Thursday, May 17, 2012

Six...No, Two...Degrees of Donna Summer

I just heard the sad news about the untimely passing of Donna Summer, the disco queen of the 1970s and early '80s, whose career took off in 1975 after meeting producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, the duo that wrote so many of her hits, such as "Hot Stuff," "I Feel Love" and "Love to Love You Baby," among so many others.

When I read the details of her passing today in the New York Times and saw Mr. Bellotte's name, my mind quickly flashed back to 1998 and an email I received from him soon after the release of my first disc, Daddy's Little Girl. Without saying who he was, he very kindly inquired about getting a copy of the album, noting that he was having no luck finding it in England, where he lived and worked.

Donna Summer in 1970.
As a lot of press and music people were asking for promos back then, I immediately wrote back saying that I'd be happy to send him a copy, but asked how he'd heard about me, as I was surprised that I was getting an inquiry from the U.K.

He replied saying that he'd heard about me from a stateside producer, Keith Forsey, who apparently had told him that Daddy's Little Girl was a "must-have." Having no idea who Forsey was either, I started googling, and was startled to learn not only about Bellotte's impressive credentials, but also those of Forsey, who penned the hit "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds (the theme song of The Breakfast Club), as well as Flashdance's "What a Feeling," for which he'd won an Oscar.

As I was so astonished that anyone at all knew about my music, let alone such successful producers and songwriters on both sides of the pond, I couldn't help but express a girlish, squealing enthusiasm in my next email, noting that as only a few hundred discs were in circulation at the time, it was somewhat mind-boggling that anyone knew about me at all.

Pete must have found this amusing, because he went on to say that not only had he heard about me from Forsey, but also from Don Henley.

When I received that particular missive, I recall staring at the computer screen for a few moments, reading the name "Don Henley" over and over, as I couldn't quite get it to register.

"Don Henley?" I wrote back. "You mean...from the Eagles?????" (And yes, I did insert that many question marks.)

Pete replied, "Yes. The last time I was in Los Angeles, I read an interview with Don in Mix Magazine, and he was talking about what a wonderful singer you were. So I jotted down your name in my date book, to remind myself to look you up. Then I heard about you again from Keith, and then from Jackson Browne."

What the...???

Again, I just stared at the email. Jackson Browne? Of...Jackson Browne?????

As I'd already used up my question mark quotient for the day, and because I didn't want to sound like a complete numnut, I didn't ask how in God's name Jackson Browne had heard of me. I also think I was just saturated by absolute astonishment at everything that had occurred in a matter of about ten minutes. So I just let the whole thing drop, but not before I went in search of that article in Mix Magazine.

Unfortunately, I was to learn that there were actually three Mix Magazines at the time, all spelled differently, each with a different numbers of "x's", so I was never able to find that Don Henley article (nor did I ever figure out why my music seemed to resonate with '70s rock gods). I did write to each publication, but no one ever replied, and that was that.

Pete and I stayed in close touch that year, and at one point he even played around with my song "A Better Haircut" in his computer, deleting the intro and speeding up the tempo. He also added some drum tracks to the single "Daddy's Little Girl," all just for fun, just to see what I thought of what he considered could be some improvements.

We continued to check in with one another every once in awhile over the ensuring years, but eventually we stopped writing. I seem to recall him struggling with some serious complications in his life, possibly an illness (I can't quite recall), and, of course, I went on to have the most hellish decade of my life, struggling with my own illness, during which my music became a minor footnote in my life.

But what a fond memory of someone I never even met in person. I was struggling so hard in those days to get my music heard, and with a few clicks of his "send" button, Pete provided me with the validation I needed to keep going, as he proved to me that my music could generate that all important "word of mouth" that every artist dreams of.

Of course, how I wish that could have happened on a much grander scale, but the sadness I feel about a music career unfulfilled in no way diminishes the sheer delight I feel each and every time I hear the name Pete Bellotte. I'm so sorry you lost your friend today, Pete. But I'm so happy that, at least for a little while, you were mine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yay Mary Ann! xo, Steve E.