Glorious Gloria

Discovered by Sly Stone, cursed at by Ike Turner and mentored by Barry White, ‘70s cult soul veteran Gloria Scott is excited to be back with a new album, as she tells SJF.   

“I feel it’s amazing, to tell you the truth about it,” laughs Gloria Scott, understandably excited by the unusual prospect of releasing a follow-up album almost half a century after her much-admired debut LP, What Am I Gonna Do, which the great Barry White masterminded back in 1974. “Things have changed so much since then,” admits the singer, whose comeback at the age of 76 is nothing short of astonishing.  

Her new album is called So Wonderful and is due to be released by the UK’s iconic Acid Jazz label on 30th September. It was helmed by the British drummer, arranger and producer, Andrew McGuinness, who first encountered Scott when he was leading the Baltic Soul Orchestra, a 20-piece ensemble put especially together for Germany’s annual Baltic Soul Weekender event in 2007. 

“Andrew’s amazing,” enthuses Gloria, who came to know and trust the British musician after their live collaborations together. It was inevitable, perhaps, that they would go in the studio together one day, but it took several years to get there. “He saw that I have a fanbase and I think he wanted to capitalise on that,” laughs the singer, who became an icon of the UK’s Rare Groove scene in the 1980s due to her classic song ‘A Case Of Too Much Lovemakin,’’ which drove up the price of her hard-to-find debut album to astronomical levels on the secondhand market. 

“The fact he wanted to produce an album on me was enlightening,” says Gloria. “I think it’s very spiritual too, to want to produce a person of my age, though it’s really not unusual because I’ve seen a lot of people like me in their 70s who are still doing it and going on, like Mavis Staples. They have a fanbase because people grew up on that music and now, the younger generation is interested in older music. It’s here to stay.”

The sound of So Wonderful is classic rather than contemporary and stylistically acknowledges the lush orchestral sound of her first album. It was a conscious decision by McGuinness, who decided to frame Gloria’s soulful alto voice with opulent orchestral arrangements that evoked memories of the singer’s association with Barry White, who was one of the main architects of the symphonic soul sound that defined American R&B in the early-to-mid ‘70s.    

The track contains performances of three songs (‘All Of The Time, You’re On My Mind,’ ‘I’ve Got To Have All Of You’ and ‘There’s No Cure For Me’) that were demoed by White and intended for Gloria’s cancelled second Casablanca album. “I don’t know why it was never released,” muses the singer, “but I think one of the reasons could be that Barry was so involved in his own career and got so big.”

Another highlight is So Wonderful’s title song, a funk-tinged uptempo track. “I’m really just proud of that song,” states Gloria. “My husband at the time wrote it with me in the ‘70s and it was just a beautiful love song. I picture people dancing to it on their first dance after getting married, so it’s very special. Sometimes I listen to the arrangement and I think how in the world did I come up with a sound like that because it sounds so very orchestrated even when I just play it on piano.”  

Music has always been important in Gloria’s life. The second eldest of nine children, she was born in the Texas city of Port Arthur and raised in Houston. “My mom sang in church,” she says, also revealing that her mother performed alongside the great Sam Cooke during his gospel days with The Soul Stirrers. “She would take us to church every Sunday and I remember going to sleep and then waking up when I heard her voice,” says Gloria, adding with a laugh: “Then, after she finished the song, I went back to sleep.” 

Gloria began singing at an early age and seemed to be blessed with an innate musical ability.  “My older sister and I used to sing our younger sisters and brothers to sleep by singing the lullaby song to them,” she reveals. “I automatically knew how to harmonise. I don’t know how that came about but it just seemed like I naturally knew how to do it.”

Her first public performance came at school when she was ten and sang the Yuletide evergreen, ‘White Christmas.’ “I did that and have been singing ever since,” she laughs.  

