She was the Dr. Pepper spokesperson from 1963 to 1968. She appeared numerous times on the TV show Shindig!. She appeared in the American International Pictures' Beach Party films. She toured with Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars in the summer of 1964. She signed with Challenge Records and later Capitol Records. Donna Loren is her name and you just have to wonder if there's anything she hasn't done! We spoke with Donna recently about her career in music.
Q - Donna, are you still singing and recording these days?
A - I am. I released an album after many decades called "Love It Anyway". And then I followed that up with an EP, a tribute to Elvis and my love for Hawaii. I like to do an occasional 'live' concert online. It's a venue called Stage It, where I can sing out of my living room (laughs) and have my old grand piano, which I've had in my life, all my adult life, be part of a 'live' performance. So that's what I'm up to currently.
Q - Do you tour behind any of those CDs?
A - No.
Q - You have your own record label, Swingin' Sixties Productions. Is that just for your material?
A - Yes. It's just for me.
Q - Besides promoting your CD on your website
(www.DonnaLoren.net), how else are you promoting it? Do you try to get airplay on radio stations across the country?
A - Yeah. When I released the album "Love It Anyway", we did chart with the title song, actually the dance track version of "Love It Anyway". It hit number 15 on the AC (Adult Contemporary) charts. So we got some nice play off of that. I'm pretty much doing what a lot of independent artists are doing these days. I'm just doing my own thing.
Q - I guess that's what you have to do. Record companies are a thing of the past. If it wasn't for the catalog, they wouldn't exist at all.
A - Well, my former husband works at Warner Brothers. I take exception to that with one bit of good news: there's a group called Gotye out of I think Australia and they have a big, smash record right now. This group has a guest appearance from a new, young artist called Kimbre. "Somebody That I Used To Know" is the name of the song. It's a real catchy tune. I like it a lot. Anyway, Kimbre, who is maybe 22 and I believe from Australia as well, and it's so hot and so my ex-husband signed her to Warner's and she'll have a release as a single artist. So, I think it happens, but it's few and far between.
Q - Alright, well, we'll give her a plug in this interview.
A - Totally. Well, I'll give the rest of my family some plugs too. (laughs) That's my ex-husband. Then my son is a phenomenal musician and he's working with the producer of Radiohead. He's part of Tom York. Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and my son and Nigel Godrich are part of a group called Atoms For Peace. They're working on a project too. In the meantime my son plays with lots and lots of people like Norah Jones, Beck and people lie that. Then, I have my daughter and she has her own group and is an artist in her own right, but she is bringing back a group called That Day, that she was heading up in the '90s. It's very cool. She's starting to perform a little bit around town and I guess all around the country. So anyway, I'm very proud of my kids, all of my kids. My youngest one designed my website, which is
www.DonnaLoren.net, so we're kind of keeping it in the family.
Q - Everybody in your family went into show biz.
A - There's a lot of music coming from every direction and I don't think you can stop it. Even if it's a hobby, you just can't stop it. (laughs) My current husband was part of a group in the '60s, The Fantastic Baggys. It was released on Liberty (Records), which was owned by my former father-in-law, who started Alvin And The Chipmunks among others.
Q - Gary Lewis And The Playboys.
A - Bobby Vee, Julie London. So it definitely runs in our genes and I'm not talking about the ones that keep our butts up. (laughs)
Q - I was watching some of your videos on YouTube. Your voice was too good for the material you were asked to sing.
A - Oh, thank you.
Q - It was wasted on that material.
A - Thank you. Well, I appreciate your comments. It's just something that I'm sure if you like to sing in the shower, it's just something in you. It needs to be expressed in one way or another. So, this is how it happened for me and it's pretty much continues throughout my life. I've taken a few breaks, but even in the privacy of my own living room, I've kept it up all these years.
Q - What do you think of this policy of American Idol where each week they'll ask the contestants to sing songs of a different artist and genre. One week it might be Elton John. The next week it might be Disco. Is that truly representative of what makes a good singer, the ability to sing all types of material?
