South Carolina, 1959
I was born Pauline Koutrakos in New York City into a Military family and lived all over the world as a Navy Brat. My theatrical debut at age 4 came as a beauty contest winner in the Marine Corp town of Beaufort, South Carolina. I was the only little dark haired ethnic type in the otherwise blond hair/blue eyed contest so I won and was officially crowned "Little Miss Beaufort". I was the pint sized hostess for things like a reception honoring the Blue Angels and the welcoming to South Carolina the then mayor of New York City Robert Wagner. I was hooked! The "isn't she pretty" stuff was fine, but being in the spotlight center stage, the applause and the parades clearly made their mark.
"DO YOU KNOW YOUR DAUGHTER CAN SING?"
My grandmother who barely spoke English and who couldnt carry a tune in a bucket looked up from watching me in my crib and said in Greek to my mother. "Listen to the sound of her voice, she's a singer." As a teenager, moving to a new place every 2 years, I would get up and sing as soon as I got the chance because it was the only way I could make friends fast. Since we were only gonna be wherever we were for a few years I didn't have any time to waste. With the expected parts in high school musicals and old fashioned "Battle of the Bands" my singing finally got my parents attention. Not being from a show biz family my folks helped the way they could. They sent me to voice lessons and suggested it would be good if I went on Johnny Carson. (Say! That's a good idea dad) My first paid gig was when we were stationed in Texas with The Jack Davidson Trio at the Corpus Christi Town Club. (they taught me all the standards my mom left out!)
The Godfather, on the set 1971
James Caan's death scene June'71: Mitchel Field on Long Island was a former Air Force base that was decommissioned but remained as a military housing complex. It had its original airplane hangers, movie theaters, swimming pools, ,closed officers clubs, defunct run down runways and the best overgrown railroad tracks ever. It was my home for a few years. Me and a mess of other "brats" I still love. It is now home to Nassau Coliseum, but in 71 down on the runways where we all made-out, smoked pot and learned to drive they shot a movie. I asked my mom if I could go watch -it was a school day -she said "no". I left for school, jumped on my bike when she wasn't looking and spent the entire day watching a little movie being filmed. I didn't know the actors in it, but I stole James Caan's hat and it beat going to school. A year later the little movie came out. Yup!
Finding Dick Gallagher 1979
n 1979 I started singing at the comedy clubs. I made a small club on East 31st street- Good Times- my home base. They had their primary singer spot on the weekends and I worked my way up to getting it . My 6 month stint followed both Laurie Beechman and then Pat Benatar. I met Andrew Dice Clay there and the two of us moved uptown to Dangerfield's where we did our first full length show together. It was a pretty thrilling beginning, but clearly the most significant player and person I met (who would travel with me musically into our collective futures) was a beautiful man who became my pianist, Musical Director and dearest friend, composer Dick Gallagher from Chicago.
I spent this musically exciting New York decade singing nearly 5 nights a week. With both a Rock band and Cabaret up and running I'm pretty sure I hit almost every club in town. Before the 80's had come and gone, with anywhere from 5 to 11 piece bands of my own and as a "Downtown Diva" I went from the Ritz, Limelight, Peppermint Lounge, Studio 54 and The Saint all the way uptown to Central Park for Gay Prides first AIDS run opening ceremonies . Simultaneously, with just Dick Gallagher at the piano I became a regular at many Cabaret clubs: The Duplex, The Grand Finale, The Waldorf Astoria, The Rainbow Room, Town Hall, Eighty Eights, Don't Tell Mama and more. My band and I opened for David Brenner and David Johansen, I was the Village Voice's pick for Best Rock New Comer, won my first Cabaret MAC Award for Best Female Vocalist, appeared on TV with "The Joe Franklin Show" and my first appearance in Billboard magazine. Hello New York!
The first NYC Gay Pride Run concert June 26, 1982
Central Park, Sheep Meadow : the main event was Laura Brannigan singing her iconic song "Gloria" but my bands version of "You Dont Own Me" was pretty good too! We did our first Ritz concert four days after this glorious afternoon.
Invite for the bands first real gig were handed out to this crowd and we packed the place, LIFT-OFF !
Somewhere in Manhattan 1984
The two page photograph by Ed Caraeff is of posters on a Manhattan building scaffold. I flipped out when I saw that- big as you please -while I was riding a bus uptown. This image appeared in a photo table book called "More Rear Views" a few years later. So, my show at the Ritz (Webster Hall) and Springsteen's "Born In The USA" are nicely immortalized in this snapshot of time. The above image from this poster ultimately became the artwork for my 2016 album "Archives."
In the Limelight at LIMELIGHT
The "Downtown Diva's" 1985
There was nothing like these shows. I am forever grateful and a little blown away that I was part of the "Diva's" for what has gone down in history as an amazing and electrifying decade on the New York City music scene.
