(Read all about Nicolette Larson after the video)
Nicolette Larson (July 17, 1952 – December 16, 1997) was an American pop singer. She is perhaps best known for her work in the late 1970s with Neil Young and her 1978 hit single of Neil Young's "Lotta Love" which hit No. 1 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart and No. 8 on the Pop Singles chart. It was followed by four more adult contemporary hits, two of which were also minor pop hits.
By 1985, she shifted her focus to country music, charting six times on the US Country Singles chart. Her only top-40 country hit was "That's How You Know When Love's Right", a duet with Steve Wariner. She died in 1997 of cerebral edema and liver failure.
Early life and career
Nicolette Larson was born in Helena, Montana, United States. Her father's employment with the U.S. Treasury Department necessitated frequent relocation for Larson's family. She graduated from high school in Kansas City, Missouri, where Larson attended the University of Missouri for three semesters and also worked at waitressing and office jobs before giving in to the pursuit of a musical career she'd dreamed of since singing along to the radio as a child.
Larson eventually settled in San Francisco, California, where she worked in a record store; her volunteer work as support staff for the Golden Gate Country Bluegrass Festival brought encouragement for her vocal ambitions and she began performing in Bay Area showcases, eventually making her professional debut opening for Eric Andersen at a club in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1975 Larson auditioned for Hoyt Axton who was producing Commander Cody with the result that Larson also performed with "Hoyt Axton and The Bananna Band" during their gig opening for Joan Baez on the 1975 "Diamonds and Rust" tour and accrued her first recording credit on the 1975 Commander Cody album Tales From the Ozone: Larson also provided background vocals for Commander Cody albums in 1977 and 1978. Other early session singing credits for Larson were for Hoyt Axton and Guy Clark in 1976 and in 1977 for Mary Kay Place, Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver, Jesse Colin Young, Jesse Winchester and Gary Stewart. Interestingly, Nicolette Larson and Guthrie Thomas both worked with Hoyt Axton and recorded their first professional recording session together on Axton's "Southbound" album for A&M Records. Since they were new to the recording industry, they were listed on the back cover of the album as "Street Singers" completely separated from the highly paid, well-respected artists who also appeared on the album.
Larson's work with Emmylou Harris — the album Luxury Liner (1977) prominently showcased Larson on the cut "Hello Stranger" — led to her meeting Harris' associate and friend Linda Ronstadt who became friends with Larson. In the spring of 1977, Larson was at Ronstadt's Malibu home when neighbor Neil Young phoned to ask Ronstadt if she could recommend a female vocal accompanist, and Ronstadt suggested Larson, becoming the third person that day to put Larson's name forward to Young. Young came over to meet Larson who recalled: "Neil ran down all the songs he had just written, about twenty of them. We sang harmonies with him and he was jazzed."
The following week Ronstadt and Larson cut their vocals for Young's American Stars 'n Bars album at Young's La Honda ranch — the two women were billed on the album as the Bullets — and in November 1977 Young invited Larson to Nashville to sing on the sessions for his Comes a Time album, an assignment which led to Larson's being signed to Warner Brothers, an affiliate of Young's home label Reprise. Larson continued her session singing career into 1978, accruing credit on recordings by Marcia Ball, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris' (Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town) and Norton Buffalo. Larson also contributed vocals to the Doobie Brothers' Minute by Minute whose producer Ted Templeman would be responsible for Larson's debut album Nicolette.
Larson's work with Commander Cody had led to her being signed to the C&W division of Warner Bros. Records. However her debut album Nicolette, released September 29, 1978, was an eclectic mix of rock, C&W and R&B which recalled Maria Muldaur's eponymous debut from 1973. Despite the release of her album so late in the year, Larson was acclaimed Female Vocalist of 1978 by Rolling Stone who opined no one else could sound as if she were having so much fun on an album. Nicolette reached No. 15 on Billboard's album chart aided by the hit single "Lotta Love", a Neil Young composition. Larson's "Lotta Love" hit #1 on the Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary chart and went Top 10 Pop in February 1979, the same week the single off Comes a Time: "Four Strong Winds" a duet with an unbilled (on the single) Larson, debuted on the Hot 100 on its way to a No. 61 peak. (A track from the Comes a Time sessions featuring Larson, "Sail Away", was included on the otherwise live Neil Young album Rust Never Sleeps released in 1979.)
Warner Brothers also issued the limited edition (5,000 copies) promo-only Live at the Roxy album comprising a December 20, 1978 concert given by Larson at the Sunset Boulevard nightclub. Larson was also featured on the No Nukes album recorded in September 1979 at Madison Square Garden backed by the Doobie Brothers in her performance of "Lotta Love"; Larson can be seen in the No Nukes film but her performance was not included.
Like Maria Muldaur, Larson would be unable to consolidate the commercial success augured by her debut: the second single off Nicolette, "Rhumba Girl"1 just missed becoming a major hit for Larson at No. 48 and her second album In the Nick of Time released November 1979 failed to showcase Larson's voice attractively. Don Shewey in Rolling Stone opined: "Larson's rough-edged, down-home tone is definitely appealing — especially when she backs up the likes of Neil Young and Steve Goodman [whose High and Outside album featured a duet with Larson: "The One That Got Away"] — but as a soloist, her limited vocal resources are "severely taxed" — "It's symptomatic of Nicolette Larson's problems as a performer that the finest singing on In the Nick of Time is by Michael McDonald. 'Let Me Go, Love'...McDonald's entrancing vocal presence...so overshadows Larson's that she seems to be playing second fiddle rather than sharing the lead. Elsewhere, Larson is dwarfed by Ted Templeman's typically luxurious production".
