Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Literally the Best Reviews: Delta Lady

Delta Lady -- Rita Coolidge
Harper
240 Pages

You’ve probably all figured out by now that George and I love music. I go to a lot of concerts and listen to lot of music. George listens to a lot of music and plays guitar. Being an audiophile, when I see a book on the shelf for someone in the music world, I grab it as quickly as I can. This week’s review is a multi-faceted review. I will review the book along with the concert I saw last year, featuring the author and subject of this book.

Rita Coolidge has played with some of the greats in the music world. Some of those included Delaney & Bonnie (who should be in the Hall of Fame -- looking at you Jann Wenner and Greg Harris), Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Kris Kristofferson. In fact, she was married to Kristofferson for seven years, with whom she has a daughter, Casey.

My exposure to Rita Coolidge was as a part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour from 1970. The CD of that name gets regular rotation in my house. When I went to the Lockn Music Festival in September 2015, the biggest highlight of the weekend was Friday night’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen with Tedeschi-Trucks Band. Rita was part of that line up celebrating the life of Joe Cocker. She sang “Superstar” and “Bird on a Wire.” The whole evening was magical.

When I saw the book, Delta Lady, on the shelf at the Lockport Library, I knew that I had to read it. Here was, in the words of a person who experienced the genesis of so much of my favorite music, the story behind the records. How could I pass that up?

“Delta Lady” was a song written about Rita by Leon Russell. Through Joe Cocker, it became a huge hit for Russell, and helped to define Rita at that moment in her life. She was so synonymous with the song that she chose to title her memoir in honor of it.

From her earliest days in Tennessee, she loved singing and performing. After being discovered by Delaney & Bonnie, she worked her way into one of the most popular backing singers in the business. She moved on to releasing her own albums and shared albums with Kristofferson.

This book reads like an old friend sitting down to tell you some stories from the past that you’ve heard, but never had all the details before. Coolidge regales the readers with homespun tales of events that seem almost mythical to outsiders and fans.

I was enthralled by this book. It gave me some new perspective on the show I saw in Virginia back in September. It was a love affair with more than just the men and women in the band. It was a love affair with the music itself. Coolidge brings the reader into the inner circle of her vast web of musical friends and makes them feel they had a small part in the process, even forty years beyond the events.

It’s difficult to critique a memoir. After all, how could we, the readers, be presumptuous enough to attempt to correct anything. We weren’t there. Instead, was the book written in a way that appeals to the reader? Is it well written and engaging? Rita Coolidge is able to deliver that with Delta Lady. Like the audience eagerly awaiting an encore, this book leaves you wishing there was a little bit more -- some more of the stories behind the faces we see on album covers.
Showing a little Lockn Love with a little help from my friends

The concert in Lockn was the same way. Due to extremely bad weather on Wednesday, Thursday’s part of the festival was cancelled. Because of that, the lineups were juggle just a little bit. Instead of an hour long Joe Cocker tribute during the day, we were treated to 90 minutes of headlining glory. It all worked out in the end. By the time the last notes of “Little Help From My Friends” echoed across the back of the racetrack, we were still begging for more.

Craig Bacon doesn’t generally like reviewing memoirs, but there have been some notable exceptions. Someday, he will review his own book. That should be interesting.

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