Darlene Love is a legendary singer who isn't a household name. It was Love who sang lead on such classic Phil Spector-produced girl group anthems of the early 1960s as "He's a Rebel," "He's Sure the Boy I Love," and "Da Doo Ron Ron," songs that Spector credited to the Crystals, a group Love had no affiliation with. In her dishy but never catty memoir, My Name Is Love: The Darlene Love Story, she chronicles the peaks and valleys of one very interesting career.
A preacher's daughter, Love began singing with a female trio, the Blossoms, straight out of high school in 1957. Initially, they performed at Los Angeles sock hops and parties, but the girls' versatile singing style led to recording sessions with a variety of artists, from Gene Autry to Sam Cooke. But it was her work in the early '60s with Phil Spector that really put Love on the map. As Love tells it, she had no idea that the now-celebrated songs she recorded under Spector would ever amount to anything more than disposable pop music. So she didn't much object (in the beginning, anyway) when Spector credited her most famous recording, 1962's "He's a Rebel," to the Crystals, a group with name recognition. Love describes those sessions as thrilling and spontaneous: "I think Phil didn't really care who was doing backup: If the janitor happened by he would have thrown him into the booth too." The eccentric Spector was a driven taskmaster, sometimes keeping his vocalists in the studio until four o'clock in the morning working to perfect his famed wall of sound.
By the time Love's own name appeared on the label-songs like "Wait 'Til My Bobby Gets Home," "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry"--and her career appeared to be heating up, Spector shifted his attention elsewhere, namely to the Ronettes and their lead singer, Ronnie Bennett. Spector and Bennett were married, and Love describes Mrs. Spector as a lesser talent. "Phil followed his heart and his crotch into the recording studio, because the arrival of the Ronettes signaled the beginning of the end of Darlene Love"
From there, Love embarked on a lengthy stint with the Blossoms; they secured a position as house band on the weekly rock and roll TV show Shindig. When that gig was up, the Blossoms hit the road backing a host of performers. Love shares plenty of her encounters with entertainers, such as the time Elvis propositioned her during a lunch break on the set of his film A Change of Habit, where the Blossoms played a trio of singing nuns ("Y'know, I've never been with a black woman before"), and her five-year relationship with Righteous Brother Bill Medley, which the couple attempted to keep secret.
Though Love possesses a strong religious faith she doesn't hesitate to call 'em as she sees 'em. Among the unflattering portraits of her fellow entertainers is Temptations leader Eddie Kendricks, who once showed up unexpectedly---and in the altogether--at Love's hotel room. Her screams eventually sent him running, "leaving a trail of socks and underwear along the way." While on tour with Tom Jones, Love was privy to the Welsh singer's seemingly inexhaustible libido as well as his penchant for throwing wild parties, one of which Love, along with fellow Blossom Jean King, attended out of curiosity. She didn't like what she found: "We felt as if we'd stumbled into a porno film," she remembers. "Naked men were chasing naked women everywhere."
Following her split from the Blossoms, Love toured with Dionne Warwick as a backup singer. Reading her account of those days, you cheer for Love for standing up to the obnoxious Warwick, who would berate her musicians in front of the audience for perceived mistakes and was ditsy enough to follow the advice of astrologers, even when their advice proved detrimental to her career and marriage.
As the years rolled by, Love got used to seeing former colleagues like Warwick and Cher flourish while she often had to struggle to find work. Love describes her personal trials, which included two cheating husbands (one of whom kidnapped their son) and financial hardships, without bitterness. Love maintained a level of tenacity even at her lowest point. By age 40, she was cleaning houses in Beverly Hills, trying to avoid being recognized. Throughout, Love clung to her faith and belief in better days ahead. She took work where she could: on cruise ships (where she met her current husband), on Broadway (Leader of the Pack, Portrait of a Singer), in movies (she played Danny Glover's wife in the four Lethal Weapon films). She even sued Spector (who wore a white mask and surgical gloves during his video deposition), winning over a quarter of a million dollars in unpaid royalties.
Even today, a part of Love still dreams of winning a Grammy and having another hit record. Her old friend Cher once told her to "keep on singing no matter what." Love has taken those words to heart, recently releasing her first gospel record. As she writes, "I'm still out there trying to make a name for myself."
My Name is Love: The Darlene Love Story.
By Darlene Love with Rob Hoerburger, William Morrow & Co., $24.