Gary James' Interview With
Linda Clifford

She's a former Miss New York State who's been an actress and a singer. Her recording of "If My Friends Could See Me Now" went to number one on Billboard's Dance Chart (in 1978). Her name is Linda Clifford. Linda spoke with us about acting, singing and a whole lot more! A very interesting lady.

Q - Linda, what are you seeing in the venues you're performing in today? Are entertainment budgets being cut back?

A - Well, I think definitely yes, the venues are cutting back. It's something that's been happening for a few years from now. I've been very fortunate in my career because a lot of people know me as a Disco artist because of the songs I had out. Some people know me as an R&B artist because of working with Curtis Mayfield and a few other acts in that field. But I've been fortunate in that I got a lot of my performance training working nightclubs before I started recording. So, my songs and repertoire go anywhere from theatre all the way to R&B and Jazz. So, I've been fortunate in that even with the industry getting a little shaky. I've always been able to keep working and work in different types of music, which I absolutely love doing. So, to make a long story short, yes, things have changed. People have cut back tremendously. A lot of people say "Oh my God! You're famous. You're a diva. You're a star! We want you to perform." But they don't want to pay you.

Q - Who's saying that to you?

A - Very often the clubs and the concert promoters. They want you to come and perform. They give you this whole big build-up and then all of a sudden. "My budget is very limited!" They want you to come and pay your own expenses. I don't know, maybe I'm old school, maybe I'm old-fashioned, however you want to call it. No, I don't do that. If you want me to come and perform, there's certain things I think the artist is entitled to.

Q - The tribute artists I've been interviewing get plane tickets.

A - Absolutely. And that's the way it's supposed to be. I've always received the same thing, ground transportation by limo, air fare for two because I do not travel alone and my fee of course, and then certain other things that are in the contract. It seems that lately, and I feel this happens a lot in New York, they say it's a flat rate and out of that you have to pay your air fare and your hotel or they say "Don't you have family you can stay with?" I'm like, "Hello?"

Q - What kind of a performer has a family in every city in every state?

A - Exactly. So, it's kind of crazy, but yeah, that happens unfortunately.

Q - Do you travel with a Road Manager?

A - I do travel with a Road Manager.

Q - Do you travel with a band?

A - I do not, unless of course it's going to be a tour where I'm doing gig after gig, night after night. I would prefer to use my own players because I do have a band, but mostly I pick up players in different cities. For that I have to have charts, which is fine with me as long as the players are good.

Q - Does that mean you also have to have an arranger with you as well to make sure the players are up to the task at hand.

A - Well, here's the deal: I have a chart for every player that's going to be used on the stage. All they have to do is what we say, read the ink. If you can read music, you should be able to play the show. If you can't read music, you can't be on the stage. So, my Road Manager will certainly be the one to take care of that for me, to make sure that's happening.

Q - You're probably getting calls for festivals in the Summer.

A - Yes.

Q - You probably play a lot of casinos.

A - You know, I haven't done a lot of casino work. That's something I thought about doing. Right now I'm in the middle of writing a one woman show.

Q - About your life?

A - About my life, about the business and all the songs people know. I don't know how that would work in the smaller casinos, but certainly in some of the larger showrooms that would work really great. As far as festivals go, whenever I do festivals here in Chicago, I use my own band. So, the festivals are great and they're always a lot of fun. Very often, depending on the festival and what their budget is and where it is, a lot of times I'll do a track show for festivals. That's always an option. I do have tracks with the band. I try to keep background singers with me whenever I use the band because we want the sound to be what people want to hear, exactly what they remember.

Q - When you were starting out, a singer had to sing. Today, a singer is increasingly dependent on theatrics. What do you think about that?

A - Well honestly, I think that because of the many changes in the business, the record companies themselves are so different, the way artists are treated and I think people are treated and I think people are doing whatever they have to do to get where they want to be. I don't want to put anybody down for that. A lot of times, people are put in a category where they're called singers when they're really performance artists. You see quite a bit of that. That takes a great deal of talent as well. If you can reach an audience, if you can touch an audience in some way, that's an important part of being an artist. If you can sit on a stool in the middle of a stage with a piano and sing a song, to me, that's the best. That's what I prefer. I don't dislike the other bits either. Variety is the spice of life. Whatever makes you happy. If you enjoy seeing that kind of thing, go for it!

Q - So, how does a former Miss New York State get interested in music?

A - Ha! (laughs)

Q - Wouldn't the next logical step for you to have made been modeling? Or a career in the fashion world? But music? Unless you were always interested in music.

A - That's what I was going to say. Actually, my interest was music before that happened. My becoming Miss New York was more or less an accident. I know that sounds strange, but let me just tell you I entered this pageant on a dare with a friend and it started as the Miss Teenage America thing. And that's how it began. Unfortunately, when you enter these things, you don't stop and thing about it is that necessarily, if you win you have to continue. You don't just win and walk away with a crown. You have to go on to the next title.

