Published on November 30th, 2013 | by Gerry Galipault0
It’s ‘About Time’ for Ellen Foley
Ellen Foley lived a rock ‘n’ roll lifetime by the time she was 30.
She has a résumé most performers would kill for: She did Broadway, she did television, she did movies, and she carved her own slice of rock history, singing alongside Meat Loaf on “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” doing backup vocals for The Clash, Blue Öyster Cult and Joe Jackson and recording three well-done but overlooked solo albums.
After her two-season reign as public defender Billie Young on the popular NBC sitcom “Night Court” ended in 1985, she seemingly disappeared.
Well, she’s back, and it’s “About Time.”
The powerhouse singer-songwriter has released her first album in 30 years on her own Urban Noise label, via Sands Foley Entertainment. Out Nov. 5, “About Time” was produced by The Del-Lords’ Eric Ambel, and at age 62, Foley’s unmistakeable voice remains intact.
“It’s nice to come out of my cocoon,” Foley said recently. “I feel really fortunate to be doing this again after all these years.”
But it’s not like she vanished for 30 years. She stayed plenty busy.
“I wasn’t sitting at home eating bonbons,” she said, with a laugh. “I did some TV, some films, two Broadway shows, and after my husband (writer Doug Bernstein) and I got married in 1990, we had two boys. They’re now 23 and 19, but when they were much younger, I wanted to be with them, and loved every minute of it.
“I waited a long time to get back into this, and I wanted to do it the right way, and luckily I met several people who helped me along the way, like Eric and (songwriter) Paul Foglino, and I got the right management team behind me, with Sheri Sands and Paul Foley (no relation). All the pieces to the puzzle came together.”
Foley admits she was a little intimidated being in a recording studio for the first time in three decades.
“At first, I thought my vocals were a little puny, but I kept going back and getting more confident,” she said. “After a while, I thought, ‘This could be something.’ I thought it would be easy to get a record deal with my track record, but I figured out quickly that there wouldn’t be a deal that was good for me. I needed to do it on my own.
“I’m so happy with the way it turned out and that people are really into it.”
She should write an autobiography: the first part of her career is stuff of legend. In the early 1970s, the St. Louis native moved to New York City to pursue her acting and singing dreams.
“My first union gig was being part of the touring company of ‘The National Lampoon Show,’ ” she said. “I had just left my boyfriend’s band, and ‘Lampoon’ came up, and this is where I met Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman.”
Steinman composed the songs for Meat Loaf’s second album, “Bat Out of Hell” (produced by Todd Rundgren), in 1977. He asked Foley to sing a duet with Meat Loaf on “Paradise,” his 8-minute ode to teen romance and sex. She also did backup vocals on three other tracks.
Because she was busy with her acting career, Foley didn’t want to commit to performing with Meat Loaf on tour. To her dismay, the music video for “Paradise” featured singer Karla DeVito lip-synching to Foley’s vocals.
“At the time, I was doing ‘Hair’ on Broadway, and I just couldn’t do it,” Foley said. “Then the president of Cleveland International, Meat Loaf’s label, offered me a record deal.”
Her debut album, “Night Out,” was produced by Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson and featured the epic “We Belong to the Night.” The album reached No. 137 on the Billboard 200 chart, while the follow-up, “Spirit of St. Louis,” made it to No. 152.
“Spirit of St. Louis” is notable to Clash fans. Foley’s then-boyfriend, guitarist Mick Jones, produced it, and his other Clash mates appeared on the album, along with members of the Blockheads.
(BTW: In 1980, Foley sang co-lead with Jones on The Clash’s “Hitsville U.K.” on the “Sandinista!” album.)
Her third album, “Another Breath,” failed to chart in 1983.
As for her stint on “Night Court,” Foley said two years with the show was just right.
“I was like a fish out of water,” she said. “The show taped in L.A. and I was missing New York City a lot. But it was a great learning experience. Everything about my career has been a learning experience.”