Gloria Gaynor, the first Queen of Disco, talks with DiscoMusic.com. From her early days right on up to her newest Logic/BMG release Gloria talks about her singing career.
Gloria Gaynor interview written by Bernard F. Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
Gloria Gaynor and her music continue to thrill fans everywhere as evidenced by the following: It's a rainy night as we get out of the car and make our way over to the entrance of a local club hosting a retro night. Once inside the sounds of today's House music seem to come from everywhere and we're saying to ourselves, "where's the Disco music?" "Where's everybody?" Turns out that the main dance floor-featuring Disco was in a larger room further back. When we make our way over we discover that the place is packed-all two floors worth. Everyone is on the floor dancing to the DJs' mix of classics. Some are doing the Hustle while others are freestyling and then the piano intro to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" comes on and everybody starts to cheer and yell. Hundreds of partygoers start singing in unison to Gloria Gaynor's lyrics while throwing their hands in the air and having a great time.
It was a sight that had to be seen and one that I mentioned to Ms Gaynor during our interview for this article. She was laughing as I told her the story and also very humble about the whole thing. Gloria Gaynor tells me that it's not unusual for people to react that way when she performs "I Will Survive" on stage. She says, "'I Will Survive' is a very empowering song and one that many can relate to." In fact the song was born out of Ms Gaynor's struggle to do just that after having an accident on stage in 1978. Critics and others in the music business were heard saying, "The Queen of Disco is dead." Well, here we are in the 21st century just a few days away from Gloria Gaynor's newest album release "I Wish You Love" on Logic/BMG Records. She has proven that she indeed has survived.
Gloria Gaynor's Beginnings
Gloria Gaynor was born on Sept. 7, 1949 in Newark, New Jersey which is just a twenty-minute train ride from New York City. In fact, it's this proximity to New York that Gloria says helped her singing career. When asked what she wanted to be as a child she replied, "a singer or teacher." She tells a story of how a five year-old boy told her that she had changed his life because she had taught him how to write his name-this was when she was only seven. Teaching however eventually gave way to singing a year after high school when she joined the Soul Messengers in 1965 and that culminated with her being discovered in a club on New York's 45th Street called The Wagon Wheel. There she would do four or five sets a night of about forty minutes apiece singing everything from Soul and R & B to Broadway material like "The Impossible Dream." A producer from Columbia Records caught one of her shows and a meeting was soon arranged for her to meet the label's president.
Gloria Gaynor, Clive Davis and Columbia Records
Gloria Gaynor would be signed by Clive Davis to the Columbia label where she recorded "Honey Bee' which many would later term, "the Disco national anthem." Davis ended up leaving Columbia, but Gaynor's contract was not up yet and now no one at Columbia was interested in taking up a project that had been started by someone else. Gaynor says, "Bruce Greenberg from MGM heard 'Honey Bee.' He liked the song and he liked my voice so he bought my contract from Columbia. That's how I made it to MGM Records." Polydor Records soon bought MGM, which is where she stayed for some of her greatest hits.
Tom Moulton, Meco Monardo and Never Can Say Goodbye
Gloria Gaynor's first album with MGM / Polydor was 1974's "Never Can Say Goodbye" which included her first song "Honey Bee." The title cut was a remake of the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye" and became the very first number one song on the Billboard Disco Action Charts when it first was published in 1975. The album was produced by Meco Monardo of Disco Corporation of America (DCA). He had also produced for Carol Douglas and Don Downing during this time. I asked Gaynor how Meco became her producer and she replies, "Meco Monardo was partners with my then manager, Jay Ellis. Harold Wheeler and Tony Bongiovi also with Meco, were other producers we used." She goes on to say, "I thought Meco was a great producer because the way that he produced is a little bit different than the way they produce now. The first thing that he would do was record a rhythm section-just the basic guitar, bass, drum and keyboards and then he would bring me in for what they called a 'scratch vocal.' He would have the background done around what I had intended to sing so they wouldn't be in my way and then he would bring me back in to do the complete vocals. He then would do what they called 'sweetening' with the horns and strings that complimented everything else." From her descriptions it was obvious that the recording session was a very time consuming endeavor, but well worth the extra effort.