Q - You have to?

A - Well, you're expected to. If you win Miss Brooklyn, the next thing you go to in Miss New York. So you're like, "Oh!" And then it's Miss America or Miss U.S.A., whichever the pageant might be. Unfortunately, at the time I won the title, it wasn't a very good time for African-American people in this country, especially for young women to be entering beauty pageants because it was unheard of to have a Black beauty contestant. So, when I won, it was a disaster. (laughs) People did not expect it. There were a lot of pretty awful things that happened. In fact, my family had to move. We had to leave our home as a result of that.

Q - Were people calling you or making threatening remarks?

A - There were threats against our lives. Just terrible, terrible things. Then, when I decided to go on, this was the Miss U.S.A. pageant actually, not Miss America, they were threatening to blow up the airplane if I got on it.

Q - We're talking about the '60s?

A - Yeah, it was the '60s. All sorts of horrible things going on. Fortunately or unfortunately however you want to look at it, I think experiences shape you as a person and that was something that taught me so much. My parents really did not want me to go to the Miss U.S.A. pageant. They begged me not to, in fact. I just felt if I did not go then all those people who wrote those nasty letters and made all those threats and wrote to the newspapers, they would win. I just felt that I had to go and I went and I was treated horribly, but I made it through the week and I survived. I think it made me stronger.

Q - Certainly for the music business, it did!

A - Well, you have to be pretty strong to be in the music business. (laughs)

Q - It doesn't matter either whether you're a man or a woman, or what race you are, the music business is a tough business.

A - That's right. It's pretty rough.

Q - And how did you do in the Miss U.S.A. Pageant?

A - Well, I didn't place and I didn't win. I spent my week there and it was like I did my time. I came back home and decided that I was going to go on the road and sing, which is what I always wanted to do.

Q - You had a minor role in the movie The Boston Strangler with Tony Curtis. I saw that film. Who were you in that film?

A - I was dead. (laughs) I was an extra. I actually worked on the film about three weeks, being in Boston. I had several roles. I was a nurse. I was a corpse. I was just the person on the street. You know, the typical extra thing, but I had flown to Boston. I was staying there. So they used me in many different scenes in the film and quite honestly, I saw the movie I guess about a year ago for the first time and I couldn't find myself. I thought, gee, did they cut all my scenes out? (laughs) So that was kind of bad.

Q - So all of your parts were edited out?

A - I kind of think they might've been, but I did see Sweet Charity and I saw myself in that. So I wasn't edited out of that one.

Q - What role did you play in Sweet Charity?

A - Again as an extra, quite a few different scenes. In one scene I was at City Hall about to be married. Lots of street scenes. Lots of bar scenes. Just a chair filler type person. And then there was Rosemary's Baby and Coogan's Bluff with Clint Eastwood. Those are the four films I was involved in. I never got the chance to really have any speaking lines. I thought, this is kind of boring. (laughs)

Q - If you had persevered like you did in the music business, chances are something better might have come along.

A - Something might have. Eventually something might have. But that was not my first love. My first love was music. So that's what I decided to peruse.

Q - Your record, "If My Friends Could See Me Now" came out in 1978?

A - Yes.

Q - That was really at the tail end of the Disco era. How did you happen to record that song?

A - That's the thing that's so funny because that particular song was from the Broadway show Sweet Charity. I had done the film and worked with Shirley MacLaine and I was just so in awe of her and her talent. We were looking for songs for the album and somebody at the company said "We have this great idea. We think you should do this song "If My Friends Could See Me Now". I said "from the movie? From the show?" They said "Yeah." They said "Oh, no. That would be sacrilege, we can't do that." Then they went ahead and cut the track. I heard it and I thought, this is really great. I fell in love with the song and I started thinking about the lyric and thought, I can't imagine anybody out there who can't relate to this song in some form. There's always someone in the back you want to say "Hey! Remember Me? Check me out now." You just have this thing. And so we went in and did the song. Of course I was not following the way the record company would follow in getting feedback from the DJs and the phone rang one day in my apartment and they said "You're number one in Billboard!" I thought, this is not funny! This is a joke. And I hung up. It turned out to be the President of the company calling me. (laughs)

Q - How did life change for you when you had a number one song?

A - Oh, boy. It all happened very quickly. At the time I was working nightclubs with my band. People were like "Wait a second. Is that the same Linda Clifford that has that song I just danced to down the street?" People were coming up to me asking me about the song. I had no idea that it was that explosive. Then I was sent on this very quick promotional tour and I was going to all the clubs, not performing, but just going to see the reaction of the crowds when the song came on. It was unbelievable. And suddenly I was being recognized on the street, And I thought Wow! Especially in New York 'cause that's my home town. It was just incredible.

Q - Did you tour behind the song?

