Wednesday, April 12, 2006

POPOBIT: June Pointer

Following a long illness from cancer, June Pointer has died.

Born in 1953, June was the youngest of the Pointer Sisters, and one of the original members of the band when they were the duo Pointers-A Pair. Raised by a reverend with the Church of God in West Oakland, June and her sisters first taste of public performance came singing in church. Their family background was basic - new clothes were rare; a father keen to shield his daughter from "the devil's work" in all its forms - make-up, jewellery and secular music. June recalled their Grandad would bubble them if they strayed:

"Our folks would leave the house, and we'd get in the back room and beat pie pans with spoons, making that rhythm and jamming together. When they'd come home, Grandpa would say, 'Better whip their butts--they were in there popping their fingers and shaking their behinds, singing the blues! Terrible! Terrible!' And we'd get a whipping, too--you'd better believe it."

There were also two brothers in the family; one of whom wound up refereeing for the NFL.

The band was Bonnie's idea; first the duo, and then, when Bonnie and June tempted Anita from her legal secretary's job, they became The Pointer Sisters. Fame wasn't instaneous - a 1969 trip to build a career in Texas ended in disaster; but from that disaster came a deal with David Rubinson. He paid their fares back to California and set them up with studio backing vocals for acts as dispirate as Taj Mahal and Grace Slick; Rubinson's partner Bill Graham signed them to a managment contract. In 1971, Atlantic Records picked them up.

The first record - Don't Try To Take The Fifth - didn't do well; Atlantic persuading the band to abandon their plans of working acapella. The deal ended before a single was released and in the ensuing reshuffling, they wound up on David Rubinson's new Blue Thumb label, with Ruth joining them to make up the quartet.

The new look and new contract gave them the confidence to put together their own act - "we just shook everything we could shake" - and live perfomances and a slot on the Helen Reddy Show built a buzz that would lift their first proper single, Yes We Can Can, to number 11. Their 1973 self-titled debut album was a critical hit.

1974's That's A Plenty saw an first flirtation with country and western on Fairytale; its release as a single gae them a country hit and opened doors for the band to the Grand Ole Opry. Quite a coup for the times:

"When we first performed at the Grand Ole Opry, the audiences loved us," Anita recalls. "But at the hotel where there was a party for us, the staff assumed we were the hired help and directed us toward the back door."

By 1976, things were starting to come apart - health took June out the group for a while, and in 1977 Bonnie quit. The remaining sisters thought about going it alone, but instead signed a new deal with Planet records, and had a huge hit with a reading of Springsteen's Fire. The partnership continued to prove successful, building to 1982's So Excited, whose title track became so familiar as to wind up flogging Crunchie bars.

1983 saw June release her first solo album, Baby Sister. She stayed with Planet Records for this, and was able to continue to working with her sisters on the Pointer's Break Out album - her vocals driving Baby Come And Get It and Jump; it was the latter track which won the band one of their two Grammy awards.

RCA offered the band a new home in 1985, for whom they produced Contact and Hot Together. As part of the promotion for the latter, the sisters made a TV special, Up All Night.

At the end of the RCA contract, The Pointer Sisters signed with Motown and June, a solo contract with Columbia. This would have the first fruit, 1989's June Pointer album; the group's Motown debut, Right Rhythm, followed the next year.

June was the second sister to leave the family group - to concentrate on her own recording career, or because the others got tired of her drug use, depending on who tells the story.

She was proud of what the band had achieved, and was delighted especially with their gay following. Speaking in 1996:

You know we're gonna be the grand marshals at the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco. It's gonna be fabulous. I try to connect with the gay community in every city, go to a couple of clubs, and they put shows on for me. And I love meeting the people. I just love people in general. It doesn't matter what color skin you have or how you like to make love—it's what in your heart that counts. Please tell everybody in the gay community, "You ARE the best audiences."

Her last years weren't uncomplicated: drug use led to nasty scenes when on-off boyfriend Joel Coigney took her to court claiming she'd tried to claw his eyes out while high. After the court case - Coigney sought a restraining order, which he got - June checked into a spell of rehab and the couple got back together.

The 52 year-old was surrounded by her family as she died in the hospital she'd been confined to since February.

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