Steely Dan’s Damsel: Linda Hoover, Almost Star

linda hoover

Sadly, Linda Hoover’s short-lived recording career resembles that of an amateur boxer who has trained his whole life to get his shot at stardom. Then his management informs him that the fight has been permanently called off, causing the boxer to quit the game.

But, to paraphrase Brian (AC/DC) Johnson, Linda has stepped into the ring to take another swing thanks to the recent release of her once-unissued 1970 album I Mean to Shine.  Linda’s stunning vocals are backed by heavyweight talents like future Steely Dan stalwarts Walter Becker, Donald Fagan (who wrote five of the eleven tracks), guitarists Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Denny Dias, and producer Gary Katz.

Many albums have an accompanying booklet tucked in its sleeve but this record deserves two booklets just for the backstory of the rise and rapid fall of Linda—with a page detailing the origins of Jeff Baxter’s “Skunk” nickname (Google the reason if you need a smile.)

At the age of 14, Linda’s voice won over judges at a New Jersey talent show and the then-independent producer, Gary Katz.  Katz then arranged a sitdown with the mob-affiliated Moishe “Morris” Levy at Roulette Records, who was the inspiration for Hesh Rabkin in The Sopranos.  Morris offered her a chance to make a record with Roulette but Linda’s father refused the offer, insisting that she finish high school.  Five years later, Linda was one unhappy camper at Jacksonville University.  She recalled:

“I called Gary from my dorm on one particularly difficult night.  He told me to find a way back up to New York and that we would get a record deal.  My father was trying to protect me, but I was determined to leave, and finally, my parents had no choice but to let me go.  Around Christmas of 1969, I returned to New York and signed with Gary’s production company.”

Through Katz, she met the sardonic Becker and Fagan, who Gary called “librarians on acid.” Jay Black of Jay and the Americans labeled the lads “the (Charles) Manson and (Charles) Starkweather of rock.”

The pre-Steely Dan jewels on I Mean to Shine include “Jones,” a harrowing tune about drug addiction.  Linda noted: “The lyrics to ‘Jones’ tell it like it is.  The song has a great hook and melody and people love it, but when you think about the lyrics it is such a sad song.”

Besides the album containing four other Becker/Fagan nuggets, the boys convinced Hoover to sing Richard Manuel’s “In a Station” from The Band’s Music from Big Pink. Linda cited it as her “personal favorite on the album.”

Becker and Fagan’s career finally got some needed cachet and their bank accounts some needed cash when Barbra Streisand sang their song “I Mean to Shine” on her 1971 Barbara Joan Streisand album.  Sadly, Linda’s version went unheard for 51 years because Katz wouldn’t give Levy the publishing rights to the songs on her debut.

Perhaps Katz was aware of what Tommy James noted of his time with the shady owner of Roulette Records: “They say crime doesn’t pay and it’s true—the criminals who ran Roulette never paid me!”  Morris retaliated by shelving the LP and Hoover’s burgeoning career, sending Linda into a deep depression.  Baxter tried to cheer her up by imploring her to join him, Katz, Becker, and Fagan in L.A. where they were now employed by ABC-Dunhill Records.  Linda noted:

“Gary had little children and a wife and needed to work.  He asked me to go with them but I felt defeated and declined the invitation. Jeff Baxter tried to convince me to shake off the loss of I Mean to Shine, but I couldn’t.  I lost many of my friends because I was ashamed to face them.  I thought that I had failed.”

Linda retreated back to her family in Orlando, Florida then went on to have a successful marriage to her lawyer-husband Jay Willingham.  One day, Jay took a quarter-inch, two-track tape containing Linda’s album that had sat in a dark closet for over fifty years and let it see the light of the day.  With Levy long gone (having died in 1990, two months before he was to start a ten-year prison term for conspiring to extort) and with Rhino Records now owning Roulette Records’ catalog, Jay sent a digital version of the tape to Rhino who then directed him to make a deal with Omnivore Records, a company that specializes in releasing long-but-not-forgotten product.  The album was released on June 18, 2022.

Linda’s music finally has an audience that is much smaller than Steely Dan’s but it’s safe to say this warm and appreciative singer has a higher opinion of her fans than Donald Fagen does of his “Danfans.”  In his sometimes laugh-out-loud 2013 novel, Eminent Hipsters, Donald not-so-fondly reminisced about the fans at one of his concerts: “Tonight the crowd looked so geriatric I was tempted to start calling out Bingo numbers.  By the end of the set, they were all on their feet, albeit shakily, rocking.  So this, now, is what I do: assisted living.”

-Mark Daponte

Photo: Linda Hoover from the cover of her album, I Mean to Shine

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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

22 comments on “Steely Dan’s Damsel: Linda Hoover, Almost Star

  1. Really wonderful to listen to this long shelved album….I love Linda Hoover’s voice & the songs….wonder if she is considering singing again….lots of local venues I am sure would book her!!!

    • Susan, thank you so much for your kind words! My friends had an album release party for me last weekend we and rocked! Live performance is always the best because of the energy exchange between audience and artist, and I do hope to keep performing. The release of “I Mean To Shine” has been a blessing and a half! Thank you again, Susan, for your encouragement.

  2. Marko Smith

    Thank you, Mark Daponte for this article… I found it this morning and promptly pulled the record up on Spotify. Walking through the mountains and meadows of Ojai with the sun rising and Linda Hoover in my headphones is something I will never forget. I was immediately hooked. She deserves a wide audience for this work. I will soon be ordering it on vinyl. I will repost your article to help spread the word. This is the greatest musical discovery since Sixto Rodriguez emerged from obscurity. Great songs. Great lyrics. Great production… and Linda has a voice of golden silk with a mature delivery for her young age. I’ll be digging into her 2018 record next.

