Interview 28 September 2002

Michael Ashley Interview - 9-28-02

Tell me about how you hooked up with Ralph and Expansion- how did it all come together?

I met Ralph Tee through a mutual friend - David Nathan. David writes for "Billboard" and "Blues & Soul" magazines. We’ve known and loved David and respected his work for many years. One day while Ted and I were working in our studio, David stopped by and said "what you guys doing?" We were working on another song called "Love Is The Magic", and David said "oh that’s nice, you guys should let me send this to my friend in England because maybe he’ll put it out". So Ted said we would think about it. Later Ted and I discussed it and Ted got in touch with David. That song ended up on Expansion’s compilation "Soul Sauce Volume 1" in 1993. It is still selling around the world.

Now the album - How did that come about, how long have you been working on it?

Ted and I started doing this project maybe ten years ago. We started doing it just for fun to see if we could accumulate anything that resembled music I would love to sing. During the course of putting it together I was also touring, which caused us having to wait until I would come off the road. A couple of times when I came home, music once again had changed, or I would have decided that I hated everything that we had recorded up to that point. Ted would go "Oh no, not again!" and we would start from scratch. This kept happening over and over for a period of perhaps ten years until we arrived with this special jewel - "Livin’ On Love". I was in no hurry as I wasn’t under pressure from anyone.

I think it's a good solid album with some standout tracks- which ones do it for you, or do you have the greatest expectation of?

I think it’s a great album, and I am especially proud that it was all done in our back yard since that’s where the studio is. Some of my favorites are: "Can’t Go Back", "Uh Oh", "Go Away Little Boy", "Secret Garden", and of course the title song "Livin’ On Love". Oh my goodness! I’ve named half the CD, haven’t I? Oh well, now you understand what I mean by "special" because I absolutely love every song on this project!

You & Ted wrote and arranged a lot together - how does this work. He's pretty talented yes?

Yes, Ted is an extremely talented man. Ted and I have worked together for many years. When I met him he was the musical director for "The Crystals". We used to arrange songs for our live shows. After we were no longer Crystals, we started doing arrangements for other people’s live shows as well as records. One thing led to another and we set up a company called "Perlman Blu Arrangements", which branched off into making records. I love when he arranges music for me because he does it with all the love he can muster, which in my book is immeasurable. As for writing. we simply would sit down sometimes to do something else and a song would pop out, or in some cases we would just have finished a session for someone else and Ted would say "Hey Peggi, listen to this music that I came up - with do you like it?". Or he’d say "I wrote this for you - do you like it?" - and it would be perfect. You see he did it all with me in mind.

Do you have a deal in the US?

No, we do not have a deal in the USA as of yet, but we’re working on it with high hopes for the future release here of "Livin’ On Love".

Are you gigging or touring to promote? Will we see you in the UK?

Yes, I am gigging as always. I have always gigged and toured with one thing or another. As far as touring this album, my first appearance will be in Manchester, England on Saturday, October 5th, at the "Fleetwood Togetherness Show" at 10:00 PM. I hope to spend a lot of time in England singing and having fun on its many stages.

Anything else you 'd like to add about where you are today and what we can expect in the future?

I think I am in a real good place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am happy with me and I’m happy in my own skin. I have a loving family who are just as excited about this new record as I am. I think this record embodies the soul and passions of all people, and the songs really makes you feel happy, sexy, and like being in love again.

Looking back now, where are you from originally - tell us about the beginnings? Your early singing was in New York wasn't it? Tell me about this, you had good experience backing some 'big' names, what else were you doing? Were you professional at this time? Were you doing enough to make ends meet?

I was born in Lumberton, North Carolina, the only daughter to James and Avis Blue, and lived there until I was 14 years old. Moved to Brooklyn, New York, and then to Manhattan and cut my musical teeth all over the area. I had turned professional by the time I was almost 16 being hired by many great singers and in lots of groups. I was doing a little better than just making ends meet. I’ve always been blessed to make a pretty good living doing what I love to do - music.

Then came 'I Got Love' which came out of this and was pretty successful. Tell me about that and it's success. Wasn't Jerry Ragavoy involved on some of this? What was he like to work with?

"I Got Love" came to me from my dear late brother/friend Carl Hall, the lead singer of the legendary gospel group "The Raymond Rasberry Singers". He called me one day after I had come off the road playing the roles of "Auntie Em" and "Glinda the Good Witch" in "The Wiz". Carl said that a friend of his named Jerry Ragavoy was looking for a singer to record his music, and he had thought of me first. So he set up an appointment and I went to Jerry’s office. We had the meeting and "I Got Love" was born. Yes, Jerry Ragavoy is a great writer who has had many hits like "Try a Little Harder", by Lorraine Ellison, and "Piece Of My Heart", by Janis Joplin. "I Got Love" on MCA Records was my first solo album and I was soooooooooooo nervous at first. But Jerry was so nice and understanding and helpful - he erased all my fears.

