Friday, March 6, 2015

Exclusive Interview with the Iconic Pointers Sisters.


By Lenell King

Before the emergence of the funky divas... Before Hammer pants and the Humpty dance… Before Tony! Toni! Tone! made us all feel good, the bay area produced four sisters who blessed us with classics like "Yes We Can", "Fairytale", "Jump", "Automatic" and "I'm So Excited".  The Pointer Sisters have given us over 40 years of hits that have stood the test of time.   They have endured tragedy and addiction but have never lost their love for one another and for their musical gift that keeps arenas filled around the world.

Ladies and gentleman, the legendary pointer sisters… 
Lenell:  With over 40 years in the business, what is your secret to longevity?
Anita: Having fun and staying healthy.
Ruth: Hard Work and loving what you do.

Lenell:  You always hear about the Motown sound, the Philly sound, the Chicago sound, but many people seem to sleep on the Oakland sound and the impact it has had on soul music from Tony, Toni, Tone, EnVogue, you name it.  What makes the Oakland sound special and are you guys often credited for spearheading that sound?
Anita: Well, we actually received a star on the Oakland Walk of Fame in 1994.

Lenell: Congratulations.
Ruth:  A lot of good talent has come from Oakland. People originally thought that we were from New York or Philly.  I love it all, Sly Stone, Tower of Power, Herbie Hancock, Sylvester; you name it.  They all came from our hometown. 
Lenell: What was life like growing up in the Pointer Household with 4 sisters, 2 brothers and ministers for parents?  You know what they say about preacher kids…
Anita: Loud
Ruth: A lot of fun.
Bonnie:  We couldn't do anything, (laughing) we couldn't date boys, couldn't wear nail polish, and we had a curfew
Ruth:  That was the norm for a long time.  I remember being sent home from school.  I was trying to hide pants underneath a dress and a rain coat.  Someone told on me and it was so cold, I got sent home.    That's just how our parents were, but at the time women were coming into their own.  

Lenell:  Were your parents influential in your singing career?  

Anita:  My mom was always singing. Ruthie was the choir director; we sang all the time.

Lenell: What about your brothers; what career paths did they take?

Anita:  Our brother Aaron Pointer played professional baseball with the Houston Colts from 1961 -1963, then with the Houston Astros from 1963 -1967. He was later traded to the Chicago Cubs and retired in 1972 after playing with Nishitetsu Lions in Japan.  Upon retiring, he went on to referee for the Pacific 10 Conference from 1978 to 1987 where he became the first African American to referee in the PAC 10. He later joined the NFL as a head linesman and retired in 2003. Our brother, Fritz Pointer is currently a professor at Contra Costa College in California.   

Lenell:  Wow, look at all that talent in the Pointer household!

Bonnie:  Yeah Girl, you better stay away from us.  (All Laughing)

 Lenell:  Bonnie, you are the founder of the group before it was a quartet. Tell us how the Pointer Sisters originally got started and grew from a duet to a quartet?

Bonnie: We wanted to get out of the ghetto and try something new in life. I didn't want to really work; just try something new. We had the talent, and Ruth was our stylist.  We all played different parts and a lot of different music were happening at the time.  We made the opportunity for ourselves, and created our own sound. We forced it on everyone and made them like it. 

Lenell:   They sure did! Now the group's break out hit was "Yes We Can" in 1973 and a year later you guys released “Fairytale" which earned your first Grammy. Congrats on that…  Did you think it was risky to go from one extreme to the next, meaning from R&B to Country? Obviously it worked. Was there any backlash from fans? 

Anita:  We said that we were going to sing what we liked; jazz, country; we did it all.  We did what we wanted to do.   If you do something that no else has done, that is a great way to get noticed.   We love country music.  We grew up in a country church.   We still love country music today, but still appreciate new styles like rap.

Lenell:  Bonnie, you left the group for a solo career in 1977, and had success with hits like "Heaven Must Have Sent You".  Why did you decide at that time to pursue a solo career? 

Bonnie: I actually hated my sisters and wanted to get rid of them… (Laughing) 

Lenell:  You guys are crazy!!!!!!

