Denise LaSalle is an American blues and R&B / Soul / Disco singer, songwriter, and record producer. Born 16 July 1939 in LeFlore County, Mississippi, USA. Denise Craig has never really been considered a "disco artist." She has always credited herself as a blues artist. Growing up in tiny Belzoni, music was an integral part of her life from an early age. The youngest daughter of eight children born to Nathaniel and Nancy Allen, Denise learned to sing at an early age by listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio.
The youngest daughter of eight children born to Nathaniel and Nancy Allen, Denise learned to sing at an early age by listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. She spent her early years (from age seven to thirteen) in Belzoni, Mississippi, then moved to Chicago to live with her oldest brother. Denise was determined to get an education, and she attended night school to earn her G.E.D. She was an avid reader, and her dream was to make her contribution to the literary world as a fiction writer. She did sell stories to "True Confessions" and "Tan" magazines at age fifteen, but after eight of her manuscripts were rejected, she decided to try writing poems and songs instead.
Raised as a Baptist, she sang in the Zion Temple choir for many years. She joined a female gospel singing group, The Sacred Five, and performed throughout metropolitan Chicago until 1961.
She held a variety of jobs before her recording and performing career was launched, including pants presser at a dry cleaners, cake decorator/bakery clerk and nightclub hostess at Mix's Lounge in Chicago. She got to know blues musicians and began giving her songs to them, until one day a Chess Records executive stopped by at Mix's Lounge. He listened to one of her songs and took it down to Chess Records, and the company later signed her as a vocalist, but never recorded her. Two years later, LaSalle recorded and produced her own record with the help of Billy "The Kid" Anderson, the Chess executive who'd originally shown an interest in her. After the record made some waves on local radio, Chess stepped in and purchased the master and took it to Europe. Meanwhile, LaSalle continued writing songs and sitting in with blues musicians around the Chicago clubs. Billy Emerson saw to it that she received more exposure in the Chicago area by entering her into talent competitions. She gained self-confidence as a performer when she consistently won first or second place. Soon she began to regularly receive offers to perform at the rate of $15 per night!
Her first recording, "A Love Reputation," was released in 1967 on the Tarpon record label, which was owned by Billy "The Kid" Emerson. It climbed to the top of the charts in Chicago, second only to Aretha Franklin's number one hit, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."
After a split with Emerson, Denise moved to a new level in the recording industry by forming Crajon Productions and Crajon Records with her former husband, Bill Jones. They produced songs for other artists, including four hit singles for Bill Coday and a mega-hit for the Sequins, (later to become The Emotions). Both of these artists found their way to the top of the charts in 1969 and 1970 respectively, through songs penned by Denise - Bill Coday's "Get Your Lie Straight" and The Sequins' "Hey Romeo."
By then Denise was working with the legendary Willie Mitchell ("Papa" Willie) in Memphis, Tennessee, but she had yet to find her own "signature" song as a performing artist. Nevertheless, in 1970, her tune "Hung Up, Strung Out," which received only a mediocre listener response, struck a chord with Armen Boladian of Westbound Records. He signed her immediately and, in 1971, sent her back to Memphis to "Papa" Willie to cut the tune "Trapped by a Thing Called Love."
"Trapped By A Thing Called Love" broke on the radio in Chicago and then Detroit. By November of 1971, "Trapped" had become her first certified gold record. Kicking off her Westbound stay with a gem, Denise gave the world a new take on Southern soul with this late-nite entr?e of Stax-y grooves and tales of love on the rocks. The fare ranges from a few choice covers (Barbara Lynn's "You'll Miss A Good Thing") to now-canonized R&B sides like the LaSalle-penned title track. A real collector's item that was once released on compact disc and now unavailable.
Denise followed that success with her 1972 release "On The Loose." This follow-up to LaSalle's breakthrough album carries on with another solid round of southern-fried blues and soul. LaSalle particularly shines on her own "Man Size Job," Bill Withers' "Lean On Me," and the Civil Rights anthem "There Ain't Enough Hate Around (To Make Me Turn Around)." Denise paved the way for other southern ladies like Millie Jackson, Ann Peebles and Laura Lee with her Westbound material. Another classic album originally available on a two-fer compact disc but now unavailable.
