Freda Payne, singer, chats with Kevin Cooper about her friendship with the late David Gest, working with Sir Cliff Richard, not signing with Motown and her forthcoming appearance on The David Gest Tribute Show

Freda Payne is an American Soul and R’n’B singer and actress best known for her million selling 1970 hit single, Band Of Gold. Born in Detroit, Michigan, she grew up listening to different jazz singers, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. In 1963, she moved to New York City and worked with many different entertainers, including Quincy Jones, Pearl Bailey, and Bill Cosby

In 1969, her old friends back home in Detroit, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Edward Holland, Jr, persuaded her to sign with their newly formed record label Invictus. Shortly thereafter, Eddie Holland offered her a song entitled Band Of Gold and in early 1970, the song became an instant pop smash reaching number three in the US and number one in the UK for six consecutive weeks; it also gave Payne her first gold record with global sales estimated at two million.

In 2011 Payne recorded a duet, Saving A Life, with Sir Cliff Richard for inclusion on his Soulicious album. She also joined him on his Soulicious tour of the UK in October of the same year.

Whilst busy getting ready to come over to the UK, she took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.

Ms Payne good morning how are you today?

I am fine thank you Kevin, how are you?

I am very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You are most welcome and it is my absolute pleasure. Thank you for still being interested in what I am doing.

And just how is life treating Freda Payne today?

Do you know what, life hasn’t been so bad, in fact I’m fine and things have been really good of late. God willing my health is good and more to the point I still have my voice together with the fact that I still have my enthusiasm to perform. It’s great to wake up and think that I am alive and that I am in good health.

You will be visiting us here in Nottingham with The David Gest Tribute Show on Wednesday 13th July. Are you looking forward to the tour?

Yes I am, I really am. I am very much looking forward to the tour because David would have wanted this tour to go on. David would have wanted us to continue to perform especially as he was the one who put this tour together. He was the one who embraced all of the performers who he wanted to have performing on his show and who he had a lot of respect for. The people on the tour are the people who David had thought were good entertainers who sang bona fide hits and who had number one hits over there in the UK. So yes, I am most definitely looking forward to the tour and because I love it so much over there in England, I will in fact be arriving in the UK on the 29th of June.

I have to ask you, just how did you and David meet?

Oh my god, David and I met way back in 1973 here in Los Angeles where David was born. As you know I was born up in Detroit and I came down to live in Los Angeles in 1971. David had somehow gotten hold of my number and he had started calling me and sending me Al Green albums from London Records. He then started taking me to the Whisky A Go Go on Sunset Boulevard and I remember one day he invited me to go with him to the Whisky to see The Moody Blues (laughter). After that David invited me to go with him to see The Doobie Brothers, and we just became very good friends.

He just kept calling me and inviting me out. He would take me out to dinner and to the movies. This was all happening in the days before David became a record producer. A little while later Al Green helped David start up his own PR Company. And that is how we met.

What would your one lasting memory be of David?

Oh my god, I have so many lasting memories of David. Ok, if I had to pick just one it would have to be when David produced that last concert for Michael Jackson at Madison Square Garden in 2001. There were two concerts; one on the Friday and one on the following Monday which would have been September 10th. The next morning 9/11 happened. Michael’s concert became a filmed TV special, which David actually won awards for and I was so proud of him.

Also, thinking about lasting memories, I would have to include the moment that David told me that he was going to propose to Liza Minelli. He told me that he was going to take Liza up onto the roof of her apartment building and propose to her. I looked David straight in the eyes and asked him if he thought that she was going to say yes, and he simple said that if she was going to say no that he wouldn’t think about that (laughter). David was a person that for some reason made you pay attention to whatever it was that he was saying. He was very good at throwing you off guard and was also very good at telling you a story that simply was not true (laughter).

He would tell you a story in such a skilful way that you would think that it was true and it would be some time before you realised that it was a crock (laughter). David was a great story teller especially stories that had a nutty twist to them.

Without getting too maudlin will you also be paying respect to the late Billy Paul?

I simply can’t believe that both David and Billy passed away almost within days of each other. I simply can’t believe it. Billy was eighty years old but you would never have known it. Billy was on the last tour back in October when we were all together and David would always have Billy on his tours, always. I have become so accustomed to seeing Billy on the shows that it was just a given that Billy would always be there. He was also booked to be with us on the forthcoming tour of the UK. However, although David and Billy will not be there, let me tell you that both of them will be there in spirit.

I see that you have stepped into David’s role and that you will be the MC for the evening. Are you looking forward to cracking the whip and keeping the other artists in order?

(Laughter) Yes I will be hosting the show but not for the entire evening. My hosting duties cover only the first half of the show. Those duties for the second half of the show will be passed over to Peabro Bryson and Deneice Williams because David was very close with Peabro and he had known Deneice for almost as long as he had known me. I’m not going to be a comedian like David nor will I be telling dirty jokes (laughter). I am just going to come out onto the stage and simply be me.

In 2011 you recorded a duet with Sir Cliff Richard for inclusion on his Soulicious album and you also joined him on his Soulicious tour of the UK. How was that?

