Rita Coolidge by Michael Walker: Delta Lady: A Memoir [Harper Collins]

By Brian Wright-McLeod, 2018
- News From Indian Country -

Rita Coolidge’s biography, written with pop journalist Michael Walker, traces the life of the two-time Grammy winner from early childhood to international stardom.

Her Cherokee father, a Baptist minister, placed Rita and her sisters Priscilla and Linda in the church choir, thus planting the seeds of her musical journey. She also credits her grandmother “Mama Stewart,” who survived the Trail of Tears, for encouraging her to live a life full of music.

Known originally as a song stylist, Coolidge began singing professionally while attending Florida State University in 1963 where she studied visual art. After landing a gig recording radio jingles, she released her first single for the Pepper label. Not long after, she made the move to Los Angeles, California where she met arranger/songwriter Leon Russell and befriended Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. The duo hired her to sing backup and Coolidge found herself touring with Eric Clapton and George Harrison of the Beatles.

Recruited by English singer Joe Cocker, wrote her signature song “Delta Lady,” she toured with the ground-breaking 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen concert. Being one of a dozen backup singers, she who the only vocalist to perform a solo piece called “Superstar.” The massive production was the first major show of its kind that ushered in the era of rock concert tours. Mad Dogs almost finished Cocker’s career who ended up making no money and fell into depression. Coolidge helped him rise back from the abyss. “The concert really took a toll on him,” she revealed.

Her first husband, the violent and unstable drummer Jim Gordon made her realize that love is not all you need. After he brutally assaulted her following one of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen shows, she found a way out of the relationship and returned to the stage stronger and wiser.

While flying across the country, she met her second husband Kris Kristofferson. Together they had their daughter Casey. With several hit singles, they also made television and movie appearances including Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid with co-stars Bob Dylan and James Coburn.

Through her marriage with Kristofferson, she witnessed the beginnings of the country music’s Outlaw Movement with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and other associates.

One of her biggest hits, a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” was co-produced with Booker T. Jones who married Rita’s sister Priscilla.

The book if rife with revelations that include her amorous connection with Graham Nash. The brief interlude was interrupted by unscrupulous intrusions by Steven Stills. Rumours blamed her for the breakup of Crosby, Stills and Nash, but despite any repercussions, her friendship with Nash remained intact.

Within the pages of the gripping tell-all, Coolidge also exposes her version of the story about her uncredited coda taken by Eric Clapton for the hit song “Layla.”

On the technical side, she provides insight into the best methods to arrange backup singers.

Presented in a conversational manner, the bio contains some great accounts of her life accompanied by numerous family and industry photos. Within the acknowledgments of the closing pages, she speaks about the death of her sister Priscilla who perished tragically in a 2014 murder-suicide.

Delta Lady is a quick, but revealing read – almost a post card from the edge - but a tale that leaves an appreciation for her astounding life and career.

On The Net: www.brianwrightmcleod.com


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