A - We definitely went on the road. I toured with Teddy Pendergrass. I was opening act for Teddy. I worked with Eddie Kendricks, Curtis Mayfield. Curtis and I recorded some things together. I would open for him. He would come out and do a show and I would come back and we'd do our stuff together. It was just unbelievable. The people were great and they loved the shows. We were on a bus. We were on an airplane. You name it. We were just happening all over the country and eventually going to Europe to perform. Doing television shows in Spain and Paris and London and that was something I never experienced before. So that was pretty awesome.

Q - Do you still travel to Europe?

A - There are requests for me to come to Europe, but at this point what we're trying to do this year (2012) is lining up the calendar and there will be a tour in Europe this year, which is great. It's been five years at least since I've been there to perform. So, this is kind of exciting.

Q - You had several hits after "If My Friends Could See Me Now", didn't you?

A - I did. "If My Friends Could See Me Now" is the one that really broke the door open and then there was "Runaway Love", "Red Light" from the movie Fame, "Shoot Your Best Shot", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Don't Give Up", "I'll Keep On Loving You". There were quite a few. I've been fortunate to have quite a few.

Q - Did you ever meet Frank Sinatra?

A - You know, I met him very briefly when the last tour that the three guys did together, Frank, Dean and Sammy. They were in Chicago. It must have been the Chicago Theatre. We got to meet him backstage. At that time, my husband and I had small children at home. We had a sitter, the typical suburban thing. We did meet him. He was very wonderful. Unfortunately, we couldn't stick around for the after party, but the show was incredible and he was incredible.

Q - How about Elvis?

A - I never met Elvis.

Q - How about The Beatles?

A - That would have been wonderful, but no, I didn't get to meet The Beatles. I would have loved to have met The Beatles when they were doing their thing.

Q - Did you ever meet Janis Joplin?

A - I never met Janis Joplin, but we actually lived in the same apartment complex in Los Angeles.

Q - How could it be that you missed each other?

A - I know. It's amazing. Then of course the tragedy happened (Janis died). I did meet Earth, Wind And Fire. They also lived in the same complex. This is a whole thing of musical people.

Q - This is the same complex where Janis Joplin was found dead?

A - Yes. And someone used to come there and bring flowers and leave them at the front door once a week after she died.

Q - How about Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison?

A - I met Jim Morrison. But I wasn't singing at the time. I was doing my cocktail waitress thing at The Whiskey A Go Go. He came in with an entourage. I don't know if he came in to see Cheech And Chong or The Isley Brothers. Jim came in and he could put it away. He was in my section. He kept me running all night. That's the one thing I remember about him.

Q - I hope he tipped you good!

A - I won't discuss that. (laughs) We'll just leave that alone.

Q - Who was in his entourage? Members of his band?

A - No. I think there were some band members possibly, and girlfriends. That kind of thing.

Q - Did you know it was him or did someone tell you?

A - I recognized him. I knew it was him. Of course that was the talk. When you're in a place like The Whiskey A Go Go, a lot of famous people would come in to see the shows. Of course everybody would talk about who was there that night. That was the big thing, that he was in there. But it was interesting. They ran me ragged.

Q - What was your impression of Jim Morrison? Was he friendly? Was he not friendly? Was he mean?

A - He was neither. He was there to see the show. He wasn't mean, but he wasn't especially friendly either. Very business like. That was it.

Q - The acts you must've seen come through The Whiskey!

A - Well, I wasn't there very long. I wasn't a very good cocktail waitress. (laughs) Well, I lied about having done this before. I went in and I needed a job. I said "Oh, yeah. I've done this. I used to do it in New York all the time. I can serve drinks." I didn't know one drink from another. But I managed to stick around for a couple of months.

Q - Has anyone ever asked you about having met Jim Morrison?

A - No, they haven't.

Q - Do you have new material on the marketplace? Do you sell your CDs online and at shows?

A - I have some things that I sell online at my website, but as far as some of the newer things that are out more recently... I have been recording for Music Plant Records. They are selling the newer things I have released. I just found out that one of the songs I recorded a few years ago has been re-mixed and re-edited and is coming out in about a week (January 27th, 2012). That was a song that was recorded so many years ago by Phyllis Hyman. It's something we went in to do as a tribute to Phyllis because she and I worked together quite a bit over the years. We were always running into each other at clubs, Studio 54, so many clubs around the country.

Q - Did you work in Studio 54 or go in there as a customer?

A - I worked it many times.

Q - The celebrities you ran into there!

A - Oh, it was unbelievable. Everyone.

Q - Mick Jagger?

A - Everyone. Yes, Bianca, his wife.

Q - Jackie O?

A - They were all there. Andy Warhol. Oh, my gosh. I can't think of everybody now. I used to work there quite a bit. So, all the stories that you hear about Studio 54 and the parties and the craziness was all true. (laughs)

© Gary James. All rights reserved.