70s Music

Denise LaSalle, Queen of the Blues

Introduction to Denise LaSalle

Denise LaSalle
A photograph of Denise LaSalle performing at the 2009 Monterey Blues Festival. (Source: Wikipedia)

Denise LaSalle is a R&B/soul singer songwriter who achieved an R&B chart-topper with “Trapped By A Thing Called Love.” Her first single under Chess Records, “A Love Reputation,” was a regional hit. LaSalle then moved to Westbound records where she wrote, recorded and released a single called “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” which would become #1 on the R&B charts and a Top 20 hit in 1971. LaSalle would then score three more R&B hits, the last being “Love Me Right,” released by ABC label in 1978. Up to now LaSalle is still active in the industry, mostly doing live performances.

Early life and career

R&B, blues, soul, gospel and disco singer-songwriter Denise LaSalle was born Ora Denise Allen (although some sources cite her birth name as Denise Craig) in Sidon, Mississippi on July 16, 1939. She was later raised in a nearby city of Belzoni, which was also home to Joe Willie “Pine Top” Perkins a few years earlier).

However, LaSalle started singing gospel in local churches around LeFlore County. She was influenced in a variety of genres like R&B, soul, blues as well as country music (she used to listen a lot of the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts). When she was in her 20’s Lasalle moved to Chicago to hone her singing and songwriting capabilities. She was signed to Chess Records in 1967 when the Chess’ executives got to hear one of the songs she had written. Unlike many R&B and soul singers at that time who were content to do mere interpretations of materials given to them, LaSalle wrote her own songs, and she in fact proved to be an excellent songwriter.

 

Biggest hit with “Trapped By a Thing Called Love”

LaSalle set up her own production company with her then-husband Bill Jones. Her first single was “Trapped By a Thing Called Love,” which she wrote herself and was released on Westbound Records, which was based in Detroit. It became a big hit, topping the R&B charts and creeping into the Top 20 Billboard pop chart, peaking there at #13 in 1971. At year’s end the song ended up at #71. “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” sold over a million copies and was awarded with a gold disc. It would remain LaSalle’s biggest hit record to date.

 

It was followed by a couple of R&B top ten hits “Now Run and Tell That” and “Man Sized Job” (also both written by LaSalle) and other minor R&B chart placers. Notable songs include “Love Me Right” (#10 R&B, #80 pop) and “Married, But Not to Each Other” (#16 R&B).

In 1975 LaSalle signed to a major label ABC Records where she released three LPs before ABC was sold to MCA Records. MCA in turn dropped LaSalle because of its “difficulty of promoting black artists” at that time. She still continued to make appearances around Chicago and Memphis, Tennessee.

Fruitful stint at Malaco Records

During the early 1980s, a bigwig at Malaco Records requested LaSalle to write a song for the late blues singer ZZ Hill. A positive relationship between LaSalle and the label quickly developed, and she eventually released a string of critically-acclaimed eleven or so albums on Malaco for over more than 20 years. These albums includeLady in the Street (1983) and Right Place, Right Time (1984). These albums became good sellers on the soul, R&B and blues circuit.

Later career

LaSalle also records gospel material, incluing albums such as This Real Woman (2000) and There’s No Separation (2001) which were released on Ordena Records andLittle Bit Naughty (2008) on Shout label.

Since the death of blues songstress Koko Taylor in 2009, LaSalle has been called as the current “Queen of the Blues.”

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