NICOLETTE LARSON-THE WARNER BROS YEARS.
Nicolette Larson-The Warner Bros Years.
Nowadays, far too many people are scared to follow their dream and instead, settle for second best and the drudgery of working 9-5. Sadly, it’s only much later, when it’s too late, that they realise what they gave up and what might have been. Nicolette Larson was determined that wasn’t going to happen to her and after spending three semesters at the University Of Missouri and working various dead-end jobs, left to pursue a career in music. This must have left her friends and family shaking their heads and sagely saying that it was a decision that Nicolette Larson would live to regret.
How wrong they were. Over the next few years, Nicolette Larson sang backing vocals for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Eric Anderson, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young. Later, she added harmonies on albums by Marcia Ball, Norton Buffalo and Rodney Crowell. By then, Nicolette Larson had been signed to the country division of Warner Bros, and in 1978 her debut album Nicolette was certified gold. It was the next chapter in the Nicolette Larson story, which began twenty-six years earlier.
Nicolette Larson was born in Helena, Montana on July the ’17th’ 1952, and led a somewhat a nomadic existence growing up. This couldn’t be helped, as her father worked for the US Treasury, and was often transferred to other towns and cities. Sometimes, Nicolette was just starting to make friends and settling into a new school, when the Larson family were on the move again. By the time Nicolette Larson graduated high school, the Larson family were living in Kansas City, Missouri. Next stop for Nicolette Larson was the University Of Missouri.
Having enrolled at the University Of Missouri, it wan’t long before Nicolette Larson realised that student life wasn’t for her. After spending what must have been three long semesters studying at the University Of Missouri, Nicolette Larson decided to leave academia behind.
Things didn’t get much better for Nicolette Larson, over the next few weeks and months, worked a variety of dead-end jobs in Missouri. She waited tables and experienced the nine to five drudgery of working in an office. Eventually, Nicolette Larson decided to follow her dream, and pursue a career in music.
This Nicolette Larson knew wasn’t going to be easy, and was going to take time, persistence and dogged determination. It also meant that she would need to leave Missouri behind, and head to one of America’s musical cities, and eventually, settled on San Francisco, which had a thriving music scene.
That had been the case since the birth of rock ’n’ roll. Nicolette Larson’s first job in San Francisco, was in one of the city’s many record stores. In her spare time, Nicolette Larson volunteered at the Golden Gate Country Bluegrass Festival.
As Nicolette Larson watched the artists perform at the Golden Gate Country Bluegrass Festival, she became even more determined to become a singer. So much so, that she was willing to travel to Canada to make her debut opening for vocalist Eric Anderson in Vancouver, British Columbia. Buoyed by having made her professional debut as a singer, Nicolette Larson returned home, and began looking for work as a singer.
Fortunately, Hoyt Axton was looking for backing singers to join his band, Hoyt Axton and The Banana Band, who were due to open for Joan Baez on her 1975 Diamonds and Rust tour. Nicolette Larson passed the audition, and joined Hoyt Axton and The Banana Band the tour. During the tour, Nicolette Larson made a big impression on Hoyt Axton was also producing country rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s album Tales From The Ozone. He was looking for singers to add backing vocals.
Nicolette Larson and Guthrie Thomas fitted the bill, and they both made her debut on Tales From The Ozone. It was released in 1975, and was just the first of a number of artists Nicolette Larson worked with. Often though, Nicolette Larson worked with Guthrie Thomas, and other times she worked alone.
Having worked with Hoyt Axton and Guy Clark in 1976, soon word was spreading about this new backing vocalist Nicolette Larson who was working with some big name musicians. This included Billy Joe Shaver, Gary Stewart, Jesse Colin Young, Jesse Winchester Mary Kay Place and Rodney Crowell. Nicolette Larson recorded another album with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. However, in 1977 Nicolette got the opportunity to work with two of the biggest names in music.
The first was Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris who was about to record her 1977 album Luxury Liner. She brought Nicolette Larson onboard to sing backing vocals on the album. Her finest moment on the album came on Hello Stranger, where Nicolette features prominently and plays a starring role. During the recording sessions for Luxury Liner, Nicolette Larson met Linda Ronstadt and the two women became firm friends. This resulted in Nicolette getting the opportunity of a lifetime.