Being that she began her career in the Disco realm I asked Gloria Gaynor if she considered herself a Disco singer and the response I got was, "I never considered myself a Disco artist. I considered myself a singer who had gotten her success by using Disco music as a medium-as a genre at the time. I never considered myself really a Disco singer because my records always had several rhythm and blues, Disco-of course, but I always did ballads as well. And as I was only singing to a rhythm section and all that other stuff was around me-I was a singer who sang with Disco music-was accompanied by Disco music."
As we continue talking about "Never Can Say Goodbye" Gaynor says that she along with Meco came up with the idea of the continuous segue between "Never Can Say Goodbye, Reach out I'll Be There, Honey Bee" during a brainstorming session. She doesn't remember now who first came up with it, but they both agreed and it was given to the great Disco remixer Tom Moulton. Tom was responsible for making the concept work and it became a Disco classic at almost nineteen minutes in length. Gaynor's reasoning for the continuous flow of music was that she loved to dance, but hated to be restrained by a three and a half-minute format. She also added that it gave the DJ a chance to get out of his cubicle to which we both laughed. Other tracks from the Meco years included "Casanova Brown" which was hugely popular.
Gloria Gaynor and the Making of "I Will Survive"
Despite the fact that Meco produced her first three albums which included "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Experience Gloria Gaynor" and "I've Got You." Gaynor subsequently had her next albums produced by Dino Fekaris. This was firstly because Gaynor left her management, who were partners with Meco and secondly due to Polydor and her new management's decision to go with Dino. This new venture was to yield the Grammy winning 1978 Disco classic "I Will Survive" (Polydor PDD-504) which was written by Freddie Perren of Grand Slam Productions.
What some may not know is that "I Will Survive" was the "B" side to a more pop sounding song called "Substitute." Gaynor explains that the head of Polydor thought "Substitute" would receive more radio and club play and despite her and her husband's objection no one else at Polydor wanted to go against the boss. Not only did Gloria Gaynor and her husband know that "I Will Survive" was going to be a hit song, but they knew that everyone was going to be able to relate to it and felt it had "timeless" lyrics. They wanted "I Will Survive" for the "A" side, but since they couldn't convince Polydor of that, Gloria and her husband decided to put it in her live shows as the last song so that everyone would remember it. They also took copies of the record and brought it to such notable New York DJs as Richie Kazar of Studio 54 who immediately loved and played it to a packed dance floor. Richie in turn passed it on to other club DJs and it eventually wound up being played on New York's most popular Disco radio station, WKTU which was then known as "Disco 92."
It's important to note that just before "I Will Survive" was recorded, Gloria Gaynor had suffered a very serious fall on stage. She woke up the next morning in the hospital to discover that she was paralyzed from the waist down. The accident almost left her permanently paralyzed. She told me that in order to record and perform she had to wear a brace after much surgery which made it very painful to walk let alone perform. During this time Gaynor explains, "I began to have a spiritual awakening and decided that I wanted to have more purpose to my singing than people just having a good time. Not that there was anything wrong with people having a good time-and I still want people to have a good time with my music, but I wanted something they could take away from the clubs with them That's why I chose "I Will Survive" and I wanted to continue as often as possible to give them songs that would have positive impact on their lives."
It is also at this time that some were heralding the death of her career with lines such as "the queen of Disco is dead." She says, "There were so many people saying the queen is dead Saying that I was never going to make it, I was never going to come back into the business and that it was all over for me and they made me determined that it was not going to happen to me." I asked Gaynor if anyone in the music industry helped and she emphatically states, "No, it was just me, my family and my husband who was just my boyfriend at the time and my faith." It was at this time that Gaynor also married her present husband just after the release of "I Will Survive" in October of 1978. The empowering lyrics in "I Will Survive" were very fitting indeed and a theme she stays with till this day. Another standout cut from the Fekaris and Perren partnership was the single "Anybody Wanna Party" (PDD-507) from the 1978 album "Love Tracks."