1973 brought her third and final release for the ailing Westbound label. "Here I Am Again" finds LaSalle utilizing James "Bowlegs" Miller's top-notch charts and the backing of the Memphis Horns and Muscle Shoals Horns sections. This rare album features several songs from LaSalle's own pen, which show her very original take on the Southern soul sounds of Memphis' Stax and Hi record labels. Stellar cuts are: "Stay With Me Awhile," the disco bumper "I Wanna Do What's On Your Mind," and the Barry White-ish title track. A fine example of R&B music in the period from post Motown and pre-disco eras. Highly sought after by collectors many would argue that this is her best Westbound release. The album's sales were marginal and it's commercial success was limited.
Divorced by 1974, Denise relocated permanently to Memphis, where she continued her songwriting. Soon after arriving in Memphis she was smitten by nearby Jackson, Tennessee disc jockey, James "Super" Wolfe, Jr. The two dated for over two years while Denise reevaluated her career options. In 1976 Denise signed with ABC Records and the couple were married in July, 1977. Denise moved to Jackson, Tennessee, where she continues to reside today.
Her first release for her new label was 1976's "Second Breath." Soul and R&B music was evolving into disco. Denise who has always been in touch with the times merged disco and the traditional mid-south R&B sounds to produce a pleasing album. Being an underage club-goer in 1976 I purchased this album due to the club hit "Freedom To Express Yourself." I remember that song being very popular in the Atlanta club scene at the time. However club exposure was not enough to garner huge sales in those days. The album as pleasing and well produced as it was, found a limited audience and was considered a commercial disaster.
Commercial success came with her 1977 release "The Bitch Is Bad." Going full-force for the disco market Denise cranked out a winner. The album contained such gems as: "Move Your Body," "A Love Magician" and even a thinly veiled imitation of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" entitled "Fool Me Good." Denise was enjoying a terriific time in her career and personal life at this point. Her marriage to James Wolf that summer and a revived recording career, thanks to a new label and two hit albums, made this a high point in her life. The curent disco craze and the major label releases made this her most visible period ever.
By the time she recorded her final ABC album in 1978, "Under The Influence," the company was in financial difficulty and was sold to MCA Records in 1979. The album, despite excellent material and her usual superb delivery, did poorly on the charts and in the stores. Excellent tunes such as: "Party Where It Is," "Feet Don't Fail Me," "Workin' Overtime" and "Talkin' 'Bout My Best Friend" make this another well rounded LaSalle effort. Demand for Denise in personal appearances was high at the time so LaSalle was not worried about sales figures and chart placement. Disco was nearing it's apex and, partly due to her own insistence, Denise remained a fringe artist in the genre.
Her 1979 MCA Records debut release garnered critical acclaim for the scrumptious 14-minute, 52-second medley of Betty Swan's "Make Me Yours," Jackie Moore's "Precious, Precious," and LaSalle's own "Trapped By A Thing Called Love." "Unwrapped" also contains a questionable cover of the then current disco hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." The Memphis Horns embellish the rhythm section and give the album a warm sound. Denise testifies on the Newcomers' "Too Little In Common To Be Lovers," taking you straight to Soulsville, USA. The album was an artistic success for Denise even if it was yet another commercial miss.
By 1980 disco was on the decline and yet Denise was about to score another "disco" hit. Her album release that year was entitled "I'm So Hot." As a club D.J. then, I remember programming "Try My Love," a rather sultry number that sizzled and grooved. The rest of the album seemed at the time slightly out of sync with current club trends. But in retrospect it was a delicious slice of tasty R&B funk. Their was only one 12" single release from the album that I know of, the title track. An interesting note about that 12" single is that upon it's release it sank quicker than the Titanic. Recently on EBAY auctions a copy of it went for $204.00 ! Hey Denise ...need to make an extra buck?
