(Aug. 9, 1998)
Life is good again for Phoebe Snow, and that’s saying a lot after more than 25 years in the music business.
The New Jersey-based singer-songwriter, who first serenaded radio with the Top 5 hit, “Poetry Man,” in 1975, is back with her first album in nine years, the appropriately titled “I Can’t Complain” (on House of Blues Music). The first single, the shimmering “Right to the End,” features a duet with Michael McDonald.
“I didn’t become a hermit, recluse bag woman, although there were days I threatened to become one,” Snow said, with a laugh, recently of her break from recording, “but I always did work on singing. I took opera lessons and found a whole new dimension of music that I had been really ignorant about up to that point. I do sing arias and I enjoy it very much.”
She also kept plenty busy singing commercial jingles.
“The longest-running one, for nine years, was General Foods International Coffee, you know, ‘Celebrate the moments of your life …,’ ” she said. “I also did Stouffer’s. ‘Stouffer’s, nothing comes closer to home.’ Then there’s a ceiling fan one that runs for about six weeks in the summer, Hampton Bay Fans, where I’m singing ‘Summer Breeze,’ and I do one of the theme songs for the Animal Planet channel.”
The idea of “I Can’t Complain” surfaced years ago, but Snow didn’t feel the timing was right till now.
“It didn’t turn out the way we originally planned it,” she said. “What (producer) Jimmy Vivino had wanted to do for years was a blues album, traditional blues. I thought initially that would be a great idea, but then I said, ‘You know, I’m just not one flavor. I really like a wide spectrum of music. Let’s include as many things as we can.’ Little by little, this thing turned shape as a very eclectic record.”
Because of that eclecticism, Snow said, she had trouble finding a suitable home and format for her music in the late ’80s.
“I wasn’t focused enough as an artist to say, ‘I’m really going to stand by my eclectic musical choices,’ ” she said. “I don’t think I was strong enough emotionally to do that, so there was always some kind of opposition to what I was proposing and I would knuckle under. I’d go, ‘Oh, alright,’ and then I’d end up making records that I didn’t really support in the end and didn’t feel comfortable about.
“In hindsight, I’m very willing to say I was probably responsible for things going wrong in a lot of ways, not always, but in one case, like I shouldn’t have been so nit-picky and I shouldn’t have been so rigidly specific about things. I regret that, because I wasted a lot of creative time doing that. Now I’m much more open.”
The musical climate has changed since her last album, 1989’s “Something Real” (Elektra), and Snow saw that as her window of opportunity.
“We’re going back to a concept that was more prevalent in the ’60s and early ’70s, that Top 40 radio can really be a broad mix,” she said. “The multiformat thing is back, and it won’t be long till there are actually stations that are not so rigidly formatted. I’m praying it’ll happen soon because I like to hear Garth Brooks back to back with Soundgarden. That’s a good idea. It sounds extreme, but it shouldn’t be.”
The worst is behind Snow, who got caught in the whirlwind of success with her gold-selling, self-titled debut album in 1974. It was a lot for an admittedly shy 21 year old to handle. She equates it to being sideswiped and jokingly asks, “Did anybody get the number of that truck?”
“I went into a panic state,” she said. “I was a very, very insecure person. I had a lot of self-esteem problems, and I came into the industry with that baggage, lots of psychological baggage. To go into a line of work where you are constantly judged, critiqued, scrutinized and analyzed and everybody’s giving you all this unsolicited opinions about everything you do, for a shy, insecure kid like myself, it was devastating. I don’t recommend it to anyone who’s not completely loved and nurtured from their background.”
That was then and this is now, Snow said.
“That was the first phase of my career,” she said. “I don’t think I’m really fully realized as an artist, by any means. I don’t think I’ve done my best work yet.”
BWF (before we forget): Snow died April 26, 2011, from complications from a stroke. She was 60.
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