Freda Payne: “Wanna Get Re-Acquainted?”
By David Nathan
In person interview in Freda’s Hollywood Hills’ home, February 1976
ACCORDING to the lovely lady herself, "The public is just getting re-acquainted with Freda Payne!" and if her latest album on ABC Records is anything to go by, there is every good reason for thinking that that's exactly what will happen, hopefully via a big hit single. Sitting comfortably in her Beverly Hills' home, Freda explained further. "The big gap in my career, through the problems I was having with Invictus definitely hampered things for me, because there was no consistency after my initial hits with the company. I stopped working with the company in June of '71 and then we didn't do anything until 1973 when I recorded the "Reaching Out" album. But it was like the spark and magic had gone, so we realized that we couldn't go any further. Of course, I had realized that back in '71 but the company and I had been involved in suits and countersuits and it was only in 1974 that we finally got to that position of me being able to sign with another company. In the interim period, I had lots of offers from everyone but no sooner did I let record companies know that I was interested than Invictus would find out through the grapevine and advise whoever it was that I wasn't free to sign. Eventually — I guess when funds started to get low — ABC Records approached them to buy my contract, and they agreed! So I'm naturally more than thankful to the company for getting me out of that situation and back on the road as far as my career was concerned."
Of course, Freda has never really had any problem maintaining herself throughout the various ups and downs that her recording career may have presented because she is most definitely an all-round entertainer. "Those problems with the company didn't stop me working — it just meant I couldn't work with other acts with hit records. But I was still able to play supper clubs because my earlier training had stood me in good stead."
Freda's original roots go back not to gospel (as with most contemporary black entertainers) but to jazz. "Gospel music is part of the black cultural heritage but I wasn't raised in the Baptist church so I've never been considered a 'shouter'. Sure, I missed out on a few soul injections but I think I acquired what I needed from life itself."
Much of the sophistication that has been associated with the lady naturally comes from her early work with jazz musicians but Freda admits, frankly, that it has also held her back in certain ways. "People tend to have a definite conception about how I am. It comes partly from the fact that I always looked older when I was young and I guess I grew up the wrong way round — wearing elaborate, flashy gowns. Now I want people to know that I am human, too — that I'm down to earth and that I can dress casually if I want to! A lot of people have made me feel that they're inhibited when they're around me because they look on me as a lady — which is fine — but they feel that I put myself on a pedestal. So for 1976, I want everyone to know that Freda Payne is real and I'll be making as much effort as I can to convey a more casual image."
Just checking Freda out at home, you can see that a lot of those misconceptions are precisely that — when we interviewed her, she looked very attractive in jeans and tee-shirt and definitely conveyed a more relaxed attitude than you might expect from the way her public image has been built hitherto!
There has been an obvious attempt on the part of ABC Records to market Freda's music to a younger audience. Although her first album for the label didn't achieve much of the success anticipated, the second album ("Out Of Payne Comes Love") has received a good deal more exposure and promotion — and consequently, stronger sales. "I don't know why the company didn't get behind that first album because I thought it was very good — almost a diamond gem! But I think this second album is more subtle, more real. I've been trying to get away from that big, well-polished production thing and I've always had a secret yearning to get back to the grass roots.
"The producer, Bob Monaco (who worked with Rufus and Three Dog Night) was very fluid to work with — he didn't dominate the work and allowed me more freedom. I really believe there's something for everyone on the album — some pop, jazz, R&B. But you know, there's that constant problem that I have of categorization. Just because I'm a black entertainer, I'm immediately classed as R&B — so my records have to be played on r&b stations before pop stations will even listen. And a lot of the material on the album is just straight pop. You know, I really want to do some research to find out why that's still the case because that whole thing has got to be broken down — it's way overdue."
Freda says that she will be giving "crucial consideration to hit records" in the future. "We will be back in the studios in February but I can't say who'll be producing the next album — it might be a big surprise! But I realise now the importance of getting a hit record and so does the company. I always feel they could do a whole lot more but at least we've started back onto the right track with this last album."
At the same time, the lady says she won't ignore other areas. "I haven't really had the opportunity to let people see all the things I'm capable of. I'd like very much to have the chance to do something which will allow me to sing, dance and act — I got that when I understudied for Leslie Uggams in "Hallelujah Baby" — but I'm still looking for other vehicles which will let me do that again. Acting is important — I recently did a small part in the TV program, "Police Story" and yes, I do want to do some more in movies but not just blaxploitation films — I want to applear in movies that are first class! I guess most entertainers want to go on to movies because basically it's an ego thing and of course, the cinema did open up more for everybody over the last few years, so now everyone wants to act!"
On a personal level, Freda says that her career has generated all the activity in her life giving her little time to devote to a life away from the public eye. "Right now, I have to say that I'm looking for a man-woman partnership situation, personally. I feel it's time for me to do that." Naturally there are probably more than a few contenders — so y'all heard what the lady said!
Freda Payne is particularly confident about the year and she has every reason to be just that. It was very refreshing to talk with her and to see the evident relaxed attitude that she now generates.