Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Influencing the Influencers

It’s well known that the late Amy Winehouse was heavily influenced by the girl groups and female soul singers of the ‘60s.  She, in turn, greatly influenced many artists who burst on the scene after her, such as  Duffy, Lily Allen and Adele.  But she also left her mark by pulling off a truly rare accomplishment -- influencing some of the original influencers!

Cover songs, of course, are a great indicator of influences. So you would expect Winehouse to cover various oldies she loved (her version of The Shirelle’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow is one standout).  But you wouldn’t necessarily expect oldies artists to cover Winehouse – or indeed to include any contemporary songs at all in their nostalgia-filled live shows. Audiences attend oldies shows to, well, hear oldies.

Yet, last Wednesday at Central Park Summerstage, “Queen of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson stopped her show in its tracks with a moving rendition of Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good.  Then on Saturday, at Lincoln Center Out of Doors – during a day otherwise devoted entirely to old girl group songs Ronnie Spector sang Back to Black midpoint in a show she dedicated to Winehouse.

Neither Jackson nor Spector was pandering to grief-stricken fans. For one thing, the prime audiences for these two shows hardly consisted of Winehouse's crowd. For another, both singers had been including Winehouse in their repertoires since before the singer's death.

Spector, as is well known, heavily influenced Winehouse’s look as well as her sound.  Last week, in a touching Rolling Stone tribute to the deceased star,  she wrote that Winehouse's "lyrics were so amazing that I couldn't help but sing one of her songs."

But Wanda Jackson?  When I was promoting a documentary about this virtually forgotten rock pioneer in 2006  (the film's title eventually became The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice),  Amy Winehouse was just achieving breakout status and Jackson had released an Elvis tribute album.  She was simply not  doing new material. But last year, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and then released a new album -- The Party Ain't Over -- produced by Jack White of the White Stripes. At White's suggestion, the CD included one contemporary song -- by Winehouse, of course.

Now, after hearing Ronnie Spector and Wanda Jackson do justice (albeit with expurgated lyrics) to Amy Winehouse this past week, I have to wonder what's next.  A quick look at the schedule finds Aretha Franklin in Coney Island on Thursday for the free concert we've been looking forward to since last summer. The Los Angeles Times, for one, says Winehouse's voice channeled Franklin's.

Aretha recently released her first studio album in eight years...but Jack White (or an equivalent) wasn't involved.  So don't expect to hear her version of Just Friends or RehabJust relish her voice and be thankful she's still with us well past that tragic age of 27.  That's another way of leaving your mark.