Win a copy of “Playing Chess” on vinyl, featuring 11 covers from the classic Chess label, and read an interview with singer Elise LeGrow.
Goldmine Giveaway – Playing Chess vinyl album and Interview with Elise LeGrow
In 2003, Steve Greenberg, Michael Mangini and Betty Wright, along with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, produced the critically acclaimed debut album for Joss Stone, Soul Sessions, on the S-Curve label. Two years later, at the Grammy Awards, Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge performed a back-to-back tribute to Janis Joplin with “Cry Baby” / “Piece of my Heart.” The live recording reached the No. 32 position on Billboard’s Top 40, the sole U.S. entry for Britain’s Joss Stone. In 2016, Melissa Etheridge’s next tribute recording, was a tribute to the Stax record label called Memphis Rock and Soul, and Goldmine interviewed her in our November 2016 issue. Now the production team of Greenberg, Mangini and Wright are back as producers with an 11 song label tribute to Chicago’s Chess Records, home of Chuck Berry and many more artists, covering songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s, sung by Canada’s Elise LeGrow. Goldmine spoke with the S-Curve label singer about the project, working with soul singer Betty Wright and a surprise visit from Questlove.
By Warren Kurtz
Win a sealed vinyl copy of Elise LeGrow’s “Playing Chess” – see below for details.
GOLDMINE: Let’s highlight four songs from the first side of the new album and then four from the second side. One of the liveliest selections is your cover of the Radiants’ “Hold On,” with horns from the Dap-Kings, a melody that reminds me a bit of the Wildweeds’ “No Good to Cry,” and the female background vocal trio of Betty Wright, Aisha Wright and Treecee Lee.
Elise LeGrow: That is one of my favorites with a lot of energy behind it. I like the levity that it brings to the blues story.
GM: Floridian Betty Wright is with you on the recording as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of her first Top 40 single, “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do.” I am also a fan of her beautiful smooth soul song “I’ll Love You Forever,” the flip side of her Top 10 gold single “Clean Up Woman.”
EL: So many people know “Clean Up Woman” and I love many of her other songs as well. It was such an honor for her to be so involved, hands on and dedicated. She flew up to Toronto, weathering a Canadian winter in December, being a Miami woman. She and her daughters were the background vocalists and she was the vocal producer on the whole record. She gave me advice on vowel sounds, and on a singing issue I didn’t even know I had, with “r”s and “w”s so that I didn’t sound like Elmer Fudd.
GM: Well you certainly sounded great singing Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” Last year, when he passed away, we posted an article highlighting his flip sides and covers. I haven’t heard a cover so creative of a Chuck Berry song in 45 years since the Electric Light Orchestra’s eight minute version of “Roll Over Beethoven.” Your vocal clarity on “You Never Can Tell” allows the listeners to enjoy the lyrical poetry of “Pierre and his mademoiselle” and the Chicago imagery of the Roebuck furniture. Gone is the up tempo Fats Domino-style arrangement from the original recording and its replacement compliments the words so nicely.
EL: This one resonates with a lot of people. It is so radically different. Steve Greenberg actually wrote the melody forty years ago as a young man in a kibbutz in Israel, not knowing Chuck Berry’s music and brought that melody, chord changes and arrangement to the recording.
GM: From Israel and Canada you have brought something different and fresh to Chuck Berry’s music that he started with in East St. Louis, Illinois and took to Chess in Chicago.
EL: Before coming to Canada, my dad was from St. Louis and my grandfather grew up outside of Chicago. I have been a singing music from that era for a long time. Since my late teens I fell in love with jazz, while studying at the University of Toronto. Some of my favorites include “The Nearness of You” and “Under a Blanket of Blue,” a pair from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
GM: Speaking of duos, Johnnie and Joe’s “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea” reached No. 3 on Toronto’s CHUM AM radio in 1957. In addition to your vocals on this new version, Michael Mitchell’s piano and Jake Goldbas’ drums provide a great backdrop.
EL: Also, I like that the imagery is vivid with the wind and the sand, universal symbols in nature.
GM: The first side concludes with a song that has always had a bit of confusion in the title, “Searching for My Love,” originally by Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces, from 1966.
EL: Yes, I sing the lines “searching for my baby” three times more than “searching for my love” in the song. This was a favorite song to record, with a surprise ending with the line, “Give me one more try.” That is a different narrative where the couple exists but haven’t found each other’s depth.
GM: Now we turn the album over and the second side opens with a song that I learned when we were living in Chicago, listening to Dick Biondi’s oldies radio show in the early ‘90s “Friday Night ‘50s Party.” The song is “Long Lonely Nights,” originally by Lee Andrews and the Hearts.
EL: We spent three to four months researching songs and this one climbed to the top of the song choices. It struck a chord with me. When we were going to record it, Steve said about Lee Andrews (birth name Arthur Lee Andrew Thompson), “You know, that is Questlove’s dad. Maybe we can get him in the studio.” Steve called, and sure enough, Questlove came to the studio in Brooklyn to play drums on the track. He was close by, since he and the Roots are on the Tonight Show. We played it live together and it was like a dream. I looked over and there was Questlove on the drums with his pick in his hair.
GM: The sound of Sugar Pie DeSanto’s “Going Back Where I Belong” reminds me of Peggy Lee’s “Fever.”
EL: That arrangement almost has a burlesque feel. When we do it live or on a television show like I did in March in Berlin, with fewer musicians, it takes on a different backdrop.
GM: Etta James would have been 80 on January 25th of this year. Many know her recording of “At Last.” Beach music fans know “Tell Mama.” The team must have dug deep to find a song that wasn’t one of her thirty plus Top 100 entries with “Can’t Shake It.” Your playful rendition reminds me of Rickie Lee Jones’ “Chuck E’s in Love.”
EL: I enjoy the horns segments in the recording, which is fun and bouncy.
GM: You conclude the album nicely with your version of “Sincerely” from the doo-wop group, the Moonglows.
EL: That was Steve’s choice for an album closer and one I am sure we’ll do in concert. We’re playing Germany in May, Canada in June and July so far, and more North America dates to follow.
To win a sealed copy of Elise LeGrow’s “Playing Chess” vinyl album, all you have to do is put your email address in the box below by May 31, 11:59 p.m. You will immediately be entered in the Giveaway and as a bonus you will receive Goldmine’s informative weekly eNewsletter (collecting news/tips and exclusive articles and interviews with your favorite classic artists). We will randomly draw winners from the entrants. We have two copies of these vinyl albums to give away, so your chances are doubled.