Gloria’s interest in music blossomed as a teenager after her family relocated 1,700 miles west to the city of Palo Alto in California, a 25-hour drive from Texas. It was a move she was reluctant to make at first. “I was 14 when we moved and didn’t want to leave Texas but my grandmother was in California and my mum wanted to be near her,” she recalls. “Texas was the only place I knew. I had friends there and I didn’t want to leave. I was going to be a cheerleader and was looking forward to that. Then I thought about it some more and thought if I stayed, I was going to miss my family. So, I gave up my fight to stay.”

Ray Charles

Though Gloria was upset by the thought of moving away, her father encouraged her by saying the move to the west coast might help her get into the music business. When they got to Palo Alto, Gloria’s parents, who were both cooks, opened a soul food restaurant called Ella’s Cafe (named after her mother). By then, Gloria was becoming immersed in music. “I remember the first album that I got – and I played it over and over and over –  was by Ray Charles. I remember playing ‘What’d I Say’ and ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’ and it felt like they just did something to me. I also loved the Raelettes (Charles’ backing singers). They had such tight harmonies and really appealed to me.”

While Gloria was avidly listening to rhythm and blues records, she was also honing her harmonies by singing with her siblings. One day, she went to her local high school dance and met a young Sly Stone who was performing there. “Me and my friend were standing there right in front of the stage and she said to Sly, ‘She can sing,’ and he said, ‘well get up here and sing then!’ So I sang (Carla Thomas’) ‘Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)’ and after that, he took me round all the dances in the Bay Area.”

Sly Stone was so impressed by Gloria that he wrote and produced a single for her – credited to Gloria Scott & The Tonettes – called ‘I Taught Him,’ which was released by Warner Bros in 1964. Gloria reveals that The Tonettes were none other than Stone, his sister Rose and cousin LaTanya. “They all backed me up, so that was very special. I was only seventeen,” she recalls. 

To promote the record, Gloria performed at the Cow Palace, a noted venue in Daly City, California, not far from San Francisco. “It was a big place where they had lots of concerts,” remembers Gloria. “My mom dropped me off there and was the only one in the family that came. It was a big show – Marvin Gaye and Betty Everett were on that. I didn’t want to sing there by myself so Sly, Rose and LaTanya backed me up.” 

Although ‘I Taught Him’ wasn’t a hit and was her only single for Warner Bros – though another track called ‘Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You’ was left in the can and was eventually released on the 1994 Ace Records’ compilation Precious Stone – a year later in 1965, Gloria joined a famous R&B revue as a background singer. At the time she was still in high school and was performing regularly at the Booker Washington Hotel in San Francisco. It was owned by Charles Sullivan, who also had a stake in the legendary Fillmore Auditorium, which later, at the end of the ‘60s, became a counterculture cauldron. 

Remembers Gloria: “I was introduced to him and he told me some people were coming to town and he would call me to audition for them.” Gloria didn’t think deeply about what he’d promised – assuming that he wouldn’t be true to his word – but was surprised when he called her to go to the Fillmore, where he introduced her to Ike & Tina Turner who were scheduled to perform there. “They were having a show that night and I actually got up during the show and sang (The Supremes’) ‘Come See About Me,’” says Gloria, who, emboldened by the fearlessness of youth, doesn’t recall being nervous. “I remember I wore a blue and black shiny outfit with some black suede high heel shoes,” she remembers. 

With Ike & Tina (Gloria far left)

After her audition, she was given the green light to join the revue as a probationary Ikette, Ike & Tina’s backing singers who had recorded some singles in their own right. (The original group was a trio but Ike Turner kept several versions of the group in play to cover recording sessions, TV shows and different live tours). Gloria travelled with the Turners’ retinue to Los Angeles that same night. “I remember they drove me in a big white Cadillac and we went to my mum and dad’s house in Santa Cruz where I said goodbye to them.” 

At first, Gloria didn’t perform but was instructed to watch Ike & Tina’s show from the side of the stage to learn the ropes. A little dispirited at not performing, she returned home after a month but was soon summoned to go on the road as an Ikette when the original Ikettes quit over money. “They took me on a Dick Clark tour (Clark was an influential American pop DJ and television personality). His tour had about eight tours on the road and all of a sudden I was on one of them.” 

