As disco divas go, few are as down-to-earth, warm, and genuine as Linda Clifford. Forty years after the release of her breakout album If My Friends Could See Me Now was released, featuring the chart-topping dance club hit title track, Clifford is still hard at work, regularly touring as one of the First Ladies of Disco (along with Martha Wash, Evelyn “Champagne” King, and Norma Jean Wright) and performing at various festivals and fairs. Four of Clifford’s most cherished albums, the aforementioned If My Friends Could See Me Now, as well as 1979’s Let Me Be Your Woman and Here’s My Love, along with 1980’s I’m Yours, have all been released in remastered expanded editions from Blixa Sounds. I had the honor of speaking with Linda about her career and the new reissues in late July 2018.

Gregg Shapiro: Linda, I’d like to begin by congratulating you on the expanded CD reissues of your albums If My Friends Could See Me Now, Let Me Be Your Woman, Here’s My Love, and I’m Yours. What does it mean to you to have these albums available again?

Linda Clifford: Honestly, it kind of jumpstarts your whole life. At one time, certainly when I was younger, and these things came out – what was it, two or three years ago [big laugh]…more like 40 – you’re young and you’re out there on the road, this is so much fun. When you get a little bit older, you realize, “Wow, I had some amazing things happen and I did some great things.” Now, I’m so much more appreciative of the career that I’ve had and the love that I’ve received from people over the years. It means an enormous amount to me and I’m so grateful to the record company, Blixa Sounds, and everyone involved in putting everything together.

In the case of If My Friends Could See Me Now, it was originally released on the late Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records, and Curtis produced a couple of tracks and played on the album. Do you remember what it was like to work with a legend such as Curtis?

I remember very well [laughs]. We actually toured together for a while. That, in itself, is really something. Curtis was like his music. If you think back to the things that he wrote, a lot of it was laid-back but forceful at the same time. It had so much to say without being in your face. Like the music that we listen to today. That was Curtis. He was just the coolest guy, a cool cat!

Was your cover of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” a nod to your acting career, when you played a dancer in the movie version of Sweet Charity?

That cover version was an actual surprise. The song was mentioned by one of the secretaries at Curtom. She said, “You should do a disco version of this song.” Nobody knew that I had been in the movie. She said that to me and I wanted to slap her, “I will not do that!” Here I am thinking Shirley MacLaine, Gwen Verdon, Broadway, fabulous people. She wants me to turn it into a disco song? I said, “There’s no way you can do that and do it well!” They went ahead and recorded the track and they played it for me. I went, “Holy crap! This is great [laughs]!” That’s my song!

On Let Me Be Your Woman, you performed disco covers of “One of those Songs” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” What was involved in selecting standards to get the disco treatment?

I think that at the time we were on the lookout for not just a standard, but a good song with which we could do something. If you listen to the very beginning of “One of Those Songs,” we start out with “what is the name of that song that keeps me dancing?” and immediately you think of the clubs, Studio 54, the Red Parrot, and all of the jumping New York hotspots of the time. Before we went into the verse of the original written song, we wrote something new to lead into it. When you take a song and you want to change it around a little bit, you have to be thoughtful and careful about how you put it together. (Producer) Gil Askey was a master at that.

“Red Light” from 1980’s Isaac Hayes-produced album I’m Yours was also featured in the Oscar-winning movie Fame. What did it mean to you to have a song featured on a best-selling movie soundtrack?

To me, it was amazing. It meant the world to me. I actually recorded the song for the soundtrack when I was working with (Oscar-winning songwriter) Michael Gore. I was seven months pregnant. I was like, “Come on baby, help me push these notes out” [laughs]! When the movie came out, my husband said, “Before you go into the hospital, you’re going to see this movie so you can see your name on the screen [laughs]!” We went to see Fame and I had no idea where the song was going to be placed. I didn’t know if it was going to be background music or something. When they started the film and the intro came up, I was like, “Oh, my gosh! They’re actually auditioning to my song!” It was incredible!

Did you ever have a chance to meet Michael Gore’s sister Lesley Gore?

I never got to meet Lesley. She had so many wonderful songs that I used to sing [laugh]. No, I never got a chance to meet her. But he was wonderful to work with.

Chicago, where you have lived for many years, was the site of the 1979 Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park. As both a Chicagoan and a disco artist, how did that made you feel?

Devastated. I was devastated. I thought, “This man doesn’t care what he’s done!” Aside from putting all of us out of work and totally dissing a major part of the music industry, he destroyed (the baseball) field. To this day, he still talks about it like he’s proud of it. I never met him, but I think if I did, I’d probably punch him right in the face.

He would deserve it.

I’m still angry about it. I think it’s so unfair and so careless of someone to do that, and on that scale. Sure, I don’t expect everybody to like disco, or every type of music that’s ever been created. But, my God, use your brain. When you have that kind of platform, a radio show that reaches hundreds and thousands of people daily, don’t come out and encourage this destruction. There were albums flying all over the field. When I saw it, all I could do was cry. I thought, “This is really horrible.”

