By Debora Donato
The video was recorded at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Laura Nyro’s idiosyncratic performance baffled the crowd. It was the dawn of Acid Rock/Psychedelic Music. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Who all came away from the festival as huge successes.
Looking more like a lounge singer than a hippy, Laura Nyro appeared to have come from a different era. Her combination of blues, jazz, gospel, and folk was not a crowd pleaser at the Festival. That said, it is amazing that the power of this performance was not recognized and appreciated. A lot of what happens in life depends on timing.
Luckily, David Geffen — a music agent at the time/and ex collaborator/husband of Carol King. — caught her set and was so impressed he quit his job to become her manager. He landed Nyro a contract with Columbia, and in 1968 she released the extraordinary album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.
Laura Nyro was a brilliant and innovative composer, who wrote complex and nuanced music. Her records are intricate, haunting works which highlight her powerful vocal phrasing, and evocative lyrics. Many of her songs had greater commercial success in the hands of other performers. A few examples are: the Fifth Dimension scored with “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Blowin’ Away,” Barbra Streisand covered “Stoney End,” and Blood, Sweat & Tears tackled “And When I Die.”
At the age of 24, Nyro announced her first retirement and severed her connections with the music industry. This was the first of several self-imposed hiatuses she took from her musical career. Sadly, she died of ovarian cancer in 1997. She was a breath of fresh air in the notoriously formulaic music industry.
In this video, Elvis Costello and Elton John talk about the impact Nyro’s music has had on other musicians and how far ahead of her time she was.
- 1967 – More Than a New Discovery (later reissued as Laura Nyro, 1969, and as The First Songs, 1973)
- 1968 – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (reissued and remastered with bonus tracks, 2002, Columbia)
- 1969 – New York Tendaberry (reissued and remastered with bonus tracks, 2002, Columbia)
- 1970 – Christmas and the Beads of Sweat March 2008-BMG Sony (US division)
- 1971 – Gonna Take a Miracle (with Labelle) (reissued and remastered with bonus tracks, 2002, Columbia)
- 1976 – Smile
- 1978 – Nested (reissued and remastered, 2008, http://www.iconoclassicrecords.com/)
- 1984 – Mother’s Spiritual
- 1993 – Walk the Dog and Light the Light
- 2001 – Angel in the Dark (posthumous album recorded 1994-1995)
- 1977 – Season of Lights (reissued and remastered, 2008, http://www.iconoclassicrecords.com/)
- 1989 – Laura: Live at the Bottom Line
- 2000 – Live at Mountain Stage (recorded 1990)
- 2002 – Live: The Loom’s Desire (recorded 1993-1994)
- 2003 – Live in Japan (recorded 1994)
- 2004 – Spread Your Wings and Fly: Live at the Fillmore East (May 30, 1971)