Some might imagine that it was a glamorous life singing as an Ikette but the reality was very different. “It was hard, it really was,” discloses Gloria, who explains that Ike Turner’s tyrannical and controlling nature made her tenure with the revue challenging at times. “Ike was something else,” she laughs. “He was a bad boy. He could be fun at times, but mostly he was mean. I don’t know why he was so mean. He didn’t seem to have a conscience about how he treated people.”  

As an example of his callous nature, Turner would punish his minions financially for minor infractions, a trait he shared that other renowned soul music despot James Brown. “We were making $25 a night and Ike would always fine us $25,” she reveals. “If I had a string hanging off my dress, he’d fine everybody in the group. We had to look out for each other.”

Reflecting on her time as an Ikette, Gloria says: “We didn’t make much money and then we’d come home and we’d still be broke but I learned a lot and it was just a beginning.”  

It was Ike’s behavior, though, that prompted Gloria to suddenly quit the revue in 1966. “We finished a gig and were supposed to leave the next day for Houston, Texas,” she explains. “But we missed the bus so we had to fly there to get to the gig on time. I told Tina, ‘If Ike fines me and makes me pay my own way to fly on the plane, I’ll quit.’”

Ike was there when Gloria gave her ultimatum and his response was brutally blunt. Says Gloria: “As I was looking right at his face, he said, ‘Let the bitch quit.’ So I quit.” 

Gloria’s departure led to a fallow period for a few years, but she kept working under the radar, doing a few gigs in LA and San Francisco, some with the noted west cast bandleader Johnny Otis. Then, around 1972, she came into the orbit of a visionary 28-year-old writer-producer called Barry White, who was just beginning to make a big impression on the west coast music scene after he helmed girl group Love Unlimited’s hit single ‘Walkin’ InThe Rain With The One I Love,’ along with their debut album From A Girl’s Point Of View We Give To You … Love Unlimited.

Barry White

“When I met him, he was on his way up,” says Gloria. “He had not gotten to the top yet, but I knew he would. He carried himself in a big way.”

So, how did she meet him?  “A friend of mine, Sonny Chaney, who was my writing partner, knew him,” she discloses. “I was on the road doing some cover tunes and he said when you get back, I’m going to introduce you to someone. So, I got back home and he introduced me to Barry White. We were showing him our songs that we had written together, and Barry said to me, ‘I’m going to sign you up as an artist.’”

Gloria was shocked by his enthusiastic proposal and is still bemused by it today, 50 years later. “I don’t know what it was that made him do it,” she laughs. “I had no idea.”

But White obviously heard something in Gloria’s voice and signed her to White’s production company, Soul Unlimited, and then in 1973 produced her debut album What Am I Gonna Do, which was picked up by Casablanca Records, a new label begun the same year by music mogul Neil Bogart. The album featured White’s trademark widescreen production style, enveloping Gloria’s voice with lavish string charts that were written and conducted by his brilliant go-to arranger, Gene Page. 

“Barry was quite a producer,” states Gloria. “He just took it to another level. He was a real hard worker and I was amazed how he put as much energy into my album as he did with his own music.”

Her debut album’s title track was a minor US R&B hit, reaching No. 74, but sadly, it didn’t make a huge impact commercially. Even so, White and Gloria began to work on a second long-player for Casablanca and ahead of its release, the label issued a single called ‘Just As Long As We’re Together (In My Life There Will Be Another)’ in January 1975, which broke into the US R&B Top 20, peaking at No. 14 during a 14-week stay on the chart.  Says Gloria: “I remember when we were working on that song that Gene Page said, ‘Let’s get little Gloria Scott a hit,’ and he was so excited about it. I was so thankful that he wanted to help give me a hit.”

Gloria’s debut LP

But for reasons unknown to Gloria, the label’s enthusiasm waned and they canned her second album. Although she was still signed to White’s production company, she was left in limbo as his solo career took flight spectacularly. After treading water for a couple of years, Gloria got itchy feet. “I only had one more year left on my contract before it was up but I asked him for a release and he just said, okay,” she reveals.   

