LINDA LEWIS / “Linda Lewis Mixtape”
Back in the seventies, I was only ever friends with one flower child and she was black, which is to say a rarity in our neighborhood. Rare or not, she had that beautiful vibe, an aura of innocence mixed with healthy sexiness, that attracted all kinds of people to her and, at the same time, somehow, protected her from predators. Every time I hear Linda Lewis I’m reminded of Melinda Duhy, bka "Gumby."
While nowhere near the hardcore political statements I mostly dug, there was a lot I dug in Ms. Lewis’ early albums: a dandelion kind of loveliness. Light. Airy. Floating. Free. All of which was something I valued as a hoped for objective of our revolution—after all we wanted to be free, wanted to be able to enjoy life.
I knew Linda was from England but that’s about all I knew as far as her background. Of course, I heard her around the same time I first heard Joan Armatrading, so I just chalked it up to something in the water over there. My knowledge of the English scene and its racial component was a lot less than the very little I now know. Neither Joan nor Linda directly addressed racial issues but I figured there had to be something happening. Later, of course, I found out a bunch, especially as the English reggae scene revved up.
Meanwhile, I would play Joan and Linda and admire their songwriting skills—Joan’s lyrics and Linda’s music. We’ve featured Joan Armatrading before but this is the first time sharing Linda Lewis.
I believe her early music is classic. Linda beautifully melds folk music and soul music seasoned by suggestive smidgens of pop and blues, with jazz and reggae undertones. I think Joan has the stronger voice but there is something really magnetic about Linda’s soprano.
The Mixtape is mostly from the early years but the last two cuts represent new remixes of a Linda Lewis classic. Linda did a brief stint with Arista during which they tried to package her as a soul singer but that didn’t work. I suspect the suits missed the significance of the flowers in Linda’s music and thought they could maybe get a Minnie Ripperton thing going. Linda has the vocal range and Minnie had the flower child background but England is not the USA. Some plants don’t transplant easily.
As I researched more about Linda (see her charming and sometimes shockingly candid mini-autobiography she wrote for an English newspaper) I began to peep and admire her strength, admire how she retained both her sanity and her quirkiness. When you travel the path of your own choosing, regardless of where you end up, the journey is worth the sacrifices.
I know a number of people might be surprised that I dig Linda Lewis but the beauty of our blackness is not a monolith, rather our true beauty is a human spectrum that includes a diversity of impulses and manifestations.
Linda’s music might sound simple on the surface but there is an interesting and complex core to her music. The different elements are all authentic in the sense they represent Linda’s inner beliefs, her feelings and interests. There is nothing calculated or gimmicky, which undoubtedly was her undoing while at Arista.
In addition to the wide variety of musical influences evident in the music of Linda Lewis there is another important element. Lewis embraces the earth, which some of us were down with in terms of fighting the proliferation of nuclear plants and the environmental abuse of our communities that we called “environmental racism.” Too often these dimensions of our struggle are overlooked and are generally unacknowledged as though we were only concerned with raw racism.
So, listen to Linda Lewis’ music (and, don’t sleep, read her mini-autobiography), the composite expression will open you to another facet of the black experience.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Linda Lewis Mixtape Playlist
When they were released, Lark (1972) and Fathoms Deep (1973) were major statements from Linda Lewis. Most of those tracks are available on Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974, a recent two-CD best of compilation that I strongly recommend as a starting point for getting into Linda Lewis’ music. I also like the Live In Old Smokey (2006) album, especially as a counterpoint to Lark and Fathoms Deep.
01 “Reach For The Truth” - Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974
02 “I'm In Love Again” - Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974
03 “I'm In Love Again” - Live In Old Smokey
04 “Spring Song” - Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974
05 “It's The Frame” - Lark
06 “Been My Best” - Lark
07 “Goodbye Joanna” - Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974
08 “If I Could” - Fathoms Deep
09 “Gladly Give You My Hand” - Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974
10 “Rock A Doodle Doo” - Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974
11 “Feeling Feeling” - Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974
12 “Old Smokey” – Lark
13 “Old Smokey” - Live In Old Smokey
14 “Waving” - Live In Old Smokey
15 “Love Plateau” - Live In Old Smokey
16 “Little Indians” - Lark
17 “Lark” - Lark
18 “Sideway Shuffle” - Reach For The Truth: Best Of The Reprise Years 1971-1974
19 “Sideway Shuffle (South Of The Border)” - Sideway Shuffle 12"
20 “Sideways Shuffle (Leftside Wobble Edit)” - Lefside Edits
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