One day, Neil Young phoned Linda Ronstadt to ask if she could recommend a female vocalist to sing on what became his American Stars ’N’ Bars album. Little did Linda Ronstadt know, that she was the third person Neil Young had asked that question. Just like the first two, Linda Ronstadt replied “Nicolette Larson.” That made Neil Young’s mind up, and Nicolette Larson got the call to head to his ranch and cut vocals for American Stars ’N’ Bars.
Joining Nicolette Larson for the American Stars ’N’ Bars’ sessions, was Linda Ronstadt, and the pair harmonised, while Neil Young laid down the vocals and played guitar. When Stars ’N’ Bars was released, Nicolette and Linda Ronstadt were billed as The Bullets. However, only one of The Bullets would return to sing on Neil Young’s next album.
In November 1977, Neil Young was recording Comes A Time in Nashville, and Nicolette Larson was asked to join what was an all-star cast. She contributed harmonies on eight of the ten tracks on Comes A Time was released in October 1978, and played an important part in Nicolette’s future.
Before that, Nicolette Larson continued to work as a backing vocalist, and 1978 got off to a good start when Emmylou Harris’ Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town album reached number three in the US Billboard 100, and was certified gold. Meanwhile, Nicolette Larson also added harmonies to albums by Marcia Ball, Norton Buffalo and Rodney Crowell before Neil Young’s Comes A Time was released in October 1978. However, it wasn’t the most successful album Nicolette Larson featured later in 1978.
That honour fell to The Doobie Brothers’ Minute By Minute, where Nicolette Larson added harmonies on two tracks. When Minute By Minute was released on ‘1st’ December 1978 it reached number one album, was certified triple platinum and won four Grammy Awards. However, by the time Minute By Minute was released Nicolette Larson’s career had begun.
By then, Nicolette Larson had already signed to the country division of Warner Bros. This came about after she had worked with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and Neil Young. Executives at Warner Bros realising that Nicolette Larson was a talented artist with huge potential, wasted no time in signing her to their country division. They then paired Nicolette Larson with a top producer Ted Templeman.
Nicolette Larson had already worked with Ted Templeman before, on The Doobie Brothers’ album Little By Little. He was already one of the most successful producers of the late-sixties and seventies. He had worked with Van Morrison, Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers, Captain Beefheart, Montrose, The Beau Brummels and Carly Simon. Ted Templeman next assignment was producing Nicolette Larson’s debut album Nicolette.
Having signed to Warner Bros, work began on Nicolette Larson’s debut album Nicolette. The ten tracks that were chosen for the album, were all cover versions as Nicolette Larson wasn’t known as a songwriter. As a result, Nicolette Larson and Ted Templeman began choosing songs that would suit Nicolette’s voice.
This included Neil Young’s Lotta Love; Jesse Winchester’s Rhumba Girl; Sam Cooke’s You Send Me; Lauren Wood’s Can’t Get Away From You; Bill Payne’s Give a Little; Adam Mitchell’s French Waltz and Bob McDill’s Come Early Mornin’. They were joined by Bob Hillard and Burt Bacharach’s Mexican Divorce; Holland, Dozier, Holland’s Baby Don’t You Do It; Adam Louvin’s Angels Rejoiced and Glen Frey and JD Souther’sLast in Love which would close Nicolette. Before that, these Nicolette was recorded with an all-star band
When it came to recording Nicolette, a huge cast of musicians and backing vocalists were involved in the recording. This included musicians who Nicolette had previously worked with. Both Linda Ronstadt and Michael McDonald added backing vocals on Nicolette. Meanwhile, members of Little Feat and The Doobie Brothers, two the most successful bands of the seventies made guest appearances alongside bassist Klaus Voormann; guitarist Herb Pedersen, Memphis Horns’ saxophonist Andrew Love and Eddie Van Halen laid down a guitar solo on Can’t Get Away From You. Meanwhile, Ted Templeman took charge of production of Nicolette which was completed in time to be released in the autumn of 1978.
The release of Nicolette was scheduled for September the ‘29th’ 1978, but before that, critics had their say on Nicolette. The reviews of Nicolette were all positive, with Nicolette Larson’s blend of pop, rock, soul, country and folk proving popular amongst critics. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Nicolette which reached number fifteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the Canadian charts. This resulted in gold discs in America and Canada. That wasn’t the end of the commercial success.