A - Well, it's an interesting question, Gary. Off the top of my head, because I haven't thought about it really, I would say that if you have your own identity then you can take on any song. For example, this fan of mine from Australia wrote about some obscure B-side that I forgot about completely. I was like 15 years old and it's called "Remember Me". He said "Can I get a copy of that? I'm turning 30. My friends want to put it on an I-pad so that we can dance and have a vintage dance party" So I dug it up and sent it to him. But in the meantime I'm listening to it and did a little research 'cause I didn't realize that Ernest Tubb sang it. It's a Country song. When I heard the song and wanted to record it, I didn't know the roots of it. So when I heard it, I interpreted it as an R&B song. The producer, the arranger, that's the way we all interpreted it. And that's how it came out. I just think if you have your own identity, you can take any song from any genre and make it your own. It's kind of like giving a great painter the basic colors, red, yellow, blue and a paint brush and a canvas and letting them have at it. Now, you give them something basic, but each one has their own interpretation and their own identity. So, I think it's kind of a level playing field to do that unless someone's a trained opera singer, (laughs) and only sings in Italian or German. It'd be kind of tough to sing a Country song. (laughs)
Q - Did that record of yours ever get any reaction? Do you remember?
A - I don't remember that at all. I remember Sonny Bono being part of that period of my life and doing arrangements for me, although on Challenge Records there was no recognition for arrangers, only the producers. If you listen to it, you'll hear what I'm saying. It sounds a little like the Wall Of Sound kind of music. It's got that heavy, R&B flavor to it.
Q - In 1964 you were signed to Capitol Records. So being on the West Coast as you were, does that mean you might have rubbed shoulders with Frank Sinatra and / or The Beatles?
A - Well, I did not in those times. I did later on. The closest I came to Frank Sinatra at that time was singing in his microphone at the studio when I recorded "Beach Blanket Bingo".
Q - So you never got to meet him?
A - I was part of Reprise (Records) later on and I did get to be part of his life. So I would go to Vegas with a group of people from the record company and watch him perform and be around him in that way. In regards to The Beatles, my first encounter with The Beatles was Ringo Starr at the filming of The Last Waltz, which I attended. And then later in the '80s I encountered George Harrison. I was investigating acupuncture and so was he. So we had an encounter with our mutual doctor.
Q - So you didn't meet John or Paul?
A - No. Again, the closest I ever came to that was my son who played drums with Paul McCartney on tour one time a few years back.
Q - How much fun was it to be a singer in the 1960s? You were on all the top TV sows of the day, plus you were making movies and you were a spokesperson for Dr. Pepper. Wow! Were you busy! That must've been really hard on you.
A - That's really perceptive of you. I'm in the midst of writing my autobiography. There was a duality to my life. I always loved singing and I think I was a hard worker. But it was an early, early commitment that I made my family when I was 7 years old, that basically my career would support a family of five, and that's what I did. So, it was more like that and as a minor I was always chaperoned by one of my parents, especially my father, who became my manager and travelled with me extensively and pretty much kept me on a very short leash, which I guess kept my nose clean and also prevented me from socializing with any of the people, especially on Shindig!, where The Stones and... oh my God, everybody was on Shindig!. Here I was and I pretty much stayed to myself until I performed. Whenever I was around, I always had my father four feet away from me. So I wasn't really free to co-mingle too much and have too much fun. Although, like I said, I always loved singing, so that was my primary fun.
Q - You were a teenager when you appeared on Shindig!, weren't you?
A - I was 17 and 18.
Q - You really appreciated seeing the acts like The Stones perform then, didn't you?
A - Oh, totally.
Q - You did the Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars tour. Who would've been on that tour with you?
A - The star of it was Gene Pitney. And it was The Supremes' first tour. So I had my father touring with me and Diana Ross was still a minor and so she had her mother touring with her. Then there was a lady named Brenda Russell who was 17. I was 16. She had her mother. The Crystals, The Shirelles, The Rip Chords. That was our show at that time.
Q - How many days were you on the road?
A - 21 days.
Q - Your father couldn't have prevented everybody from coming up and saying hello to you on the bus, could he?
A - Not true. (laughs) First of all, I was already the Dr. Pepper girl. Dick Clark was also associated with Dr. Pepper. There was a certain standard met as well as a representative from Dr. Pepper traveling with us. So I was heavily guarded. (laughs)
Q - Did you ever, at any time, get to engage in any small talk with anyone on the bus?
