Q&A: Dionne Warwick
Dionne Warwick follows her return to the recording studio, which resulted in her acclaimed album She’s Back, with her return this month to Caesars Palace for a dozen dates in the intimate, classic Vegas setting of Cleopatra’s Barge. The most sophisticated pop singer to emerge in the ’60s, Warwick had just completed work on a Christmas album when Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen caught up with her.
I understand it’s Christmas in Dionne Warwick’s world, is that right?
Yes, it is! (laughs) I’m singing songs about snow.
What prompted that? What made you decide to record a Christmas album next?
It was time to do another one, and Christmas happens to be my favorite time of year. I figured I wanted to share some good stuff with people.
Did you record any particular favorites?
They’re all very special to me. I don’t have a favorite Christmas song. I’ll sing of what I want to hear at Christmas time: joy and happiness, and laughter.
So, what are a couple of songs on there we’ll be hearing?
Oh, well, they’ll be “Jingle Bells,” “Jingle Bell Rock.”
We’ll get back to your recording, but first, welcome back to Vegas. You’re returning after performing at Bally’s in April. Is this your first extended engagement in Vegas of this kind since you appeared at the Hilton in 1990?
What brought you back?
The offer was made, that simple (laughs).
Did the room appeal to you? Did doing a more intimate show at Cleopatra’s Barge …
It should be interesting, let me put it that way. We’ll see how it works.
Paul Shaffer, who just performed with you at a Grammy salute to songwriter/producer Thom Bell, and Wayne Newton have been warming it up for you. Mr. Shaffer seemed to be having a good time there bringing in musical guests. Are you going in a different direction or will audiences see your signature show?
Well, I’ll be doing Dionne Warwick, how about that? (laughs) It’s something that I do when I’m in performance, and that’s what people are going to get, and see. And hear.
So we’re not going to go over the top with bio video like the big productions do here?
(laughs) No, that’s not who Dionne Warwick is.
Who do you work with live?
I work with my rhythm section. Five pieces, and they travel with me. And that’s what we’ll be working with.
Can you give an overview of your history of performing in Vegas?
I started my Vegas career, performing there, in 1969 at the Sands Hotel. That was the hotel I performed in until I went to the Riviera, once it changed hands when Jack Entratter passed. I was at the Riviera for a few years, then I left the Riviera and went to Caesars Palace when it was actually Caesars Palace.
The title of your latest album is She’s Back. You never really left recording, or Vegas, did you?
Well, it wasn’t intended to indicate that I had gone anywhere. It was just acknowledging the fact that I had not recorded in well over five years, and it was time to get back into the studio after being accosted by so many people asking me when was I going to record and put out some new music. So I figured that was the best way to answer that question: She’s back!
I really liked what you did with (Doobie Brothers songs) “What a Fool Believes.”
And I wouldn’t call your re-imagining of “Déjà Vu” trap but it would fit in a playlist alongside trap, or in a mix.
(laughs) It was different.
A lot of people might not know you have a connection to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony through Damon, so that brought Krayzie Bone into your album.
Exactly. He and Damon had stayed in touch with other for many years. They were associated with each other musically, and when he decided to do what he had let me know was a favorite song of mine, “Déjà Vu,” he called Damon and asked if I’d be interested in hearing it, first of all, and if I wouldn’t mind putting my voice on it. After I had heard what he had done to it I thought it was quite nice. It kept “Déjà Vu” alive and brought it into the 21st century, and I found nothing wrong with adding my voice. So I did.
It felt pretty organic. A lot of contemporary collaborations feel calculated. It didn’t feel like producers were throwing artists against the wall to see which ones would stick with you.
Did all of the collaborations come out of pre-existing relationships?
A couple were from relationships I had with people, but I really didn’t know Musiq Soulchild until I walked into the studio and met him for the first time. It was a very interesting session we did (resulting in a cover of Atlantic Starr’s “Am I Dreaming”). I was very impressed at the fact that he was very, very musical. He has a lovely voice and we got along very well, so it was nice to meet him and to be able to do something wonderful with him.
I did something kind of interesting after reading an article in which a writer compared She’s Back to your 1969 album Soulful. I made a playlist that alternated between albums, track by track, and I felt like I heard Whitney Houston in your voice, not like as an influence on her but I felt the way she handed a pop song and certain vocal nuances. You wrote about how your father had an impressive voice. Is it in the genes?
I think basically we’re family. We’re definitely going to have some sort of resemblance.
Is it true that the first song you ever sang publicly was “Jesus Loves Me”?
Are there albums from the ’60s that particularly stick out due to the memories of recording them?
I don’t have a favorite album, let me clarify that. All of the music that has been written for me to record, I love them all. They’re like my babies.
You also look at the current generation of young artists as your babies. Do you feel that way about all of them, of do you feel artistic kinships with certain singers?
Well, I feel the younger generation of recording artists today are babies, and I look at them as such. That’s where you get that from, but I don’t know all of them. The ones that I do know I consider part of that realm of my babies.
Earlier today, I was trying to find a precedent for the collaboration of you, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder on “That’s What Friends Are For.” I realized that was probably the first example of something that’s common today, although now it’s more about cross branding than bringing attention to a cause. It was a kind of a blueprint for an approach that would be duplicated decades later.
I can agree with that, yes. I think that we who have been in the business more than a few years can kind of give a few guidelines for a lot of the recording artists today, and it’s a good thing they’re taking heed to it. Collaborations, especially first of all when your dealing with people you know, and in the case of That’s What Friends Are For,” are friends and have been for many years, it’s something that makes sense.
Is there anybody you have in mind that you’d like to collaborate with?
Oh, yeah, and we’ve been procrastinating about this for many, many years. My favorite group of all time is Earth, Wind and Fire. We’ve been saying we’ve got to get in the studio, but when they’re in Japan, I’m in Germany, so our schedules have not been appropriate yet, but we’ll find that time that’s for sure.
I read that Verdine White said you were kindred artistic spirits and you should be working together. They were just here, and they are on fire.
Oh, they are. They’re awesome, and have always been.