Ellen Foley biography

[Ellen Foley and Mick Jones] Ellen teamed up with Hunter and Ronson who was producing Iron City Houserockers in Media Sound Studios in January 1980, to contribute back-up vocals to their "Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive" album. She also sang on "Nightout" drummer Hilly Michaels' "Calling All Girls" album and on one track on the Sorrows album "Teenage Heartbreak", alongside Karla DeVito, Susan Hall, Mikie Harris and Ellie Greenwich, successfully recreating the girlgroup sound of the 60s.

Several dates on Ellen's spring 1980 European tour were filmed for television. The complete Paris gig was shown in France, Dutch television aired a couple of songs from her Amsterdam concert, BBC showed two songs from her London gig at "The Venue" and she filmed a special for the Kenny Everett show. In Germany Ellen performed with the full band on "Bios Bahnhof", and Danish TV also filmed one of her concerts.

Ellen met Mick Jones from The Clash at 'The Venue' in London a couple of days before her own gig. She checked out the venue (and competition - Pat Benatar played...) and so did Mick Jones (Ellen and Mick pictured above). That chance meeting ended the "Nightout" saga. For the next two years, Ellen was romantically involved with Mick Jones, who was a founder member of "The Clash", and she would work with him on records and films for the best part of that period. Said Ellen: "He was there (at "The Venue"), so I started to talk to him. Then I had to go away, and he came to America just as I was leaving for Japan and Australia, so I didn't see him for about a month. I really liked him instantaneously. I saw a unique person from another country, someone with a whole new set of ideas, from the way he looked to the way he thought. The whole style that he had was really attractive to me." Mick Jones caused a radical change in Ellen's life. They spent a lot of time together, Ellen said: "I saw the real Jamaica, and spent a lot of time in England and was exposed to ideas and attitudes I'd never known. We decided to record an album together."

[Mick Ronson - Ellen Foley - Mick Jones - Ian Hunter at Dr. Pepper festival in New York 1980] In early summer, Ellen joined Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter on stage at the Dr. Pepper Festival in New York (pictured left, backstage with Hunter, Ronson and Mick Jones). Ellen also duetted with Ian Hunter on "We Gotta Get Out Of Here" on the US TV show 'Fridays', in June.

Around this time she also recorded a sixties anti vietnam protest song with Jimmy Hall called "The Time Is Now" for the Cleveland International charity album "Children Of The World", only available in USA and Holland. "The Time Is Now" was also released as a single in Holland. Long unavailable, the song was finally included on the 2007 CD re-issue of "Spirit Of St. Louis".

Back in England, Ellen called her new album "Spirit Of St. Louis", and recording evolved round the same time of the final "Sandinista!" sessions (the new Clash album on which Ellen contributed both lead and back-up vocals), in the summer of 1980. "Sandinista!" was released in December 1980, and it was followed by "Hitsville UK", a single with a duet vocal from Ellen and Mick. The same duet vocal were utilised on several tracks on Ellen's album, which Mick Jones produced in North London's Wessex Studios. "Spirit of St. Louis" credits as backing players all four members of "The Clash", as well as several of Ian Dury's Blockheads and Tymon Dogg. Dogg in fact also wrote three of the songs on the album, while Joe Strummer and Mick Jones collaborated on another half a dozen; Ellen only contributed one of her own songs, "Phases of Travel" - it was almost a Clash album, in everything but Ellen's singing and the fact that she was the featured artist. Said Ellen: "Mick and I had a few ideas for songs. We were in New York but wanted to do them in England. The record company, in their mistrust, said 'oh, you're gonna do demos?' We said, 'that's right', and came over and did a whole record. When we'd finished they needed a lot of convincing. They needed people to tell them it was great."

"Spirit Of St. Louis" was released in March 1981. Unfortunately, the reaction was somewhat less enthusiastic compared to "Nightout". "Spirit Of St. Louis" was neither a commercial nor critical success, featuring for just two weeks in the British LP charts, and not even touching the US Top 200 LP chart. "It's a unique, sensitive, if not commercial record," Ellen said of "Spirit Of St. Louis" later. "To me it is closer to the heart, the emotions. I was trying to be more expressive, not just see how high I can sing for it's own sake. I've come to terms with life, trust more in myself. I'm closer to myself since I made the first record - I didn't try and just put it out." Explaining how the title came about, Ellen said: "The Spirit Of St. Louis is in me. It's the name of the plane in which Charles Lindbergh made the first transatlantic flight. So we draw a line from St. Louis to London on the globe - from where I was born to where I've come to rest at this point in time."

