Christine Ohlman, the Beehive Queen of blue-eyed rock & soul, pays homage to Dusty Springfield, one of her greatest influences, as we approach the 20th anniversary of Dusty’s death (3/2/99)
Dusty, oh Dusty. Where art thou? Mother Mary O’Brien, sister of the dust, sister of our hearts. Of course, we know where thou art….dust to dust….gone these twenty years. But the voice, the style, the elegance, the depth. Wherefore art thou?
When I first heard you and your brother Tom’s version of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles,” your voice peeking out from behind the countrified harmonies of The Springfields, my ears stood at attention. That Voice! Husky/sweet, so full of yearning, so dreamily detached yet so commanding, so in-the-moment, so OWNING that moment. Dusty, oh, Dusty…you had it. You had chops, yes, and heart—but most of all, you had soul. God….you had soul, and you would go on to define “soul” for a whole slice of the female side of the industry for as long as you lived—and far beyond—from Lulu to Kiki Dee to Adele. Even Aretha, meeting you in an elevator at Atlantic Records after “Son Of A Preacher” was released (The Queen of Soul had declined the song) would utter a long, drawn-out, appreciative, “Girrrrrllllll!!!!”So Aretha knew. The whole wide world knew. And, let’s tell it, cross the “color line” you did, with verve and grace—in both your heart, and in your art. Aided by your dearest friend Vicki Wickham, over numerous hostings and appearances on “Ready Steady Go,” you helped welcome the entire Motown roster to the UK. I adore your marvelous, loose-as-a-goose spin through “Wishin’ And Hopin’” with Martha & The Vandellas in 1965. As you and Miss Reeves giggle and sway like two long-lost sisters, the Vandellas sing along gamely, while eyeing the proceedings with more than a touch of wonder.
You didn’t cross over in the cover-band way that the boy bands did. There were no covers of songs like “Chains” and “Anna” (Beatles), “Can I Get A Witness” (Stones), and “Go Now” by Denny Laine & The Moody Blues. (If you’ve never heard Bessie Banks’ righteous original, dig it here: )
Not to take anything away from these genre-crossing efforts, but your crossing-over went much, much deeper, I always thought. There were too many newly-fabulous songs being written just for you, and your task, and life’s work, was to fashion something so special—the soul of a woman laid bare in a pure pop format.
Dusty…your hands. Let’s talk about your hands. I know you studied stagecraft at the feet of the well-coached Diana Ross, but was there anyone in the British Invasion era who threw their arms open as wide, whose hands so beckoned the listener into the stories, whose love was so clearly shown in those hands? Yours was an organic, pure desire to embellished the story physically. Adele, Adele, you surely were watching…and learning…..
Dusty, oh, Dusty. You are passion made perfect.
Dusty….your sense of history. Into each elegant, gold-standard performance, you packed a wealth of it, drawing from the well again and again. Billie Holiday’s moans in “When I said, I neeeeee-ded you.” Dinah Washington’s pristine-but-sassy elocution in “All I See Is You.” The power and semi-operatic majesty of Mahalia Jackson in “Losing You.” And when you went to Memphis, you learned from (and honored) the wide world of Southern Soul, while—always the discerning thief—taking inspiration from Carole King’s soulful songwriter’s recording of “Some of Your Lovin’” and from Jerry Butler’s 1964 original of Randy Newman’s “I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore.”
Dusty….finally, your style. The beautiful gowns, the coif, the amazing makeup. Makeup to shield you, yes—but I only knew that later. I learned of your struggles, your need, your insecurity (how could one so untouchably fine be that?, I wondered). And it only made me love you more. You owned my devotion then, ever more deeply.
So is it any wonder that you live on in my own singer’s heart? Dusty, oh, Dusty, I know wherefore thou art….you’re in every note I warble, every story I tell.
You are soul—so lived-in, so naturally gorgeous.
Dusty, oh, Dusty. You are passion made perfect.
THE BEEHIVE QUEEN’S TOP TEN DUSTY AND WHY….
1. Losing You – Pathos made soulfully real, and it’s live…
2. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me – The ultimate in technique, displayed with grit and true heart. Elvis took it home in his own way, years later…
3. Breakfast In Bed – Well, I have to claim personal ownership of this, since I have sung it numerous times with Donnie Fritts, its co-writer (along with the great Eddie Hinton), in Muscle Shoals. Seen here is the very first time I coaxed Donnie to sing it live…
But Dusty’s is Southern Soul in action, and a pure inspiration for me…
4. Some Of Your Lovin’ – based on Carole King’s soulful writers’ 45, with so much soul of Dusty’s very own…
6. Son Of A Preacher – Listen to Dusty, Reggie Young, and Jerry Wexler turn the world of Southern Soul upside down.
7. All I See Is You – so elegant, so complex… Dusty nails every part of it, here in a 1967 live clip from her British TV series
8. Where Is A Woman To Go – on Later with Jools Holland, June 1995, she crosses over into the territory staked out by Bonnie Bramlett, in a moment that is so beautifully heartbroken.…
9. What Do You Do When Love Dies – released as a single in 1971, this was later revealed to be an outtake from the 1968 Dusty In Memphis sessions.
10. I Only Want To Be With You – perhaps I saved the best for last. Dusty matches Ivor Raymonde’s soaring arrangement in intensity, note for note, and sounds the call for legions of blue-eyed soul queens to follow.
Currently on YouTube: Just Dusty: The Real Dusty Springfield