Meanwhile, Lotta Love had reached number eight on the US Billboard 100 and number one on the US Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. Across the border in Canada, Lotta Love reached number four, and number one in the Adult Contemporary chart. This was the perfect start for Nicolette’s carer.
The followup to Lotta Love, Rhumba Girl reached forty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-eight on the US Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. Meanwhile in Canada, Rhumba Girl reached fifteen and number four in the Adult Contemporary charts. Soon, two hits would become three.
The final single from Nicolette, Give A Little reached number nineteen in the US Billboard’s Adult Contemporary charts. That was the third hit single from Nicolette which had just been certified gold. This was the perfect start to Nicolette Larson’s solo career, and was no surprise to those who had heard her debut album, which whetted the listener’s appetite for her sophomore album.
In The Nick Of Time.
For In The Nick Of Time, Ted Templeman returned to produce the album. Ten tracks were chosen, including Just in the Nick of Time which Nicolette cowrote with Ted Templeman and Lauren Wood. She had written Can’t Get Away from You for Nicolette, and contributed Breaking Too Many Hearts and Fallen to In The Nick Of Time. They were joined by songs from successful songwriting partnerships.
Just like Nicolette, In The Nick Of Time featured a track from Holland, Dozier, Holland, Back in My Arms. It was joined by Dancin’ Jones which Lieber and Stoller wrote with John Sembello and Ralph Dino. They were joined by Michael McDonald and B.J. Cook Foster’s Let Me Go, Love; Richard Torrance and John Haeny’s Rio de Janeiro Blue; Bobby Troup’s Daddy; Karla Bonoff’s Isn’t It Always Love and Lowell George’s Trouble. These songs would become In The Nick Of Time, where Nicolette, was once again, joined by an all-star band.
At the core of Nicolette’s band for the recording of In The Nick Of Time, once again were Little Feat’s guitarist Paul Barrere and keyboardist Bill Payne. They were joined by The Doobie Brothers’ live drummer and percussionist Bobby LaKind. Making guest appearances were The Memphis Horns; guitarist Ronnie Montrose; keyboardist Van Dyke Parks and Michael McDonald who duetted with Nicolette on Let Me Go, Love. This glittering array of musical talent joined Nicolette and producer Ted Templeman in recording In The Nick Of Time. However, could and would it match the commercial success and critical acclaim of Nicolette?
That was never going to be easy. Nicolette had received critically acclaimed reviews, and was certified gold. Throughout Nicolette, her enthusiasm is infectious. It was as if she was determined to grasp this opportunity with both hands. That was the case, as she brought each song to life, breathing meaning into the lyrics. However, the reviews of In The Nick Of Time weren’t as positive
Partly, this was because music was changing, and so were the critics. A new breed of cynical, gunslinger critics turned their guns on any type of music that was remotely establishment sounding. This included progressive rock, classic rock and even singer-songwriters like Nicolette Larson. Many albums didn’t stand a chance, and weren’t judged on their merits. Instead, the critic’s prejudice affected their judgement, and this didn’t bode well for Nicolette Larson’s sophomore album In The Nick Of Time.
On the release of In The Nick Of Time in 1979, the album stalled at forty-seven in the US Billboard 200, and seventy-one in Canada. There were no gold discs for Nicolette Larson this time around. To add to the disappointment neither the lead single Dancin’ Jones nor the followup Back in My Arms charted. This was a huge disappointment as In The Nick Of Time was an album that deserved to fare much better?
In The Nick Of Time was very different album to Nicolette, and found the twenty-seven year old singer widening her musical horizons. Whether this was Nicolette Larson’s decision is another matter? There was no need for her to change direction as Nicolette had just sold over 500,000 copies. Despite that, a quartet of dance-floor friendly tracks were added to In The Nick Of Time, which featured everything from disco, jazz, soul, pop and AOR. This executives at Warner Bros hoped would be a winning formula.
While disco was still popular when In The Nick Of Time was recorded, by July 1979 it was a musical pariah by the time the album was released. The decision to reinvent Nicolette Larsson as a disco diva backfired.
