In conjunction with the September 2022 re-pressing of the SoulMusic Records’ CD reissue of Tata Vega’s “Full Speed Ahead” as an expanded edition by public demand, we revisit a 1976 classic soul interview with her…
by John Abbey
It’s full speed ahead for Ms. Vega, who’s being hailed as one of the most dynamic female singers around…
On the strength of her debut LP for the company’s Tamla label, Tata Vega can justifiably be compared to several big name artists — such as Stevie Wonder (because her diction and phrasing are very similar at times) and Chaka Khan (because of her rough, ready and raucous approach to a song). “This album is me,” she insists, though. “But they are nice compliments when I am compared with singers such as Stevie or Chaka Khan. But when you think about it, nobody is really original and when you are a new name, people have to make comparisons, don’t they?”
In case you think you’ve heard Tata’s name before, it could be that you recall a group called Pollution, who were on the Atlantic- distributed Prophesy label some five years back. The group also included Dobie Gray and that was one of the long list of reasons that the band made so little headway when they had the inbuilt talent to be one of the all-time greats. “We were involved in so many strange things,” she recalls with a gritty giggle. “We were, first of all, essentially on a small label and it was at the time when drugs was such a big thing. And some of the people around us were into that scene so heavily that it clouded their judgement on things. It was all so sad, though, because we played some good music and the band were all pleasant personalities.
“I’ve got a lot to thank Dobie Gray for but he had a hard time of it, when I look back. He taught me such a lot about singing and about the business — more than probably he even knows! A lot of the, attention that was laid on me really should have been his but it’s always that way when you’re one girl in a group. I’d say that much too much emphasis was placed on me and Dobie was always referred to as “Mr. In Crowd” or something and his talent wasn’t recognised for what it was. Times have changed such a lot that today a band just like Pollution was could probably go all the way now. But I became disenchanted with it all and decided to retire for a while when the group split up. I also needed a rest! I’d joined the band when I was just 18 years old and I was such a young girl caught up in the big Hollywood game.
Tata continues, “Yes, I found it shocking at first and yes, I learned a helluva lot…quickly! It confused me and I know that at the time I wasn’t a nice person to be around because of the confusion. Now? Oh, now I’m fine and I’m totally relaxed because I feel comfortable inside and that’s the secret.”
All of which conveniently brings us around to the “Full Speed Ahead” LP. Already, the discos are playing the title track — it was No, 1 on the US Disco list last week, for example: “No, I didn’t really think about making a disco album as such,” the loveable Ms. Vega stresses — but still with the hint of mischief in her voice! “Look, I just want to sing and if people can dance to it, then that’s fine, just fine. Personally, I like three tracks more than the others. They are “Try Love From The Inside”, “Try God” and “Music In My Heart”. But I’m more than happy with the album. Yes, there are things that I perhaps would have done differently if I had been the producer but I have the utmost respect for my producer who is also my manager, Winston Monseque. I think that any artist will always see several ways of doing something but it doesn’t always follow that it would be commercial and I have complete faith in the company’s judgement and assessment of what I’m doing. You know, while I would love to try new ideas all the time, it may not sell and that has to be the ultimate aim, right?”
For the fact finders, Tata was actually christened Carmen Rosa Vega when she was born back on October 7, 1951, in Queens, Long Island. It was her father who dubbed her Tata because they were the first words she learned to utter as a baby. Because of the fact that her father was in the Air Force, she had called Panama, Puerto Rico, San Antonio, Colorado Springs and Miami home before she was even in her teens. When she was seventeen she made the trip from Miami to L.A. and after a year of struggling to survive — as a street musician, would you believe? — she landed a part in the Los Angeles production of Hair. It was during this spell that she met up with Dobie Gray, who was also in the same production at the time and when he left to form Pollution, he invited Tata to join him. Now, after what could have been a final disappointment, Tata is back in business and if the initial company promotion continues, there is no way that Ms. Vega will fail in her climb to the top of her profession. Right now, she is working on a second album and once that is tucked safely away, she will hit the road with her new band.
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