In 1973 I was very deep into Kris Kristofferson. I had discovered him through his 1971 album The Silver Tongued Devil And I. The following two albums, Jesus Was A Capricorn and Border Lord, both released in 1972, were instant favorites. I also went back and picked up is first, self-titled album (later retitled Me & Bobby McGee to take advantage of the huge success from Janis Joplin’s cover). It was through Kristofferson that I first found Rita Coolidge. You could say I was a little late to the game because Coolidge had been around for some time. She’d been a featured member of Joe Cocker’s magnificent Mad Dogs & Englishmen ensemble and she’d made two fine albums of her own. But it was her third album, the 1972 release The Lady’s Not For Sale that I found first and it was all related to Kristofferson. By this time they were a couple (married in 1973). Their careers became very entwined for several years. They shared a band, they toured together, they appeared on each other’s albums and they recorded three duet albums over the next five years. I was seventeen and attending Loyola University in Los Angeles when they played together at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1973. I hitchhiked from school over to Santa Monica (not far, only about six miles) to see the show. I remember my seat wasn’t that great, but I saw some empty seats up pretty close and so after about three or four songs I got up my nerve, walked up and sat down in one of the vacant chairs near the stage. There was a printed invitation on the floor that the previous occupants had left behind. It was one of my first introductions to the jaded excesses of the music business. These people had gotten free tickets, a great seat, a personal invitation to the show and they had left after two or three songs! I couldn’t believe it. It was a great show and I was thoroughly impressed. I saw them play together several times at the Troubador, a much more intimate setting, later that year. They were always great. They’re first debut album, Full Moon, is one of my all-time favorite albums. Unfortunately, it’s never been released on CD. Go figure.
Rita Coolidge is a bit of an anomaly for me. I’m usually drawn to songwriters, artists like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Shawn Colvin, Rosanne Cash, Trish Murphy, artists who, for the most part, write their own material. It’s not often I find an artist who doesn’t write at all that I like. Linda Ronstadt is the only other notable exception I can think of off hand (well Emmylou Harris as well though she did start writing quite a bit in the last few years), though there may be others. But Coolidge always had a fantastic ear for great songs and many of the songs she recorded were new to me, I wasn’t familiar with other versions. It’s Only Love was her fifth album and it’s probably my favorite. It follows the basic blueprint of her other albums that came before it. Produced by David Anderle (he’d produced her first four albums as well), it’s an excellent collection of ten great songs. “Born To Love Me” and the title track are perfect vehicles for Coolidge’s pure, smooth, sultry, naturally romantic vocals. She has such a wonderful, unique voice that seems tailor made for love songs. Written by little known Nashville songwriter Bob Morrison (I’m guessing there was a Kristofferson connection in there as he was signed to Monument Records) they are also an example of Coolidge’s knack for finding great material that others missed. Matter of fact every song on this album is a love song. There’s one from Kristofferson (“Late Again”), one from the great southern team of Donnie Fritts (a Kristofferson sideman for many, many years) and Eddie Hinton (“Don’t Let Love Pass You By”) and a fantastic version of the Donna Weiss classic “Star.” Coolidge and Anderle take a decidedly interesting sidestep for the last two songs on the album. “Mean To Me” and “Am I Blue” are two classic jazz songs featured in a full, flat out late night jazz session setting. It’s not really my cup of tea, but I think they work very well for what they are.
Coolidge would finally find that elusive hit and huge commercial success with her next album, Anytime…Anywhere. A Top 10 album with three hit singles it also marked a noticeable turn towards a slicker, more pop orientated sound that I never found quite as appealing as her earlier earthy, country/folk flavored albums.
It’s criminal that NONE of Rita Coolidge’s early albums are available on CD. I think the first three were released on CD in Japan at some point, but they were always impossible to find and now fetch over $100 each on Amazon.com. There’s a fine two disc collection titled Delta Lady: The Rita Coolidge Anthology but it’s just ludicrous that her catalog has been so completely ignored in these days of endless remasters and reissues. The Australian reissue label Raven has just released a two-fer containing Anytime…Anywhere and Love Me Again, which is a start. Granted, those two records were probably her most commercially successful so maybe it makes sense, but they were far from her best. We can only hope that someone, somewhere will finally see the light and make an effort to get her first five albums out on CD sometime soon.