Bonnie:  Honestly, I just wanted to see what I can do on my own and see what I was really made of. 

Lenell:  Were you scared being out there without your siblings?

Bonnie: Of course I was.   It was very scary, but once you put your foot in the water, you may as well jump in and start swimming.

Lenell:  Now upon Bonnie leaving Ruth, Anita, and June continued on as a trio.   Your first hit was "Fire" written by Bruce Springstein off the "Energy” album in 1978. Shortly after you had back to back hits like "He's so shy", "Slow Hand", "Jump", "I'm So Excited" and my personal favorite "Automatic".   What do you think contributed to that success? 
Ruth:  You are referring to the Richard Perry records? 

Lenell: Yes 

Anita:  We didn’t co-write many of the “A” side songs.  Back then you had singles, which had a “B” side.  We always had a song on the “B” side.

Ruth: Richard Perry had just launched his new record label, Planet Records, and the hits just kept coming.

Anita: Yes, we actually brought some music ideas to Richard and he thought they were great. We had a very successful collaboration.

Lenell:  Anita, you also had success as a songwriter.  You performed "Too Many Times" with Earl Thomas Conley in 1986 and have had success on your solo album in 1987 entitled "Love For What It Is". One of your major accomplishments was a cover of your song "Fairytale" by the King himself, Elvis Presley.   What was that experience like? 

Anita: I performed with Earl Thomas Conley in 1986. He asked me to perform with him on several shows in Nashville. He and I were also presenters at the country music awards that same year.  I was scared to death.  Yes, I co-wrote “Fairytale” with Bonnie that Elvis recorded.  We never met him, unfortunately. However, we did meet his daughter; he left us too soon. 

Lenell:  Anita, your songwriting efforts landed you in the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1998, congrats. Yet, many don't know about your collection of fine art, especially Black Memorabilia. Tell us how you first got into collecting pieces. 

Anita:  Well by being black. (Laughing)  I was traveling through Arkansas on my way from Little Rock and we stopped at an antique store and I saw these black puppets called, "Danny Sams”.  That was the first time I got started.  That was in the 80’s; I just kept going to antique stores.  Every time we were on the road, I would look for black collectibles.  There are some great collections out there, but I think New Jersey has the best. 

Lenell:  Ruth,   you have had solo projects as well from the "Streets of Gold" single for the Disney film Oliver & Company in 1989 and "Enemies Like You and Me" for the Iron Eagles II soundtrack.  One of your most notable accomplishments is being an international spokesperson for the USO (United Service Organizations).  What inspired you to become involved in serving our troops? 

Ruth:  I just completed five shows by myself.  The servicemen are so young and their stories are so compelling. When I talk to them, I feel so good to be able to give something back.  It feels like I am really contributing to my country.  I love my country and I just enjoyed it and have so much pride from the experience.   I got a chance to see what war torn countries are like.  I brought back bullet casings that the children of Kosovo would get on the battlefields and make vases and little souvenirs out of. They would sell them to tourists.  It is an experience that I would never forget.

Lenell:   June has had solo success as well with recordings such as "Little Boy Sweet "(1983) for National Lampoon's Vacation , "Respect Yourself" with Bruce Willis (1986) and "Tight on Time (I'll Fit You In) (1989) and with the release of her solo projects like Baby Sister (1983) and June Pointer (1989).  However, most people remember her for lead vocals on "Jump", "Happiness", "He's So Shy" and a host of others. Sadly, we loss June in 2006.  Some would consider her the ‘wild one of the group’.  Would you agree with that and what is something that her fans would be shocked to find out about June? 

Anita:  I don’t know if there was anything not known about her because June was an open book.  She didn’t really hide much from anyone.  She was known for being extremely generous and she was such a happy soul.  She may be known as one of a few artists to actually wear braces while performing. 

Bonnie:  That was the first thing we bought her when we started making money. She was embarrassed to wear them. 

Anita:  She was such a beautiful person.  She loved everyone and everyone loved her.

Lenell:   We know that addiction has affected the family over the years. How have the Pointers been able to overcome addiction and triumph through the years? 

Ruth:  You have to want to heal.  During the time we came along drugs and alcohol was everywhere. 

