, Robert Epstein. He was a great guy. I wanted the girls to sing more leads, I didn't want to be a hog, so Lana sang 'Mississippi Baby' and 'Run That Movie Back' - very sort of New Orleans. We ran into Dr John and he ended up playing on it. And Lynn had her Laura Nyro thing, so it was such a mix and the band was so eclectic; a Philly drummer, the Utopia/Todd Rundgren bass player, Dr John on piano, and Cornell Dupree. Michael put together a band based on all our influences. But it was hard because I was hoarse from singing so much. I had just met James Taylor who sang on 'Out Of Pawn'. People love that song. Tim Curry cut it, Carly loves is, James cut it, Chaka tried to cut it. Lana was writing so lyrically, so deep. I have a hard time singing and playing piano at the same time, but I did it for that song. The whole thing was so tasty. It was so good. In fact both albums, to me, are so far ahead. But on the day Last Dance was released, Elvis Presley died. RCA just stopped. We might as well have just gone home. The RCA pressing plants went straight to Elvis and that's all they pressed for a year. And they told us right out. They said, 'we're sorry'.
Rosie: "Run That Movie Back": LISTEN HERE
But the same sort of thing happened to me when I was on EMI after the second album [Raindance, 1985]. The promotion man said, "David, this is a fucking number one song, really good. But they just don't get it because they're stupid." After Missin 20 Grand, they'd been ready to drop me and then - boom - there'd be something in the New York Times from Stephen Holden or Dave Marsh saying, 'Why aren't people listening to this record? This guy's the next Bob Dylan.' It was very heady shit, you know, telling me I'm the next Bob Dylan. And for the followup I wrote really good songs, very Rickie Lee. In fact I learned from Dr John that he'd given Rickie Lee the Rosie albums just before she went in to do 'Chuck E's In Love' - that's what she listened to for inspiration.
We did have the opportunity to do a third Rosie album for RCA but what they wanted to do was take 'Words Don't Matter', 'Last Dance of Summer' and two others that they thought the most commercial plus five new cuts. Me and Lana or me and Allee Willis had written them. 'Slow Touching', 'Big Man's Clothes', 'Come Home To The Music', and a ballad, 'Closed Doors'. Those songs are on demos. We probably would have gone back and done some of our older songs that hadn't made the first and second album, like 'Lost On London Bridge', 'I'll Give You My Good Years For A Valentine', which is gorgeous, like a Donny Hathaway ballad, 'Michael My Lover'. 'Lost On London Bridge' is brilliant, it's very kind of 'Mathew & Son', it's got those rhythms. We used to get together every day, from 10 in the morning for eight hours a day, five days a week, like a factory job. We had an aim and we knew what we were doing. We had worked together as dancers and singers and friends. We had starved, and we had opened for Hall & Oates which was just fucking horrendous. I mean, we loved them, but the audience didn't understand us.
David Lasley: "Got To Find Love": LISTEN HERE
Today I'm feeling an incredible rebirth. All my records are coming out. I got my leg cut off, but I'm happier than I've ever been. They raised $100,000 for me and $75,000 in a trust fund. I don't have money for coffee on certain days, because I like living on the line. Because when you get too wealthy and cushy, it fucks you up and it changes you.
Everybody I loved as a singer has ended up doing my songs. I didn't get paid but who gives a shit? It's not about money. I'm a record collector first and foremost. I loved Dusty and she did one of my songs, 'I Wish That Love Would Last'. I got to know Dusty pretty well and she was wild and wonderful and troubled like me, and never talked about it. But, yes, all the ones I loved recorded my songs. It blows my mind. I'm grateful."
Dusty Springfield: "I Wish That Love Would Last": LISTEN HERE
LANA MARRANO/SUSAN KRAUSS
"I was in London in 66 and 67 for about six months when everything in London was bubbling. It was really something. What brought me to London was that I'd had a sad, short marriage when I was 19 which had taken me to Boston. When I came back to Detroit, I met a man who was going to study at LAMDA on the GI bill. He asked if I would go with him and I did. The first place we lived was a bedsitter in Shepherd's Bush. I had a bunch of very strange and interesting jobs. I was a cook, I was a caretaker, I modelled for little nudie calendars and I was a backstairs maid in Cheyne Walk for a Lord and Lady. It was great, it really was, to be in the home of a Lord and Lady - it was an education that most people would not get.
