Dionne Warwick: Right Back On Top
Phone interview, March 1975
Aside from "Then Came You", her million-selling, Thom Bell-produced duet with The Spinners which catapulted to the higher echelons of the pop & soul charts during 1974, Dionne Warwick's name has been almost conspicuous by its absence from the charts since her pacting with Warner Bros. Records some three years ago. Not that the lady hasn't been busy regardless: she's long been a very popular attraction at cabaret and supper club spots throughout the States (and indeed throughout the world) almost ever since her recording career began a decade ago and the more recent lack of chart status consequently had no effect on the dynamic lady's drawing power.
Dionne has always managed to combine elements of sophistication and grace with her basic soulful talent and although you're more likely to find her in Las Vegas than at The Apollo these days, she has never deserted her musical roots and she can still emote with the best of 'em. You want proof? Take a listen at the first available opportunity to the brand new Dionne Warwick album on Warners, tabbed after her '74 hit, "Then Came You". Unquestionably, this is Dionne's finest product since she joined the company after many years with Scepter Records where she established her hit-making potential with such classics as "Walk On By", "Anyone Who Had A Heart", "A House Is Not A Home", "Don't Make Me Over" and so on. In fact, the golden team of Dionne, Burt Bacharach and Hal David undoubtedly earned their place in the annals of pop music history with their very definite and unique sound.
But back to today: Jerry Ragavoy, the man responsible for bringing the talents of such names as Garnet Mimms and Howard Tate to the public's attention, who worked with Lorraine Ellison on the legendary "Stay With Me" (and other material the lady cut for Warners), is the guy behind the new album which promises to give a whole new lease of life to Dionne Warwick's recording career.
Speaking from Las Vegas only a few days before her brief, one night appearance at London's Royal Albert Hall in aid of charity and in the presence of The Queen Mother, Dionne readily agreed. "This is definitely the best thing I've done since I've been with the company and it's the first time I've been comfortable with the product as well. I've known Jerry for some time. This is the first time we've worked together in this capacity — I worked with him years ago when I was doing background work, before I began recording as a solo artiste.[Writer’s note: Dionne and her sister Dee Dee were the background singers on the Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters’ 1963 classc “Cry Baby” – in fact, there were no ‘Enchanters’ in the studio with Garnet and producer Jerry Ragovoy, it was actually Dionne, Dee Dee and co. who were providing the harmonies!].
Dionne continues, “There was no pressure on me when I recorded this album, unlike the other things I've done whilst I've been with Warners. I really haven't been at all happy with the way things have gone previous to this album. To start off with, there were internal problems between Bacharach and David so they really couldn't work on production for me and then, at the company's suggestion, I did the album with Holland, Dozier & Holland. But it just wasn't me. Not that the team are not fine producers — you only have to look at their track record to see that. It's just that it wasn't right for me. So I laid off recording until the right thing came along. And when Jerry submitted some tunes, we went in and recorded them. That was "Sure Thing" and "Who Knows". We were all happy with how the sessions turned out so we went ahead and cut the album. It's almost like a meeting of the minds again. And I really feel confident that this one is gonna happen."
The set finds Dionne in a contemporary setting — there are several potential singles in there and Dionne says that right now, no one knows what the next one will be. "That's kinda nice because I guess it shows that the material is really good. I think what they're gonna do is put the album out and see which tracks get the best response from the d.j.'s across the country. Personally, I have two or three real favourites. I love "Move Me No Mountain" (note: the tune cut by Love Unlimited on their last album and without doubt, one of the album's strongest cuts — a possible Dionne Warwick monster smash) and "Getting In My Way". Also "Take It From Me" and a waltz-tempo side — "Who Knows" But I really feel there are quite a few commercial things in there and everyone at Warners seems excited about the album We're all hoping that it's gonna notch up strong sales and maybe even go gold!"
Dionne's last single "Sure Thing" was released late last year and although it did fairly well, it didn't live up to the lady's expectations. "We released it after The Spinners' duet and everyone was looking out to see what we'd bring out. It almost felt like starting out all over again and it's an exciting feeling, you know. But I'm sure the next single is gonna be the one to do it."
With the obvious satisfaction that Dionne's association with Jerry Ragavoy has brought, does that mean a new partnership has begun? "Well, I'm sure I will work with Jerry again in the future but that doesn't mean I won't be working with anyone else. I'm a free bird these days — I can work with anyone that I want — but our teaming does seem right. I certainly felt more relaxed doing the sessions than I've felt in a long time." Indeed, Dionne sounds better on this album than she's sounded for quite a while now.
Her golden 45 obviously brought Dionne's name right back into prominence so it seemed strange that she only recorded two sides with The Spinners. Dionne explained: "Well, it was a one-off thing. What happened was that I worked with The Spinners quite a lot last summer and their producer, Thom Bell, came down to our last night in Vegas. He brought with him a song which he felt would be dynamite for us to do together. And it was, as you know! Why didn't we do an album? Well, basically, because I'm not a Spinner!" Dionne laughed. "But seriously, it was just a one shot thing — and it worked."
The lady agreed that there was probably a whole new audience out there that hadn't previously been familiar with her. "You see, my recording audience has more or less grown up with me and I can always guarantee to sell a certain number of records to them. But a lot of people heard "Then Came You" who might not have bought my records before so we're hoping they'll get into the new album, too."
After a decade in the music business, Dionne says she still has many definite goals. "There are still so many areas for me to get into. You can set yourself one goal and after you've done that, there's always something else to do." As we observed before Dionne is a consistent headliner in Las Vegas but she still performs at colleges across the States. Does she change her show for Vegas: "No, not really. It's still basically the same wherever I go. But doing places like Vegas just help to round me out as an entertainer, you know."
Just as an afterthought and because so many people seem to want to know, we asked Dionne about that extra "e" on her surname, added a couple of years back. "Well, it's connected up with numerology and astrology. But we're thinking of dropping it because it seems to have caused so much trouble," Dionne laughed.
"E" or no "e", Dionne Warwicke is definitely set right back onto the road to the top of the charts with a brand new album which is sure to win her many new fans and will undoubtedly reassure her many faithful followers that she is still one of the finest vocal talents around today. And Dionne Warwick is destined to stay in the winners circle for a long time to come now.