By JOEY GUERRA
For The Chronicle
Donna Summer hasn't been to a club in a very long time — years, really.
That's surprising news from the once-and-eternal disco goddess, whose signature hits — I Feel Love, On the Radio, Last Dance, Bad Girls — can still guarantee a packed dance floor at just about any club around the world on a Saturday night.
Since her breathy 1975 introduction via the satin-kissed, sultry grooves of Love to Love You Baby, Summer has sold millions of albums, earned five Grammy awards and scored 14 Top 10 pop hits — including four No. 1 singles.
More recent releases I Will Go With You, Love Is the Healer and You're So Beautiful have also topped the dance charts and have introduced Summer to a new legion of club bunnies.
"I don't get to go out in the clubs much," Summer, 56, admits. "I would love to go out and just do a dance tour — just go to every club and just pop in. Don't tell everybody, just show up, just to see what it's like."
For now, fans will have to make do with Summer's very scheduled appearance tonight at Jones Hall with the Houston Symphony. It's the diva's first major tour in five years. Despite the large, formal venue, fans will still likely be in glitter-ball heaven.
Summer promises spiffy sets, a few choice covers (including Nights in White Satin, Smile and Natural Woman) and plenty of between-song chatter.
Summer's defining disco work — and more — is chronicled smashingly on two recent collections: The Journey: The Very Best of Donna Summer, which comes packaged with a bonus disc of epic remixes; and the double-disc Gold, which includes more obscure tracks alongside the hits.
There's also a stellar deluxe edition of Summer's 1978 Bad Girls album, which includes sweltering 12-inch mixes of her biggest hits, lush liner notes and the original demo of the title track.
"I (wanted) to produce good, cutting-edge, synthesized — and real — music that kind of was just out there on the edge of the technology," Summer says of her durable catalog. "I still feel that way."
Summer's full-throttle vocals were sometimes overshadowed by the innovative sound of her music, but her technique has only improved with age. She can still slink her way around a classic disco ditty and raise the rafters during a soaring gospel number. She credits her voice's longevity to vocal exercises and a healthy lifestyle.
"I think that (my voice) is a gift from God," she says. "You want to maintain the quality of your voice by being kind to it, by loving it. I really want to honor that voice, and I want to keep learning."
Summer's music also has proved successful for many American Idol hopefuls, who regularly perform her songs on the show. Younger stars like Joss Stone and Mariah Carey have also thanked the disco queen for her legacy.
"You don't know what influence you have, and it's such an incredibly beautiful gift when someone sings a song that you've written," Summer says.
Summer plans to start recording new material in October and if all goes well, release an album next spring. One new song, I Got Your Love, will be available beginning Tuesday on iTunes, her first new offering in several years.
"As your career goes around and you seem to hit rock bottom, the pendulum swings up again ... (and) you have other things to say."