Marsha Hunt: "Keep The Customer Satisfied": LISTEN HERE
Things didn't go too well initially with the man I was with. I loved him a whole lot but it wasn't working, so I decided to go out and find something. I had once had a record contract, maybe around 65, when I was living in Boston and married. I'd got an audition with Bob Johnston who was at Columbia Records. He was the one who recorded Bob Dylan. He said 'do you write?' And I said, 'No, I don't' and it fizzled out. I'm not a very facile singer; I just have a gravelly old-lady voice. Anyway, I looked in the phone book under theatre managers and I ended up meeting a man named Roy Guest, who's dead now. He wasn't a performer but he was in music and he said 'Do you know how to cook? My wife is having a baby.' I went to Camden Town where he lived and I was a cook for a while. Then we were house-sitting in Chelsea for someone who was working in TV in Manchester and there was a phone call from an American girl and she said, 'I left my coat there, could I come and get it?' I arranged to meet her on Portobello Road and we became good friends. Her name was Marsha Hunt. She was about 19 and she was gorgeous, very dark skin, incredible features. Roy Guest had introduced me to Alexis Korner and somehow I ended up singing backup during rehearsals. I got Marsha to come along. She was the one who got me the job as a calendar model. Fast forward, I was back in the States. When I left, Marsha didn't know anybody in music, so bringing her along to the Alexis Korner rehearsal got her on the path where she was going. She ended up having a baby with Mick Jagger. She was in Hair in London. I was back in the States, this was about 68, and I saw a Vogue magazine and there she was on the cover - a slimmed-down Nubian Princess. She looked gorgeous and it said she was in Hair so I decided I wanted to be in Hair. And that's how I ended up meeting David Lasley. It took me 13 auditions in Chicago and Detroit to get in but I did. There'd be one audition and I'd make the final and they'd call me back again. I always kept getting cut off one person before they chose the cast. I kept trying and trying and trying and that's how I met David and Lynn. When I began, it was playing in Detroit. David had been working in a meat-packing plant. And you know who else was in the cast - Meat Loaf! Really nice, very heavy, great singer. He had his moment, didn't he!
I was in 'the tribe' [in Hair]. I had a solo in the song 'Black Boys'. It was great, I loved it. I stayed about a year and a half. It was then that I started writing. David came and joined the touring company. I had a disastrous, intense love affair when we were doing Hair in Toronto. The man was a very talented painter and he'd only been in Toronto for a year or two. He was so talented that today he's permanently in a couple of the big museums in New York. Everything went wrong and all of a sudden I experienced a flood of writing and it turned out to be lyrics. Misery is a great, great starter for writing. It is. Having said that, I never want to be that miserable again, it's not worth it. While in Hair I fell in the orchestra pit. I'd come back from being off for a week or two and I wasn't familiar with the theatre we were in and I fell in the pit. I went home to recuperate and I came back when they were in St Louis. And then I got fired. The director said I just didn't have 'it' any more. Frankly, I'm surprised I lasted as long as I did. I have a raging case of ADD which I never realised until I was 40. It was very hard to concentrate as long as I did and sometimes I'd even forget that I was on stage. So I just don't know how I lasted, no I do know how I lasted - I have a very loud voice.
Kiki Dee: "Safe Harbor": LISTEN HERE
Lynn joined the tour in Cleveland and at the time she was 19, I was 25 and David was 23. I had lyrics with me and David put together a bunch of songs from them. After the final stop of the tour in Philadelphia, I went back to Detroit. David moved to New York and he said, 'come to New York', which I did. Lynn also went to New York after the tour closed. David and I were writing together and I guess we decided we would sing our own stuff. We started with another woman, Ula Hedwig, but she ended up going on the road with Bette Midler. During Bette Midler's tour, the group of three people that were her backup singers [The Harlettes] had a solo spot and they did 'Roll Me Through The Rushes' all through the country. And one of the Harlettes knew Chaka and that's all I know about how the song reached her. It was one of my first songs. I don't know where it came from, I don't even know how I got that perspective. I think it's good. It must be good because Chaka [Khan] really liked it. It was the third cut on her first album. I have no idea how Kiki Dee ever heard 'Safe Harbor', that's a mystery to me. That was a good song, too. It was really exciting to get covers.
