Lea Maalfrid - Vocals to Verse and Back
Author: Roy Colbert
You know what's strange?" says Lea Maalfrid, "since I've been back here talking to people about this album, nobody has asked about the age thing."
Age thing? We are sitting in Dunedin chatting about the old days. Lea is about my age. I am not old. You mean, how OLD you are?
"No, no" she says, "about why someone my age is still making music."
"But" I say, "isn't Mick Jagger 60?"
"Yes" she says "but Mick Jagger is famous."
Famous. Now there's a word. Lea Maalfrid, back in the country to promote her new album 'Goddess Of Love', is actually a bit more famous than many people here might realise. She may be our most successful international songwriter, having penned huge sellers for Sheena Easton (You Could Have Been With Me) and Bonnie Raitt (Storm Warning). I mean, internationally, who has had more than two?
But first, let's go back to those old days.
Lea came to Dunedin from Alexandra aged just 15, wide-eyed and long blonde hair, keen to forge a career in music. She first made her name is the rock band Leaway and later starred in the Otago University-based Joe Cocker/Mad Dogs show. Master-minded by pianist Tim Hazeldine, now Professor of Economics at Auckland University, it proved so successful on campus the whole troupe were whisked into a chartered plane and taken up to Auckland. Lea was the Janis Joplin figure in the troupe, belting out hard-rock nuggets like Move Over.
Then came glam-prog-acid-rock band Ragnarok (the dedication on the back of their first album read "Special thanks to The Prospect Lady and friends for their moral support and cosmic handouts"), with Lea out front and writing three of the (best) songs.
"That was done in a short space of time and the production was a sign of the times. But I think Fire In The Sky was a good song."
Lea was gone by the time of the second album 'Nooks', forging a solo career. She toured with Joe Cocker and won the APRA Silver Scroll in 1977 for Best New Zealand Song with Lavender Mountain.
In Australia she supported Elton John, who invited her to come to London, with promises of assistance from his own Rocket Records. That fell through, as many such promises do, and Lea, now based in London, began making demos for her first album. A producer was lined up, but he was temporarily unavailable as he was working with Sheena Easton. He did hear some of Lea's songs, and chose two, including You Could Have Been With Me, for the Easton project.
Lea never performed live again.
She says she wasn't especially excited when her songs were first picked up.
"Sheena wasn't very well-known then. I remember saying to the receptionist there that I wasn't too bothered and she said to me, 'You will be when you get the money'. I didn't know at that stage there was money to be made."
So, how many copies of the Easton song went out the door?
"I'm terrible with remembering" she says. "I know I got some awards, I think for maybe selling over two million units or something, I can't remember. Or was that the Bonnie Raitt song? Would Bonnie Raitt sell that many? Those things are stuck in a drawer somewhere."
She is remarkably disingenuous about her past. She does not own the Ragnarok album (it is amazing how many well-known New Zealand recording artists have contacted our store in Dunedin trying to buy copies of their own record over the years), and when I dug out Bonnie Raitt's Storm Warning to play while we were chatting, she said it was the only the second time she had ever heard it.