Divine- The First Rapper c.1974 (Accidentally)
Charles Roggero (the film’s editor) offered one of the many songs he had produced when he was in Los Angeles, trying to break into the record business. He still had reels of high-budget, professionally written, arranged, and recorded music tracks stored in an LA studio, and agreed to give John a song for free, if John wrote the lyrics, and they would equally share any royalties. Divine was in LA at the time, and took a taxi one afternoon to the studio to overdub the vocals.
He gave the driver the address that John had given him saying he was going to a recording session. The driver freaked because the address was in the heart of Watts, the infamous neighborhood that just a few years earlier was the site of some of the worst riots in U.S. history. Why was this bizarre looking guy going down there? A drug run?
They eventually pulled up to an old, unmarked warehouse surrounded by burned-out shells. Even Divine was spooked now, and begged the driver to wait by the door until someone answered his knocks. The door was opened by a black man. It was Don Cook, one of LA’s most respected record producers, who had worked with Dianna Ross among many others. His very nice studio was located purposely in a non-nondescript building to save on the high LA rents.
John and Charles listened to the session live on the telephone from their editing room; a technological breakthrough for John, which enabled John to direct. Unfortunately, Divine only occasionally hit the right notes. The problem was he was basically tone deaf. For John’s camp audience it was great, but Don and his engineer were mainstream Hollywood award-winners. Seeing the 350 lb. Divine with his shaved head, in his usual flouncy pants and oversized shirt, and listening to John’s psycho lyrics like “I’m berserk, I like it fine, as long as I’m making headlines,” they thought Charles had lost his mind and was working with a Manson-like cult in Baltimore.
The producers worked hard to make Divine sound professional, using thick reverb and echo and doubling his tracks, but they couldn’t change the many flat notes (this was well before Autotune). To finish with some semblance of professionalism, they resorted to Divine reciting the lines, not singing them, making Female Trouble one of the first rap songs ever—accidentally.
Since this first step away from just producing movies, John has spread his talent into assembling successful compilation CDs, not to mention books, articles, artwork, and comedy tours. Maybe one day he will lend his name to a perfume line. John Waters’ #2 anyone?
The Female Trouble CD can be purchase from CD Baby or downloaded from iTunes.
Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.” Available on Amazon.com and booksellers around the world.