The Harlettes: "Roll Me Through The Rushes": LISTEN HERE
Then I had another London connection. Do you know the auction house, Bonhams? I ended up meeting Toby Bonham, who was one of the two sons. I lived in New York with Toby for about two years. He was very interesting, very handsome and very bipolar and it was really quite a ride - awful in the end.
By now, David, Lynn and I had signed to RCA as Rosie. Our image was really simple - we wore all our own clothes, so it just sort of came together organically. The first album we did with Genya Ravan producing. She's an unbelievably good singer. She really is. We were pretty good friends. I ended up moving into the same building that she was in. But as to the reason it never went anywhere, I don't think it even made it into a record shop. I don't know why. We did it and RCA did nothing. We had a couple of little, tiny college tours where we literally played in a college gym. Our manager was somebody named Roy Radin. He and his father had been in vaudeville as managers. He was very nice - I really liked him. After everything was over, he ended up trying to produce a movie in Hollywood called The Cotton Club and he ended up murdered and dumped in the desert. So horrible. He was such a nice guy. It wasn't a random killing - it was somebody from the Cotton Club experience. Buried in the desert. Just awful.
Anyway, back to New York in the 70s. David was on the Upper West Side and I was on the East Side, 62nd Street. My apartment was turn of the century, brownstone, and I lived on the fifth floor. We paid our dues. David lived on pot pies from the supermarket. I lived with a writer who was wonderful because he supported me and gave money to David and were it not for him we wouldn't have made it. There was a bathtub in the kitchen and my toilet was in the hall, padlocked. I was in my thirties living like that. I really did pay my dues and so did David.
New York in the 70s and 80s was a very creative time - the world was so different. Even though I wish I were younger I'm very happy to have lived through the 60s and 70s because you can't even describe it to people. People trusted each other and there was reason to because very few awful things happened. If you met somebody and you instantly went somewhere with them, it was safe and it was very special.
Rosie: "Out Of Pawn": LISTEN HERE
Although they never pushed the first album, RCA they let us make a second which was really cool and there was not a lot of time between the two. We made the second one at a place called The Hit Factory. Roberta Flack was recording an album when we were there. It was a very small place. We had Michael Kamen as a producer, a classical composer and performer. He ended up dead from MS which was really unfortunate - he was really talented. He got all the musicians and pulled everything together. Dr John, who played on the album, stayed at my house. He was great, a really nice guy. He had been strung out on heroin for ages, and he was going to a methadone clinic in New York near my house which was why he came to stay. Years on, when I was in LA writing with David, he didn't remember who I was. He'd stayed with me in my bed and he had no idea who I was! Did you ever see on HBO a thing about New Orleans? It was after everything happened there, I saw something on TV where they interviewed Dr John's mother - she was a very high-class lady, not at all what I expected his mother would be. But, yes, a consummate musician.
Rosie: "Mississippi Baby": LISTEN HERE
Making the second album was ecstatic and fantastic for all of us. It was marvellous, absolutely marvellous, I loved every second of it. But then Elvis Presley died. He had been on RCA and they put everything into reissuing all his albums and Rosie sort of got lost. We played Max's Kansas City which was huge at the time, and then we sang backup when Genya had a gig at Reno Sweeney.
RCA wanted us to do one more song, a disco song or something, when disco was really something. I'd have been happy to but David decided that he wouldn't, which made the decision for all of us. Rosie just went up in smoke.
