Rita Coolidge still aiming higher and higher

  • Matt Beard Photography
  • Matt Beard Photography

    Rita Coolidge

It is a gorgeous, fall day in Florida. The sun is shining, birds are flying and Spanish moss is dripping from ancient oaks from outside a lakefront home.

Rita Coolidge is loving it.

“Nobody’s here but me and my sweetie and all the squirrels,” she said. “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”

Coolidge isn’t just relaxing and enjoying the good life, though with the success of her nearly 50-year musical career, she could be.

Instead, she is wrapping up her latest album, which happens to be the favorite of all her albums.

“How much better can it get?” she said during a recent phone interview with The Garden Island.

Well, a trip to Hawaii might do it, which is where the singer is headed for a four-island tour that includes shows on Kauai, Oahu, the Big Island and Maui.

“I just keep getting these great opportunities,” the 72-year-old said, laughing. “And I never learned to say no.”

She and her band will be performing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Kauai Beach Resort Ballroom.

She is also touring in support of her book “Delta Lady,” released last year, and upcoming 2018 new album release, “Faith in the Arms of Time,” which she said is a return to her roots.

Her focus with this album was back to the basics of people writing and playing music together, not following popular trends in pursuit of a hit song.

“I kind of lost sight for a while of what I started out to do,” she said. “With this record, I’ve come full circle.”

Her love for recording, touring and performing, remains strong.

“I guess the fact that I’m still here means I must be doing something right,” the two-time Grammy award winner said. “It’s good to know that people who’ve liked what I do for all these years still like what I do, and at the same time it sounds good to people who weren’t even born when I started out. And it’s especially satisfying because I’ve made a record that’s really true to the style of music I love. How can you ask for more than that?”

Coolidge credits her success to the values instilled in her early on by her preacher father and her teacher mother, and the rich heritage of their Cherokee lineage.

Along with her siblings she was raised to believe that with her faith to guide her, anything was possible.

“I just feel like I have had a really blessed life. My heart is full of gratitude all the time,” she said. “Be grateful for the things you have and the life you have. I’m not ever looking over my shoulder.”

In 1971, she signed with A&M Records and released more than a dozen albums in the years to follow, including 1978’s multi-platinum “Anytime… Anywhere.” She recorded singles which became classics; ″We’re All Alone,″ ″Higher And Higher″ and ″The Way You Do The Things You Do.”

She’s performed with high-profile pals like George Harrison, Roger Waters, Robbie Robertson and Jimmy Buffett.

She toured and recorded with Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell and Stephen Stills. In 1973, Coolidge married singer, songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson. During their eight-year union the pair teamed up for a number of hits and was twice named Country Duo of the Year.

Her ″Love Came For Me″ appeared on the soundtrack of the movie Splash, ″All Time High″ was the theme for the James Bond thriller Octopussy and ″Heart Don’t Fail Me Now″ (with Lee Greenwood) was used as a recurring theme for the CBS daytime drama, “As The World Turns.”

While many define her music as soul, Coolidge isn’t so sure.

“Any time the spirit is speaking through the music, that’s soul in a very pure sense of the word. I don’t know what to call the music most people know me for, really. I guess that’s one of the things I like most about it — it’s really impossible to categorize.”

What she wants, she said, is to hear music breathe.

“It has to have some open space; otherwise it’s just a compacted bunch of sound,” she said. “I’m not a vocal gymnast, and I wouldn’t sing that way if I were. No matter how many notes you can make fit into a phrase, there’ll be a couple that really count. Those are the ones I want to sing.”

In the 90s, Coolidge began devoting more time, energy and talent to other concerns. Her own Cherokee heritage inspired increasing involvement in projects that would benefit or call attention to Native American music, culture and issues.

Coolidge was honored with a ″Lifetime of Musical Achievement″ award at the 2002 First Americans in the Arts Awards, as well as being the recipient of a ″Native American Music Award for Lifetime Achievement.″

“As you get older you gather layers and layers and layers of life,” Coolidge wrote in Delta Lady. “And you learn to wear them and carry them proudly, or you let them take you down. And I choose to wear mine.”

Meantime, you’ll find her in the studio or on the stage.

“I never imagined, believe me, I would still be doing this at this time in my life,” she said.

But she is, because, simply put, she is healthy and happy.

“I feel like I did when I was 12,” she said.

That musical creativity is alive and well, too. The words, the music, come to her at any given time. It’s then Coolidge jots down notes on her Samsung smart phone.

“If I write them down, they all stay in my memory,” she said. “They’ll come out when they’re needed.”

Coolidge has visited Kauai, but never performed here.

“This is pretty huge for me and my band,” she said. “We’re all excited.”

Her four-member band includes John McDuffie on guitar, Randy Landis on bass, Lynn Coulter on drums and John Thomas on piano and keyboard.

“I love just playing music with my band,” Coolidge said. “They inspire me in every way and we have a great time.”

When she performs, she speaks of a “mutual exchange” between her and the audience. She loves to see people singing along and having a great time.

“If people are not walking away with their hearts full, I might take some time off,” she said.

No worries about that.

For tickets, $45 to $65, go to www.bluesbearhawaii.com or call 896-4845

Ticket outlets on Kauai including Kauai Music & Sound, Kapaa; Hanalei Music & Strings; Scotty’s Music, Lihue; Progressive Expressions, Koloa; and Jacqueline On Kauai, Hanapepe.

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