Anita:  You weren’t invited anywhere if you didn’t do it.

Ruth:  Everybody was participating so you get caught up in it and pray to God you survive. Unfortunately, many did not. 

Anita: Recovery is hard; you just have to stick with it and want to do it.  Everybody has their own personal addictions and demons.  

Lenell: How has your family expanded individually throughout the years? Children? Grandchildren? 

Bonnie: I married legendary Motown Producer, Jeffrey Bowen, but later divorced in 2014 after 35 years of marriage. 

Ruth:  I have five children.  None are really children anymore.  I have three grandchildren and my first great grandchild is on the way.

Lenell:  That’s exciting!!!!!!!!! 

Ruth: I know I can’t believe it myself. 

Bonnie: Ok, now name them all! (Laughing)

Anita: I have one daughter, Jada, and she is deceased.   I have one phenomenal granddaughter. I love her to death and she is my reason for living. She also works on the road with us from time to time.  

Lenell: How does your family feel about your success? 

Ruth: Well, we are a family, those that are grateful and those that don’t know what to do with it.  It’s tough. It’s not much fun when you’re a famous family and others have so many expectations and pressures coming your way from family members that didn’t do what you did.  We love them and they love us.  My children love interviewing me; asking about the different people I’ve met in the business.

We recently attended the funeral for Andrae` Crouch.  It was a magnificent event.  We were sitting there talking about a specific song that we used to sing growing up called, “The Blood”.  They started playing it on the piano, and we lost it.  We had no idea that he wrote that song.   It was such a wonderful service; Stevie Wonder was there, Yolanda Adams, Be Be and Ce Ce Winans, and many, many more.  

Lenell: Wow, talk about true star power.  Ok, we know that you have won Grammys’, American Music Awards, and a host of other accolades including a star on the Oakland  Walk of Fame in 1994,  individually what would you say is your most memorable time with the group and accomplishment?

Anita:   Going to Africa with Muhammad Ali. 
Lenell: Really! 

Anita:  We flew to Zaire with Muhammad Ali and we stayed there for five days.   We did one show and I went coo coo.  I walked so much my shoes turned a different color.  I met friends there.  

Bonnie: She hooked up with Doo Doo J

Lenell: (laughing) Who?

Bonnie: Doo Doo J.  He was a pilot and that was his real name.   He flew us around on Air Zaire.  I remember James Brown got into it with Bill Withers over Denise Nicholas. 

Lenell:  Imagine That! 

Bonnie: There are a lot of stories.  I also remember being on the plane with Sister Sledge, the Spinners, and many more all on our way to Zaire.   

Lenell: I want to address two rumors…   One, Bonnie there is a rumor that you are reuniting with your sisters, is that true? If so, when? 

Bonnie:   I never really left, but a comeback is still in the works.  

Lenell: Second rumor… Is it true that BET is scheduling some type of ICON award or paying special tribute to the Pointer Sisters? In my eyes it is long overdue.

Bonnie:  I haven’t heard anything about that.   

Ruth:  Neither have I.  Maybe it’s a surprise. 

Lenell: Oops!! I hope I didn't open a can of worms. (All laughing) 

Lenell:    Since the Pointers sisters impacted so many genres of music, who do you listen to today? Pop, R&B, etc.?

Ruth:  I listen to satellite radio, The Heat, Foxxhole, Praise with Kirk Franklin, and others.   My twins keep me up on the new stuff like Drake and Lil Wayne.  

Bonnie:   I listen to whatever is on the radio. I’m down for whatever.

Anita: I listen to news radio, not a lot of music anymore.   

Bonnie: Yeah, she gets mad! (Laughing) She gets mad at the world. Anita is going to run for office after she retires from singing.  President Anita!!!!!! (Laughing) 

Lenell:  Any new music?  What plans are in the near future for the group? 

Ruth:  We hope so.  Music is so weird; you don’t really need a record company to record anymore.
Bonnie:  We were just talking about this the other day; you can do it right on your computer.  We’re never together enough. We’re going to surprise everyone.

Fans can keep up with the Pointer Sisters on Twitter-    
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