David moved to LA and had a job with Almo Publishing as a staff writer, which was great because he got a certain amount of money every year. Lynn ended up moving to LA and I ended up in France. But David Lasley was still a huge influence in my life. I came out to LA and did a little bit of writing, and got a little bit of money which was nice. David and I were in a restaurant in LA, and there was an incredibly handsome guy there. David saw him and said to me, 'Ask him to come over! Please ask him to come over'. And I did ask him to come over, and ten days later we got married! The night before we got married, I said to myself, 'When this falls apart, I hope I have the good grace not to go crazy'. And it did fall apart. I went to France with him. He had a restaurant in Versailles right near the palace - we drove past the palace on our way home every night. But he was five years younger and too handsome to be with somebody like me. We didn't even make it to a year and a half. He sent me back to the States, ostensibly for a visit with my family. He said, 'pack up all your things while you're there'. I had a return ticket. I called him before I was due to come back. His voice was very strange and I said 'what's the matter?'. He didn't say anything and I said, 'Are you trying to tell me not to come back?' And he said 'yes'. All of my stuff as well as three cats were in France! I really loved him and I was devastated. Then I ended back in Detroit where I've been ever since.
Rosie: "I See Home": LISTEN HERE
I live in a great community. It's a very old suburb of Detroit and it's where all the rich car people used to live. It's incredible. I live in a 1910 farmhouse. Ten blocks away are these monumentally huge estates and the architecture here is fantastic. I ended up reuniting with and marrying a man I had been friends with when I was 15. I'd been back in Detroit from France for about a year and I hadn't met anyone and I called him. He was married as far as I knew but it turned out he wasn't. We were together for 37 years. He was great. An ad writer and newspaper writer. And I had an animal rescue and a cat rescue. I loved it, I really did. I was a childless housewife! I ended up with a lot of animals with health and behavioural problems and I knew we wouldn't be able to place them. I made a deal with my husband that I wouldn't take in any more animals if I could keep the ones that were here already. I loved all of them - we had about 22 cats in the house. It was great, absolutely great. He was a huge animal lover. I started that in 1997 and the last one died maybe six years ago. I have a wonderful dog now. I really passionately love animals. It's so pure, just pure goodness. I've never had an animal that I didn't love - there's something wonderful in every one of them. In New York, where I got left by three men in five years, it was pretty horrible, and I wouldn't have got through that without animals. They've gotten me through everything bad - they're very necessary.
David Lasley: "Oh": LISTEN HERE
David told me about the Japanese reissues of the Rosie albums. I'd never seen them. David has a reputation in Japan. Lynn is still my best friend and David is still my best friend. We are still totally connected after 50 years. Everything that happened in my life, happened because of David Lasley. I would't have gone to New York, I wouldn't have met Toby and I wouldn't have been in Los Angeles in the French restaurant. He was pivotal, he's a great guy. He's so talented he should have been huge but somehow he always kept shooting himself in the foot, I don't know how. His solo albums are fantastic, they're fantastic!
I'm pretty under the radar. I never ever meet anybody who knows my music. But one nice thing happened - my mother was living in a senior place about eight or ten years ago and they had some jazz musicians and there was a woman who was working there and I had befriended her and she sang in some of the really good jazz bars. I mentioned Chaka and 'Roll Me Through The Rushes'. And she said, 'You wrote 'Roll Me Through The Rushes?!'. It was really nice that she knew about it and all the people in her band knew about it.
Chaka Khan: "Roll Me Through The Rushes": LISTEN HERE
Then I started painting furniture. I can't draw or anything but I like take old furniture. There's a company called Mackenzie Childs in the states that was started by a married couple who actually went to England for a while. I started taking old pieces of recycled fur and making handbags out of them. What I did was take an existing bag and somehow sew the fur around it and I must have made 50 or 60.
I listen to jazz and blues for pleasure, and classical and gospel which I love. Love. Absolutely love. Another thing I adore is gypsy music from Europe. It's my favourite, I think. It's like the blues, in fact it is the blues. My mom was 100 per cent Romanian and when I was little we had these old 78 albums that we used to play all the time and it was gypsy violin. It's so plaintive.
My husband died two years ago, unexpectedly, from pancreatic cancer. I'd been spending a couple of years getting myself together and then, when I was ready to go out and mingle, covid came and I haven't had a meal with another human being in probably 18 months and all told I've only been with another person something like 24 hours in two years. Doesn't that sound grim? It wasn't a good segue from bereavement at all. How unbelievable is the pandemic? Very. And all those people saying, 'They're taking my autonomy away, they're taking my guns away' - what big babies!
