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Friday, March 7, 2014
Yvonne Elliman: Still Rockin'
By Rasa Fournier
One day while singing at the Pheasantry, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber paid a visit looking for the man who was supposed to be on stage that night. As fortune had it, they got a dose of Ellimans honey timbered vocals. They said, Youre my Mary Magdalene- I didnt know who that was.I thought it was Jesus mom.
Thus began her foray into a whirlwind rock opera concert tour of Jesus Christ Superstar the soundtrack, which would later be turned into the movie that made history. The record had sold 12 million copies and it was snowballing, says Elliman. By the end of the six-week tour they were already doing auditions (for a theatrical tour).
She was up against Van Halens daughter, who was blond,could sing and had a cute figure. Elliman snared the role, toured Broadway and eventually landed in Israel where the film cast pumped out their roles in 120 degree desert heat. They had these guys walking around with trays with cups of watered-down lemonade that they would force you to drink, because youd never sweat. As soon as youd sweat, it would evaporate.
Elliman was a sudden sensation. I Dont Know How to Love Him was a hit, as was her disco single from Saturday Night Fever, If I Cant Have You, which earned her $460,000. She also had a singing role in the film Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. She was putting out hit albums when, at the age of 19, she met her first husband, Bill Oakes, the president of RSO Records.
It was a wonderful rock n roll marriage where we were introduced to anybody and everybody, she says. Oakes introduced Elliman to her idol Eric Clapton. Her Dark Horse (the record company of Claptons friend and love rival George Harrison) T-shirt caught his eye and her voice hooked him. She sang backup for many of Claptons hits, including I Shot the Sheriff, and spent time in the company of musical greats such Bob Dylan. She appeared on shows like Phil Donahue and enjoyed the personal attentions of the likes of President Carter and Princess Anne of England.
Then, just as quickly as she rose to the top, she disappeared into the California wilderness, where she would spend an ascetic few years with her second husband and two children. Rent was cheap in their rustic cabin with no electricity, but her husband was forced to go into the city to make money.
I was there months at a time,just me and the kids, and I would have to take them on a sled, pull them a mile down the road to get my propane filled, but it was great. Im glad I did it, she says genuinely thankful for the experience.
That same sunny,down-to-earth attitude shone through again during the course of her MidWeek interview when we are forced by a sudden downpour to huddle under the meager shelter of some nearby branches.
Yvonne Elliman and her 10-member band at practice
The rain is lovely,its like a shower,"she says soaking in the moment. You never know what you have until its gone. Every time I would come back to Hawaii over the years, as soon as I saw the island chain from the airplane window, tears would well up. Its such a special place. Were so lucky.
We continue under a light sprinkle, casually meandering along sidewalks. When asked if fans recognize her, she tells of an incident where a local man went wild shouting with fervor to anyone in the vicinity, Its Yvonne Elliman, Yvonne Elliman. Without recalling her name, others have acknowledged her with, Eh, you somebody!
I remember one time I was pushing a shopping cart, sharing another of her austere moments in the California woods. I was this (making a large gesture) pregnant with Ben (her son), and Sage (her daughter) was sitting on mounds of laundry in black bags, going up the road to the Laundromat, and I get to the top and Im huffing and puffing and sweating, and this car pulls up and goes Hey. (studying her in excited recognition). Nah, he determines on closer observation, discounting the possibility of such world-renowned talent plodding along in the middle of nowhere.
Her children eventually went to school in Malibu, where Ellimans expertise in baking pies won her first place in the Malibu Pie Festival one year.
An unexpected call from Tom Moffatt whisked her back to Hawaii in 2001. And she has no plans to leave. She spends time sharing laughter with her active parents and playing music with her partner Allen Alexander, who is a member of her new 10-piece band thats premiering at the Diamond Head Crater Celebration.
And shes still a dedicated rocker.
I went to England to be the best rock guitar player, she confides.
Rocks always been at the heart of me. Theres something about
the bass and drums that have that steady pulsing beat, and then the electric
guitar comes in with the hook. Theres just nothing close to it. I dont
think anything does it for me like that.