Teena still had the proverbial musical chops as evident by a 1999 gig I witnessed in which she exhibited plenty of chicken grease guitar prowess. Which is why it wasn’t a complete shock when Cash Money Records, the house of Lil Wayne, signed the veteran talent in 2004.
But the true measure of Teena Marie can be defined with the comeback of her beloved Rick James. During a tour with the seemingly indestructible Super Freak, I interviewed Teena about the surreal reality of performing on the same stage again with a man who had overcome decades of cocaine abuse and a sobering two-year prison stint.
“It’s just wonderful to be doing this again with him after all these years,” Teena told me. “I didn’t go visit him while he was in prison. I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to see him like that. I’ve stayed on the road for the last 20 years, but Rick had stopped touring for a long time. So to see him out there doing his thing and us doing our thing together…it’s like we’re tied, we’re connected.”
Indeed, the late James was humbled by Teena’s enduring support saying, “I can’t explain the love” for his former protégé and longtime friend.
No, Teena Marie did not achieve the record-breaking ‘80s hits streak of vanilla soul duo Hall & Oates. She didn’t transform her initial black acceptance into unfathomable pop dominance like Madonna, George Michael or Pink. But in an era when white vocalists routinely receive accolades mainly because they sound, well, “black” (Joss Stone, Duffy, and even the talented yet mercurial Amy Winehouse), Teena Marie earned her solid reputation by never disrespecting her fan base.
At heart, she was an R&B artist. And there was nothing wrong with that.