Jim Steinman was recording his solo album "Bad For Good" during August 1980 - January 1981, and Ellen was invited to sing back-up on several tracks. But this time around it was Karla DeVito who was the duet partner (on the song "Dance In My Pants"), reprising Ellen's role on "Bat Out Of Hell". Steinman's album originally started out as a Meat Loaf album, but Meat had to quit the sessions early because his voice was strained and was told by doctors to take a break from singing. "Bad For Good" was released in February 1981.

Another 1981 album in which Mick Jones and Ellen was involved, was Ian Hunter's "Short Back 'N Sides", co-produced by Mick Ronson and Mick Jones. Ellen added back-up vocals when Ian came to England to complete the album in the first months of 1981. Hunter had heard Ellen's "Spirit Of St. Louis" album and invited Jones "to add noises" to his own album as well! In the spring of 1981 Ellen also sang back-up on a Mikey Dread album, "on the only love song I've ever heard Mikey do". Also in 1981, Ellen appeared with the Clash in a new Martin Scorsese film starring Robert De Niro. The film, "King Of Comedy" (not released until 1983), would also include roles for Mick Jones and Joe Strummer. "Martin Scorsese asked us to come and play punks, and hang out on the corner and harass Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard. It got cut up, but it was fun drinking beer and harassing De Niro. Who could ask for anything more?" Ellen later remembered.

Ellen did an European promotional tour in the spring, singing live in TV studios with pre-recorded backing. She spent the summer auditioning for a regular band, never having had a permanent line-up of musicians, and went on thour with them in the autumn. "It was an exotic mixture of music and musicians. One member played keyboards, violin and accordion! I had a female keyboard player who is a great vocalist. We did a club tour and some opening dates for an E.L.O. stadium tour. E.L.O.'s audience were surprisingly attentive. We gave them a lot to look at and listen too," Ellen later explained. The line-up were Bob Riley (drums), Tony Bridges (bass), Tommy Morrongiello (guitar, the only member from the earlier band), Jocelyn B. Smith (keyboards), and Gene Hicks (organ, violin).

In October, Ellen sang "What's A Matter Baby" with Rick Derringer's Band at a charity concert for Rick Derringer at the Palladium in New York City, to help raise money to replace $100,000 worth of stolen gear. After her own tour, Ellen got back together with The Clash who were recording their "Combat Rock" album in London and Ellen contributed backing vocals to "Car Jamming" and "Overpowered By Funk". The song "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" was about the turbulent relationship they shared. The album was released in May 1982, but by then Ellen's relationship with Mick Jones had ended.

Also in 1981, Ellen participated in one of many "Dreamgirls" workshops at Public Theater. The musical was still being written with new songs added all the time. During these workshops, the cast players helped the writers transforming the script to the stage.

Ellen was now ready to start working on her third solo album. She hadn't written many songs for "Spirit Of St. Louis" because said Ellen: "I had indeed more songs of my own, but they didn't fit in with the theme of that album. There are songs which I'd written shortly after the release of "Nightout", and they were very much in that mood." In January 1982, Ellen and her tour band, plus Tom Mandel on keyboards, were locked in Songshop Studios in New York studio for four days - from January 5th. And they weren't allowed out until the demo-tape had been recorded for the new album, with original "Nightout" producer Mick Ronson back at the controls, with Joe Barbaria at the board. Some songs on the demo tape were Foley originals dating back to 1979/80 which had been in her live set for some time. She also formed a songwriting partnership with legendary songwriter Ellie Greenwich around this time, and they wrote a couple songs together for the new album (plus "Keep It Confidental" which was recorded by Nona Hendryx in 1983). Ellie Greenwich, of course, wrote hits for Ronettes, Crystals and Tina Turner back in the 60's. Ellen had first met her at the sessions for the Sorrows album "Teenage Heartbeat" in 1980. The demos were distributed to various producers, and Ellen was determined to get a full-time producer this time. She eventually went for Vini Poncia, who'd produced Martha Reeves, Kiss, Scandal and Melissa Manchester as well as writing songs for Ringo Star and Leo Sayer. Plans were made to record the album in the summer and Ellen had her own ideas of how the new album should sound: "The production... more vocally orientated, and the music - dance-rhythm influenced."

