SOUND OFF Special Interview: Linda Eder's SONGBIRDS
Today we are talking to a queen of the concert stage famous for her decades touring the country who has also made a mark on the recording industry with her countless remarkable albums and who will be returning to New York with an intimate show dedicated to her favorite leading ladies of song, titled SONGBIRDS - the one and only Linda Eder. In addition to singing some songs from her string of super-successful, theatrically-tinged albums in SONGBIRDS - many created with the collaboration of JEKYLL & HYDE composer Frank Wildhorn - Eder’s new Feinstein’s show also offers her the opportunity to take on some of her favorite material by female song stylists - such as Lena Horne, Etta James, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston and Eva Cassidy - as well as interpret some fresh material for the first time - Adele’s Grammy-winning “Rolling In The Deep” and “Someone Like You” (as opposed to the classic Broadway ballad she introduced herself in JEKYLL & HYDE sharing the same title, which will also be in the show) included. Plus, in addition to all about her Feinstein’s SONGBIRDS gig, Linda also reveals her upcoming concert plans, recording studio intentions and reflects on her most recent stage engagements, including sharing the spotlight with Michael Feinstein himself in shows last year - all of that and much, much more!
Tickets to Linda Eder’s SONGBIRDS at Feinstein’s At Loews Regency can be found here.
Someone Like Linda
PC: Since our last chat, I have gone back and rewatched some of your great concert work available on video and I just wanted to tell you how superb I thought your Bravo Christmas special was - and what a songlist!
LE: Oh, thank you! Yeah, that was really a lot of fun. Bravo did a nice job with that, I thought.
PC: Plus, it has both “Vienna” and “Bells Of St. Paul”, which we have discussed as being interrelated in a way - and, the latter is my favorite song of yours.
LE: Well, with “Bells Of St. Paul”, there are only two words in there that even make it Christmas-y, so I switch them out and use it as my opener - I have been using it a lot recently, actually.
PC: Is “Vienna” still your most requested concert song these days, would you say?
LE: Yeah, probably “Vienna” and “Man Of La Mancha” are my two most requested songs.
PC: Your performance of “Man Of La Mancha” on the first MY FAVORITE BROADWAY DVD is absolutely spectacular. Were you pleased to share the stage with those other great leading ladies that night at Carnegie Hall?
LE: Oh, to be in that company was really wonderful. Also, the highlight of it for me really was, first of all, being able to perform on Carnegie Hall’s stage - it was my first concert there - and, then, doing both of them, I got to get to know Julie Andrews. That was just so great for me.
PC: Dame Julie is so divine in every way - and one of the most generous participants in this column ever.
LE: Oh, she really is - I mean, we shared a dressing room on the second one and that was really fun.
PC: Hanging out with Dame Julie! Isn’t SOUND OF MUSIC one of your favorite films, as well?
LE: Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah - that is still one of my all-time favorites!
PC: Your affection for the great women in song is being fully explored in your new show at Feinstein’s, SONGBIRDS, yes? We spoke about it a few months back when you were first planning the show, so we have certainly come full-circle.
LE: Well, you know, they always like to have themes when you play those rooms like Feinstein’s - it helps with marketing and all that; which they like. You know, I had been planning to learn the song "At Last" when Etta James passed away - for so many years, people would request that song and I had never learned it. So, I thought, “I’ll learn that song,” and, that was maybe three weeks before Whitney died.
PC: Music has suffered a lot of great losses recently.
LE: When Whitney died, I just thought, “Maybe I’ll make this show a tribute to real, women singers - the real songbirds.” So, I chose people like Etta James, Whitney, Eva Cassidy - another wonderful singer who unfortunately became more famous after her death - Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Patsy Cline. I’m even doing a couple songs by Adele, a new songbird. So, we’re going to have the old classics by some people who have passed away and also some of the newer female singers out there.
PC: How au currant of you to include Adele.
LE: Oh, yeah - she’s great! She’s a real singer’s singer, so it works great in that setting - and, you know, some of her songs are just piano.
PC: Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele did “Rolling In The Deep” on GLEE a capella, actually - with much success.
LE: Yeah, well, I am going to do a medley of “Someone Like You” into “Rolling In The Deep”.
PC: I’ve wondered what you thought of there now being another pretty classic song with the title “Someone Like You”?