Of course, the ultimate revenge is that disco outlasted Steve Dahl in popularity and endurance. As proof, we have the First Ladies of Disco, in which you, Martha Wash, and Evelyn “Champagne” King (and sometimes Norma Jean Wright) perform in concert. What’s it like to work with these fellow disco legends?

[Laughs] it is so much fun! There are no words to explain. First of all, I’m like the mom [laughs]. I first met Martha in Italy when she was still singing background for Sylvester. We were all there at the Venice Music Festival. She was such a baby and so timid. I’m maybe six or seven years older than Martha, so I guess that makes me the mom of the group. But I’m also the silliest. We laugh, we have so much fun, we enjoy what we do so much. People who come to our shows add to the enjoyment. They want to be there and dance and have a good time. We make sure they do. It’s a great night. If you get a chance to come to one of the shows, do it. It’s amazing.

Over the years you’ve amassed a massive international following, which includes a sizable following in the gay community. Is that how the filming of your 1984 music video for “A Night with the Boys,” came to be filmed at Trianon, a gay bar in Chicago?

Honestly, I don’t think so. From the very beginning of my recording career, especially with “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” one of the things that we made a point of doing when I was doing promotional tours, we didn’t just go to straight clubs. We went to all the bars. I made so many friends. In fact, the godmother to both of my children is a gay woman. Someone that I met during that period. I had an older brother who was gay. Gay doesn’t scare me [laughs]. I ain’t scared! I would perform in these clubs and not be afraid. What was there to be afraid of? These are my friends, my fans, and they love me. They would protect me. I’m not worried about it. Doing the Trianon thing was just a boost. It made people think, “Okay then, maybe she is real!” I just recently performed at the “A Taste of Lincoln Avenue” festival in Chicago. The guys came out! They had the albums and CDs. I talked to every single one of them. I love all my fans – gay, straight, black, white, or purple. I don’t care.

Is there a new Linda Clifford album in the works?

I would love to have something new out along with everything that’s going on. I have to say, there’ve been offers coming in, and then things – for whatever reason – don’t work out. I don’t have anything right now, but if there’s anybody out there who thinks they might be interested in doing something, they have to let me know. I’m a living legend, but I could drop dead tomorrow, so let’s go!

Please don’t go! Please stick around!

I would love to stick around. Music has been my life for such a long time. I just love doing it. Going into the studio again to do an album would be a real treat.

The Disco Diva’s Diva An interview with the legendary Linda Clifford

By Gregg Shapiro

As disco divas go, few are as down-to-earth, warm, and genuine as Linda Clifford. Forty years after the release of her breakout album If My Friends Could See Me Now was released, featuring the chart-topping dance club hit title track, Clifford is still hard at work, regularly touring as one of the First Ladies of Disco (along with Martha Wash, Evelyn “Champagne” King, and Norma Jean Wright) and performing at various festivals and fairs. Four of Clifford’s most cherished albums, the aforementioned If My Friends Could See Me Now, as well as 1979’s Let Me Be Your Woman and Here’s My Love, along with 1980’s I’m Yours, have all been released in remastered expanded editions from Blixa Sounds. I had the honor of speaking with Linda about her career and the new reissues in late July 2018.

Gregg Shapiro: Linda, I’d like to begin by congratulating you on the expanded CD reissues of your albums If My Friends Could See Me Now, Let Me Be Your Woman, Here’s My Love, and I’m Yours. What does it mean to you to have these albums available again?

Linda Clifford: Honestly, it kind of jumpstarts your whole life. At one time, certainly when I was younger, and these things came out – what was it, two or three years ago [big laugh]…more like 40 – you’re young and you’re out there on the road, this is so much fun. When you get a little bit older, you realize, “Wow, I had some amazing things happen and I did some great things.” Now, I’m so much more appreciative of the career that I’ve had and the love that I’ve received from people over the years. It means an enormous amount to me and I’m so grateful to the record company, Blixa Sounds, and everyone involved in putting everything together.

In the case of If My Friends Could See Me Now, it was originally released on the late Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records, and Curtis produced a couple of tracks and played on the album. Do you remember what it was like to work with a legend such as Curtis?

I remember very well [laughs]. We actually toured together for a while. That, in itself, is really something. Curtis was like his music. If you think back to the things that he wrote, a lot of it was laid-back but forceful at the same time. It had so much to say without being in your face. Like the music that we listen to today. That was Curtis. He was just the coolest guy, a cool cat!

Was your cover of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” a nod to your acting career, when you played a dancer in the movie version of Sweet Charity?

That cover version was an actual surprise. The song was mentioned by one of the secretaries at Curtom. She said, “You should do a disco version of this song.” Nobody knew that I had been in the movie. She said that to me and I wanted to slap her, “I will not do that!” Here I am thinking Shirley MacLaine, Gwen Verdon, Broadway, fabulous people. She wants me to turn it into a disco song? I said, “There’s no way you can do that and do it well!” They went ahead and recorded the track and they played it for me. I went, “Holy crap! This is great [laughs]!” That’s my song!

