BUMP N' HUSTLE featuring TAANA GARDNER with DJs MIKE TULL, DAVE CAMPBELL, PAUL JAY, PAUL E LOPES at Roxy Blu (12 Brant), Friday (May 9). $15 advance, more at the door. www.garage416.com
Legendary soul diva Taana Gardner is loving life these days. "Deep, deep, deep in love," she says, from her hotel in North Carolina in the middle of a tour with Loleatta Holloway and Ce Ce Peniston. You can almost hear her smile.
"Can't talk about it, but it's great!"
Is this the same fiancé who she once admitted didn't know anything about her career for the longest time?
"I'm not with him any more," she laughs. "He didn't know who I was. I don't go around saying I'm Taana Gardner, the one and only, the original - I'm just Taana in my life.
"When I first met him he was asking me when I go to work, so I told him I usually work on the weekends and that I sing, and he's, like, 'So how do you live? Is there money in that?' I was with him for a whole year before he actually came to a show."
For much of the 90s we didn't hear much from Gardner. Her massive disco hit, Heartbeat, continued to live on at old-school nights and provided the breakbeat and bass line for literally dozens of hiphop singles over the years. But like many stars of that era, she was finding it hard to get good work.
"I tell you, I don't think singers take breaks - they have dry spells. They were offering people like me $250 gigs. My makeup costs more than that.
"Things started to change in 97, when I ended up on the cover of the arts section of Time magazine, from the Beatstock Festival."
Gardner's singing career started with a moment of pure good luck. Work That Body was being played regularly by Larry Levan at über-club the Paradise Garage as an instrumental test pressing and was already a favourite. When it came time to record a vocal, the singer originally booked was sick, so producer Kenton Nix called Gardner in as a last-minute replacement.
The first time they played the new vocal version the reaction was phenomenal, and it became one of the all-time biggest anthems at the New York clubbing institution as well as throughout the rest of the world. West End Records was impressed with the success and kept her on, which led to an even bigger anthem, Heartbeat.
Originally, Heartbeat was supposed to be the B-side because it was much more downtempo than most club music of the time. Levan was so taken with the song, though, that he played it several times a night even though it cleared the dance floor the first time he dropped it. It went on to be one of the biggest songs ever for West End, selling 800,000 copies. Unfortunately, not much of that money ever got back to Gardner.
"I don't think it's a secret - I've been screwed royally. I've never seen a royalty for Heartbeat, ever. Not one. Nothing from the people who sampled it either."