Released as the album's lead single, "Let Me Go Love" was only reached No. 35 in February 1980 — that year Larson would be heard more on the airwaves via guest appearances on "Say You'll Be Mine" by Christopher Cross and the Dirt Band's "Make a Little Magic". Larson had enough residual popularity from her debut for In the Nick of Time to become a moderate success. Because she had no major hit, Larson's 1980 and 1982 album releases, Radioland (her last album produced by Templeman) and All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go, were unsuccessful, even though both releases showed Larson back in strong vocal form. Larson almost had a hit with her remake of "I Only Want to Be With You" (No. 53) perhaps the least effective track on All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go; that album was produced by Andrew Gold.
Larson had continued her session singing career accruing credits on releases by Tom Johnston, Linda Ronstadt (Mad Love), Graham Nash, John Stewart, Albert Hammond and Rita Coolidge. Larson again backed the Doobie Brothers on their One Step Closer album - she can be heard on the hit "Real Love" - and a song Larson co-wrote with John McFee and Patrick Simmons entitled "Can't Let It Get Away" was a 1981 single release for the Doobie Brothers in Japan; the song was also featured on the Doobie Brothers' Farewell Tour album (1983). Larson also contributed a harmony vocal on the track "Could This Be Magic" on the Van Halen album Women and Children First (1980) to thank Eddie Van Halen for contributing a guitar solo to the Nicolette album track "Can't Get Away From You" against David Lee Roth's wishes. (Larson would be the maid of honor at Eddie Van Halen's marriage to Valerie Bertinelli.)
Larson's recording of the Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager song "Fool Me Again" was featured on the bestselling soundtrack album for the 1981 film Arthur despite not being heard in the film: Larson was also featured on the soundtrack album for National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) with the track "Summer Hearts".
- 1"Rhumba Girl" was written by Jesse Winchester who introduced it as "Rhumba Man" on his Nothing But a Breeze album; although Larson had been a session singer on Nothing But a Breeze she had not sung on "Rhumba Man" first hearing the song at a live performance by Winchester.
Larson's appearance in a touring production of the C&W musical Pump Boys and Dinettes garnered enough positive reaction for MCA Nashville to sign her in 1983: the Nashville music community was so enthused about Larson's C&W cross-over that the Academy of Country Music named her the Best New Female Vocalist in 1984 before she had any MCA Nashville releases. Larson's MCA debut ...Say When was not released until 1985 and the C&W career it ushered in proved anti-climactic with only one of Larson's six MCA single releases becoming a significant hit: her duet with Steve Wariner entitled "That's How You Know When Love's Right" — taken from the April 1986 album release Rose of My Heart — reached No. 9 C&W. Larson's MCA albums — produced by Emory Gordy, Jr. and Tony Brown — attracted little critical attention: in a Stereo Review critique headed "No No Nicolette" which characterized Larson as a faded Pop star for whom C&W music represented "the Last Chance Saloon", Alanna Nash opined Larson sounded as if she were reading lyrics off cue cards. Nash's review of Rose of My Heart — in which Nash stated her earlier review had drawn a response from Larson's manager implying Nash had taken "etiquette lessons from the Marquis de Sade" — granted that Larson's interpretive skills showed improvement.
Larson's final mainstream album release was Shadows of Love a 1988 recording made for the Italian CGD label and produced by Carlo Stretti and Ernesto Taberelli. In 1990 Larson participated in the Festival di Sanremo duetting with Grazia Di Michele on the song "Me and My Father".
Larson's final album was the self-produced Sleep, Baby, Sleep comprising music for children and released on Sony in 1994.
Larson's further session vocal credits comprised work with Paul Barrere and the Bluesbusters, Jimmy Buffett, Carlene Carter, Robert Forman, the Georgia Satellites, Marc Jordan, Troy Newman, Dolly Parton, Guthrie Thomas and "Weird Al" Yankovic. In 1992 Larson reunited professionally with Neil Young to sing on his Harvest Moon album; in 1993 Larson was featured on Young's Unplugged. Larson also provided vocal accompaniment on "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Greensleeves" the two tracks Neil Young contributed to Seven Gates: A Christmas Album by Ben Keith and Friends (1994).
In 1988, Larson contributed to the soundtracks of the films They Call Me Renegade and Twins with respectively the tracks "Let Me Be the One" and "I'd Die For this Dance"; the latter was performed live onscreen by Larson accompanied by Jeff Beck.
Larson also contributed to the seasonal albums Tennessee Christmas (1987) with "One Bright Star", Acoustic Christmas (1988) with "Christmas is a Time for Giving" and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (1989) with "Nothing But a Child" and "One Bright Star".
While it was recorded in 1978, Live at the Roxy was given its first full release in 2006. It was released by Rhino.
Through her early work in the 1970s with Emmylou Harris, Larson met guitarist and songwriter Hank DeVito. Larson and DeVito later married and divorced.
In the early 1980s, Larson was engaged to Andrew Gold, which ended shortly after the completion of Larson's 1982 album All Dressed Up and No Place to Go, which Gold had produced. In the late 80s, she briefly dated "Weird Al" Yankovic.
In 1990, Larson married session drummer Russ Kunkel, and the two were married until her death in 1997. The couple's daughter Elsie May Larson-Kunkel was born in 1990.
Larson died on December 16, 1997, in Los Angeles, California, as a result of complications arising from cerebral edema triggered by liver failure. According to Astrid Young, her friend and Neil Young's half sister, Larson had been showing symptoms of depression, and her fatal seizure "was in no small way related to her chronic use of Valium and Tylenol PM".
Larson's remains are buried in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
A benefit concert was held in Larson's honor in February 1998 with tribute concerts held on the 10th anniversary of her death in December 2007 and also the following year.