I prefer the second Rosie album, Last Dance. I don't know if I could even articulate why, but it's better. Maybe it's more cohesive - and it's funkier, definitely. I wrote so many songs. Today, many are sitting in a notebook or on tapes somewhere. I would be lucky if I had my good songs ever recorded. Not being in the music world environment changes things, but I think I really wrote from misery and heartbreak and that's not there now. If somebody said 'I'll give you a million dollars if you go into a room and write a song as good as 'Safe Habor' or 'Roll Me Through The Rushes', I couldn't. I know I couldn't."
"David's so musical, I can't imagine him doing anything else but music, whereas I kind of drifted into it. I had two siblings, an older and a younger brother. I'm the middle girl. I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, on the west side. My parents had their hi-fi and they liked to dance and I took dancing classes, so there was music, but as far as listening to music, I think The Beatles were probably the group that I remember. My younger brother became very involved in music in his teens; he knows his music much more than I do, and plays the drums. I guess my musical interest came from the fact that I liked theatre, doing musicals. That was my training, that's all I had. My parents didn't even know I sang until I auditioned for Hair and got in. I started at high school; I was like the youngest thespian in my school and I did summer theatre. I wanted to go into theatre but I wasn't a dedicated student, I just sort of did it and I enjoyed it, even though it scared me to be on stage. To this day I have dreams of being about to go on stage and trying to find the script or for somebody to give me my lines and nobody can. But I guess I did enjoy it. I probably enjoyed the dancing part - that didn't scare me as much as speaking. And I couldn't remember things - even to this day, lyrics are very difficult for me to remember. I can remember more the music than the lyric, but even that is hard.
David Lasley: "Where Does The Boy Hang Out": LISTEN HERE
Hair was my first professional theatre job. I was at community college taking some courses and I did musical theatre there. I wasn't in that many productions. It was just a fluke that a friend of mine said, 'Hair is auditioning'. I got in and my parents were like 'oh, well, good!' They were happy for me.
I was very intimidated by everyone in Hair. I was younger, and I'd grown up in a very suburban, sheltered life. The whole idea of hippies, which Hair was, was something I was not really involved in. I remember having to make some beads and getting a T-shirt and some jeans so that I looked right to audition for the part. I looked very young and naive, maybe that's how I got the part I did, as a twelve-year-old.
Everybody that I worked with I thought was so much more talented than me - it was difficult for me to feel I fitted in. I don't normally fit in. Susan (Lana) and I, we would room together - she was probably one of my best friends, I hung out with people but I didn't feel like they were best friends. I've never been that close to people but I love David and Susan - I'd do anything for them. They have been in my life for so long. And Susan and I probably didn't talk for quite a few years but I remember when we spoke, it was like we'd just seen each other yesterday. Those two are the only two in my life that I've been able to do that with. David, I feel like I grew up with. I was young and being in Hair was sort of like my college, just a little crazier. I was very experimental and it was a good time.
Talking to David not too long ago, I hadn't realised that before Rosie was born, he had a group with different people, like an earlier version of Rosie. But I don't know how they came up with our name. I wasn't involved in the writing, I was just the third voice. Everything I did back then felt like being taken up in a whirlwind. I was just spinning around and going with it and it turned out good and I was part of it. I don't feel like I created it, it just fell in my lap and I don't know why.
Rosie: "Safe Harbor": LISTEN HERE
I loved the recording process - that was fun. Being in the studio with all those people was amazing. I don't really remember the details of the experience, just that I was good. I get reminded by smell and sound and the feeling comes back, but I don't remember the circumstance. I loved to perform, and I enjoyed going on the road. Opening for Hall and Oates, I sort of remember meeting them but I don't really remember much. David's surprised that I don't remember anything but I really don't.
David used me a lot on other recordings - he would come to me but I would never go out and search. I didn't like the politics of the music business or anything like that. And whenever I went out and actively sold my product, it never worked. But David would hire me as a backing vocalist for other people.
