Rochelle Fleming of the 1970s group, First Choice talks about the Disco years, her favorite songs and the Philly Sound. She is interviewed by DiscoMusic.com member, Dayna Newman who gets some great insight into this very talented woman.
Rochelle Flemming interview by DiscoMusic.com member Dayna Newman
Rochelle Fleming, thank you so much for being here and doing this interview with me. I just got off the phone with Taana Gardner who called to tell me, Happy Birthday! So you're one of my birthday presents today. I told Taana I was interviewing you today and she wanted me to tell you hello.
Rochelle Flemming: Oh my goodness, Happy Birthday Dayna, and please tell Taana I said hello as well. How's she doing?
Miss Taana is good and still crazy LOL. She called to tell me what she wrote on my FB wall for my birthday so I could laugh. She wrote "LOL LOL LOL little black girl stuck in white skin" (both of us laughing). She knows me too well, we're like sisters.
Rochelle, the first thing I want to ask is how did you and the girls of First Choice meet and get together?
Rochelle Flemming: Oh wow, okay, this is like my favorite story. First of all, we all live in the same area. When we first started, we had just graduated junior high school which goes up to the 9th grade and then we all went to the same high school because we were all music majors. It was Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, after we got into Overbrook, we started doing a lot of talent shows and we were winning them. I don't remember us ever losing one. We were called the Debanettes so after a while we got to thinking, and our families were very supportive.
We got bold and go to the radio station in Philadelphia. WDAS was an AM station at the time and we were going to let them know we could sing and needed help so we went and Bogarted "laughing." Us, these little tenth graders "Bogarted" into Georgie Woods who is a well known prominent DJ here in Philly. He got so many groups started here, groups like The Stylistics, Blue Magic, The Delphonics... There were so many wonderful groups that he got managers for here in Philly. He's no longer living as he died a few years back, but he became such an icon for First Choice and so many other groups from Philly so we told him we could sing and we were in his little office.
I was a huge fan, and still am, of Aretha franklin so we did a lot of her songs. We did Say a Little Prayer and a couple of other songs, but before we could finish he said OMG you guys can really sing. We said WE KNOW! "both laughing" Child please, we were bold and strong back then. Georgie Woods said ok, then I'm going to introduce you to a couple of writers I know and one writer is Norman Harris and the other is Allen Felder. And that is the history of First Choice. So Norman Harris and Allen Felder became, years later, they're still playing Doctor Love, Double Cross, Newsy Neighbors, Smarty Pants, The Player, It's Not Over... This is all Norman and Allen's work.
We didn't have a manager at the time we met Norman and Allen, but they knew someone who could help us and would probably be good as a manager and we met Stan Watson. He was called Stan "the man" Watson. He's still kicking around living in Philly and I still speak to him maybe once every so often just to let him know that I'm thinking about him and wishing him well. After we got in touch with Stan he came up to my home where I reside to this day. It's my mother and father's home. I'm like the baby of seven children, the home was left to me and I got married about seven years ago.
I know, I saw that ring girl. We women don't miss that kind of stuff. "both laughing".
Rochelle Flemming: My husband does like sheet rock and stuff. That's his trade, besides being a drummer, he is was what you call, an extra drummer for The Village People. We reside in the house today, he remodeled it and the family still comes over. I'm very much a large part of my family as I have no children. Anyway, Stan Watson came to my house along with Carl Helm who is another DJ in Philly. They sat in my mom's living room and First Choice started to wail and he said, 'that's it, I'm signing you guys.' Our parents had to sign for us because we were under-age and the rest is history.
How did you get named First Choice?
Rochelle Flemming: We were all in Stan's office in Center City. We went in and he said, we need a new name girls and we said, we don't know what we want to be called. Then all of a sudden, it seemed we all said, First Choice, at the same time so that's what we stuck with. Nothing dramatic about who got the name, everybody collectively said First Choice. It was unbelievable.
A member from DiscoMusic.com wants to know if Stan Watson was as moody as Gamble and Huff was said to be?
Rochelle Flemming: No, no, not at all. He was like our father on the road. I remember more about us all laughing sometimes till we fell down. So no, he wasn't moody.
Who are some of you're musical inspirations?
Rochelle Flemming: Wow, I would have to say the very first person would have to be my mom and my family. I come from a lot of singers, my mother, her mother and her mother and all my mom's sisters, my sisters, my brothers, my nephews and nieces... Everybody has really good voices and talent. God gives it and it trickles down.
My mother was so supportive since I was a little girl. We would be hanging up clothes in the back yard and I would be handing her the clothes pins and she would be fussing at me because I'm singing in each clothes pin like it's a little microphone."both laughing and there's a sweet nostalgic understanding that transpires" Girl I would do that with everything: a spoon, a knife, anything.