    • Wow, Marko! Thank you for taking me and I Mean To Shine with you on your sunrise hike in beautiful Ojai. I swear I could see it. I do hope you will enjoy the 2018 album. Thank you for such kind words. I really appreciate it! Peace – Linda

      • Marko Smith

        Thank you for responding Linda! You have been in high rotation this week! I listened to both albums quite a few times now. Wow! I’m blown away. I keep returning to “Mama Tears” and “Dove” when I don’t have time for a whole record, although all of it is stunning. “Another World” is solid. What a great record start to finish! I hope that there are more to come…

        • Hi Marko, it is my pleasure and I am so glad that you like “Another World”. It was a long time in the making. My son Toft who produced it, was working at the 9b Studio in Milford, Mass., and I live in Florida, so it was hard for us to get together. Toft was visiting us and we rented some equipment in Gainesville and I recorded the piano parts at the home of my friends, Dr. Mark and Nancy Staples. I went to Boston a few times and put down my vocals and guitar. Toft gathered most of his band members from Spiritual Rez, as well as other musicians he knew from the area, for the additional instrumentation. My husband Jay, Toft and our son James, my nieces and Toft’s wife Eleni, sang backup. The first vocal session was in peril because Spiritual Rez opened for the Dirty Heads at the House of Blues in Boston the night before, and I screamed and hollered and nearly lost my voice completely. The next day when we got to the studio, Toft helped me with tricks he had learned at Berklee College of Music, and I was able to sing. I was amazed. I was in my mid-sixties at that time and he knew more about my voice than I did. I have a lot of material that I still want to get down. Currently, Toft lives in Los Angeles and I am still in Florida. We shall see what happens. I don’t want these songs to disappear but I have “I Mean To Shine” and “Another World” for which I am very thankful! I have many other songs that I have recorded at home and in other places, over the years, some of which are on my SoundCloud page. There is a live version of Becker and Fagen’s “Jones” which was recorded at the FTU coffeehouse in 1971. If you are interested, here is the link. https://on.soundcloud.com/tii5 Thank you again, Marko! Peace to you -Linda

  3. Barry Weiss

    Great article. Had no idea about Linda and her association with Walter and Donald . Great voice!

    • Thank you so much, Barry! Recording with such amazing musicians and such a great producer was a dream come true! Peace – Linda

  4. Mark, thank you so much for lifting me up today! Empathetic and encouraging responses like yours have kept me singing and writing over the years. I know there are many people out there who have suffered rejection and who have believed the lie that their dreams are not worth pursuing. It is my hope that my story will help others to get off the ropes and get back into the fight. Again, thank you Mark!
    Peace – Linda

  5. I had the privilege of playing backup piano for Linda when I ran the Fla. Tech Coffee Houses in the very early 70’s eats of Orlando. Acts like Brewer and Shipley, Linda, and a host of other early artists graced our campus, back when the college was 4 buildings, 2 dorms, a cafeteria, all surrounded by 10 miles of forest and swamp. Her voice lit up the night on our concert lawn, echoing, bouncing off the brick buildings, all to the delight of the audience. Now even 50 years later, Linda’s voice has the same attraction to all who are lucky enough to hear her. Such a brilliant, talented musician and composer. “Autumn” is still one of my personal favorites.

    • Marko Smith

      You played back up for Linda? I want to hear more! What’s the story? I’m a new fan as of this week, but I’m completely blown away. Both of her records are climbing the charts in my soul. Please share more memories of those early days.

    • Dick, I am so sorry. I replied to your you kind comment but must not posted it. Those are precious memories. The concert where I met my husband Jay was at FTU. Thank you so much for your wonderful encouragement. – Linda.

  6. Sid Holloway

    Oh my gosh, Linda. It’s said that good things come to those who wait, but this is beyond the pale! Dar and I have known about your incredible talent for all these years (and what a wonderful person you are!), but had resigned ourselves to the thought that this fantastic debut album would never be shared with the world. You have had the patience of Job. Bless Jay for getting the ball rolling on the release.

    It may seem tragic that you didn’t gain the fame and fortune you deserved at an early age, but who knows what kind of pitfalls could have been hiding in your path. Instead you have been blessed with a beautiful family, something far more priceless.

    We can’t wait to share this with all the people we have been bragging to about you, so they can finally hear it for themselves!

    Much love, Sid and Dar

    • Sid and Dar, thank you for the years of love and friendship we have shared! Sid, I still remember when you turned me on to Little Feat! In response to your comments about the past, you are so right. I am truly content with the way my life has turned out. As a result of my journey I have known what true love really is. I loved raising my sons and I am thankful that I was able to be home with them every day. You and Dar and Jay and I, were young together and I remember singing in your wedding and the party the night before! I think that was when I realized that those parties out in the country were a whole lot of fun! My memories of you all, the music, the laughter and good times we shared are precious to me. I love you both!! – Linda

  7. Fagen, not Fagan.

  8. This is the first I am hearing of this young lady. The face of an angel, a vocal powerhouse and more talent than any of the modern-day vocalists I have heard. Hope this is coming out on a CD as I’m willing to bet the MP4 file doesn’t do justice to the audio. It is obvious from these performances that she put her blood into this project. 50-plus years is a long time to wait, but maybe it all worked out for the best.

  9. Mr. Harry S. Steinmetz

    What a great story. I am glad after all these years the world gets to experience this wonderful music. Thank for sharing your gift with us.

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