THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CHI COLTRANE.
dereksmusicblog ♦ November 26, 2017 ♦ 4 Comments
The Life and Times of Chi Coltrane.
The word prodigy is an overused word, but that is the only way to describe Chi Coltrane who could play eight different instruments by the time she was twelve. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Chi Coltrane had absolutely no formal musical training. Instead, her ability to play such a wide variety of instruments was innate. It was her gift. Eventually, Chi Coltrane decided to concentrate on one instrument the piano.
It was at the piano that eighteen year old Chi Coltrane wrote her first song as an eighteen year old. By then, she was a playing bars, clubs and restaurants in Chicago. That was where she was discovered by the manager of the Shubert Theatre, who took Chi Coltrane to the West Coast where she recorded a six song demo which was sent to Columbia Records. Soon, an audition with Clive Davis was arranged, and after singing just one verse Chi Coltrane was offered a contract.
With the contract signed, Chi Coltrane recorded a trio of albums for Columbia Records. For Chi Coltrane, embarking upon a career as a singer-songwriter was her destiny. It was what she as born to do.
The Early Years.
Chi Coltrane was born on November the ’16th’ 1948 in Racine, Wisconsin, and was one of seven children born to a Canadian mother and German father who was a violinist. Soon, it became apparent that Chi Coltrane had inherited his musical talent.
Just like most young girls growing up in the early fifties, Chi Coltrane and her friends played with dolls. One day seven-year old Chi Coltrane took her doll and went to play with her friend next door. When she went into the house, Chi Coltrane discovered the family piano. Suddenly, Chi Coltrane lost interest in her dolls and started to play the piano. This was the start of a new chapter in Chi Coltrane’s young life.
Not long after this, Chi Coltrane’s mother remarried and moved into her stepfather’s house, where she discovered a piano. When Chi Coltrane started to play the piano, her mother was surprised. She had no idea about her daughter’s musical gift. Soon, Chi Coltrane’s mother was receiving notes from the school telling her that her daughter was gifted musically.
That was something of an understatement. By the time Chi Coltrane was twelve, she was able to play eight different musical instruments. She could usually work out how to play an instruments within an hour. This was almost unheard of. However, it wasn’t Chi Coltrane’s only gift.
Another innate gift that Chi Coltrane had, was the ability to empathise and connect with animals. This was an unusual gift something very few people were able to do. However, Chi Coltrane was a very gifted child.
Meanwhile, Chi Coltrane was singing in church, where he voice started to develop. Soon, she was being asked to sing solo, which allowed Chi Coltrane to become used to singing in front of audiences. This would stand her in good stead for the future.
By her late teens, Chi Coltrane was already singing in bars, clubs, restaurants and supper clubs in Chicago. This was where Chi Coltrane would serve her musical apprenticeship over the next few years and mature as a singer and indeed songwriter.
Chi Coltrane had already written her first song as an eighteen year old, and this was the start of a successful songwriting career. However, the patrons at the establishments Chi Coltrane played and sang at, wanted to hear very different songs. So Chi Coltrane made a point of learning the classic songs that her older, wealthier audience would enjoy.
Many of the venues Chi Coltrane played at were frequented by some of Chicago’s local celebrities, politicians and businesspeople, and each night, she tailored her sets to the suit her audience. As she sang and played the piano, the audiences started to take notice of the young singer. Sometimes they spoke to Chi Coltrane, and many members of her appreciative audience left tips in the crystal jar that sat on top of her piano. Before log, Chi Coltrane was a popular draw across the Windy City with people flocking to see the young singer.
This included the manager of the Shubert Theatre, who when he heard Chi Coltrane singing in a restaurant, suddenly lost all interest in his meal. All he wanted to do was listen to the singer next door on the lounge. When he arrived in the lounge and listened to Chi Coltrane, he realised that this was no ordinary singer. By the end of the evening, Chi Coltrane had a new manager who would take the young singer-songwriter to the West Coast.
When Chi Coltrane and her new manager arrived in the West Coast, she recorded a six song demo which was promptly dispatched to Columbia Records. The demo worked its magic, and Chi Coltrane was invited audition in front of Clive Davis. He asked Chi Coltrane to sing, and before she had finished the first verse, was offering the her a contract. The years that Chi Coltrane had spent playing the local circuit in Chicago had paid off. That was her
With the contract signed, Chi Coltrane was soon working on her debut album for Columbia Records. She was paired with studio drummer turned producer Toxey French. He had played on albums by some well known artists including Judy Henske, The Dillards and Tommy Rae. More recently, Toxey French had produced another Los Angeles based singer-songwriter Patty Dahlstrom. This was most likely why he was paired with Chi Coltrane.