Gloria Gaynor's New Direction
In 1981 the production team of Gene McFadden and John Whitehead of "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" fame took Gloria Gaynor in a new direction on the "I Kinda Like Me" album for Polydor. With the so-called Disco backlash, Gaynor was returning to a more R & B and pop radio sound and hoping to have more crossover appeal. The single from this album was "Let's Mend What's Been Broken" (Polydor PDD-517 DJ), but it didn't really make any lasting impressions on the dancing public.
Still in the empowering mode, Gloria Gaynor signed to Silver Blue Records in 1983, which ironically was a subsidiary of her first label, Columbia Records/CBS. While there she teamed up with producer Joel Diamond and released the album "I Am Gloria" containing the singles "I Am What I Am" which was the hit from the Broadway musical "La Cage Aux Folles" and "Strive." "I Am Gloria" was her last U. S. release until 1996. After this release the Disco backlash was in full effect in the U. S. so Gaynor started spending a lot of time in Europe both performing and recording as many as eight albums. For whatever reason the records were not released in the United States so many of her fans lost track of her. Since Polydor didn't want to release a "best of" compilation she decided to release an album called "I'll Be There" in 1996 which consisted of remakes of some of her greatest songs. No sooner did they put this out that Polydor finally released a Gloria Gaynor greatest hits compact disc, but without her knowledge. In fact she tells me that it was a friend of hers who discovered the Polydor CD while shopping one day. Gaynor says, "Polydor released that 'Best of Gloria Gaynor' CD and that really infuriated me. Number one: they didn't really promote it at all and number two: they released it at the same time that Diana Ross' 'I Will Survive' was released and on MY best of Gloria Gaynor was a SLAMMING version of 'Stop In the Name of Love.' Can you imagine without my ever saying a word-without Diana Ross ever saying a word what a field day DJs would have had with that? How could they (Polydor) just put it out there? Nobody knows that. I didn't even know about it. A friend called me and told me she was in the store buying albums and there it was.
Gloria Gaynor In the New Millennium
We move forward a few years to 2000 when Gaynor was in Germany doing some vocal work when Logic Records got a whiff of it. It turns out that the king of Electronic Disco, Giorgio Moroder was also working on an album of older material and they wanted to have a well-known Disco artist putting the finishing vocal touches on it to make it new material. Gloria Gaynor did the vocals for one of the tracks called "The Last Night' and when Logic/BMG heard it they said, "she still has it." That ultimately led to her covering Tata Vega's 1979 hit "Just Keep Thinking About You." On the strength of that one single Logic and BMG committed to releasing Gaynor's first new U. S. album in fifteen years called "I Wish You Love" which will hit the streets on September 10, 2002. Already it is receiving a lot of airplay on New York radio as well as the clubs. Gaynor has managed to keep her voice and fine tune it to today's dance audience. It appears as though a new generation of listeners will become acquainted with Gloria Gaynor's repertoire. Gaynor states that she felt confident with the direction her new producers were taking her. She believes with all her heart that her new single will become a hit if given the proper airplay.
Seeing as we are talking about her current release we delve into today's music. Gaynor's take on it is that "it's like every other music from every other time-it's indicative of the time. A lot of it is disposable a lot of it is good it's all a sign of the times. Everything today is not garbage-the public is not completely stupid. And although they only get to chose from what they are given they still know what's good and what's not." Wrapping things up I asked Gaynor what were her musical influences and she mentions: Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Sarah Vaughn, Barbra Streisand. Gaynor attributes many of the older artists to her parent's influence whereas Streisand and Gaye were from herself. As for current artists, she says that she enjoys a lot of Gospel music (Mary-Mary, Faith Evans), but also listens to a lot of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and many others. As far as her favourite songs of all time she tells me that for dancing it's "Brick House" by The Commodores and to perform is "I Will Survive."
Gloria Gaynor's message to all her longtime fans at DiscoMusic.com is, "Thank you for hanging in there and I am back!" I'd like to thank Gloria Gaynor for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with me. We wish her the best with the new album "I Wish You Love."
Interview written and conducted by Bernard F. Lopez (August 30, 2002)
Copyright © 2002 by Bernard F. Lopez All rights reserved
- Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive Anthology
- Gloria Gaynor – (Listing of singles and albums)
- Gloria Gaynor – I Wish You Love (Logic / BMG)