I loved recording with Cliff. First of all he is so easy to work with; he is a gentleman beyond reproach. And secondly he is the kindest person that you would ever want to be associated with. I personally hold Sir Cliff in high esteem. It was great, in fact it was David who had put together Sir Cliff’s Soulicious tour. Sir Cliff and I recorded Saving A Life which was released as a single and I think that because I love that song so much, I will probably be performing it on the forthcoming tour. A point of interest for you is that the song Saving A Life was written for Sir Cliff by Bo Dozier who is the eldest son of Lamont Dozier of Holland, Dozier and Holland fame at both Motown and Invictus.

I last saw you performing here in Nottingham two years ago now with The Temptations and The Four Tops and I have to say that you were sounding as good as ever.

Oh that’s great, thank you. I remember the tour very well; it really was a great tour. My association with The Temptations goes way back and I know that the only original member still touring is Otis Williams but they still are a great group. I remember The Four Tops back when I was a teenager and I am going back as far as the fifties now (laughter). I was twelve years old while the guys were all in their late teens. I knew those guys even before they went off to Motown to sign for Berry Gordy. Now there is only one Top left and that is Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir but still they carry on and perform and they are just as great as ever. So you got to see one of those shows Kevin did you, that’s great.

Now I can’t speak to Ms Freda Payne without mentioning a certain record can I?

(Laughter) no I suppose you can’t. I recorded Band Of Gold back in 1969 in Detroit and I remember that when I first heard the music I thought that it was a great track. However, then I started reading the lyrics and when I got to the line ‘that night on our honeymoon, we stayed in separate rooms’ I said that I thought that the song wasn’t about a mature woman at all but that it would better suit a fifteen or sixteen year old girl. The guys just looked at me and said “you don’t have to like it, just sing it” (laughter). And that as they say is how I came to record Band Of Gold (laughter).

I have to say that I personally think that the song is timeless.

It is timeless and can I tell you that back then if you had told me that that record was going to become timeless I would have said “you’ve got to be crazy. No one is going to want to play that record fifty years from now. Come on give me a break” (laughter).

What was it like working with The Funk Brothers, Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland?

Well, first of all I knew all of those guys because we were all born and raised in Detroit. I knew Lamont from way back when we were at middle school together and Brian and I had some of the same classes together in High School. I first met Eddie when I was fourteen years old when he visited our home along with Berry Gordy Jr. This was way before Motown had even started out. So I already knew these guys. The Funk Brothers were just a bunch of local musicians in Detroit and they played on almost every single Motown record that was ever recorded.

Even after Holland Dozier and Holland left Motown to form their own label Invictus they would still hire The Funk Brothers to play on their songs. They would hire them for a session or two (laughter).

To me, a lifelong fan of Motown, I feel that Band Of Gold is as close to a Motown song that you can get. Would you agree with that?

Yes I believe that you are right about that. That is absolutely correct.

With that in mind I have to ask, why did Freda Payne never sign for Motown?

(Laughter) ok, I will tell you why. When I was fourteen years old I was Berry Gordy’s first female protégé and then in 1983 he publically said that I was the one person who had inspired him to do what he had to do with Motown. He said that he had seen what he could do with female artists when he was working with me at fourteen years old. What happened was that my mother would not let me sign for him because she would not agree with his business terms. And then some ten years later it happened again.

I had the opportunity to join him at Motown when the company was established and yet again, he didn’t allow artists to renegotiate their contracts and I wanted to renegotiate my contract simple as that. That’s what happened.

In 2014 you recorded your album, Come Back to Me Love and I have to tell you that I absolutely love it.

Oh you love it, I want to hug you (laughter). That album is an expression; a work of art that I have been wanting to do for over twenty years now. I started out as a jazz artist when I was sixteen years old and sang with big bands. Over the years I have recorded a lot of R‘n‘B music, a lot of pop music together with Broadway musicals, but when I was given the opportunity to record this album I jumped at the opportunity. It gave me a chance to do songs that I have always wanted to do.

Were you happy with how well it was received?

I was extremely happy. I was as they say, over the moon with the reaction to the album (laughter). The whole album was orchestrated by Bill Cunliff who also played the piano on the album. Bill did such a magnificent job with the album for me. It has such wonderful string arrangements.

My favourite track on the album is You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To; I think that it is fantastic.

As you probably know that particular song is a Cole Porter standard, and I loved singing that track. It was a joy for me to be in a position to sing that song. I have two favourite tracks on the album, Save Your Love For Me and The Island. I tend to sing more jazz now because at my maturity it makes more sense for me to do more jazz now. However, I still do stuff from the pop era plus Band Of Gold (laughter).

I see that you have recently been acting in a couple of films. Is that something that you would like to get into more?

Whilst the majority of my career has been singing, over the years I have done quite a lot of acting. I have been in a few films where I have had a bit part or a cameo role. I have also acted in a couple of plays and I have to say, yes, I can do acting (laughter). First and foremost I’m a singer but I can do acting too. What I would really like to do and it is something that I am looking to do, is host a talk show. I would really like to take part in Celebrity Big Brother, the show that David did, that would be fun. David told me that he didn’t want to do it but he did it (laughter).

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

To be honest I have had quite a few highlights and to pick out a single one is almost impossible. I would like to think that I haven’t had that greatest highlight yet.

What next for Freda Payne?

After the tour I intend to come home and get on with a few projects that I have in mind but nothing to tell you about, not yet (laughter). I am looking forward because as I said, the best is yet to come.

On that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Thank you very much Kevin, and I look forward to seeing you over there in Nottingham. Bye for now.