Toni Tennille and Rita Coolidge were fixtures on the pop music charts in the 1970s but you couldn’t really classify them as superstars the way we think of contemporary distaff singers as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Both singers had their greatest successes on Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’s legendary record label, A&M. Tennille and Coolidge have been out of the spotlight for years (a fact that they are very much at peace with) and perform only on rare occasions. Coincidentally, Toni and Rita have just released memoirs, “Toni Tennille” (Taylor Trade) and “Delta Lady” (Harper).
Toni Tennille, along with her then husband, Daryl Dragon, comprised the popular duo, the Captain and Tennille, whose recording of Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” dominated the airwaves during the summer of 1975. The would go onto have numerous smashes such as “The Way That I Touch You,” “Angel Face,” “You Never Done It Like That,” and “Do That To Me One More Time.”
Just as Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s divorce in the early 1960s surprised television fans who saw them as the perfect couple thanks to the popularity of the 1950s classic, “I Love Lucy,” Toni Tennille’s announcement last year that she was leaving Captain Daryl shocked nearly every baby boomer who ever listened to Top 40 radio on a transistor radio. They always looked so happy on their album covers as well on their many TV appearances including their very own ABC show.
Toni acknowledges the negative publicity that came her way after the divorce news broke and she doesn’t mince words that their relationship was a struggle in spite of the sunny lyrics of “Love Will Keep Us Together” and their other well-known songs.
Her portrait of Daryl is a man beset with a myriad of psychological problems. She states that the reason that he always wore his iconic sailing cap was because he was embarrassed by his significant hair loss. That lack of self-esteem made him quite anti-social away from the stage. She also states that his father, the highly regarded classical music conductor and composer Carmen Dragon, was a cold autocrat who bullied his kids. It’s not surprising that his wife suffered a nervous breakdown.
There is no shortage of behind-the-scenes music business scuttlebutt in “Toni Tennille.” She talks about how she and Daryl were part of the Beach Boys touring band in the early ‘70s and she has a few tales about the late bon vivant Beach Boys drummer, Dennis Wilson. She also dishes on the duo’s falling out with A&M Records as well as their short tenure at Casablanca Records where, according to her, all of the executives were serious cocaine users.
“Toni Tennille” is a sharply written autobiography. To her credit she can even laugh at herself. Toni takes enormous pride that humorist Dave Barry listed the Captain & Tennille’s version of “Muskrat Love” as one of the 100 worst records of all-time.
With her model-like looks and pleasant singing voice, Rita Coolidge, freely admits that she straddled the line between performer and rock groupie in the 1970s as she had relationships with Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and unfortunately drummer Jim Gordon, who would beat her. Coolidge actually got off lucky with Gordon. He would eventually be convicted for murdering a woman with whom he was intimate.
Rock fans first got to know her as she was part of Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the group that Leon Russell put together at the behest of A&M Records’ czar Jerry Moss to back Joe Cocker on his first tour of the US. Coolidge writes highly of the late British blues and rock singer as a sweet-tempered soul who she claims was bamboozled his managers.
One of the biggest drawbacks of Coolidge’s autobiography is that she doesn’t write much about the music of which she was an integral part. I loved Joe Cocker’s versions of both “The Letter” and “Cry Me A River” but we get no insights from her.
Rita Coolidge may be best known for her tumultuous eight-year marriage to singer/composer/ film actor Kris Kristofferson. Coincidentally I was in the audience when they hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live” in 1976 which was just ending its first season. I remember Kristofferson had trouble reading his lines and appeared to be inebriated although he sang a great version of his latest composition, “I’ve Got A Life Of My Own.” Hosting on “SNL” episode has always been a big deal for a career but there is nothing about it in this autobiography.
“Delta Lady” will certainly interest those who are fascinated by the golden age of the L.A. rock scene in the 1970s but Coolidge could have easily done a better job.