"It is really hard to find a good, new Christmas song."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Darlene Love's stomping, bluesy delivery of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on the "Late Show With David Letterman" means: Get busy. Put down that eggnog, finish decorating the tree and look for those stockings. It's a ritual for the Letterman show, two decades strong. And this year it might not happen live because of the writers' strike. But never mind, Letterman will probably run a repeat, and Love has released a new CD, "It's Christmas, of Course," to remind us she is a prime interpreter of familiar and forgotten songs.

Love, 66, has been part of the rhythm-and-blues, rock-and-roll hierarchy for 45 years, joining the Blossoms, one of the early girl groups of the 1960s, and singing over the years with Sam Cooke, Cher and Elvis Presley. She has ventured into film, playing Danny Glover's wife in the "Lethal Weapon" series, and has sung on more than a dozen soundtracks. On her day off from Broadway's "Hairspray," where she plays Motormouth Maybelle, she talked about Christmas.

-- Jacqueline Trescott

Was Christmas always special to your family?

My father was a minister and I have two brothers who are pastors in Los Angeles, so Christmas has always been part of our Christian heritage. At Christmastime, it was the time to go out and see if anyone needed anything in the neighborhood. We did caroling in the neighborhood where the church was and went downtown to the department stores.

What was your favorite song from that time ?

"Silent Night," and we sang it like Mahalia Jackson did, real gospel-y.

How did you start being associated with Christmas?

Professionally it started with the Phil Spector album "A Christmas Gift for You" [1963]. It was the first rock-and-roll Christmas album; people just were not doing that to those songs. Then I moved to New York in 1983 and did a show downtown at the Bottom Line with the songs from the album, and Paul Shaffer did [an impersonation] of Phil Spector [in the show].

So how did the tradition with Letterman start in 1986, and why "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"?

Paul invited David to the show. Then on his show he said to Paul, "Where is the girl who sang that song in the Christmas show?"

Do you remember the day you recorded "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"?

It is really hard to find a good, new Christmas song. But Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry were working on this song, and they finished writing it on the phone. It was July, and we were working at the Gold Star Studios, which burned down 10 years ago. We had a great band, and Leon Russell was the piano player. We had been working on the music part for four or five hours, and Leon Russell was playing so hard he ran off the keys and fell on the floor.

Do you see Phil Spector anymore?

No, haven't seen him.

Tomorrow night , for the second year , you are taking that show that started out in the downtown clubs to the Rose Hall at Lincoln Center. How special is that?

The show is dedicated to Patti Darcy Jones, who had been one of my singers for years, and she passed this year. We talked about what to put in the show, and she said don't just take "Marvelous," a gospel number, out. So we will do that, the standards like a "Marshmallow World," and my special guest is Cissy Houston and she knocks them to their feet with "O Holy Night."

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