The 90's OFF Broadway
"Tony n' Tina's Wedding" is a unique off-Broadway theatrical event based on an traditional Italian-American wedding and reception. "Warm stereotypes exaggerated for comic effect and audience members (guests at the wedding) interact at the urging of an improvisational comedy cast." I wore bright blue eyeshadow and very big hair 6 days a week for over 2 years as Mrs Vitale the mother of the bride. TnT is a baptism-by-fire training ground for some intense improvisation that is not for the faint of heart. I loved it. If you are one of the millions of New Yorkers who was in the West Village during the 22 years this show ran I hope you were lucky enough to have been accosted by a Nunzio or a Vitale.
A Brush with OSCAR
Thank you Tony n Tina's Wedding, because my then pretty excellent improvisational skills landed me the part of Mira Sorvinos mother in "The Dutchmaster" a Susan Seidelman short film with some of my actor friends from Tony n Tina's Wedding. The film was nominated for an Academy Award. This unique and beautiful film is on a compilation called "Tales of Erotica" and was featured that same year at the Cannes Film Festival. Believe it or not , with all my hairbrush-singing and childhood daydreaming about fame and fortune I never once practised my Oscar speech!
A Brush with EMMY 2002
At this point having had a nice amount of my original material placed on TV shows and many of my songs both sung and recorded by other artists I was hired to sing the closing credits song for the Emmy Winning HBO Documentary "Telling Nicholas"in 2002.
The BOTTOM LINE years 1996-2004
This was my favorite singin-with-the-band time. With various bands from L.A to South Hampton I opened for Foreigner, Bruce Willis and Curtis Mayfield. I happily gathered fans the likes of Meryl Streep, Kate Mulgrew, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Kathleen Turner and I got a "thumbs up" from David Bowie after I stepped off the stage at the China Club. in Los Angeles. With my first 11 piece band and the scaled down version that followed -The Low Country- I spent another decade doing my original southern rock music at New York's legendary Bottom Line. Like many others I loved The Bottom Line and its owner Allen Pepper. There show format was 2 full out shows back to back a night, so just when the first show ended and you were on fire, you got to do it again! There were countless benefits and special concerts where I shared the stage with Phoebe Snow, Kevin Bacon, David Johansen, at the same time I was a steady headliner with the band. Writing original material with Dan Gross and other band members, singing with consistency in both Paris and NY I was backed up and in the company of world class musicians and people. From long term "residencies" at the Bottom Line , then onto more of the same at Fez and Joe's Pub, this extended time period produced music that fed 3 of my albums, garnered numerous Billboard Magazine reviews and features and made for some of her most exciting and sold-out live performances I've ever had.
I Wrote A Song
I took a road trip, just me a tape recorder and a pen and paper down the east coast and landed back in Beaufort S.C....kinda where I started I guess. I stepped out of the car, it was 101 humid low country degrees and I was standing by a swamp. I wrote this song-BURY ME DEEP- in about 5 minutes. I couldnt write the lyrics down quick enough to keep up with how fast they were coming to me. I had to stop at a cheap roadside motel for 24 hours cuz of a hurricaine and I called pianist Mark Hartman. We had always wanted to write our own "Angel from Montgomery" so I knew this was his to share in the music. When I got back to NY we met in a club during the day. I sang what was in my head and he put down the music to go with it as fast as I had written the lyrics. Some things just tell you they need to be written. It was great when the John Lennon songwriting contest thought the tune was good! I have since "given" it to the town of Beaufort...where it belongs.
I sometimes forget what I've done and where I've been, what I've learned, seen, sung and all the glorious "who's" I've met, sung with and laughed with along the way. It's nice to do this HISTORY page because it reminds me of how lucky I've been and only serves to inform me as to where I am currently going. (which I can't imagine will be any less thrilling) Many years ago, maybe my first year in NYC, a woman (singer) named Odetta heard me sing in the Good Times club. She came up to me afterward and we chatted out on 3rd ave. It was around midnight and the moon was full, I wasn't too sure who this excellent lady was at that time but I knew to listen and listen well. She told me I was fantastic, that my voice was "like no other", she warned me -(wise) woman to (young) woman- against too much cleavage but encouraged me to always show a bit of skin around my face, neck and shoulders when I sang. She gave me the chiffon scarf that was around her neck and as she explained to me how nice things like chiffon looked and flowed on us bigger gals she wrapped it gently around MY neck and shoulders. She said something to me I have taken with all these years later. She said, directly into my eyes "You are blessed, you are blessed with a gift that is clear but that doesn't mean you will realize your dream. Work hard for it but remember that while you aren't guaranteed a career what you ARE guaranteed is a life so.....don't forget to live it as you forge on."
I have not forgotten.
Odetta Holmes 1930-2008
© LINA KOUTRAKOS 2024