Despite not yet being twenty-four, Chi Coltrane was writing songs that belied her relative youth. She was maturing into a talented and versatile songwriter who had an old head on young shoulders. When it came to choosing the material for her eponymous debut album, the eleven songs that were all Chi Coltrane compositions. They were recorded by a band that featured some of LA’s top session players.
Columbia Records was backing their latest signing by allowing producer Toxey French to put together a band that included some of the finest session musicians LA had to offer. Some of the musicians featured on the entire album, while others featured on one or two tracks. This included a rhythm section that included drummers Jim Gordon and Ron Tutt, bassist Larry Knechtel, Lee Sklar and Steve Lefever and guitarists Dean Parks and Ben Benay. They were augmented by percussionist Victor Feldman, King Errisson on congas, plus strings, woodwinds, horns and The Billy Barnum Chorus. No expense was spared for Chi Coltrane who played piano, organ and added vocals. She also on arranged the eleven songs with producer Toxey French, and was involved in the production process on her eponymous debut album.
With Chi Coltrane completed, the time came to choose a lead single. This was a hugely important decision that could make or break an album. If the wrong song was chosen, an album could sink without trace. That wasn’t the case with Chi Coltrane which was full of possible singles. Eventually, the song that became the lead single, was the song that opened the album, Thunder and Lightning.
Thunder and Lightning was the perfect debut single for Chi Coltrane, who unleashes one of her trademark vocal powerhouse on this soulful single. This was very different to many of the Laurel Canyon singers who didn’t lacked the power, control or soulfulness that Chi Coltrane had. When Thunder And Lightning was released as a single in 1972, it reached seventeen in the US Billboard 100 and entered the top ten in the Cash Box and Record World charts. This was the perfect start to Chi Coltrane’s recording career.
Meanwhile, Chi Coltrane was released to critical acclaim later in 1972, and spent the best part of the three months in the US Billboard 200 and found an audience across mainland Europe. Already, twenty-four years Chi Coltrane was enjoying success on both sides of the Atlantic. After Chi Coltrane had showcased the young singer- songwriter skills, more success came her way.
Chi Coltrane’s controversial album track Go Like Elijah was released as a single later in 1972, and although it failed to trouble the charts in America. It was a very different story in Europe, where Go Like Elijah spent a month at number one in the Netherlands. This gave Chi Coltrane her first number one single, and was something to celebrate.
By then, Chi Coltrane was enjoying success across Europe. Just like many American before her, Chi Coltrane was more popular in Europe than in America. The only country she had yet to make a breakthrough was in Britain, where restrictive trade union practises hampered her progress.
This came about when Chi Coltrane’s appearance on Old Grey Whistle Test was cancelled at the last-minute. A musician’s union rule stated that if an American musician appeared on British television, a British musician had to be booked to appear on American television. When that wasn’t about to happen, Chi Coltrane’s television appearance was suddenly cancelled. Despite that disappointment, Chi Coltrane had come a long way since the release of her eponymous debut album.
Let It Ride.
After the success of Chi Coltrane the twenty-four year old singer-songwriter decided to enrol at the Salter School of Music in Los Angeles. She managed to combined the course with her burgeoning musical career.
One of Chi Coltrane’s priorities was writing her eagerly awaited sophomore album Let It Ride. Chi Coltrane wrote nine new songs, which joined Hallelujah which was written by Gary Zekley, Mitch Bottler and Roberta Twain. With the songs written, Chi Coltrane was already thinking about asking if she could produce Let It Ride herself. She had learnt a lot from producer Toxey French, and was ready to put that knowledge to good use.
When Chi Coltrane asked about producing Let It Ride, executives at Columbia Records agreed, pointing out that she was essentially the de facto producer of her eponymous album.
Now that it had been agreed that Chi Coltrane could produce Let It Ride, she set about putting together a band that featured a mixture of old faces and new names. The rhythm section included drummers Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Barry De Souza and Steve Parsons, bassists Larry Knechtel, Chris Lawrence, Emory Gordy, Joe Puerta, John Gustafson, Klaus Voorman and Mark Cipola and guitarists Ben Benay, Larry Byron and Lee Ritenour. They were joined by Paul Buckmaster on synths, Alan Estes on tambourine and Bobbye Hall who played congas and tambourine. Completing the lineup were backing vocalists Merry Clayton, Clydie King and Stephanie Spruill plus a horn, string and woodwind section. This was the band that accompanied Chi Coltrane at Mama Jo’s studio in North Hollywood, and Trident Studios in London, during her European tour.
