Published October 18, 2008
Arguably the greatest of all the lead singers of Motown groups, and perhaps all vocal groups of the rock era, Levi Stubbs has died at age 72.
The lead singer of the Four Tops had been in ill health since around 2000, when he suffered a stroke. From then on his health deteriorated. He'd been wheelchair bound for several years.
One listen to any Four Tops hit and you know he was the best. From "Reach Out I'll Be There" to "Baby I Need Your Lovin'," "Bernadette," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and dozens more, Stubbs' magnificent baritone sent out an instantly recognizable clarion call to attention.
He came from a musical family, too. His brother, Joe Stubbs, was in the original Falcons with Wilson Pickett, Mack Rice, and Eddie Floyd. He was also the first cousin of the legendary Jackie Wilson, whom he sang with before he launched into a career. All of the Tops are gone now except Duke Fakir. Ditto the Temptations. It's been the tragic fate of the great American soul singers that most of them had bright, blazing careers from their teens into their forties, and then faded away claimed by various illnesses. But what an extraordinary legacy they've left, full of amazing treasures. And Levi Stubbs may have been the best of all.
Sources say Madonna's relationship with Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez was going on a lot earlier than previously thought.
I've told you about A-Rod's multi million dollar 'love shack' in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel's condos over on Columbus Avenue. A-Rod, according to sources, moved in around the middle of March, right before baseball season began.
There's no question, according to insiders, that Madonna has been a steady presence at the apartment ever since then. She sort of came with the package. According to sources, Rodriguez rented the apartment without ever speaking of his wife, Cynthia. She would have been around seven months pregnant at the time.
The apartment on Columbus Circle would have kept him just five blocks from Madonna's home base on Central Park West.
Now comes word that Rodriguez is moving out of the sublet on November 1st, and heading possibly three blocks north to the new building known as 15 Central Park West. The former site of the beloved Mayflower Hotel is now Manhattan's most expensive apartment building, home to dozens of mega-stars and millionaires. It's just two blocks away from Madonna.
Madonna had better watch out, though. My sources say that the now single Rodriguez is busy meeting ladies "all over the place" - perhaps his own age, or younger, maybe even sans plastic surgery. All his friendship with Madonna may have done is pry him loose of his family so he's free to roam. On the bright side, little David Banda can get autographs to send back to Malawi.
For the first time that anyone could remember anywhere, Long Island pop got to take on New Jersey rock as Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen put on a historic full length concert last night in Manhattan.
The reason was to raise money and awareness for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But for anyone who grew up in the tri state area, the evening meant so much more than that. The two rockers have had parallel careers. They’re about the same age, started at the same time, but occupied two different parts of the New York-New Jersey culture as homeboys.
The result was far from a typical political fundraiser. Instead, it became one of those rare rock concerts that people who were there may remember forever as one of the best of their lives. If we didn’t get to see Sinatra and Bennett, this was the closest thing to it for this generation.
Each singer had a family member on stage too. Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, played guitar — she was the only musician who wasn’t a member of Billy Joel’s band. And Billy brought his burgeoning pop star daughter, Alexa, who performed a sultry duet with him early in the show of Ray Charles’ "Baby Grand." Joel also had his current wife, Katie Lee, the cookbook author, and his former wife, Christie Brinkley, Alexa’s mom, who brought her 12-year-old son, Jack.
And of course there were politicians: Nancy Pelosi and Claire McGaskill represented elected officials. Caroline Kennedy introduced the musicians and the reason for the evening. From a box in the Hammerstein Ballroom, Michele Obama watched the show until Barack was able to come over from the annual Al Smith dinner. With Michele was the triumvirate who put together this complicated night: movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, music exec John Sykes, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
The only other bold faced names I saw in the whole of the Hammerstein Ballroom were actors Ian McShane, of "Deadwood" fame, and actress Lynn Whitfield. Later, at the afterparty at Cipriani, I ran into New York Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, who was so wowed by the show that he only wanted to meet Springsteen.
But I’m jumping ahead. John Legend and India Arie opened the show, singing together brilliantly on a few numbers of Legends including his "Ordinary People." Her vocals combined with his piano playing made for a socko introduction. But there was more to come, quickly.
Over a two hour period, Springsteen and Joel presented a well chosen list of their alternating hits. After he opened with "Promised Land" and "This Hard Land," Springsteen gave the bottom for the evening, "I want my country back!" he declared. "I want America back." Springsteen also warned the audience, joking, not to anticipate too high a standard from the performers. "Palinize your expectations," he said, coining a new term that got roars of approval from the theater full of Democratic donors. Acting as his own roadie, he packed his guitar and mouth harp in a case, and ceded the stage to Joel, who opened with "I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway" and the duet with Alexa.