You then got some good parts on Broadway, tell me about that. Were you doing any studio or session work at this time?

Yes, as I said I did the National and Broadway cast of "The Wiz". I also did "Marilyn, An American Fable" on Broadway. All during that time I was still gigging and doing sessions because when you are a New Yorker, as I am, the first thing you learn is how to make a living at your craft. You cannot simply do only one thing - you’d better know how to sing, dance, act, and all the in-betweens.

Then "Star Search" - what was that all about, and what did it bring?

Oh, "Star Search" - what great memories I have of that period of my life! I was gigging one weekend in New York’s Greenwich Village. A friend of mine who I had met in another play said that he wanted to bring the "Star Search" talent scout to see me perform because he thought that I should be on the show. To which I replied "you have lost your mind", but when he brought her to see me she said "I want you to come and make a tape so that I can show it to the powers that be at "Star Search" because I think they would love you". I did, she did, and I won the "Grand Championship Female Vocalist". Pretty amazing, huh? I never stopped working all during that time. I also never told anyone that I was flying in and out of New York to LA because there are some things that should remain a sacred mystery until you’ve accomplished your goal.

Blu Blowin’' did well in the UK - tell me about this period, there was good exposure in the clubs, on TV and in the charts. What did best - 'Tender Moments'?

"Blu Blowin’" came as a result of "Star Search". I have some very important and special friends in Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson who told Wayne Edwards (VP of A&R at Capital records at that time) "Wayne you really do need to sign this woman". Well what do you know? "Star Search" just happened to ask Wayne to be one of the judges on the final performance show - the night I won the championship. He also knew Mark Allen who had become my manager at the time. Mark and Wayne had a meeting to discuss signing me. Hence the birth of "Blu Blowin’". That album did very well, especially in England where it went to #4 on the club charts. Capitol Records did not see fit to send me there for any promo but we did quite a bit by telephone. I really do wish that I could have come then, but now I have the chance.

What was happening throughout the 90's? You did some work in Germany...Did you get to the UK at all?

Yes. During the 90’s I worked quite a bit, thank God. I did "Sisterella", which was basically a revision of "Cinderella". I played the role of "Dahlia, the Wicked Step Mother", all over Germany and Austria. But even before that I had played a club named the "Groschenoper" in Frankfurt. They flew my band across with me and we had big fun. I went again to Germany to play "Wild Woman Blues" with Linda Hopkins - that was fabulous!

You've also done some diverse work, and some pretty amazing stuff......e.g the LA Philharmonic, Burt Bacharach, Streisand Millenium concert, Clinton's inauguration. Can you tell us about some of these?

Well, Burt Bacharach happened to be working in our studio at the same time that he was preparing to perform with the Hawaiian Symphony. He needed another soloist since Dionne Warwick would not be able to do the shows. While he was discussing this with Ted, Ted said "oh, while don’t you ask Peggi?" He did. I said "yes". God, I had fun. There’s nothing like hearing your name coming out of an MC’s mouth, walking on stage and hearing a 110 piece orchestra as your backup band. As for Ms. Barbra Streisand - what a great chance I had to be a part of her 2000 Millennium Show! I took my two girlfriends Bridgette Bryant and Kellie Coffey at the request of Kenny Ortega, who was the director and choreographer. After we started to sing "The Main Event" half way through the song Ms. Streisand looked at Mr. Ortega and said "I don’t have to hear anymore. Can they start tomorrow?" I said "yes we can" and we did. We are also on her video as well as her CD entitled called "Timeless". I met American ex-President Bill Clinton at the 50th birthday party of a friend of his. Needless to say it was also a fundraiser. I happened to be on the floor singing when he turned to his friend while pointing to me and said Harry, "I want her at the inauguration if I win". Harry did hire me along with a lot of other people. We all climbed aboard the plane and flew into Washington D.C., and had a great inaugural musical party.

Who else have you worked with?

The list of people I have worked for is so numerous that I would be able to make a book out of it. But to name a few: Luther Vandross - one of by favorites, Stephanie Mills - who I will love after forever, Carl Hall, The Weather Girls, Sylvester, Bob Dylan etc.

And who of these are great influences…The Crusaders, Smokey, Luther, The Staples?

The "Staple Singers" are held in very high esteem in my book. My main influences come from someplace totally different that I hold sacred. It starts with my mother.

Two favourites of mine you have worked with are Lou Courtney and the Manhattans. Can you tell us anything about them?

Lou Courtney - What a great talent. That was a most important time of my life because I was very young and still in musical training. Thank God he liked my talent. He said "You sing great, kid". The "Manhattans" I’ve loved for many years, after all when you got a singer like Gerald Alston (who, by the way, is also from North Carolina) and a voice as deep and as rich as Blue Lovett (who bears the same name as mine) put together with music you’ve got magic. I have a duet with Gerald called "Let’s Try Love Again" on the new Manhattans CD "Even Now" on Beemark Records.

Thanks for your time. All the very best.

And thank you, as well..