After that, she hooked up with the west coast producer, Hal Davis. “I used to do demos for him mostly and he was trying to get me a deal at Motown, but it never occurred,” says Gloria, who reveals that she met Stevie Wonder while working with Davis when he was looking for a replacement for one of the girl singers in his backing group Wonderlove. “He was looking for a soprano to take Deniece Williams’ place who had a very high voice and was really desperate. He liked my voice but I was not a soprano.” Gloria, reluctantly, turned Wonder down; she says that during the same period, she was also on the radar of The Three Degrees when they were looking for a new soprano singer. “They said they really liked me, but they knew that after a while I wouldn’t be able to carry those notes, ‘cos I could sing the parts but they would be too high and I would get hoarse.”

After that, in 1979, Gloria worked on ex-Supreme Mary Wilson’s self-titled first solo album for Motown, singing backing vocals.  “She was okay to work with, but I got bored really because I didn’t want to sing backgrounds after I recorded my solo album,” admits  Gloria. “I was really ready to move on with my solo career.” 

But as the ‘70s rolled inexorably into the ‘80s, her solo career lost momentum and in 1982, Gloria got a job singing background for the famous American rock singer, John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp, which came about via her friend and former Ikette, P. P. Arnold.  “He was looking for some background singers and P. P. wasn’t available so she asked him if I could do the gig. I liked ‘Hurt So Good’ and a couple of other songs he did but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. We worked a lot but it wasn’t the best gig I had.” 

With her career seemingly destined for the doldrums, in 1989 Gloria received an intriguing proposal, offering her an opportunity to work on the small island of Guam, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean. She didn’t hesitate to accept. “I got an invitation to sing at one of the hotels there and the contract was for four months. Then they extended it a couple of times, so I decided to stay there. The whole time I was there I did nothing but music.” 

Gloria stayed there for seven years, until her 50th birthday in 1996, returning home to reunite with her family that she sorely missed. Back in the US, she continued to find work as a singer, though her fans in Europe didn’t realise she was still active. “I never really quit singing, I just wasn’t in the limelight,” she says. “I opened up for this magician and I had two dancers, and then I sang on a boat for years and years. It was just mediocre gigs but at least I was doing something,” she says.

But while this was going on, her old Casablanca album was revered by soul fans in Europe and Japan, which Gloria was unaware of until a journalist tracked her down for a magazine interview.  “It was quite a surprise because I had no idea that I was so popular in Europe,” she says. That led her to connect with Dan Dombrowe, a German DJ, producer, soul music enthusiast and entrepreneur, who had been trying to track down Gloria for fifteen years. He founded the Baltic Soul Weekender, which began in 2007, and brought her to perform at the event the following year; since then, Gloria has been a regular at the weekender, appearing there eleven times during the next fourteen years, most recently in May 2022. 

“It was very encouraging to be back,” says Gloria, “ but I’m still looking forward to doing more with this album out now because once a year isn’t enough for me. I want to do more.”

Even though her career is gaining momentum again, not everything is hunky dory. Only two of her nine siblings are still alive. “I just lost a sister on Sunday,” she discloses. “My baby sister. So that’s been hard. We always talked about putting the Scott Sisters back together because we sang gospel but we broke up for a long time.” 

Gloria feels immense gratitude to be back in the limelight after many years in the wilderness, with her new album So Wonderful adding another fascinating chapter to her already storied career. “I’m just blessed,” she exclaims and reveals she is looking forward to performing in the UK, probably during the final months of 2022. 

As her new album So Wonderful reveals, she’s looked after her voice really well but admits she wants to increase her strength and stamina ahead of her UK visit. “I’m trying to get in better shape for the gigs at the end of the year as I haven’t been used to singing back-to-back or doing an hour show two or three nights in a row,” she states. “So I’m getting in shape for that. I’m looking forward to it.”

Gloria Scott’s new album So Wonderful is released by Acid Jazz on September 30th