LE: Well, I don’t think as much about me as I do about what Frank thinks about it! [Laughs.]
PC: That’s so true!
LE: He has a monopoly on the title!
PC: And Leslie Bricusse wrote that lyric, right?
LE: Actually, that’s credited to Leslie, but it’s mostly Frank’s lyric - it’s a little bit of both of theirs, I would say. Frank wrote the lyrics for the original song to begin with, when it was a different tense - for Colm and I on the initial recording- and, then, they changed some lyrics later to more fit the show and Leslie collaborated on that one. Obviously, most if not all of the lyrics in the show are Leslie’s, but the original lyric of “Someone Like You” was Frank’s.
PC: How interesting. Frank’s biggest pop hit was with Whitney Houston, of course - “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” Have you ever recorded that song?
LE: Actually, I sung that song in a concert we did in Vienna - Frank Wildhorn & FRIENDS.
PC: Did you enjoy singing it?
LE: Oh, yeah - it’s a great pop song. But, it is a pop arrangement, so it does sort of need all of that stuff going on, you know? Obviously, we had an orchestra and we had great back-up singers, but we really didn’t have that pop arrangement - in pop music, you really make it come to life in the studio, with the arrangement, and, obviously, we didn’t quite have that, but it’s a great song. It’s fun to sing.
PC: Have you ever covered any other songs of hers? Your voice seems perfect for “I Have Nothing” or the big PRINCE OF EGYPT song, "When You Believe".
LE: Yeah, those are great songs, but, you know, I was so criticized for doing Streisand, and, then, everyone gets criticized for attempting a Whitney song - and no one can sing them like Whitney!
PC: Without a doubt.
LE: She does such definitive versions that if you change the version at all it seems lesser because she has already really nailed the arrangement.
PC: So, no Whitney songs in SONGBIRDS?
LE: I have not really done her things, but, I figured that for the SONGBIRDS tribute I could kill two birds with one stone and do Dolly and Whitney - I have always loved the Dolly version of “I Will Always Love You”. I have really liked that song from the moment I heard it in BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE - I thought it was great. Of course, then, Whitney did her version of it and I loved that one, too. So, mine will be sort of a combination of the two. I really like the purity of Dolly’s and the powerhouse ending of Whitney’s, which is just incredible.
PC: They are both so great in their own ways.
LE: Yeah, we will be somewhere in the middle, I guess! [Laughs.]
PC: Jennifer Hudson at the Grammys was very touching, as well.
LE: I really have to applaud Jennifer because that had to be a tough, tough moment and she did a beautiful, touching version, but, if it had been me producing that show, I would have had Dolly do it.
PC: That’s an excellent point - she is the songwriter, after all.
LE: Dolly’s version is nothing like Whitney’s, of course, but the purity and beauty of the song is so emotional - in a way, it’s even more emotional than Whitney’s because it doesn’t evolve into something bigger; it’s just sort of small and sad. Whitney’s goes off and becomes big at the end, whereas Dolly’s never does - it’s the beauty of that sadness. I just think that recreating Whitney onstage like they did with the lighting and wig and everything was kind of cool, but I think it would have been a better choice to have Dolly do it.
PC: Do you feel that gospel singing is similar to swing singing in that it is very hard to learn and almost impossible to pull off unless you are predisposed to do it?
LE: Yes. Obviously, you have to have the muscular control to do the runs to begin with, and, then, you have to have the passion for, you know, the meaning behind the words - the passion comes from religion. If it’s not coming from a real place, it’s just an exercise more than a real spiritual thing coming through - so, if that isn’t there, it’s fake.
PC: An imitation.
LE: You can have every run in the world, but if it’s not coming from there - from a real place - you know, it’s not going to feel the same. I think you have to grow up in that environment and really just understand it to your core in order to make it completely believable.
PC: Did you grow up singing in church? I know you did in college, but what about before then?
LE: Well, I was raised Catholic - my dad was always taking us to church when we were small, because my dad was Catholic and my mother was Lutheran. So, we kept moving and we moved so many times - and, my dad worked six days a week, as a chef - and it just got hard for him, so we stopped going. Then, we moved to this town of 176 people.
PC: No way!
