Martha Reeves - vocals; Lesley Gore - vocals; Mary Wells - vocals; Shirley Alston Reeves - vocals; Freda Payne - vocals; Brenda Lee - vocals; Ronnie Spector - vocals; Grace Slick - MC, vocals; Belinda Carlisle -MC, vocals; Band: Jimmy Vivino - guitar & musical director; Clarence Clemons - sax; Background vocals: unknown; Additional musicians: unknown
Please note that this mini-set was part of a larger concert meant to be heard as a whole. You can hear the entire "Legendary Ladies of Rock & Roll" concert presented as a Concert Vault playlist.
In 1987, a series of New York City concerts were staged, filmed and recorded showcasing some of the most legendary artists of various genres of popular music, from vintage rock 'n' roll to reggae. These productions were later aired as specials on HBO and portions broadcast nationwide on The King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show. One of the more interesting concerts in this series focused on popular female vocalists of the early 1960s and was billed as "The Legendary Ladies of Rock & Roll." Presented at New York City's Latin Quarter on February 19, 1987, and featuring a backing band led by guitarist Jimmy Vivino (that also boasted Bruce Springsteen saxman, Clarence Clemons), this event presented back-to-back performances by a very impressive roster of talent.
From Girl Group leaders like Shirley Alston Reeves (the Shirelles) and Ronnie Spector (the Ronettes) to Motown powerhouses Mary Wells and Martha Reeves, in addition to greats like Brenda Lee, Freda Payne, and Lesley Gore, this night harkened back to the multi-artist tours of the early 1960s, with each artist belting out their biggest hits in rapid succession, but, unlike the early 1960s, with far more advanced sound systems and much higher production values.
Co-hosted by Masters of Ceremonies, Grace Slick and Belinda Carlisle, both of whom join in the fun, this night was a fast paced celebration of the women who helped shape not only rock 'n' roll but also many genres of popular music, and the night is packed with unforgettable hits from beginning to end.
The festivities begin with Belinda Carlisle and Grace Slick welcoming the audience and enticing them with all the legendary names that will hit the stage over the next hour, beginning with Motown legend Martha Reeves. With her brassy gospel-reared voice, Reeves gets things immediately rocking with two Martha & the Vandellas signature hits, "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave," which initially helped break the group from the confines of background singer status, and the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic, "I'm Ready for Love," which became another smash hit in 1966.
Next up, Belinda Carlisle introduces the vocal sensation Lesley Gore to the stage, who at age 16 in 1963, catapulted to stardom with "It's My Party," which kicks off her set. As undeniably infectious as that song is, it's Gore's second number that truly stands out as she delivers her smoldering ode to self-respect and independence, "You Don't Own Me."
Things kick up another notch after Grace Slick welcomes Motown powerhouse, Mary Wells to the stage. One of the most influential of all the Motown singers, Wells was equally responsible for defining the sound of Motown, as were the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Miracles. Wells had a long string of hits, many written by Miracles frontman Smokey Robinson, and two prime examples are presented here, first with her signature song from 1964, the calypso-styled soul of "My Guy," followed by the Grammy-nominated smash hit from 1962, "You Beat Me to the Punch." Cited as being the Beatles' favorite American singer, Wells would be invited to open for group, providing her the distinction of not only being the first "Queen of Motown," but the first Motown artist to perform in the UK.
Wells is a tough act to follow, but Shirley Alston Reeves, former frontwoman of the legendary Shirelles is up to the task. She begins with what remains the Shirelles biggest hit, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the first of two #1 singles for the group. This is followed by the very first song from the very first Shirelles LP and the title song in fact, "Tonight's The Night." Written by Reeves herself in collaboration with Luther Dixon, this is followed by the first of the big collaborations of the night, as both Carlisle and Slick join Reeves onstage, followed by everyone on the bill. When all are assembled (including Clarence Clemons who gets a solo spot) they break into a rousing rendition of the Shirelles' other #1 hit, the career defining "Soldier Boy."
Jumping ahead to the dawn of the 1970s, next up is soul-diva Freda Payne, who takes the stage along with Carlisle to dish up another Holland-Dozier-Holland penned classic "Band of Gold." Carlisle had recorded this song for her debut solo album the previous year, so the pairing made sense, but it is Payne who totally dominates on this powerful performance.
Returning back to the dawn of the 1960s, next up is "Little Miss Dynamite" herself, Brenda Lee. At a height of only 4' 9", Lee had done it all, from rockabilly to pop to country. She begins by going right back to the dawn of the 1960s as she sings an electrifying and emotional "I'm Sorry," her Grammy-nominated chart topper from 1960. Jumping ahead half a decade, Lee next proceeds to tearing the house down with Clarence Clemons on a rousing version of the more pop-based "That's All You Need."
Capping off this memorable night is the final artist on the bill, the original bad girl of rock 'n' roll, Ronnie Spector. As the sexy and soulful lead vocalist in the Ronettes, Spector would have a lasting impact on anyone who heard her captivating voice. Here she is in fantastic form on two Ronettes staples, "I Can Hear Music" and, with Clarence Clemons again helping raise the bar, her timeless classic, "Be My Baby," with Slick and Carlisle and eventually all the legendary ladies on the bill joining her. With Spector leading the way, everyone joins in on "Da Doo Ron Ron," before Martha Reeves leads the show-stopping finale of "Dancing in the Streets," a song that has come to define the 1960s.
Found on the same 2" KBFH master reels were two additional tracks, which are included as bonus tracks here. Neither fits the programming scheme, and they may have been warm-up exercises or live soundchecks, prior to the "Legendary Ladies of Rock And Roll" program beginning. Both feature the same Jimmy Vivino directed band, as well as Clarence Clemons, with the first being a high-energy reading of the Motown classic "Shotgun," followed by a quick romp through a medley of "Good Golly Miss Molly," "Hound Dog," and "I Saw Her Standing There," which features the twist-meister himself, Chubby Checker on lead vocals.