In April Ellen landed a part in "Tootsie", a new Dustin Hoffman movie. She had been trying to get back into films for some time and although it was not a big role, Ellen was thrilled to be back on a film set. She played the Production Assistant Jacqui (pictured below) on the Soap Opera where Hoffman dressed as a woman. Ellen spent six weeks on the movie, and postponed recording her new album until October.

[Ellen Foley in Tootsie] During the filming, a crisis befell when Ellen lost her voice. Ellen: "I contracted a cyst on my vocal chord. I couldn't speak for a month. But with pills and prayers, it's been cleared up. But it was a bad time for me. Sydney Pollack would just snap, snap, snap and make alternations in scenes - I sat around making sign language to everyone on the set. But it was really neat to watch Dustin Hoffman come in with an army coat on, and become transformed into this woman with a 36C."

Recording of Ellen's third album, "Another Breath", started September 27 at the Media Sound Studios in New York. Ellen wanted to call the album "Lefty", but CBS wouldn't work with that. Her next suggestion was "Ellen Foley", but CBS wanted the album to have a title, so Ellen picked one song off the album, and named the album after it. She used her 1981 live band for the sessions, but her guitarist and keyboard player left Ellen earlier in the year, and had to be replaced. She found Phil Grande, "an unknown great guitarist," who became a permanent member of Ellen's band. Finding a keyboard player was more difficult, so she called for Tom Mandel, who was with Dire Straits at the time. Mandel played on "Nightout" and Ellen's first tour, and he also played on the January 1982 demos, so he was her first choice. But after the sessions for "Another Breath" he went back on the road with "Dire Straits", so Ellen had to replace him for her live band.

"Another Breath" was released in February 1983 to great critical acclaim, and it sold pretty good in some European countries where Ellen always had a strong fan base, but CBS/Epic didn't give it the promotion it should have, and it did nothing in the most important markets, England and USA. So what did Ellen think of "Another Breath"? "It's my best record. The best production, the best songs, best everything. It's worked out just the way I'd have liked it." Ellen co-wrote three songs for the album, "Spy In The House Of Love", "Read My Lips" and "Run For My Life". Some UK and Continental singles had the non-LP "Beat Of A Broken Heart" on the flip-side; this was written by Ellen and Fred Goodman back in 1979.

[Ellen Foley - Headshot] While recording "Another Breath", Ellen joined Meat Loaf and Todd Rundgren, Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, Carly Simon and Sting and many others, at the Media Sound studios to sing on Lynn Goldsmith's "Will Powers - Dancing For Mental Health" album. Lynn Goldsmith is a well-known photographer who had this idea to record an album with musical friends, many of whom were photographers as well. A wild idea, and it worked! Ellen herself doesn't know what songs she sings on: "The sessions were very hectic, with everyone throwing ideas around, totally disorganised but fun. Maria Vidal also sang on the album". The album was released in the spring of 1983.

Ellen also starred in a 9 minute short film comedy called 'Headshot' which dates from this period (the movie poster is pictured left), portraying an actor making a commercial who has to deal with the many demands from the director. It was briefly available on a video compilation called 'Star Shorts' which also featured short movies by Bill Murray among others.

Todd Rundgren also invited Ellen to act as his girlfriend in the promo video for the Utopia song "Crybaby" from their 1983 album "Oblivion". It was released oficially on the 1989 Utopia DVD simply called "A Retrospective 1977 - 1984".

In March, Ellen filmed a promotional video for "Boys In The Attic" in New York and London, directed by David Mallet, who'd finished David Bowie's "Let's Dance" video shortly before. Ellen then went on a 18 day promotional tour of Europe, taking in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Norway and Denmark. In Norway she performed "Boys In The Attic" and "Don't Let Go" live on national TV with a pre-recorded backing track and was interviewed while sharing a bed with the interviewer. It probably looked very fashionable at the time!

She planned to do a European tour in June/July, but the tour was cancelled when Ellen jumped at a chance to work with actress Geraldine Page that summer instead. She did however make a one-off live appearance at a graduation ceremony in New York in June, and sang two songs live on "Rock N Roll Tonite" (NBC) in July, backed by Garland Jeffries and his band. A US club tour with the Ellen Foley Band commenced throughout August/September (with new drummer Andy Kaufman). Work on an off-Broadway play called "Eve Is Innocent" followed shortly after. It ran for about a month, and Ellen, not forgetting her public, hoped to "hitch onto a big tour" with her band in November/December, as the opening act. She didn't, and her concert on 9 September 1983 in Cleveland was the last one with the Ellen Foley Band.