Country girl at heart
by Richard Dodds
She's a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll, a little bit Broadway but not to be pigeonholed. Linda Eder dances to one kind of music, dreams in another, and knows that many fans expect a diva in her soul.
"I have very loyal fans," said the singer who possesses a voice of dynamic dimensions, "so you get this dilemma of people who want to hear the same things all the time, and the ones who want to hear something new. I can't please everybody, so I just have to go with what I need to do to make this work for me."
Local audiences will get a new chance to hear how she puts it all together in the nightclub intimacy of Yoshi's San Francisco for two performances on Feb. 16. While previous area engagements have brought her to larger venues, there isn't a concert-hall Linda and a cabaret Linda. "I kind of treat them all the same," she said of whatever venue in which she finds herself. "Even if I'm in a 2,000-seat hall, it's like you're at my kitchen table."
Jekyll & Hyde.
Eder still thinks of herself as the Minnesota country girl singing in a local joint, even though her breakthrough role came as a doomed prostitute in the Broadway musical Jekyll & Hyde. The score included signature power ballads written by former husband Frank Wildhorn, and she went on to channel the likes of Streisand and Garland on records and in concerts.
"I wasn't born in Brooklyn like Barbra, and I wasn't born in a trunk like Judy," Eder said recently from her home outside New York City. "When I do those songs, and I know I do them well, it's really like slipping on a role. But when I do my own stuff, it just feels like the blue-jean-wearing Linda."
So what can audiences expect at Yoshi's? Her current show doesn't have a title or the kind of unifying concept that she offered last year in her Songbirds tour, but she said the current repertoire draws heavily from it. "For that, I learned some really iconic songs from some really iconic singers," Eder said, referring to such performances as Etta James' "At Last," Patsy Cline's "Crazy," and Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man."
In addition to the Songbirds offerings, Eder will draw from her numerous albums and include some of the songs that "people consider my greatest hits." Those songs include "Man of La Mancha," "Someone Like You," and "Vienna," with the latter two composed by Wildhorn. "I sort of took a break from doing those big songs for the last year or so," she said. "I've been getting a lot of requests for them, so I figured I've had my break so let's put them back in."
Another thing that helped recharge her big-song batteries was a CD sojourn to the country-pop album The Other Side of Me. "Left to my own devices with just a guitar, that's really who I am," Eder said of the lightly twanging sound. She wrote one song for the album, a driving heartbreaker titled "Waiting for the Fall," and it will be part of the songbook at Yoshi's.
Eder is working towards a CD made up entirely of her own compositions, but her most recent release was something of a throwback surprise. Now is a collection of recent compositions by former husband Wildhorn, whose musical visions had once defined her. Divorced in 2004 after six years of marriage, they have remained companionable, have a teenaged son together, and after Eder had a chance to choose her own path for most of the past decade, she felt ready to again collaborate with Wildhorn. And there will be a song from Now in her SF show.
Before she met Wildhorn, Eder had been building a career first through pageant performances (she was a runner-up in the 1980 Miss Minnesota competition), local club dates, a lounge act in Atlantic City, and then a winning streak in the late 80s on the pre-Idol TV talent show Star Search. Wildhorn, a pop songwriter with theatrical aspirations, took notice, and she became part of the long Jekyll & Hyde journey that finally led to Broadway in 1997.
Although Eder appeared in developmental productions of other Wildhorn musicals that made it to New York, Jekyll & Hyde – her only Broadway credit – gave her a theatrical identity that she hadn't sought. And a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward celebrity that sometimes flummoxes her most zealous fans. "There are people in the world who seem to want you to be a diva," she said. "I don't know how to do that. I'm just a friendly Minnesota girl, and I'm almost too honest."
Sometimes she kicks herself after a frank remark, although she didn't mind relaying a recent example. She had declined to attend the opening of a pre-Broadway tour of a revised Jekyll & Hyde, and the director asked her why. "I just told him the truth," she said. "I said, 'What if I don't like it?' And then all these interviewers are going to ask me what I thought, and I'm going to have to stay quiet, and I don't want to do that."
Although it's a big Broadway belter's anthem, Jerry Herman's "I Am What I Am" seems to be Eder's credo. Her recording of the song has been released in at least six dance-club remixes, but she wasn't impressed. "I had a top-five dance track hit with my song 'Something to Believe In,' and they really did it well," she said. "When I heard they were going to do a dance mix of 'I Am What I Am,' I thought that could be great, but they didn't use enough of the song, and it loses its integrity. I think they really missed the boat."
Not that Eder is likely to experience it in an actual dance club. "Those places make me a little nuts because it's all the same beat. Just give me some old-fashioned rock-n-roll to dance to."
Linda Eder will perform at 8 & 10 p.m. Feb. 16 at Yoshi's San Francisco. Tickets are $36 & $46. Call 655-5600 or go to www.yoshis.com.