Girl, I did it too, only I couldn't sing."lol"
Rochelle Flemming: When I got to be around twelve I LOVED Aretha Franklin. I've never met her. I'm funny about meeting her because I think of her so highly and I want to keep her just as she is in my mind.
I would be hearing her stuff and I would say, 'mama I wanna be just like Aretha Franklin' so I use to mimic her and sing her stuff to a Tee. Then when I got to be around fourteen or fifteen that's when I wanted to form a group. Actually, it was four of us in the beginning: Annette and I are the main originals, but yeah, then when First Choice signed a record contract that's when I got into Gladys Knight and I'm just in awe of Stevie Wonder. Stevie would tell me, 'You're a singing little girl' and I'm saying 'NO you're the singer.'
Who are some of the artists that you toured with that you really had fun with?
Rochelle Flemming: Oh child let me see, The SOS Band. We did the USO tour with the SOS Band and that was a lot of fun, a lot of fun. I've toured with The Village People, Yeah they were great, ahhh we had a ball. First Choice didn't tour a lot, but we did a lot of shows. The Jackson Five, The Stylistics, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes,The Delphonics, Sister Sledge... Kathy Sledge and I are very good friends I know Kathy very well. Also, gosh so many, Evelyn "Champagne" King, The Temptations...
Did you ever work with Sylvester?
Rochelle Flemming: No, but I got to meet him. Girl please, talk about fun, and I worked with The Weather Girls after Sylvester passed away and girl they had me rolling. They were so funny. Martha's (Martha Wash) a good friend of mine also and Loleatta– Loleatta Holloway, girl, that's my buddy, we're each others spies so if I go away and I'm overseas and I hear something mixed from Loleatta that she might not be aware of, I let her know and she does the same thing for me. Jocelyn Brown is another friend of mine
Girl, Loleatta is a scream. She hates interviews, so I called three times to interview her and she was like "I don't feel like it" and I said, Loleatta girl, let's just talk a bit and she opened up and I got a good ole interview from Miss Loleatta.
She's so bad.
Girl, we were hollering just like this.
Rochelle Flemming: She cracks me up because when we do gigs together, she won't bring her backup singers and she say's, girl, you know I gotta use your backup singers and I say, EXCUSE ME, but you got to pay 'em, they ain't singing for free. Loleatta ain't no joke, she's my girlfriend.
Out of all your recordings do you have a favorite or one that has special meaning?
Rochelle Flemming: I have about three favorites but Doctor Love has to be the first one then Armed and Extremely Dangerous because it was our first hit then it's a toss up between Love Thang and Double Cross.
Listen to Doctor Love by First Choice
Listen to Armed and Extremely Dangerous by First Choice
When I was little, I would be in my room and I would sing, Armed and Extremely Dangerous and other songs. I'm trans-gendered so I wasn't considered a little girl at that time, so I had to hide it or get in trouble, even beat. I'm tired of being ashamed of who I am because people are so ignorant. It's time they are ashamed of who they are.
Rochelle Flemming: I want you to know, I find it so caring and loving to hear people say that about my music and what it's done for them. The gay community and the DJs have kept me alive and I will say this in ANY INTERVIEW it doesn't matter, girl, look they have kept me alive. I work hard for them because they work hard for me, the DJs they keep playing my stuff like it's brand new. I am so grateful and thankful for the gay community and the DJs. I always make a point to say that because they totally kept me alive. I mean, I will do clubs to this day and they will HOLLA like I'm coming out brand new. Listen, so when I hear you say what you said about how you had the sex change and how you were into my music and thinking that it gave you some comfort does my heart good. Let No Man Put Asunder wasn't even a single they made it a single and called it It's Not Over that's how much they would do stuff with First Choice.
Listen to Let No Man Put Asunder by First Choice
I grew up in the Gay community because no one else accepted me even though I was a woman internally I was not accepted as one at that time and they embraced me. They're my heart.
Rochelle Flemming: They are the best people, I love them to death. I have a lot of gay DJ friends and all they have to do is call me: "yo Ro, I'd like to book you..." and I'd say, no problem, let me check it out cause at the time I didn't have a manager after Stan. So many wishy-washy managers, I got fed up for it for a minute and then I met George last year.
George is GREAT. I can't imagine anyone managing you any better. Kudos to him and you for having him.
Rochelle Flemming: He has done more for me in these few little months. It's only been since April.
Will there ever be a place like the Paradise Garage again?
Rochelle Flemming: GIRL, listen, now overseas has large huge venues that has to be the biggest venue I have played in a long time. People couldn't even get in. People wrapped around the corner. Now, Larry Levan, I talk about him all the time, all the time. He's just the best-the best. It's overwhelming.