LE: A tiny, tiny town - with a tiny Catholic church in it the size of, you know, someone’s living room in a McMansion! That’s how big the whole church was. And, it was run by this fire and brimstone priest who would just scold you and yell at you the whole time. They had this organist, who was scared to death of Father Brennan, but they wanted to start a choir. I was 16, 17 and I show up for the first choir practice - and everyone else is 70-something or older! [Laughs.]
PC: A bit of a generation gap.
LE: Yeah, we all started to sing and after a while someone said, “Why don’t we just have Linda sing?” So, I started to sing solos and I’d even learn a few things on my guitar and sing with Edna, the organist, hiding behind the sheet music. So, yeah, that was my experience singing in church.
PC: What a great story! In your Christmas concert, you spoke about your stunning arrangement of “Ave Maria” being devised in your college choir group, correct?
LE: Yeah, I had a choir teacher who was a very religious man and he also really liked the classics. We weren’t singing “Frosty The Snowman” at Christmas, we were singing “Ave Maria” - really classical pieces; he loved Bach. So, we really had a very mature choir and he was very passionate about it. That was my experience in choir - singing those religious, classical arrangements.
PC: Your arrangements on the Christmas album and in the concert are absolutely exquisite - many reinvent the material. How did your process with Frank and the musical director, Kim, work on those?
LE: Well, all of the arrangements on the Christmas album came from me initially and then I worked with Kim Sharnberg and he was so collaborative with me in making them happen. For “Ave Maria”, for instance, that arrangement was pretty close to the original - it’s a little bit different than the original. But, as far as taking one and really pushing it, the one we really experimented with was “Silent Night”.
PC: What was the inspiration for that unique take on “Silent Night”?
LE: I said to Kim, “I hear it like a round.” So, I would start it and then start again at a certain point and we made it all into a round - and, then, he just took that idea and made this absolutely gorgeous arrangement of it.
PC: It virtually sounds like a different song. Speaking of great songbirds, what do you think of the Stevie Nicks version of that song? That one is a bit outside the box, as well. What do you think of Stevie in general?
LE: Yeah, I actually got to see her sing it live - that came out right around the time I did STAR SEARCH. After the finals, when I had won, I stayed in town for an additional day out in LA and they were shooting a Christmas show. She was on it, Kenny Loggins was on it - it was in this small room and I was in the audience.
LE: In fact, we were very close to the stage since it was such a small room where it was filmed, and, when Kenny Loggins was doing his song, he forgot the lyrics and I actually shouted out the lyrics to help him. [Laughs.]
PC: No way!
LE: Yeah! Then, he started it again and that’s the one they taped.
PC: That’s hilarious.
LE: On that particular show, Stevie Nicks did her version of “Silent Night”. You know, she’s iconic and she’s got her own thing - you either like it or you don’t. I happen to think she’s pretty cool, but that song really isn’t my favorite of hers.
PC: Have you ever sung any Stevie Nicks material? "Dreams" or "Rhiannon" perhaps?
LE: I haven’t done any of her stuff yet, but I have to check out her new album - I love Dave Stewart.
PC: "Rhiannon" to WICKED: Would you ever consider taking on “Defying Gravity” someday?
LE: Well, it’s funny you mention that because I just did two nights for a private audience where I opened the cabaret in a casino in Vegas - no one had ever performed there before. I loved the venue and I was thrilled to do it. They actually asked me to stay and do another night and learn and do “Defying Gravity”, but, they asked me last-minute and I just couldn’t do it. I felt like I couldn’t overwork my voice. I have to take care of myself - knowing myself, I know that it would be too much. I’ve been singing a lot - practicing for Feinstein’s and my two nights there in Vegas, pushing my voice for two nights, hard. I just had to make the call. Is the money nice? Sure. But, I am heading into a week at Feinstein’s, so I had to put my foot down and think of the people who will be at those shows. I wouldn’t do that in the past, but, now, I just have to, you know? I have to take care of myself.
PC: Is Vegas something you would not like to do in the future, then?
LE: No, I don’t really want to do a sit-down somewhere - and, I love to tour, anyway. I did 16 months on Broadway with JEKYLL & HYDE, doing the show eight times a week, so I know what it’s like doing that, pretty much. As I was telling you, I was in Vegas recently and they also asked me if I was interested in doing a month there, but I really think it can be really damaging to your voice. I mean, look at Celine - she is out right now because she overworked her voice; and, she is fanatical about doing everything right.