Her last and final album for MCA Records was 1981's "Guaranteed." Not owning a copy of it I can't even begin to give my thoughts on it. The album was pressed in a limited amount and it's rarity is proven by the fact that even Denise doesn't have a photo of it on her site. And it's not even mentioned on her discography on AMG.
After MCA dropped her because of the label's "difficulty in promoting black acts" at that time, she continued performing as much as she could in Chicago, Memphis and touring the country. Interest in Denise's style of music had seemingly waned by that time, so she again put her business skills to use. She acquired and operated a young-set elegant and popular nightclub, "The Players Palace," in Jackson, Tennessee, with her husband "Superwolf," who by then was not only a successful radio personality, but had also become a recording artist himself with the hit rap tune, "Superwolf Can Do It," penned by Denise. The 12" single was a smash for the Sugarhill label, the label was started and owned by long-time friend Sylvia "Pillow Talk" Robinson.
In 1982, Dave Clark of Malaco recruited her to write material for Z.Z. Hill. She wrote his next hit, "Someone Else Is Steppin' In." In 1983 Steward Madison of Malaco enticed Denise back into the studio to record her first album for that company, "A Lady In The Street," which sent her career skyrocketing once again! Several other memorable tunes from the album were "Don't Mess With My Man," "This Bell Was Made For Ringing," "Lay Me Down" and her all-time bestseller, "Down Home Blues" -- rated X.
A string of albums have followed: "Right Place -- Right Time," "Love Talking," "Rain And Fire," "It's Lying Time Again," "Hittin' Where It Hurts," "Still Trapped," "Love Me Right" and "Still Bad." All were released on Malaco Records between 1984 and 1994. Her success with the tiny Mississippi based label has proved more enduring that even she could have imagined.
"Smokin' In Bed," released in February of 1997, was an instant smash. It features six electrifying tunes penned or co-penned by the artist and truly shows just how diversified and talented this lady really is! She won the 1998 "Living Blues Critic Award" for the album as well as being named 1998's "Female Blues Artist of the Year." Songs on the album include something for every age group: Hip-Hop for the young or young-at-heart; blues for the avid blues fan; R&B for the soul blues lover; and a little teasing of jazz and pop thrown in as well. Bright, sparkling Southern horns accent many cuts, including "Juke Joint Woman," an uptempo saga about a barfly. The blues never sounded better than on "Blues Party Tonight," which features B.B. King-inspired guitar licks on top of a laid-back groove, or "Dirty Old Woman," a dated-sounding jump number. At times her sexual tales sound contrived, but she excels on the Southern fried ballads and midtempo smokers that dominate the latter half of the album ? "Goin' Through Changes," "Never Been Touched Like This," and "Why Am I Missing You" are pure gold and have earned her the moniker of The First Lady Of Southern Soul.
In an attempt to gain international recognition for her extraordinary talents, Denise has toured extensively throughout West Africa (1972), England (1974, 1978, 1985), France (1974, 1985), Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska (1976), Japan (1980) and Switzerland (1989). Malaco's 1994 tour took her to England, France, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Finland. The 1995 Ultimate Blues Cruise to the Caribbean has rounded out her exotic performing travels.
A lover of home and family, Denise considers her faraway performing trips a "necessary sacrifice." An excellent cook who has had to give up traditional seasonings for health's sake, she loves to be at home cooking for her family. She and James are parents to Kenneth Ray, who plans to become a professional musician and records rap music in his home's basement studio on his Roland XP80, with the hopes of perfecting his talent.
In 1984, James and Denise founded Wolfe Communications, Inc., and launched WFKX-FM (KiX96) in Jackson, Tennessee. It was Jackson, Tennessee's first African-American owned and operated radio station. In 1986, Denise founded "The National Association for the Preservation of the Blues" (NAPOB, Inc.) and conducted a national campaign to capture more radio airplay for blues music. A businesswoman at heart, she operated "Denise LaSalle's Chique Boutique & Wigs Store" from 1989 to 1995, when she decided to halt her retail business pursuits in favor of her family and her music.
