In The Name Of Love
She was just 11 when a precocious Dana Gillespie announced to her mum, the wife of Austrian radiologist Baron De Winterstein Gillespie, that she had reached a pivotal decision: Her given name had to go. After all, Gillespie was sure that a life of fame awaited her, and equally certain that her birth name of Richenda, while precious because it had been passed down through many generations, would never quite fit her future persona as a star.
So, she gambled on a new moniker. “I asked everyone from that time to call me Dana,” recalls Gillespie, whose formative years were split between her home in England and the family’s villa in Maccagno, Italy. “Amazingly, everyone did, even my teachers at school. I was a very strong-willed child, and as I made my first record at the age of 15, it seemed like a good move.”
That it was, the first of many for Gillespie, who followed up her name change by plunging headlong into the folk music scene in the mid-1960s, touring with Mac MacLeod and romancing Scottish singer Donovan, before venturing off into the glam-rock, blues landscape of the post-Woodstock years. Along the way, she forged long-lasting friendships with notable musicians such as David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, and carved out quite a career in theater and film – being cast as the first Mary Magdalene in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, the Acid Queen in The Who’s Tommy, and Mary in the 1978 film The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Now at age 63, with more than 60 albums to her credit and her London Blues Band to tour the globe with, Gillespie no longer has to change a thing about herself to secure her fame. Instead, as a devout follower of Indian spiritual guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba, she spends much of her time hoping to evoke changes in others through music by promoting the message of “love, unity and human values.” That message can be heard at Hawaii Convention Center Saturday evening, when Gillespie performs at the free event “Love the Love.” (The show starts at 7. Visit the website, lovethelove.org, to secure free tickets.)
“All concerts I do are important to me, but to try to get the message of ‘Love All, Serve All’ is important as it hopefully uplifts the soul and makes you feel good at the same time,” she tells me. “Music is the greatest communicator, and any way that (music can be used) to let people feel good has to be a positive force.”
Musical Notes caught up with Gillespie, who is making her virgin visit to the Islands this week, and got the British Blues Hall of Fame artist to opine about a career that’s spanned nearly five decades.
MN: What songs will you be performing at this weekend’s concert?
DG: I don’t usually fix my song list till the day of the performance, but some of my songs will be Love the Love, Heart of Hearts, Move Your Body Close to Me and Guardian Blue Angel. I may also sing some songs in Sanskrit, known as Bhajans, which is one of the oldest languages on the planet.
MN: How did you happen to befriend David Bowie and Mick Jagger?
DG: My friendship with David Bowie started when I was only 14. By the early ’70s, he introduced me to the man who then became our manager, Tony Defries. Bowie also taught me my first chords on the guitar and helped me get on my first TV show in 1965. In the ’70s, he wrote a song for me called Andy Warhol and played guitar on it, and he so liked the outcome that he recorded his own version for his Hunky Dory album. As to Mick Jagger, I grew up in London in the early ’60s, so I’ve remained friends with all of the guys I used to hang out with. Recently, Jagger sang at the Musique Blues Festival, which is on the small island of Musique in the West Indies. This is a Charity Festival that I have run for the last 19 years, ever since my partner in this venture, Basil Charles, and myself came up with the idea of putting on a blues festival on one of the most exclusive and amazing islands in the world. It runs for 15 days every end of January, and all the blues artists give their time for free to help raise money for the Basil Charles Education Foundation, which gets children in need through school on the next island called St. Vincent. I record the festival and produce the CD every year, and the sale of these CDs helps the charity. And because Mick Jagger kindly gave his time to sing, I can now say that I have produced two songs with him singing.
MN: You’ve spent most of your life on stages across the world. How much longer do you see yourself doing this?
DG: I started writing songs at the age of 11, and being on stage or in a studio is as normal to me as most people would feel in a supermarket, which is a place where I normally feel lost. I hope to carry on until I am carried off stage in my wooden overcoat!