On Let Me Be Your Woman, you performed disco covers of “One of those Songs” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” What was involved in selecting standards to get the disco treatment?

I think that at the time we were on the lookout for not just a standard, but a good song with which we could do something. If you listen to the very beginning of “One of Those Songs,” we start out with “what is the name of that song that keeps me dancing?” and immediately you think of the clubs, Studio 54, the Red Parrot, and all of the jumping New York hotspots of the time. Before we went into the verse of the original written song, we wrote something new to lead into it. When you take a song and you want to change it around a little bit, you have to be thoughtful and careful about how you put it together. (Producer) Gil Askey was a master at that.

“Red Light” from 1980’s Isaac Hayes-produced album I’m Yours was also featured in the Oscar-winning movie Fame. What did it mean to you to have a song featured on a best-selling movie soundtrack?

To me, it was amazing. It meant the world to me. I actually recorded the song for the soundtrack when I was working with (Oscar-winning songwriter) Michael Gore. I was seven months pregnant. I was like, “Come on baby, help me push these notes out” [laughs]! When the movie came out, my husband said, “Before you go into the hospital, you’re going to see this movie so you can see your name on the screen [laughs]!” We went to see Fame and I had no idea where the song was going to be placed. I didn’t know if it was going to be background music or something. When they started the film and the intro came up, I was like, “Oh, my gosh! They’re actually auditioning to my song!” It was incredible!

Did you ever have a chance to meet Michael Gore’s sister Lesley Gore?

I never got to meet Lesley. She had so many wonderful songs that I used to sing [laugh]. No, I never got a chance to meet her. But he was wonderful to work with.

Chicago, where you have lived for many years, was the site of the 1979 Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park. As both a Chicagoan and a disco artist, how did that made you feel?

Devastated. I was devastated. I thought, “This man doesn’t care what he’s done!” Aside from putting all of us out of work and totally dissing a major part of the music industry, he destroyed (the baseball) field. To this day, he still talks about it like he’s proud of it. I never met him, but I think if I did, I’d probably punch him right in the face.

He would deserve it.

I’m still angry about it. I think it’s so unfair and so careless of someone to do that, and on that scale. Sure, I don’t expect everybody to like disco, or every type of music that’s ever been created. But, my God, use your brain. When you have that kind of platform, a radio show that reaches hundreds and thousands of people daily, don’t come out and encourage this destruction. There were albums flying all over the field. When I saw it, all I could do was cry. I thought, “This is really horrible.”

Of course, the ultimate revenge is that disco outlasted Steve Dahl in popularity and endurance. As proof, we have the First Ladies of Disco, in which you, Martha Wash, and Evelyn “Champagne” King (and sometimes Norma Jean Wright) perform in concert. What’s it like to work with these fellow disco legends?

[Laughs] it is so much fun! There are no words to explain. First of all, I’m like the mom [laughs]. I first met Martha in Italy when she was still singing background for Sylvester. We were all there at the Venice Music Festival. She was such a baby and so timid. I’m maybe six or seven years older than Martha, so I guess that makes me the mom of the group. But I’m also the silliest. We laugh, we have so much fun, we enjoy what we do so much. People who come to our shows add to the enjoyment. They want to be there and dance and have a good time. We make sure they do. It’s a great night. If you get a chance to come to one of the shows, do it. It’s amazing.

Over the years you’ve amassed a massive international following, which includes a sizable following in the gay community. Is that how the filming of your 1984 music video for “A Night with the Boys,” came to be filmed at Trianon, a gay bar in Chicago?

Honestly, I don’t think so. From the very beginning of my recording career, especially with “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” one of the things that we made a point of doing when I was doing promotional tours, we didn’t just go to straight clubs. We went to all the bars. I made so many friends. In fact, the godmother to both of my children is a gay woman. Someone that I met during that period. I had an older brother who was gay. Gay doesn’t scare me [laughs]. I ain’t scared! I would perform in these clubs and not be afraid. What was there to be afraid of? These are my friends, my fans, and they love me. They would protect me. I’m not worried about it. Doing the Trianon thing was just a boost. It made people think, “Okay then, maybe she is real!” I just recently performed at the “A Taste of Lincoln Avenue” festival in Chicago. The guys came out! They had the albums and CDs. I talked to every single one of them. I love all my fans – gay, straight, black, white, or purple. I don’t care.

Is there a new Linda Clifford album in the works?

I would love to have something new out along with everything that’s going on. I have to say, there’ve been offers coming in, and then things – for whatever reason – don’t work out. I don’t have anything right now, but if there’s anybody out there who thinks they might be interested in doing something, they have to let me know. I’m a living legend, but I could drop dead tomorrow, so let’s go!

Please don’t go! Please stick around!

I would love to stick around. Music has been my life for such a long time. I just love doing it. Going into the studio again to do an album would be a real treat.

 

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Author Profile

Gregg Shapiro
Gregg Shapiro
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).

He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.