In1966, Gary Katz , an A&R rep for Bobby Darin’s TM Music in Manhattan’s Brill Building, met a 14-year old singer-songwriter who had placed first in a regional high school talent contest in New Jersey. Linda Hoover was an eager brown-haired beauty with a booming voice. Gary and his partner Eddie Lambert had major labels courting Linda, but her father insisted she go to college and moved the family to Florida, enrolling her in Jacksonville University. She called Gary from her dorm and he invited her back to New York with the promise of a record deal. He kept his word.
In 1970, Gary signed Linda Hoover to Roulette Records and began production on her debut album I Mean to Shine at Advantage Sound Studios in NYC with engineer Mallory Earl. Gary and Kenny Vance of Jay and the Americans introduced Linda to current fusion legends Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, who wrote the title song, and provided other originals and arrangements of songs by Linda Hoover, Stephen Stills and Richard Manuel of The Band. Musicians included hotshot musicians Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, future lead guitarist for Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, Denny Dias of Steely Dan, John Discepolo, and Eric Weissberg, of Dueling Banjos/Deliverance fame, as well as members of The Dick Cavett Orchestra and sax player Jerome Richardson. Photographer Joel Brodsky shot the album cover. Linda Hoover was on the cusp of her dream, using her golden voice and songs to make her way in the world. Linda recalls, “Donald’s command of the piano and Jeff’s creativity on guitar blew me away. I was impressed with Gary’s skill in the studio. He knew when to step back and let the musicians create, but he also knew when to take charge. It was one of the most exciting times of my life.”
Roulette Records owner and industry mogul Morris Levy loved Linda and her record, but he shelved I Mean to Shine in a dispute over publishing. Later, the title track was given to producer Richard Perry for Barbra Streisand. When Gary and the guys moved to Los Angeles, Linda declined the invitation to accompany them. She returned to Florida with two quarter-inch reels of tape made by a friend, dubbed from the master of her album. One year later, Steely Dan had a hit record and began their rise to super-stardom and ultimately the Rock and the Roll Hall of Fame. Linda Hoover continued to write, record, and perform, and eventually raised a family.
Years later, the fragile tapes of I Mean to Shine were entrusted to engineer Andy de Ganahl to convert to the digital medium. He baked the tapes for 12 hours, patched in the digital recorder, and became the first person other than a handful of family and friends to hear I Mean to Shine in 35 years. Andy had conserved the recording including some of Becker and Fagen’s earliest works, some of which were never recorded again. Their brilliant string and horn arrangements, Linda Hoover’s voice at 19, and the artistry of so many wonderful players were impeccably preserved. I Mean to Shine is one of the first examples of Steely Dan’s iconic sound. By blending Linda Hoover’s folk-rock aesthetic with Becker and Fagen’s jazz intellects, Gary Katz had created one of the first examples of Jazz-Soul-Rock-Folk Fusion and an invaluable piece of music history.
In the second edition of the book Steely Dan – Reelin’ in the Years, biographer Brian Sweet dedicates 7 pages to Linda’s story. "I Mean to Shine is a fine album and it was a tragedy for Linda that it didn't come out at the time," Sweet writes after hearing Linda’s never released album. In the book he compares Linda’s version of the song I Mean to Shine with Streisand’s. "Linda Hoover's version…… was certainly better than Perry managed to achieve with Barbra Streisand's effort and, according to Becker and Fagen, truer to the original song." In the 2017 book, Steely Dan FAQ, Anthony Robustelli writes, “The song has a middle section and outro that were dropped from Streisand’s version, and some of the lyrics were changed as well, making her [Streisand’s]version a bit more generic than Hoover’s, which is superior.” At last, after five decades, Linda Hoover’s 1970 album I Mean to Shine is being released by Omnivore Recordings on June 18, 2022 (omnivorerecordings.com).
Linda’s 2018 album, Another World, independently produced by her son Toft Willingham a founder of the band Spiritual Rez, is available through LindaHooverMusic@gmail.com. Keep an ear open for other live and studio recordings made along her journey. Toft plans to record Linda’s entire original catalog. “I have always loved my mother’s voice but until I studied music at Berklee, I didn’t understand the scope of her writing. She uses odd time signatures and complicated Jazz changes without realizing it. She’s self-taught. Her voice has aged like a fine wine, maturing but maintaining a youthful quality, and her delivery only gets better.” Linda says, “I’m so happy to be able to share my music. It’s been a long time coming and I am thankful for every note. I’m especially excited about my 2018 album, Another World because my son Toft produced, played and sang on it, and my husband Jay, son James, daughter-in-law Eleni, nieces Connie Henrich Reardon, Terrie Henrich, Kristin Henrich, as well as some of the musicians and members of Spiritual Rez, sang backup. Honestly, I have never had so much fun. These young musicians and my precious family were so inspiring! I know that I have been blessed and I am truly thankful!”