Music has lifted Rita Coolidge higher and higher
Rita Coolidge 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17, to Saturday, Jan. 19 The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. Thursday: $29-$45; Friday: $35-$55; Saturday, $39-$60 435-649-9371 parkcityshows.com
Rita Coolidge has seen some extreme highs and lows in her 50-year singing career.
The highs include winning two Grammy Awards, getting a number of songs on the Billboard charts, including the 1977 No. 2 hit, “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher,” and the Top 40 “All Time High,” from the soundtrack of the 1983 James Bond film “Octopussy.”
One of the biggest lows of Coolidge’s life, though, was the loss of her sister, Priscilla in 2014. Priscilla was murdered by her husband, who later killed himself as well.
Coolidge credits her love of music for getting her through the tragedy.
“It’s part of the magic and the necessity of having music in our lives,” Coolidge said. “Songs become your best friend. I feel so bad for people who don’t totally embrace music.”
Coolidge will perform some of her and her audience’s best friends when she plays three nights Thursday, Jan. 17, to Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Egyptian Theatre.
The singer said it would be impossible to touch on every era of her career, but the set list does try.
“I put together what I feel like is a nice flow,” she said. “We’ll obviously do songs that I know people want to hear, and we’re doing some things from the new album.”
Her most recent album, “Safe in the Arms of Time,” was released last May.
Coolidge said it’s a personal album.
“There’s a song on the new album called ‘The Things We Carry’ that was written by Tom Douglas,” she said. “I didn’t write it but when I sing it, I can feel like it’s mine because it conveys what I felt when I lost my sister. And while I haven’t performed it live, I sang it to record it, and that was the first time I was able to sing about losing her.”
Coolidge wrote three songs on the album.
The first was “You Can Fall in Love” with Joe Hutto and former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, which was developed during a jaunt to Gainesville, Florida.
The other two, “Naked All Night” and “Walking on Water,” were written with singer-songwriter Jill Colucci and Grammy-winning blues singer Keb’ Mo’ in Nashville.
“I’ve been friends with Keb’ for a long time, and Ross has engineered and produced records for him,” Coolidge said. “But it was still one of those things that came together easier than you would think it would. When I had a window to write, Keb’ had that same window, and invited me to Nashville to write at his home.”
The album is also a personal project as far as the other songs she selected for the tracklist.
“Ross and I probably listened to 1,000 songs in the course of two years,” she said. “He would listen to things on his own, and I would on my own. If we thought something was good, we would bring them to the table and listen for hours to these songs.”
The two knew the songs they selected for the album not only had to be strong lyrically and musically, but also have a connection to Coolidge.
“They had to be about something I could relate to,” she said. “They also had to become part of a musical tapestry that fit together.”
The idea of finding that rooted connection stems from the days Coolidge spent in 2016 and 2017 writing her autobiography, “Delta Lady.”
“While writing the book, I revisited the early part and music of my career, and I recognized something that I’d felt I lost along the way,” she said. “That something was the organic way I used to choose the songs for my albums. It was a revelation, because my fan base came from people listening to those early albums.”
Throughout her career, Coolidge has performed with an array of singers and songwriters from different genres – from her ex-husband Kris Kristofferson to Jimmy Buffett and Aaron Neville.
Those collaborations gave her insight of how the other artists approach their own songwriting.
“Anytime you share a song with someone, I visit each of their worlds, and I think in the same sense that gives me a beach party with Jimmy, he will also share my journey and experience my world,” Coolidge said.
Another perk of collaborating with other artists is the joy of sharing the music.
“I recently listened to a duet I had recorded with Aaron years ago, and remembered how much fun it is to sing with him,” Coolidge said. “And I think the most vital thing in any career is to find some new spark that will inspire.
“Graham Nash told me that you have to have a new dream, because of the chances your dreams up to then are going to come true,” she said. “So you need to have something waiting in the wings to take you where you will go next. Over the years, I have found that to be true.”
Coolidge’s dreams have come true while performing in different genres, like her idol Peggy Lee.
“She was a renaissance woman who sang all of these different styles,” Coolidge said. “She was a songwriter and arranger, actress and even designed hats, so to have someone like that to be my hero, I never felt limited. I never felt like there wasn’t any kind of music I couldn’t do.
“Well, I couldn’t do opera,” Coolidge said, after a pause. “That’s what my sister did.”