May 7, 1946– Thelma Houston. 38 years ago tonight, I dropped into Studio One on North LaPeer Drive in West Hollywood & dropped a Quaalude. The dance venue & nightclub was my spot of choice in those days. I liked the staff wearing their extra short satin short-shorts. I danced for 5 hours when a hot, no… sizzling redhead danced up beside me, slipped out of his tight T-shirt & held a little brown bottle under my nose. All of a sudden, I felt the beat of the music, the heat of the guy, & I felt all sexy & nice & warm & sexy & hot.
I woke up, remembering nothing, in a 1920s Mediterranean style cottage, a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean in Venice Beach. The ginger served me coffee & complimented me on my participation in the night before. He asked me if I wanted to go to the beach & I foolishly begged off because I had rehearsal for a play. We came together one more time, showered & I had him drive me home. It was one of those moments I still regret, not taking him up on the beach offer.
When our eyes met & his hand grazed mine as he placed that little brown bottle under my nose, Don’t Leave me This Way was the song pounding away on the sound system. Don’t Leave Me This Way was first performed by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes 2 years earlier, but as covered by Motown artist Thelma Houston in 1976, this version with its more overt disco arrangement was a massive worldwide dance hit, topping the Soul charts & the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart on this very week in May 1977. I find it to be the very best Disco song & possibly the best song of the entire 1970’s as well. Houston won a Grammy for her version. Her version was used to devastating effect in the film Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977).
I think of that spring night in 1977 whenever I hear Don’t Leave Me This Way, but the song took on a different meaning in the 1980s when friends & colleagues began to drop away from HIV.
Houston continues to record & perform. In 2007, she released a terrific album of cover versions of tunes associated with male artists, A Woman’s Touch. She frequently appears with Teatro ZinZanni. Throughout her 46 year career, Houston has supporting gay rights. She has donated time, energy & money to HIV related causes.
Houston celebrates her 69th birthday today. We both made it into the second decade of the 21st century.
A broken man with empty hands, oh baby please, don’t leave me this way.