There must be a factory somewhere cranking out all those longhaired musical clones that sound just like Journey's Steve Perry, because there's a zillion of them--the Stepford Singers.
And in this age of equal opportunity, there must also be a disco-doll female factory somewhere. Madonna, Paula Abdul, Mariah Carey (who may or may not be George Michael with a wig and a shave) and Teena Marie, the girl with two first names, have a couple of things in common, besides their sound. They're all beautiful, and they sell a lot of records.
Teena Marie is a California native who has been around long enough to have a nickname. Lady Tee, no relation to Mr. T, is the much cuter one with all that wavy hair. Plus, she can sing a lot better.
Her latest album, "Ivory," is cruising up the pop music charts--"If I Were A Bell" is the hit single. It's the ninth album by the Rick James discovery who has been singing professionally since she was 8, or since Mr. T was still a guy named Larry.
Teena Marie music is blue-eyed soul, rhythm and blues, funk, disco, dance or whatever they call that stuff pop-hit radio plays. And all that stuff critics generally love to hate. But critics don't buy a lot of records, unlike Teena Marie's fans.
Her music evokes the dreaded C-word, "commercial." She sells records, she has fans, she has a ring in her nose, and she will be at the Ventura Theatre tonight. Here she is:
How's the album and the tour doing?
The album is doing well--not as well as some of my other ones, but it's still pretty new. I put out an album about every year and a half or so. I'm doing a few shows in Southern California as sort of warm-up dates for my next tour. I haven't been on the road for two years, because I broke my ribs. Originally, I was planning to go to Europe, but it all depends on the Persian Gulf situation. I'm definitely against the war.
How did you get started in the music biz?
I've been singing all my life--I don't remember not singing, really. I sung at Jerry Lewis' son's wedding when I was 8, stuff like that. I formed my first band when I was 11 or 12, and we played at this place called Castaways somewhere near Valencia.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Oh, I've had so many. They run the gamut from Marvin Gaye to Led Zeppelin to Sarah Vaughan to the Beatles, and, of course, all of the Motown groups.
Have you always written your own music?
Oh, yeah, always. Songs come to me in different ways; sometimes the lyrics come first, other times, the music. Sometimes, I dream songs. The creative part definitely comes from somewhere else.
How would you describe Teena Marie music?
Well, my mother wanted me to sing like Barbra Streisand, but I think I'm basically an R&B singer, with pop and jazz influences. I've never really been a big pop artist, but my music is pop-oriented.
Is it a blessing or a curse to be a "commercial artist?"
I do commercial music, but I also do music that's not commercial, like when I do a jazz piece. Whatever I do, I do for the love of music and not for the money.
What's the best and worst thing about the music business?
The best thing for me is probably performing and my overall love of music. The worst thing is the company stuff, the business stuff. Musicians don't want to deal with that stuff. We want to create, the other side wants to make money.
What's the most misunderstood thing about your music?
I don't really know. I've always done the stuff I really love. I was born to sing R&B--that's just what I love.
What would be your dream gig and your nightmare gig?
My dream gig? I would've liked to have played with Marvin Gaye. But I've played with Rick James and Prince, and a lot of other great musicians. I've already had my nightmare gig. Can you imagine me playing with Shaun Cassidy? We did about 10 dates, and all his fans were these 11-year-old girls. It was pretty awful.
What sort of people go to see Teena Marie?
A lot of my fans are young people, but some are 45 or 50 years old. But most are between 25 and 35 years old.
Does that ring in your nose hurt?
No, but it made me a little sick when I first did it 11 years ago.
Will Milli Vanilli be singing on your next album?
I don't think so, but isn't that a trip? People get all excited about these guys, and it turns out that they can't even sing. That's the business side of the music industry I was talking about. We're not really being fed a lot of great music these days.
Not on the radio, that's for sure.
That's right. Today, pop radio mostly plays R&B, and black radio plays mostly rap music. When I graduated from Venice High School in 1974, it seemed like there were plenty of groups that could write and sing--bands like Crosby, Stills and Nash. There were plenty of great bands and a lot of great music. You don't see that so much these days. Back then, we had Wolfman Jack on the radio.