Smirnoff Music Centre
1818 First Ave
Dallas, TX 75210
Sun July 24
Gates open at 6:30 pm
$39.50 to $75
Call Ticketmaster at 214-373-8000 or 972-647-5700 or visit www.ticketmaster.com
By MARIO TARRADELL / The Dallas Morning News
Take note, all you Donna Summer fans: The celebrated Queen of Disco is recording a new studio album. That will be her first since 1994's Christmas Spirit and her first nonholiday recording since 1991's Mistaken Identity.
Aside from scattered new songs that ended up on a trio of compilations in 1994, 1999 and 2003, Ms. Summer has taken more than a decade to put together a full record.
"I was not in the mind-set to do it for quite a while," the 56-year-old singer-songwriter says by phone from Long Island, N.Y. She's on vacation from her Nashville home, where she's lived with husband Bruce Sudano for nearly a decade. It's a bit of quiet time before she heads to Dallas for her concert Sunday night at Smirnoff Music Centre.
But she is excited about finishing up that new album.
"After 9-11 I was not in the mood to deal with this, and then the business went into such a slump, and I thought it was time to take a break. Now I'm back, and I feel like I'm able to do something."
She's negotiating a recording contract, and she hopes to have the CD out by the end of the year. For those who can't wait, Ms. Summer's got a fresh track that will be available for download Tuesday via iTunes. It's called "I Got Your Love," and the Boston native describes it as a "very poppy, fun song. It's a happy song."
Making music, she admits, is "a lot of work." Ms. Summer would know. Between 1975 and 1991, she released 15 albums and contributed to three soundtracks.
"When you sign on to do a record, it's very taxing, so you gotta want to do it. Touring is hard enough, but going out and promoting it, you gotta want to do it."
Meanwhile, Ms. Summer can go ahead and coast on her catalog. She remains one of the few disco-era superstars to carve a long career transcending a musical style that fell out of favor by the end of the '70s. That's because she wasn't afraid to take artistic excursions. On her landmark 1979 concept album, Bad Girls, she mixed rock with dance and delivered "Hot Stuff." A year later, The Wanderer was largely a pop-rock effort with gospel and R&B undertones. She toyed with different pop textures and more electronic forms of dance on later CDs such as 1984's Cats Without Claws, 1987's All Systems Go and 1989's Another Place and Time.
In fact, she has a diverse set of Grammy Awards. Of her five trophies, only one is in the dance category, for 1997's single "Carry On," her reunion with famed disco producer Giorgio Moroder. The others are in the rock, R&B and gospel divisions.
Ms. Summer, with the collaborative guidance of Mr. Moroder, immediately bypassed the singer-as-puppet pitfall that was the norm in the producer-driven disco era. She co-wrote many of her pivotal hits, including the career launching "Love to Love You Baby," "I Feel Love," "I Love You," "Heaven Knows," "Bad Girls," "Dim All the Lights" and "On the Radio."
"I don't think I ever heard anybody say, 'Shut up and sing,' " she says. "I would not have allowed them to. I let myself be guided by Giorgio. I didn't understand the politics in music back then, R&B from pop from disco. I was a singer and I just wanted to sing. Giorgio wanted me to break that pop market and not be stranded with the disco and R&B. He was trying to give me a bigger market. He was very analytical in how he approached the music that he produced for me."
The story behind "Love to Love You Baby," the No. 2 pop hit that established Ms. Summer as a force to be reckoned with, is definitely part of music history. The song became an instant time-period classic, thanks to its slinky, sexy rhythm and the disco diva's R-rated moaning.
But this was the disco era, when more was better. For the extended remix, Mr. Moroder called Ms. Summer back into the studio, telling her she needed to add 14 minutes of vocals.
"That's an awful lot of lyrics," she said in her 2003 autobiography, Ordinary Girl: The Journey. Mr. Moroder responded with, "Don't worry, we'll improvise. Make it sound sexy." Then, Ms. Summer says, "We dimmed the lights, lit a few candles, and I added all those oohs and aahs."
It is "Love to Love You Baby" that now gives Ms. Summer, a devout Christian, some pause. She still does the song onstage; it was her breakthrough hit so she won't ignore it, but it's not like the original.
"I don't sing the oohs and the aahs like I would have back then," she says. "I go through it in a more contemporary way. I do the song without going overboard. The generation that kind of lived that song doesn't sing it that way anymore. I let the audience do the parts I don't want to do. I give them a taste of it without overstuffing them."
What about the gay-oriented origins of disco and her undoubtedly large gay fan base? Does that clash with her religious beliefs?
"I don't have a problem with anything," she says. "I can only be me. ... I am genuinely being myself. I don't get into anything beyond that. I don't scrutinize it. I just go out and sing."
She also tries to stay current. Ms. Summer enjoys the work of today's singer-songwriters such as John Mayer, Sarah McLaughlin and Norah Jones. She also likes Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott, BeyoncÃ© and the old-school stars such as Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin and Sting.
Ms. Summer does hear the disco influence in current styles such as techno and electronica. But what moves her most is the mark she's made on today's artists. Joss Stone, Mariah Carey and Queen Latifah have all named her as influential in their musical makeups. And Beyonce sings a recognizable snippet of "Love to Love You Baby" on her radio hit "Naughty Girl" from 2003's 4 million-selling Dangerously in Love.
"It's very sweet and precious to me. ... All these people have been touched by my music," she says.
Sometimes she does get tired of singing the same songs in concert. (Her show at Smirnoff, where she'll perform with her full band, will include a healthy sampling of her career staples.) But Ms. Summer keeps a positive attitude.
"I'm not complaining, believe me," she says. "Thank God I have all these hits to sing."