Once Let It Ride was completed, Chi Coltrane’s sophomore album was released later in 1973. By then, Chi Coltrane had established a following within the music press who realised that she was a cut above the majority of singer-songwriters around at that time.
Proof of that was Let It Ride which featured a songwriting masterclass from Chi Coltrane who as a vocalist, was equally comfortable on ballads and uptempo songs. Critics hailed Let It Ride as an even better album than Chi Coltrane. She had reached new heights on an album that marked the musical coming of age of twenty-six year old Chi Coltrane.
When Let It Ride was released in 1973, it was more popular in Europe than in America. Let It Ride was quickly certified gold in several European countries. It was only later that Chi Coltrane would be certified gold in these countries. By then, all wasn’t well at Columbia Records.
Clive Davis left Columbia Records not long after the release of Let It Ride. After some changes within Columbia Records, it became apparent that Chi Coltrane wasn’t high on the label’s priorities. Eventually, Chi Coltrane’s lawyer negotiated her release from the Columbia Records’ contract.
Road To Tomorrow.
Now the search began for a new label for Chi Coltrane. By then, over three years had passed since the release of Let It Ride. Despite this, Chi Coltrane had no problem finding a new label, and signed a two album deal with the TK/Cloud label, a Miami based label which specialised in disco, funk and soul releases.
Given Chi Coltrane’s musical background, the TK/Cloud label seemed the wrong label for the LA based singer-songwriter. Despite the misgivings of many music industry insiders, Chi Coltrane began work on their album Road To Tomorrow.
It featured ten new songs penned by Chi Coltrane, which were recorded by a band that featured some of LA’s top session musicians including drummer Jim Gordon and Jeff Porcaro and percussionist Victor Feldman who also played vibes. Adding backing vocals was none other than Jennifer Warnes. Some members of this multitalented had worked with Chi Coltrane before on her two previous albums. However, Road To Tomorrow was the first album produced by Peter Bernstein.
When Road To Tomorrow was released the album was well received by critics, but failed to find an audience in America. Road To Tomorrow was more popular in America, but failed to replicate the success of Chi Coltrane and Let It Ride. This was disappointing for Chi Coltrane.
Fortunately, fate intervened when Chi Coltrane attended a meeting at the Beverley Hills Hilton, and mistakenly went into a room where a CBS conference was taking place. Straight away, the various executives recognised Chi Coltrane and soon, were trying to sign her to CBS Germany. The only problem was the contract with TK/Cloud.
Eventually, a decision was made that CBS Germany would offer to buy Chi Coltrane out of her contract with TK/Cloud. When CBS Germany approached the Miami-based label, they accepted the offer and Chi Coltrane was free to sign to another major label. She was going up in the world again.
Silk and Steel.
As soon as Chi Coltrane had signed to CBS Germany, she began work on Silk and Steel, her fourth album. Eventually, Chi Coltrane had written eight new songs that would become Silk and Steel. It featured a very different band and producers.
For the recording of Silk and Steel, Larry Brown and Freddie Piro were chosen to produce the album. Wim Kutz and Chi Coltrane assumed the role of associate producers, as she began working with a new band.
Joining Chi Coltrane was a rhythm section of drummers David Kemper and Mark Sanders, bassists Charlie Souza, David Edelstein and Jeff Eyrick and guitarists Daryl Caraco, David Mansfield, Eric Turner, Steve Hunter and Tom Fowle. They were joined by Bernie Leadon on acoustic guitar and Larry Brown who played synths and percussion. As usual, Chi Coltrane played piano, keyboards and now synths while adding lead vocals. Once the album was complete it was ready for release in 1980.
Silk and Steel marked a return to form from Chi Coltrane. Her carefully crafted fourth album received praise and plaudits from critics, who were won over by the longer songs on Silk and Steel that which was a quite personal album for Chi Coltrane.