A multi-talented personality, Denise fulfills many roles as wife, mother, entertainer, writer, producer and secretary/vice-president of Wolfe Communications, Inc. She believes that she and James (she usually refers to him simply as "Wolfe") are soul-mates. Their lives are nearly perfectly suited to each other as friends, companions, career-oriented persons and corporate partners. "Wolfe supports me in whatever I do. I always support him, too. He is my biggest fan and I am his," she says. "He's a very spiritual person and so am I."
In 1996, Denise and James acquired WZDQ-FM (Q102) radio station, which is Hot AC/Soft Rock, as well as WJAK-AM (1460), a 24-hour full gospel station.
The following year, James announced that he had been called into the ministry. Being a strong supporter of her husband, Denise decided to record a gospel album so that she may fulfill her lifelong dream: to return to her gospel roots. She has said in many interviews, "I believe that God has a plan for me and all of this is preparing me for something else."
With the release of "God's Got My Back" in 1999, Denise reached another musical milestone, establishing a new career in gospel music. The title track began to receive regular rotation on both R&B and gospel radio programs as a crossover gospel song, tantamount to the music of Kirk Franklin and CeCe Winans.
While enjoying her crossover success, Denise decided to record a new R&B album as a follow-up to her highly acclaimed 1997 release, "Smokin' In Bed." In 2000 she began writing new material and assembled a "dream team" of renowned studio musicians for the project. Recorded at "Papa" Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio in Memphis (where Denise had cut her first #1 hit), the new album, "This Real Woman," stands as one of the finest efforts in Denise's thirty-plus years of making music. This double-volume album has songs ranging from blues to country and folk, R&B to gospel. The four bonus tracks include two crossover gospel tunes from "God's Got My Back," the single "Down On Clinton," and the original hit version of "Trapped By A Thing Called Love."
?There's No Separation? was conceived on the night of September 11, 2001. Denise recalls, ?I watched President Bush on television asking, even pleading to America's citizens to join him in prayer for the victims and families of the terrorist attacks on airliners in New York City, Washington D.C. and the Pennsylvania countryside. I cried?oh, so now it's okay to pray!?
She asked the philosophical question: ?Isn't this the country that passed a law forbidding prayer in schools? The country that prosecuted a judge for having the Ten Commandments displayed in his courtroom? The same country that insists on separation of church and state, that has even been contemplating the removal of ?In God We Trust' from its currency??
?Well, Hallelujah!? she shouted, tears running down her face. Tears of grief for the senseless loss of so many lives. And tears of joy as the government now acknowledged the fact that it needs God. ?You can get so big that you think you're making it on your own,? she continued. ?But God has a way of bringing you back to your knees.? That very same night, she picked up her pen and paper, writing the words to ?There's No Separation (of Church and State).?
In addition to ?There's No Separation,? the CD includes yet another timeless message tune, ?(If I'm Only For Myself) Who's Gonna Be For Me,? written nearly a decade ago for rock star Bob Dylan and previously released on LaSalle's 2000 album, ?This Real Woman.? Denise says, ?This song went virtually unnoticed on that album." She adds with a smile, ?I guess people don't see the ?Queen of Soul/Blues' doing that type of song. But the time is right for it now, because it says exactly what people are feeling and what many need to hear.?
Ms. LaSalle believes that this song allows her to speak directly to the President and America's lawmakers, as well as to the American people. And it gives Denise and her husband, an ordained minister, city councilman, radio station owner and businessman, the opportunity to help the victims and families of this terrible tragedy in a significant way.
Thank you Denise for the wonderful memories and for sharing your talent with so many. May God Bless You! DENISE WE LOVE YOU.......YOU GO GIRL!
Denise also encouraged THE MIGHTY MAJORS, her one time back up band and recording artists. ( "You Can Never Go Back").
Over the next decade, LaSalle released the albums, "Still The Queen", "Wanted" (with its hit single, "Snap, Crackle and Pop," Her current album released is titled, "Pay Before You Pump."