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Success Now a Foreign Thing

Pop music: But Rita Coolidge, who sings at the Coach House tonight, plans to bring her overseas popularity home and regain U.S. stature with a new CD of jazz standards.

February 14, 1996|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

She has been one of pop music's great disappearing acts in America, filed under the category "what ever happened to?" for longer than she'd care to recall. But Rita Coolidge--who sings tonight at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano--has remained active and popular overseas and is attempting a domestic comeback with a new U.S. album.

Coolidge was a ubiquitous presence on the music scene in the '70s through her platinum-selling "Anytime . . . Anywhere" album (1977) and her celebrated marriage to singer-songwriter-actor Kris Kristofferson.

The album yielded three hit singles (covers of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher," the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and Boz Scaggs' "We're All Alone"). Kris 'n' Rita were the pop equivalent of Liz 'n' Dick as they toured together, recorded together and appeared in films together.

The union, which yielded a daughter and two Grammys (for best duo), lasted eight years. But once it broke up in 1981, neither performer seemed to regain footing. Coolidge remained wildly popular overseas, though, particularly in Asia, where in 1978 she had won the Grand Prix award as top performer at the Tokyo Music Festival.

"There were about 72 million people in Asia who watched the festival on television," she recalled recently on the phone. "It was really overnight visibility, especially in Japan. I've toured Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia."

But back home, Coolidge, 52, has had a rougher time. Though she has continued to perform as many as 250 concerts a year, U.S. record labels have thrown her by the wayside.

"There are so many people I meet, and they realize I'm alive, and then somewhere in the course of the conversation they'll say, 'Are you still singing?' " Coolidge said with a laugh. "But I don't think artists make careers. I think record companies and marketing and all the business elements do. They create who's going to be riding high on the charts and who's going to be left in the dust.

"I'm not blaming anyone else, though. I'm just happy to have had the success I've had, and the ongoing success in other parts of the world."

*

Recently signed to Beacon Records, Coolidge will release an album of jazz standards in May that could help reestablish her in this country. In any case, "Out of the Blues" will be something of a belated personal triumph.

"I recorded the bulk of the album back in the '70s with [jazz pianist] Barbara Carroll," she explained. "I've added some tracks, but it's an album I did a long time ago. It was something I always wanted to do. It took forever to get it released because it was off the beaten track. We recorded it, and A & M Records said, 'We're just going to hold on to it for a while. It's not time to release it.'

"So I played it for Willie Nelson and he said, 'If your record company won't release it, I'm going to do an album like this.' That turned out to be his legendary 'Stardust' album. Then it seemed like everybody was doing it. Carly Simon did one; Linda Rondstadt did her Nelson Riddle album. . . .

"In a sense, I've always felt like I was way ahead of my time. I'll tell a record company, 'Listen to me! Listen to me!' and then it becomes a hit for someone else."

*

Coolidge, who is half Cherokee, also plans an album of Native American music this year, another project close to her heart.

"I've really wanted to do an album of Native music with my family for a long time, especially with my sister Priscilla and my niece Laura. The music always seems to move people, and it seems like something that needs to be done."

Among admired contemporary artists, she sticks with her old pals--Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton ("always"), Stevie Winwood, the Rolling Stones.

"Let us continue to be contributing adults," she said. "You know, in the Cherokee Nation, a woman is not even an adult until she's 55. I'm not even a grown-up yet."

* Rita Coolidge sings tonight at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Roger Kraft opens at 8 p.m. $15. (714) 496-8930.

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