I loved all the activity around me in New York - I wouldn't create the activity, I'd just step into it. That energy gave me energy, that was the joy of New York even though it wasn't always pleasant. I kept a diary and evidently every time I wrote in the diary I was depressed about something. But that was my twenties, probably the best part of my life. It was new, I was involved with people and exposed to things I'd never have been exposed to living in Ohio. I loved New York City. The only reason I moved out was that I broke up with my boyfriend of the time and it was his loft. I was starting to look for a loft of my own and at the time you'd have to go and wait in line to see something. So instead I went home and my friend from Los Angeles called me, a girl I'd known from doing off-off-Broadway stuff. We'd done something with Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, a little play they had done, and that's where I met her. So I moved to Los Angeles when she called. She introduced me to my now ex-husband. We were married in a very short time. It was right after the breakup with the love of my life. I'm not sure I knew what I was doing - it all just happened.
Rosie: "London Blues": LISTEN HERE
It was disappointing that Rosie didn't go beyond the second album but that was not my decision and I didn't have a lot of say in it. If you don't have all three members, you can't go on. It was really sad that that happened. We weren't together all that long. We were in Spain doing another production of Hair when Elvis died and that was around the time Last Dance came out. After that point, everything at RCA was Elvis. All our promotion was gone. But, as I said, I remember partially not completely.
Sometimes I'd take my younger brother on the road when I was in John Hall's band. I'd have him meet up with me. I was with John Hall and we opened for Little Feat. I brought my brother, four years younger than I was, pretty young. It was John Hall's Power Tour. For some reason, David wasn't on that tour - he was probably doing James Taylor by that time. It was Philip, another singer who died a few years ago, and I who were John Hall's backing vocalists. Then Susan and I did that tour of Hair in Spain. That was a weird thing, really strange. I thought I was doing my old part, Crissy, but they said, 'no, you're doing Sheila, the main woman'. And this was on the plane on the way there and none of us spoke Spanish! It was the worst production that had ever existed. I'm not sure it was even an equity performance. I remember walking off in the middle of a production with an audience of very few and leaving. I said, 'I'm not going to tolerate this any more'. I'm not sure if Susan and I left together. I don't even know how I got home to tell you the truth.
Rosie: "Walk In Grace": LISTEN HERE
David moved from New York so I didn't do any more music per se. Then in Los Angeles I did some backup with him for a while. I was a singer on a couple of Young and the Restless episodes, but I didn't pursue it. I was married for about three or four years. I didn't do much. And then, single again, I joined a construction group and learned about that kind of work - rebuilding a house for some organisation. I had various odd-jobs, but very few nine-to-five - I never was able to get into the nine-to-five. After I took care of my father, I became a certified nurse's assistant and did that for a few years. And since then, I'm retired. I've been retired for years, though, basically. I really have. I fall into things here and there.
People don't ask me about Rosie. I might be in a conversation and someone says 'what did you do?' but most people really aren't interested. To me, it was like no big deal. And other people will say, 'Oh my gosh, you were in the recording industry, how cool'. To me it was a job. It was the friends and the whole experience I found so interesting - it was my college for life, for living. My life is pretty boring, but I like it. I'm very laid back, I have acres of land, some animals. I'm really not involved in a lot of things. My younger brother and I are good friends, and I have girlfriends.
I think the Rosie recordings are really wonderful. I love listening to them. We were a vocal-orientated, wordy group and different. We were different for that era. David's music and Susan's lyrics come from two different genres. David is R'n'B and Susan's lyrics are very deep and poetic. I don't know where she came up with them from. We had very different voices, but we just had some thread going through us that made it work. I don't actually consider myself a singer. I could sing, but you know when you listen to some people's voices, you know it's that person's voice, it could only be them. I didn't have that, whereas David's voice is very distinctive and so is Susan's. Mine was the clean, in-the-middle thing. I don't think I felt the songs, I don't think I'd learned to do that. I loved the songs, but David sings from his gut and I don't know if I was ever able to do that, maybe because I hadn't experienced a whole lot at that age."
Rosie: "Last Dance Of Summer": LISTEN HERE