The problem with In The Nick Of Time was that it wasn’t the album that Nicolette Larson’s fans expected. They didn’t want to hear dance tracks, even ones as good as those on In The Nick Of Time. Instead, they liked the ballads, soulful songs and jazz-tinged tracks on In The Nick Of Time, and wanted an entire album of similar songs. Essentially, if Nicolette Larson had released another album of AOR, country, folk, pop and rock maybe In The Nick Of Time would’ve been a more successful album? As a result, Nicolette Larson knew that she would have to reinvent herself on her third album Radioland.
Following the disappointing performance of In The Nick Of Time, work began on Radioland. Ted Templeman was retained to produce Radioland which featured nine songs from a variety of songwriters and songwriting partnerships.
This including the Andrew Kastner penned How Can We Go On and Straight From The Heart, and who teamed up with Larry John McNally and Nicolette Larson to write When You Come Around. Lauren Wood who had contributed to Nicolette Larson’s two previous albums contributed Been Gone Too Long. These songs were joined by Adam Mitchell’s Fool For Love; Lowell George’s Long Distance Love; Allen Toussaint’s Tears, Tears And More Tears; Sumner Merings’ Radioland and Annie McLoone’s Ooo-Eee. These songs became the album that could make or break Nicolette Larson’s career…Radioland.
When work began on Radioland, many of the same musicians that worked on Nicolette Larson’s first two albums were present. Little Feat’s guitarist Paul Barrere and Bill Payne who this time around, played synths. They were joined by The Doobie Brothers’ guitarist Patrick Simmons and their live drummer Bobby LaKind, who added percussion. Making a guest appearance was Linda Ronstadt who added backing vocals. Meanwhile, the rhythm section two top session players, drummer Rick Shlosser and bassist Tiran Porter, who provided Radioland’s heartbeat. Just like Nicolette’s two previous albums, Ted Templeman took charge of production. Little did he know it would be for the last time.
Reviews of Radioland were mainly positive, with critics much more impressed by the change in sound. Stylistically, it was closer to Nicolette Larson’s debut album as element of pop, rock and soul joined funk, fusion and jazz on an album where ballads and rubbed shoulders with uptempo tracks. Radioland was a return to form from Nicolette Larson.
Despite this, when Radioland was released in 1980, the album stalled at sixty-two in the US Billboard 200, and failed to chart in Canada. Sadly, it was a familiar story with the singles Ooo-Eee, When You Come Around and Radioland failing to troubled the charts. This was hugely disappointing for Nicolette and Ted Templeman. Indeed, for Ted Templeman it was the last time he worked with Nicolette Larson. His swan-song was Radioland. It’s one of the most underrated albums of Nicolette Larson’s career which was definitely at the crossroads.
All Dressed Up and No Place To Go.
A year after the release of Radioland, Nicolette Larson began work on her all-important fourth album All Dressed Up and No Place To Go. There was a lot riding on this album, which had the potential to make or break her career.
This time though, there was no sign of Ted Templeman who had produced Nicolette Larson’s first three albums. He had stepped down, although he is given a credit as executive producer of All Dressed Up and No Place To Go. Replacing Ted Templeman was singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Andrew Gold. He was tasked with transforming Nicolette Larson’s fortunes on All Dressed Up and No Place To Go.
For All Dressed Up and No Place To Go Nicolette Larson and Andrew Gold chose ten tracks which were a mixture of cover versions and new songs. This included Nicolette Larson and Andrew Gold’s I Want You So Bad. It was joined by Andrew Gold’s Still You Linger On, Andrew Kastner’s Just Say I Love You, Lowell George’s Two Trains and Paul Barrere’s Love, Sweet, Love. They were joined by Allee Willis and Patrick Henderson’s Talk To Me; Craig Doerge, Jackson Browne and Rosemary Butler’s I’ll Fly Away (Without You); Ivor Raymonde and Mike Hawkers I Only Want To Be With You; Kathy Wakefield and Leonard Caston’s Nathan Jones and Gary Ogan and Leon Russell’s Say You Will. These tracks would become All Dressed Up and No Place To Go which was Nicolette Larson’s fourth album.