By then, Chi Coltrane was constantly touring and playing around 300 concerts each year. This was starting to take its toll and she deals with the exhaustion caused by gruelling tours. This was something that Chi Coltrane addressed on the uptempo rocker Jet Lag. Little did she realise the effect the constant touring was having on her. That would only become apparent later. Before that, Chi Coltrane released Silk and Steel
Eight years after releasing her debut album, Chi Coltrane released her fourth album Silk and Steel, which showcased a truly versatile vocalist who was maturing with every album. Sadly, still commercial success continued to elude Chi Coltrane at home, and again, Silk and Steel was more popular in Europe than in America. It was a familiar story for Chi Coltrane.
That had been the case since Chi Coltrane released her sophomore album Let It Ride. Since then, her albums sold well in Europe and her concerts sold out. Meanwhile, in America Chi Coltrane was still trying to replicate the success of her 1972 eponymous debut album.
Sadly, Chi Coltrane never came close to replicating the success of her eponymous debut album at home in America. Meanwhile, Chi Coltrane’s career was blossoming in Europe. Eventually, she decided to move to Europe, which became her adopted home.
Having settled in Europe, Chi Coltrane decided to release he first live album of her career. The album was recorded in the spring of 1982. Chi Coltrane’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist were put to good use as she played Fender Rhodes, piano and synths as she worked her way through ten tracks for her burgeoning back-catalogue. The set-list included You Were My Friend, Leavin’ It All Behind, It’s Not Easy and her number one single in the Netherlands Go Like Elijah joined the album closer Road To Tomorrow on the setlist to what became Live!
Once the album was recorded, Chi Coltrane decided there would be no overdubbing. Unlike many artists, Chi Coltrane wanted to replicate her true live sound. This proved popular when it was released by the Teldec label later in 1982. Live! kept her fans happy while Chi Coltrane began work on her next album.
Ready To Roll.
Chi Coltrane went away and wrote the nine new songs that would become her new album. When it came to recording Ready To Roll, Chi Coltrane arranged and produced the album which was released later in 1983 by Teldec.
When Ready To Roll was released, it was well received by critics, and sold well in Europe. That was where Chi Coltrane was most popular, and often she played 300 concerts a year. This was a gruelling schedule, but one Chi Coltrane kept over the next three years.
Three years passed before Chi Coltrane returned with a new album, The Message. It featured nine new songs from Chi Coltrane, which she had arranged and produced. They were recorded by a tight talented band, and when The Message was completed, it was released in 1986.
Critics hailed The Message as the best album Chi Coltrane had released for Teldec. It showcased how she had matured as a singer, songwriter and producer. She had come a long way since released her eponymous debut album in 1972.
Upon its release in 1986, The Message found favour with Chi Coltrane’s European fans and had sold well. Sadly, nearly two decades of constant touring took its toll on Chi Coltrane. She was exhausted and had burnt out.
Chi Coltrane was no longer able to play live and it wasn’t until a holistic doctor treated the illness in 2007, that she was able to make a comeback in 2009.
That was when Chi Coltrane resumed her career after twenty-three long and frustrating years. Chi Coltrane released new compilation The Essential Chi Coltrane–Yesterday, Today and Forever in 2009. It featured songs from the three albums Chi Coltrane had released for Teldec during the eighties, Live!, Ready To Roll, and The Message, and also contained three new recordings, including Yesterday, Today and Forever. Chi Coltrane was back and making music.
Three years later, in 2012, and Chi Coltrane released her second live album The Comeback Concert-Live In Vienna. Fifty-four year old Chi Coltrane was back doing what she did best, making music, which was what she had been doing since releasing her eponymous debut album in 1972.
The Life and Times of Chi Coltrane.
- Posted in: Pop ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Chi Coltrane, Columbia Records, Jeff Porcaro, Jennifer Warnes, Let It Ride, Live, Ready To Roll, Road To Tomorrow, Silk and Steel, The Message
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as an Aussie growing uo in the Netherlands in 73 Chi was one of my most favorite artists Best ‘you were my friend’ still play it today and still love it
In 1971 I was the first UK executive to go to Tulsa the home of Telex Computer Products. I worked with the local guy in Oklahoma. Then with the regional director in Chicago. I was booked into the Executive House where Chi played at the piano. She sang a couple of requests for me. I bought her album which I still have and remember Thunder and Lightning and Goodbye John
my whole group of friends at Uni in Cape Town couldnt get enough of Chi’s raw vocal power and sweet tender lyrics – she really blessed us all – Let it ride was our favourite album – my daughter and I sang Myself to you as a duet at her musical Eisteddfodd in Australia and she won with this.