A - Well, we had one incident I can share with you, and actually it's in my book. So I'll give you an excerpt: We were in Oklahoma City getting ready to do a show at a baseball stadium. It was an afternoon show. It was a hot summer day. The girls and I were given a locker room to shower in and get ready. So, on this counter in the locker room were all the wigs from the Black chicks that got ready with their hair and makeup and costumes. So I see Diana Ross coming out of the shower, wrapped in a towel, wigless. She walks over and gathers us all and says "I want to play you something." She has a little, old phonograph plug-in thing and she pulls out a 45 and puts a record on and says "This is a hit." It's got the white label of a promo copy of The Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" So that was kind of a highlight. That was one of the few times really that I had an encounter with everyone. We were all very exhausted from sleeping on the bus and sometimes traveling to two cities in one day in the hot South. (laughs)
Q - And Dick Clark would ride that bus with you, wouldn't he?
A - He was such a devotee. You gotta give it to him. He really loved what he did enough to go through the pain of not being in an air-conditioned limo, following the bus. (laughs)
Q - Maybe if he had done that, there would've been resentment from the performers.
A - Possibly. He just loved the performers. He was always extremely kind to me 'cause I worked with him closely for at least 5 years with all the Dr. Pepper work we did together.
Q - You probably continued to remain friends with him throughout his life.
A - I did. Well, I did until the mid '90s when I moved away to Hawaii. I know just recently he passed away. So, the last time I had any contact with him was the mid '90s.
Q - You were on The Lloyd Thaxton Show. What kind of guy was Lloyd Thaxton?
A - I think he was a fine fellow. He had his show for many years. Whenever I needed to promote a record, no problem, I was there. But he was very professional. Very kind to me.
Q - You were also on The Monkees' TV show and had a scene with Davy Jones. You were everywhere!
A - Yeah. (laughs) Pretty amazing that in my 5 short years of a career in the public eye that I managed to be part of things that actually lasted all these years.
Q - Did you ever meet Elvis?
A - Well, that's another story I'm going to leave for my book.
Q - When is this book going to be published?
A - Definitely this year. (2012) I've been working on it for about a year and a half. It's culminating soon.
Q - You're also a fashion designer?
A - I was. I mean, I do it for myself. I did that commercially for some period of time, almost 10 years while I was in Hawaii. I had a few boutiques and an online business before it was common. I did pretty well. I'm a very boutique kind of girl and so that's the way we ran our business. When the economy took a turn in 2007, we decided that was the time to leave. I think we made the wisest choice. But I do like to design and occasionally make something for myself or a loved one. I'm putting a band together and thinking in terms of the genre of Surf Rock because the songs I sang in the movies and the Rock 'n' Roll I sang on Shindig!. So, I'm going in that direction. I'm looking for background singers who can dance the Pony and I want to design a Surf Rock genre of outfits for them to combine the Go Go dress look without the boots. I want to keep them in cut-off shorts and put them in either vans or sandals so they can dance the Pony. And also, the song I do, "So Do The Zonk", I'm having a choreographer work up a dance to the Zonk. After all these years, finally there's gonna be a dance to the Zonk.
Q - When this is all put together, you're going to have to make personal appearances, wouldn't you say?
A - I am planning on it.
Q - Do you still drink Dr. Pepper?
A - (laughs) Oh, my goodness. I think you can tell by laugh. I do not consume any sugar. I do not consume any caffeine. So I have to plead the fifth. I have absolutely all the love and respect for Dr. Pepper and I know millions and millions of people enjoy it. It's just not part of my diet. (laughs)
Q - Where do you get all your energy from these days?
A - (laughs) Oh gosh, that's a good question. I think it sums it up in joy and just loving life. I have a wonderful, wonderful husband and I have wonderful children and two beautiful grandchildren and a loving family and lots of trees around me and birds singing in the morning. It's kind of a simple life, but it works for me!
Q - You're one of the few people I've talked to who is really happy.
A - I think that's what life is for. I've experienced many wrong turns in my life. That's why I'm writing a book. But essentially now, at this time in my life, I've come through many obstacles and I've realized the essence of why were here. We're here to enjoy, not to indulge, but to enjoy. Life comes from creation. So be creative in your life whatever you're doing and try to stay connected to spirit. For me it's keeping my feet on the ground and my head in the stars.