Recording took place at Sunset Sound, in Los Angeles between October 1981 and January 1982. This time around, Nicolette Larson’s band featured a rhythm section of drummer Rick Schlosser, bassist Scott Chambers and guitarist Fred Tackett. That was apart from on Want You So Bad, where drummer Michael Botts and bassist Bob Glaub and guitarist John McFee replaced the usual rhythm section.
Joining the rhythm sections were Mark Jordan who switched between organ and Fender Rhodes; Billy Payne on synths; Arno Lucas on congas, tambourine and timbales; conga player Bobby LaKind, trumpeter Lee Thornberg and saxophonist Jim Horn. Meanwhile, producer Andrew Gold also played acoustic, electric and slide guitar, piano, percussion synths and added backing vocals. Other backing vocalists included Linda Ronstadt, Valerie Carter, Julia Tillman, Maxine Willard and Wendy Waldman. They spent three months recording All Dressed Up and No Place To Go which Nicolette Larson hoped would transform her career.
Critics on hearing All Dressed Up and No Place To Go were impressed with what was slick, carefully crafted and tasteful album that played to Nicolette Larson’s strengths. This was her versatility and her ability to breath life and meaning into the lyrics of a wide variety of songs. That was the case on All Dressed Up and No Place To Go.
Given the quality of music on All Dressed Up and No Place To Go, the albums should’ve transformed Nicolette Larson’s career. Sadly, the album stalled at seventy-five in the US Billboard 200 and ninety-five in Australia. When I Only Want To Be With You was released as the lead single it reached fifty-three in the US Billboard 100 and gave Nicolette Larson a top ten hit in the US Adult Contemporary charts when it reached number nine. This was a small crumb of comfort for Nicolette Larson, whose fourth album hadn’t reached the audience it deserved. This was a huge disappointment for Nicolette Larson and producer Andrew Gold.
For Nicolette Larson the disappointing sales of All Dressed Up and No Place To Go spelt the end of her time at Warner Bros. After four albums she left Warner Bros later in 1982, and after that, signed to MCA Records, where she released …Say When in 1984. Sadly, Nicolette Larson never ever replicated the success of her 1978 debut album Nicolette.
After the released of Nicolette in 1978, which was certified gold and featured three hit singles, it looked as if this was the start of a long and successful career for Nicolette Larson. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
The decision to combine disco with AOR, gospel, jazz, pop rock and soul on 1979s In The Nick Of Time was one which Nicolette Larson would regret. Maybe this was part of a plan to market Nicolette Larson to a much wider audience? However, when it failed to replicate the success of her debut album Nicolette, twenty-seven year old Nicolette Larson’s career was at the crossroads.
This might never have happened if whoever was advising Nicolette Larson hadn’t encouraged her to change direction musically. While it’s a slick and electric album, the excursions into dance music on In The Nick Of Time alienated part of her core audience. When this happened, it was difficult for Nicolette Larson to win her former fans back
When Nicolette Larson returned in 1980 with Radioland, some of the music was much more like that on Nicolette. However, there was still the occasional dance track on the third and final Nicolette Larson album that was produced by Ted Templeman. Lightning struck twice when Radioland failed to chart. Maybe after the commercial failure of In The Nick Of Time, producer Ted Templeman should’ve been replaced, and new blood brought in?
Andrew Gold was brought onboard for All Dressed Up and No Place To Go and was responsible for a slick and carefully crafted album were Nicolette Larson showcases her talent and versatility. Sadly, despite All Dressed Up and No Place To Go being one of the finest albums of Nicolette Larson’s career, it never enjoyed the success it deserved.
Sadly, that was the story of Nicolette Larson’s career, and a singer who had potential and talent to become one of the greatest singers of the late-seventies and early eighties never fulfilled her potential. However, the four albums that Nicolette Larson released on Warner Bros features the best music of her career.
Sadly, Nicolette Larson’s career was cut tragically sort. Fifteen years after the release of All Dressed Up and No Place To Go, Nicolette Larson passed away on December the ‘16th’ 1997, aged just forty-five. That day, music lost a truly talented singer who could’ve and should’ve gone on to enjoy a long and successful career. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. However, Nicolette Larson left behind a rich musical legacy, including the four albums she released on Warner Bros, including All Dressed Up and No Place To Go.
Nicolette Larson-The Warner Bros Years.