(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Musician
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Musician
A Q&A with Deb De Lucca
By Geoff Gehman
“Tapestry” has long been one of Deb De Lucca’s favorite musical tapestries. As a youngster she practically wore out the grooves of her mother’s copy of Carole King’s rainbow quilt of heart-and-soul songs threaded with folk, pop, rock, jazz and gospel. Those songs—“It’s Too Late,” “So Far Away,” “Home Again”—stayed on her lips and finger tips as she became a singing pianist, jingle performer, teacher, band leader and King specialist.
On Sept. 27 the Mauch Chunk Opera House will host “Home Again,” De Lucca’s thank-you show to King and her mom. Joined by five musicians, the New Jersey native will play King’s “Tapestry” staples (‘I Feel the Earth Move”), her post-“Tapestry” solo hits (“Jazzman”) and her pre-“Tapestry” classics for others (“The Loco-Motion,” a Little Eva smash). Jim Thorpe listeners will be treated to De Luca’s lustrous voice, fluid fingers and feet, chamber jazz chops, and Kingly waterfall of frizzy tresses, an electric style she’s kept since elementary school.
Below, in an email conversation, De Lucca discusses her fondness for King’s chords, King’s memoir, the King musical “Beautiful” and singing “Tapestry” tunes with her very musical mom.
Q: Can you remember your first unforgettable song, the one that wormed its way into your ears, heart and soul?
A: “Hey Jude.” I remember being in the back seat of my Grandfather’s car and leaning over the front seat as he let my older sister steer from the passenger seat–lol. They played the whole song til the end, something they never did back then. I was blown away. I am still a huge Beatles fan to this day.
Q: What was the first Carole King song that told you she was worth following?
A: It’s funny, but my first memories of Carole’s music weren’t of any song in particular. It was of the whole entire “Tapestry”album. It almost felt hard to separate, although since I was very young when the album came out I remember loving ‘”Smackwater Jack” ‘cause of the story.
Q: What was the first King song recorded by someone else that really rang your bell?
A: I would have to say “Pleasant Valley Sunday” [a 1967 hit for the Monkees], although at the time I didn’t realize she wrote it with [then-husband and musical partner] Gerry Goffin. I learned that later on.
Q: Why did you need to turn your admiration/affection for King’s musicianship into a King show?
A: I’ve always gone back to those songs over and over thru the years. I felt like I knew them intimately. It seemed like such a natural thing. I’ve always loved her music as far back as I can remember. In a way the tribute is a thank-you as well as a business venture. I like to think I show how much I love her music. My whole band does.
Q: What was the toughest part of preparing to play King, the toughest learning curve of burrowing into her musicianship and under her skin? And did you have to significantly blow out your hair to approximate that Kingly lioness mane?
A: I think going back and listening to the detail; you have to do it over a course of time … in layers. We still go back and listen again and hear something we haven’t been doing and it’s like finding a little treasure! As far as the hair is concerned I have had the same hairstyle since fourth grade–lol. I really can’t do anything else with it. ; )
Q: How deeply have you researched King’s writing, performing and living? Did you listen to demos; read “Girls Like Us,” Sheila Weller’s biography of King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, and watch the King musical “Beautiful”?
A: I’ve read “Girls Like Us” and read and listened to the audiobook version of Carole’s memoir “A Natural Woman” many times; she’s a great story teller even without music! I’ve seen “Beautiful” twice; loved it. All of those things definitely inspired me and gave me an idea of what was going on at the time–not just the music but the history …. her life ….everything.
Q: What has the runaway success of “Beautiful” done for your King show?
A: That’s a great question! It’s certainly made people more aware of how great an artist she is. So many people didn’t realize her “career before her career”–writing songs for other people.
Q: Is there anything that you appreciate and/or understand about King’s musicianship that you didn’t before you launched your King show? I’m particularly interested in her (relatively) overlooked piano playing, which is extremely well balanced between melody and rhythm, arrangement and spontaneity, in and out of the pocket. She’s quite jazzy, which should really satisfy your jazz chops.
A: Yes, she’s very underrated! She does very tasty and well-placed fills. I never realized she actually backed up other artists on piano as well; she toured with James Taylor in the beginning. But the most overlooked aspect as far as I’m concerned is the chord structure–not overly complex, yet intricate in a way. She uses so many 7th chords, major and dominant, that I also love! I really do love the way the music lends itself to jazz as well as rock and pop. I have both types of players in my band, which I think makes a really nice blend.
Q: Why did you change the show’s name from “Sweet Seasons” to “Home Again”?
A: The agency, Blue Raven, wanted me to pick a song title from “Tapestry.” “Home Again” is my favorite song on “Tapestry” (albeit a not so common choice) so it made sense. I actually like both names.
Q: What sort of tunes do you perform in your other, non-King groups?
A: In my jazz band I do standards and then what I consider to be pop/jazz standards, which could be anything from “Fields of Gold” by Sting to “Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan. I usually do the standards in the first set and then we open it up in the second set.
Upward Spiral, my original band. is more rock/pop. More on the alternative side, not straight ahead at all.
Q: What’s the best advice you received about singing and piano playing, tips you like to pass on at The Vocal Studio [her school in Clifton, N.J.]?
A: Don’t try to sound like someone else. This may sound funny coming from a tribute artist but I never try to be Carole. I learn her notes, phrasing and timing and then let it come out through me. So I put my love of her music into her music but do it in a way that is still me. I’m not an “impersonator.” I am paying tribute to her and her music.
Q: Do you have a favorite jingle or two that you’ve sung?
A: I guess singing for the Iowa State lottery years back was kind of funny. We did a riff on the song “Get Ready” by the Temptations and then I had to go back and record all the dollar amounts: four million … five million … etc. I was there a while. ;
Q: So, Deb, what tops your Bucket List? Musicians have told me everything from touring the world to world peace.
A: I always try to not let my bucket list get too long! So maintenance is the key. Right now I would say I want to meet Carole!!! I would probably ask her for any piece of advice she could give me–on music, the music business or life in general. She’s lived quite an amazing life and still does. I’m sure she has some great pearls of wisdom to share. : )
Q: And what tops your Fuckit List? Musicians have told me everything from ending oppressive religions to assassinating all snakes.
A: I wish I could just get everyone to be authentically kind to each other. We are at such a horrible place right now in this world–ur with me or against me–when we are really so much more alike than different. I guess it’s my inner hippy showing. I think Carole would approve. : )
Q: What’s your fondest memory of singing “Tapestry” songs with your mother, who put you permanently on the Carole King path? Do you still have your mom’s original copy?
A: Unfortunately the “Tapestry” album she had is long gone. I loved listening while my mom sang. I thought she had the most beautiful voice, more like a Karen Carpenter quality. Later, when I recorded a jazz demo. she said she imagined that that’s what she would have sounded like if she were a singer. I loved that.
Q: How many times has your mom seen your King show? And has she ever shared the stage with you?
A: Unfortunately my mom passed in 2013. She never had a chance to see the show. I often mention her at shows because she is the reason I am doing it. I guess the show is not only a kind of thank-you to Carole but my mom as well.
Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. “Tapestry” is one of his desert-island discs, too. He can be reached at email@example.com.