What does or did Disco mean to you?
Rochelle Flemming: Actually, when Disco started and I was in it, I didn't really know what it was, not really. Later of course, I found out what it was, but I came to believe that Disco to me, was a time where people could just really let go , anything goes, sing till you're hearts content, dance till you can't dance no more, just drop. No one could care less about what you where wearing in the club, it was just about having a good time. People tend to say Disco was this, and disco was that, Disco died, but it never did. It's just house music.
Like Love Itch, But Love itch had that freestyle vibe to it.
Rochelle Flemming: That was the first time that we did something like that actually and it did have a freestyle vibe to it. Actually, I didn't learn that song like I normally would learn songs in my home or from writers, I learned that song in the studio. Learned it and recorded it the same day.
Listen to Love Itch by Rochelle Fleming
How funny, Loleatta told me the same thing about Crash Goes Love, must be a freestyle thing. LOL.
Our resident Radio personality and DJ from DiscoMusic.com, Stephen L Freeman, wanted to know if you have ever recorded anything under an alias before "that's how much he loves you" -ha ha. He wants MORE!
Rochelle Flemming: No, everything I have recorded has been Rochelle Fleming.
Another DiscoMusic.com member wanted to know if you had a favorite MFSB musician, and did you watch them work?
Rochelle Flemming: I liked all of them. It was pretty much a closed studio back then. But, first they would record the rhythm section, you know the guitar, bass, drums and the keyboard, then they would give me my copy of the track only, and I would learn the song and I would put the lead on a rough lead and I would be in the background with the girls, but the lead would be just a rough. Then they would put the strings and the horn. After they did that, I would come back and do another lead. That's how I did it. They kept a lot of my leads I did about five or six leads on each of the songs, this is the reason "I never knew this" But it's the reason I was doing all that is because they're mixing my voice in everything now.
Of the new crop of entertainers today, who do you think has raw talent and isn't just a studio creation?
Rochelle Flemming: Alicia Keys, because she's a composer which is fabulous because composing is hearing and she's gonna be around a long time. Also singers like Jill Scott, Fantasia. I like voices like mine... Angie Stone, I'm crazy about Erika Badu. I like the rawness of these ladies.
Name some of you're favorite venues.
Rochelle Flemming: The Paradise Garage–of course, Studio 54, The Apollo Theatre is my all time favorite, The Red Parrot, Lincoln Hill. So many I can't remember , Oh The Copa Cabana in New York, that's the first time I met Stevie Wonder and he was singing Armed and Extremely Dangerous along with us. We opened for Richard Pryor also worked with Deododa and Helen Reddy.
How was working on Soul Train?
Rochelle Flemming: Oh, it was a lot of fun. It was different, the kids were our age and dancing everywhere. Don Cornelious was so nice too. The day of the recording and even the evening, I remember leaving and dancing to the car. Stan and Don Cornelious were friends. We did so many shows, Dance Fever, Midnight Special, Top of the Pops, Dick Clark was so nice too.
Another question from a DiscoMusic.com member is Did you prefer working with Harrison and Watson, Dean and Glover or Baldersson and Tom Moulton?
Rochelle Flemming: Oh my gosh, Tom's my buddy and I adore him. I would have to say Harrison and Watson and of course Tom Moulton. Tom would come in that studio, we did a lot of free stuff with him, nothing was planned, he would say, "Ro go for it." I've done projects with him as early as two years ago, so we stay close.
Creative man, very creative. How does today's dance music stack up against the old school dance music in you're opinion?
Rochelle Flemming: Well, I'll tell ya, You could really dance back in the day, it was so soulful. People were enjoying dancing. They do the same thing. It's just very different. I just think people enjoyed themselves much more back in the day, at least I did. I still have a ball when I dance.
What's you're favorite perfume? Im going to get flack for this girl. LOL, but HEY enquiring minds of the ladies want to know.
Rochelle Flemming: My signature scent is called Loletta. It's a French perfume. Loleatta Holloway's gonna fall out when she hears this "laughing" but it's not spelled like her name.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
Rochelle Flemming: We're working on a couple of projects at the moment and there may even be a book in the works!
Well people can never get enough in print about the Disco era so sign me up for a copy girl, I know it will be a trip and very eventful. Thank you again for this, it was a pleasure and you're a delight.
Rochelle Flemming: I enjoyed it and thank you so much for enjoying my music and just keep hollering at a girl, and a girl will holler back sweetheart.
Rochelle Flemming Related Links and Recommended Listening
- Rochelle Flemming @ Amazon.com
- First Choice @ Amazon.com
- Rochelle Flemming (Official artist website)