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BetteBack November 5, 1981: The Rise Of Luther Vandross

November 5, 1981


Vandrou’ first solo LP. “Never Too Much,” oo Epic Records, was No. 3 OB the rhythm V blues chart and No. 35 on the pop chart of Oct. 10. The title single was No. 4 on the rhythm V blues chart and No. 73 on the pop chart of the same date. All four were climbing. He wrote all bat ouw long on the album.

This 30-year-old, easy and pleasant to talk with, seems to have had warm support at home. He says, “My mother intuitively felt there was great potential there. Even as a child, my birthday gifts were stereo sets, earphones and Aretha Franklin records.”

After a year at Western Michigan University, where Vandross says he was bored and distracted, he returned home.

He did a variety of jobs, then decided to concentrate on writing music. “My mother was fully in favor of it. She supported the two of us while I wrote and plugged my artistic endeavors.”

In 1972 he met Ken Harper, who was putting together an all-black version of “The Wizard of Oz” for Broadway. Vandross submitted three songs.\

In 1974 he went to Philadelphia to visit New York boyhood friend Carlos Alomar, working as a guitarist at a David Bowie recording session.

Vandross sat with Alomar’s wife.

During a break, he thought of ways to improvise vocally on a Bowie song and the two of them sang it.

Bowie heard it and liked it.

He asked Vandross if another song gave him any ideas for a vocal arrangement. This led to Vandross being hired

Opening night in Los Aogeles, with Diana ROss in the front row. was a thrill.

Bowie also told him about “The Wiz” beading for Broadway and Vandross said he had submitted three songs for it, and had forgotten about it. They got in touch with the producer and found out all three of Vandross’ songs were accepted. Later, two disappeared when scenes were cut,

A Brand New Day” remained in the show, on Broadway and in the movie, and royalties got Vandross and his mother out of the Bronx into two apartments in Manhattan.

Bowie told Bette Midler about Vandross and she hired him for backup vocals, on tour and her “Songs for the New Depression” album. Her record producer, Arif Mardin, then hired Vandross for albums by Ringo Starr, Carly Simon and the Average White Band.

He says, “Todd Rundgren called me in October 1975 and I went and did a European tour with him. He wanted me to do his U.S. tour, but I decided I’d had enough of singing in that capacity.”

Vandross put together a group, Luther, which Mardin took to Cotillion Records. They cut two LPs in 1976 and ’77. He also sang lead vocal on two tracks of “The Glow of Love” album by Change on RFC Records.

They were “The Glow of Love” and “Searching.”

When the record did well, it was decided to move Change from a studio group to a touring group. Vandross sang on the New York date but decided not to join the tour. He was ready to start a solo
singicg career.

Roberta Flack sang his “You Stopped Loving Me” in the “Bustin loose” movie. Vandross toured with her in 1980 and early 1981. He says, “I would still sing background for Roberta, even on the road. She doesn’t call me. She told me, ‘You’re not singing background with me any more. You’re a solo act now.’ I think she enjoys me having a solo career.

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One thought on “BetteBack November 5, 1981: The Rise Of Luther Vandross

  1. Wow this is great! Full of information of how Luther got his start, and includes many things I did not know, thanks!

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