You would have to guess that singer of “Band of Gold,” one of the great pop singles of all time, had a good romantic secret. After all, the story sung in “Band of Gold” is almost more debated than the one in Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” Is the bride turning down her groom on their wedding night, or is he impotent or gay? Or all of the above!
So Freda Payne, a great elegant beauty with one of the most dynamic voices in pop or R&B history, has written a book. It’s called “Band of Gold” and it’s published officially tomorrow. There’s a book signing party tonight (Monday) at the Cutting Room.
I always remember that in Lillian Roxon’s “Rock Encyclopedia,” the bible of rock and roll, a reviewer wrote of “Band of Gold”: “Freda Payne could sing the Yellow Pages.” Or something to that effect.
The song was written by Eddie and Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier, authors of dozens of Motown hits for the Supremes and Four Tops. They couldn’t use their real names because they were locked in a lawsuit with Motown’s Berry Gordy after leaving the label over a money dispute. (Everyone is friends now, 50 years later.)
Freda was from Detroit, also, and grew up with the Motowners. I’m sure I met her years and years ago through the late Mary Wilson. They were great friends, as were Mary and I.
I was 13 when “Band of Gold” came out. I didn’t know what was going on in it, but I loved the arrangement and Freda Payne’s voice. I played it over and over summer of 1970 at the Camp Greylock radio station. Freda had a bunch more hits including “Deeper and Deeper” and the anti-Vietnam war single, “Bring the Boys Home.” The latter was very controversial and banned on radio at first. It was good publicity.
Later in the 70s, Freda would marry singer Gregory Abbott. She divorced him right before he had his mega hit, “Shake You Down.” (They have a son.) She also had a relationship with Edmund Sylvers, lead singer of his family group. (His hit was “Boogie Fever.”)
There’s a lot more, but here’s the secret. Before the marriages, Freda writes that she had an affair with US Senator John Tunney. He was a big deal then, the son of boxer Gene Tunney. He was also married. But she met him through Frank Sinatra at a charity event. When Holland-Dozier-Holland didn’t pay Freda for her hits, Tunney helped get her a top Hollywood lawyer who came, guns blazing, and got her a big settlement.
It was Sinatra who pointed out to Freda that Tunney was head over heels for her. He was good looking and had just been elected to the Senate from California after six years as a Congressman. Freda, who’d become a star, moved to Los Angeles and took up residence in the former home of Movie Star Maureen O’Hara. She was living the life.
Freda writes that she fell in love with Tunney, which was a mistake. But she had other loves, too. :I was in love with Quincy Jones too. I was so in love with him. Those were my three big love affairs: Quincy Jones, Eddie Holland, and John Tunney.” She was playing in the Big Time.
She writes of the affair:
It was starting to unravel at that point. When this happened,
Tunney and I had to take a break from seeing each other. After that,
our affair just started to fizzle and dissolve. I assumed he had been
approached about the knowledge of our love affair, and he figured
the relationship was way too risky, and could destroy his political
Later on he had an affair with the actress Elizabeth Ashley, and
I became insanely jealous.
I remember thinking to myself, “What does he want with that
old bitch? She’s six years older than me!” Ah, to be 30 again!
Years later, when John Tunney’s re-election came up, he lost. So,
he didn’t stay in office too long as a Senator.
There’s more, lots of it, Mark Bego helped Freda put it together, he’s an expert at these things. I like this new world of people like Elton John, Demi Moore, Katie Couric, all telling the real stories in their books. After 50 years of this pop culture, we deserve some answers!
So welcome Freda to New York on Monday! She still looks like a million bucks, and the voice is better than ever!