PC: Case in point.
LE: Celine is just one example - you know, she lost her voice early in her career and then she learned to be careful and take care of her instrument. There’s actually a plaque in my voice doctor’s office from her that says, “Thank you for saving my voice.” It’s just all about being careful - you have keep the voice lessons going and everything else. Someone like Celine is doing everything right, and, even still, she is burning her voice out. We all think it is going to be there forever and you can use and abuse it, but you can’t - especially after 40 and if you have had kids; the hormones produced during pregnancy can change your voice.
PC: How fascinating.
LE: With your voice, especially around and over 40, all of the stuff you do in your life comes back and bites you.
PC: Patsy Cline is a performer you are paying tribute to you in your show who tragically died before she matured.
LE: Yes. She was so iconic and her voice was so unique - it is so sad that she died at such a young age.
PC: Will you be doing “Walking After Midnight” in SONGBIRDS?
LE: Yes! We are doing “Crazy” into “Walking After Midnight”, actually.
PC: What can we expect from your Barbra Streisand homage in the Feinstein’s show?
LE: Well, I am actually doing a song that I have always loved that Streisand did such a beautiful arrangement of - if you are a fan you might have heard it, but if you are not a fan you might not - “The Summer Knows”.
PC: Unreal! That’s one of my all-time favorites.
LE: I love that song, too - I love the Michel Legrand songs. I have been doing “I Will Wait For You” in my current show and that’s on one of my albums, too.
PC: Barbra does his “Windmills Of Your Mind”, among others, on her newest album, as well.
LE: His songs are just amazing.
PC: What about “How Do You Keep The Music Playing?”
LE: Yes, I really like that one, too - I’ve done that a few times in concerts as a duet.
PC: Will the Judy Garland song you do at Feinstein's be “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, perchance?
LE: Yep - and, of course, I will be doing “Someone Like You”, too, as far as the two songs everyone expects from me in my shows.
PC: I’d love to hear you do Andrew Lloyd Webber’s material someday, too.
LE: I did sing a bunch of SUNSET BOULEVARD stuff way back, actually - and, “Memory”, many years ago. I’ve done “Music Of The Night” and I’ve done it as a duet, too.
PC: The Barbra Streisand/Michael Crawford version? It’s a great version.
LE: Yeah. It really is.
PC: What’s next for you after Feinstein’s - the ongoing tour continues?
LE: Oh, yeah - there’s always a bunch of concert dates coming up and they’re all up on my website.
PC: NOW was such a great album - your first full album with Frank in a while - but I’d love to know what we can expect next from you as far as your next album is concerned.
LE: Well, as far as my goals go, I have really been concentrating on my own stuff - my songwriting stuff. I want to do a record that is my own stuff because I found out that I really love writing. I am working on a whole album, so, it will probably be three quarters mine and then the rest will be covers and stuff.
PC: Your arrangement of the title song from “Now” is absolutely sublime.
LE: Yeah, that’s a great example of what I discovered - I really love producing and working out songs in the studio. Billy and I work so well together and it’s a real collaboration where we both bring equal parts to the table. I just love what we come up with together. It’s so much more creative than just singing - being a part of the producing and arranging and writing is really fascinating to me.
PC: Your Broadway album is all about making classic songs your own and your interpretations of them are so unique. No one can ever compare you to anyone else.
LE: Oh, thank you!
PC: What have you been listening to recently that you have been enjoying?
LE: Well, I just recently downloaded Adele’s album and I love that. I am a big fan of Lady Antebellum. My favorite album right now is Zac Brown Band. My favorite, favorite song right now is one of theirs and it sounds so much like James Taylor mixed with Jimmy Buffett - it’s called “Colder Weather”. I can just hear James Taylor singing it. It’s the most beautiful, beautiful sad ballad.
PC: I hope to hear a live album from you sometime soon - particularly since your live concerts are so especially thrilling.
LE: Yeah, I think that is a project I’d really love to do - a live album. Something really special happens at the live shows and I’d love to be able to capture that on an album. A lot of people have been doing them lately, so the right time might be soon. We’ll see.
PC: This was so fabulous, today, Linda. All my best luck to you on your week at Feinstein’s - you are one of the very finest live performers we have!
LE: Thank you very much, Pat! I am so thankful you can bring my show to everyone out there in a big way like this. Bye bye.