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Juice Newton Duets With Willie Nelson and Friends

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Juice Newton may have been singing Christmas carols at the Carols by Candlelight in Escondido, Calif. earlier this month, but her new album presents fans with a more unique offering.

‘Duets: Friends & Memories,’ pairs Juice for the first time ever with a diverse group of musical partners, including Willie Nelson, Gary Morris, Frankie Valli, Randy Meisner, Glen Campbell, Melissa Manchester and the late Dan Seals. The duets were recorded a few years ago, but because of some legal complications they are just now being released. In the meantime, Dan passed away, making the tune ‘These Dreams’ a poignant memory in Juice’s recording history.

The New Jersey native, raised in Virginia, had a string of pop and country hits with ‘The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known),’ ‘Angel of the Morning‘ and ‘Queen of Hearts,’ but this is the first time she’s ever recorded an album of duets. “The underlying idea from the get-go was diversity, because I do a lot of different types of music,” Juice explains to The Boot. “I started in pop, then crossed over into country. And I actually do some swing music, so that was the first idea. The second ruling factor was when I went to these artists, I asked them if there were songs they liked that they had not had a chance to record. So that was interesting, to let the individual artist pick the song, almost like they do on their record.”

While this might have been great for the duet partners, it put a bit of pressure on Juice, who had to learn all the songs that the other artists chose to record. “The artists are very different,” Juice points out. “Melissa is a great vocalist, so to step up and match that vocal interpretation was a challenge. Willie has an easier vocal style, and Gary is a really good singer. So there was a little bit of pressure on me, but that was all right. I came to them with the project so that was fine that it was on me, not them.”

Recording the songs also presented a bit of a challenge with trying to coordinate schedules. It worked out for Juice to be in the studio with Melissa, Dan, Gary and Frankie, but Willie had to record his songs at his studio in Texas. She says singing with Frankie and Dan were the most difficult because they had to change the key every time the switch was made from male to female parts. “That is a mental challenge, because you have to listen carefully in order to modulate up or down,” she elaborates. “All the time I was singing with the guys it was more challenging for me.”

Juice describes Dan as a good guy and fun to work with. “I always admired his vocal style,” she says. “Dan was such a sweet singer, and always so fun to be around. He was such an easy person, with such a great voice. I was really happy to be able to sing with him before he passed.

“With Willie, he likes to play his guitar while he sings. He plays it on his fret board, so that was a challenge. With Gary, we pitched the song in the wrong key, so we had to tighten our shorts to do that one,” she adds with a laugh. “It was just a lot of fun to work with the different people and make everyone comfortable. One of the times I couldn’t find the studio and I didn’t have GPS in my car, so I was trying to find it on my own. All kinds of stuff like that happened, but we got it done!”

The most fun part of recording the album was getting to meet everyone, sitting down and picking the songs. “At first you might go ‘Oh, wow,’ because you aren’t sure you can sing the song they picked, and then you just look at each other and say, ‘Oh, yeah.’ You just have to cowboy up and make it right.”

Juice also lost another dear friend, Otha Young, since the duets album was recorded. He was a long-time bandmate and collaborator, having written ‘The Sweetest Thing’ as well as co-writing with Juice ‘Sweet, Sweet Smile,’ a pop hit for The Carpenters.

“Any time I can keep Otha’s memory in the forefront it means a lot, because we worked together for such along time,” Juice says. “We were really close friends, the kind where you can communicate without speaking, and we had so many memories. There were times in the early days when we’d get to a gig and there would be no equipment, or we’d miss a flight or the truck would break down. These are things you can only share with people who were road warriors with you!”

When asked why she appealed to such a wide audience of music fans, Juice said perhaps it is because she’s not afraid to do all kinds of music. “When people come to my show they get a variety, sort of like going to a buffet,” she explains with a smile. “I never felt limited to only being pop or only being light rock or only trying to do one thing or only write one way. I never felt pressure to fit in one hole, or if I did feel pressure I resisted it. If I liked the song, or if I wrote it and I liked it, it’s kind of like you should do it. I think Sheryl Crow is in that vein, and Zac Brown. They are a little broader, a little more rock. My governing point was always if you like it, you perform it. If it comes from the gut then you’re good to go.”

Juice was somewhat ahead of her time, as she was a multiple-talented female singer in the 1970s and 1980s. She says if female singers today feel she has been an influence in their careers, she is flattered by that thought. “I think that in pop it was easier because we had some great female pop singers and have had for a long time. Maybe it was because of the R&B influence in pop. In country, maybe it helped get girls out of trying to be just a girl singer. I was a guitar player, I wrote songs, and I performed. But if it works for you, and you feel that you own it, then the audience is generally gonna like it.”

The singer’s own influences were women singer-songwriters and musicians from the folk world — Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and Joan Baez. “It goes a long time back to when I was listening to songs from the Bob Dylan era that were statement songs, protest songs, and I appreciated the Bohemian art nouveau, rough and ready kind of song. I think it became a plus for me to have that background because I was able to be more diverse in my music.”

Juice sees music today continuing in that diversity, especially in country in more recent years. “You are seeing more girl guitar players like Miranda Lambert and Jewel, who is a folksy singer/songwriter. Sheryl Crow now shows up on some of the country music awards shows, and I think all of that is helping country music grow again. I think that is what music should be, more diverse and not so confined by the CEOs and CFOs in the business. The musicians and fans should be in control of what they want to play and hear.”

Juice has passed on her creative flow to her daughter, Jessica, with whom she is writing a book.

“We started when she was young and she’s 23 now,” Juice says, explaining that her daughter has always been very creative. “She wrote her first story when she was about eight. She named it ‘Where Does the Sun Go at Night.’ Kids have very tough times — time is a huge concept for them to understand — so until they get a grasp on their true surroundings, and they start to see earth, sun and moon time come together, they wonder about things like that.

“Another one of her stories that I really like is about the whole idea is that everybody has their own style and it doesn’t have to be what’s in fashion,” Juice continues. “It’s all about self esteem. You may not have on skinny jeans but it doesn’t mean what you have on isn’t cool. We forget that, and think it’s got to be what’s going down the runway but that’s not true. It’s called ‘The Polka Dot Dress.’”

Juice also has a children’s album that is almost completed. She says she will first concentrate on the publicity for the duets album and hopes the children’s project will come out in the spring of next year. ‘Duets: Friends & Memories’ is in stores now.

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