From then on, though, the night belonged only to the two stars and Billy’s band. They launched into "10th Avenue Freezeout," then Billy’s "Movin’ Out," which was dedicated to the Republicans. For "Thunder Road," Springsteen brought on Roy Bittan on keyboards to supplement Billy, who then sang "A Matter of Trust." Through all of this, the two men traded verses, piano and guitar licks. The culmination of that was on Bruce’s magnificent "Spirit in the Night," which had not been rehearsed. Billy told Springsteen to call out chords — "the audience will like that," he told me later. So Bruce yelled out, "C Minor, C, A. minor" to Billy on the piano. Springsteen playfully inserted Billy’s name into lyrics for other characters, and the number turned out to be an exquisite jam session.
More songs: "Allentown" for Joel, Bruce’s "The Rising," Billy’s "New York State of Mind" and "River of Dreams," Bruce’s "Glory Days" and "Born to Run." The show finally concluded with all four musicians and the band on Curtis Mayfield’s "People Get Ready" and Stevie Wonder’s "Signed Sealed Delivered." By the time Barack Obama took the stage and gave a gorgeously crafted, eloquent speech, the musicians knew they’d done something quite significant musically, beyond the politics.
At Cipriani afterwards, there was much celebrating, and Harvey Weisntein recalled how he’d produced one of Springsteen’s very first college shows in upstate New York in the early 70s. Billy and Bruce each fessed up about how they’d studied the others’ music for the show. Billy was a little disappointed that Bruce hadn’t subbed in names of New Jersey newspaper for the line "The New York Times, the Daily News" in "New York State of Mind."
"I told him he could say the Post, but he didn’t want to do that," Joel said.
Lots of stuff went on backstage, including Christie Brinkley and daughter Alexa getting into a long talk with the Obamas before the senator’s speech. Alexa wound up using Bruce’s hairdryer before she went on stage, and Christie playfully mimed being Bruce with it. India Arie told me she was on her way to Atlanta to finish her new album with plenty of guest stars, including Stevie Wonder. She’s sorry to miss tonight’s Julia Fordham show at the Hiro Ballroom. The two dueted on a Fordham album, "Concrete Love," a couple of years ago.
And what’s next for the two big stars of the night? Billy is going to go back on tour with Elton John, I’m told. Springsteen is working on what may be a new E Street Band album, a follow up to the super "Magic" of 2007. But really, the next tour should be Billy and Bruce. Or maybe they could run for prez and vice prez. I’d vote for them in a second.
The extraordinary Julia Fordham brings her amazing voice and incredible musicians to Hiro Ballroom in the Maritime Hotel tonight at 8 p.m. She’s promoting her new album, "China Blue." ... On Sunday night, Kim Garfunkel, the talented, beautiful vocalist wife of Art, gigs at Triad on the Upper West Side. She returns again on Thursday for an encore… On Monday at 11 a.m., superstar classical pianist Ling Ling performs at Town Hall on West 43rd St. for the Grammy Foundation. The event is sponsored by Bill and Tani Austin, of the Starkey Hearing Foundation…
Congratulations to Edgar Bronfman Jr and Lyor Cohen. WMG stock dropped to a low yesterday of $4.40 before finishing the day at $4.60. It’s now almost nothing as it zeroes in on $4 today. How lucky for Cohen that he sold nearly $7 million worth of shares at $8.45 a share back on August 11th so he could buy a tear-down in the Hamptons.
That was only two months ago, if you’re trying to figure it out. What a genius he must be! If only such brilliance could be applied to the record business, WMG wouldn’t be circling the drain.
Ironically, WMG has a hit release right now in Metallica’s latest album. But this is also probably Metallica’s last release with WMG, as they are about to follow Madonna and Nickelback out the door.
The company also has an interesting saga in the story of Kid Rock, who didn’t let his latest album go to iTunes. Instead, people had to buy it as a CD. The result: a hit. If only Bronfman had kept his promise with all of the WMG back catalog. In 2007 he swore he’d never turn over the great Atlantic classic hits to the Internet without digital restrictions.
But then, he did an about face and let it all go during Christmas week. The result is that hundreds of artists who depended on CD sales suddenly had the rug pulled out from underneath them. Customers could now cherry pick out one or two hits, then transfer them to friends, other computers, and portable players — all for a one-time charge of 89 cents.