(Kelly Clarkson, Brenda Lee in 2008. From CMT.)
I am in the cone of silence on "Lost." But there are other things to talk about, like Kelly Clarkson and Brenda Lee. More about that in a bit.
Several items in the Beacon Journal. The weekly mailbag is here.
A review of "The Great Buck Howard" is here. This was an interesting case of seeing a new movie without leaving my house or needing a disc, since HDNet Movies offered a sneak preview of it.
Dialidol.com has its latest predictions here. I disagree on some particulars, but it's not surprising overall.
Because of some conversation over at Facebook, I have early Brenda Lee on my mind this morning. One of my favorites of hers is "BIGELOW 6-200." Among the lines: "Here's the number to call if you want my lovin'/The number to call if you want turtle-doving." Here's a playing of the record on YouTube:
Some of you may remember that Kelly Clarkson played Brenda Lee in an episode of "American Dreams," when that show was trying to boost its audience by stunt-casting current musicians as old "American Bandstand" guests. After the jump I have posted a story I wrote in 2003 about Clarkson playing Lee, and an interview I did with Lee herself in 1996.
Also, since I have mentioned Facebook here more than once, I should also note that I post some things over there that aren't here as well. You're welcome to become my FB friends, too.
This is the Brenda Lee story:
Maybe it's time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sang I'm Sorry to Brenda Lee.
At 51, the former Brenda Mae Tarpley has more than 40 years of singing behind her. In Billboard magazine rankings of pop performers of the '60s, based on how her songs charted, she is the top female singer, with 25 Top 40 hits before she was 20 years old.
She also ranked fifth overall among '60s performers, behind the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Supremes and the Four Seasons, all of whom are in the Rock Hall. Lee is not.**
You might argue that her fame rests on big pop ballads -- I'm Sorry, As Usual, All Alone Am I, Break It to Me Gently. Or that she was, as music critic Greg Shaw has said, "essentially a country stylist who was thrust into the role of rock singer."
After all, the Nashville Network, which embraces country artists, profiles Lee in its The Life and Times of .... series Thursday night at 8. And Lee is back in the studio with her longtime producer, country legend Owen Bradley, to make new recordings of 26 of her hits.
But if you're starting to think Lee's rock credits are suspect, remember the bouncy Sweet Nothin's. Give a listen to her version of Cecil Gant's bluesy I Wonder. Or to the formidable rockabilly she was recording before she'd reached her teens. At 11, she was belting, "Here's the number to call if you want my lovin'," and sounding like she meant it.
"Had she died young," country-music historian Robert Oermann says, "she'd be a goddess of music."
In The Life and Times of Brenda Lee, Oermann says she belongs in the rock hall and in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and wonders if Lee hasn't gotten more respect simply because she's too nice.
"If you're more controversial, you do get more print space," Lee herself said in a recent telephone interview. "You get more notoriety, even if it is the worst kind."
Still, when asked about the rock hall in particular, she said, "I guess we'd all like to be recognized, but it's not something I sit around and think about."
Maybe that's because Lee hasn't sat around much, period. As The Life and Times tells, she was 8 years old when her father died in an accident, and Lee's singing helped pay the family's bills. She was a seasoned performer by her teens and had her first No. 1 hit, I'm Sorry, at 15. She toured the U.S., Europe and Japan. The Beatles used to open her shows, and Jimmy Page -- later to become a guitar legend with Led Zeppelin -- played on a Lee record in 1964.
But there was a determined effort by family and friends to provide Lee with an approximation of a normal childhood. Asked about Jimmy Page, for example, she said, "I remember that session, but I just at that time didn't realize the importance of Jimmy Page, because I didn't realize my own importance.
"It's like, looking at (the documentary) and it says, the Beatles opened for me and I think, 'They did?' .... I've never been treated like a star by my family. I was more like the girl next door. I was doing what I loved to do."
Ronnie Shacklett, her husband for more than 30 years, their two daughters, other family, friends and colleagues pay similar tribute to Lee's down-to-earth quality in the special. And Lee herself said some of the toughest times came when her daughters were young and Lee was still on the road.
She tried taking her family with her, but only her younger daughter, Jolie, really enjoyed the road and after a while, Jolie tired of it, too. So the girls stayed home with their father while Lee went on the road.
"I was awful," she said. "As I say in the show, I had many guilt trips about it." But two things eased her unhappiness. One was that "I have a great husband, and he had more of a hand in raising the kids than I did. I raised 'em, too, but he did more than his share."
Second was that Lee loved performing. While she started young because of her father's death, she figures she would have ended up singing anyway.
And for all the strains of touring, she said, "I loved it. I was like a fish in water.
"It's not the kind of thing that's for everybody. You have to be able to throw off your personal problems, or being tired, and really give people a show. But I loved being with people. I loved being in different places, and being liked."
But liked enough to be in the rock hall? She certainly considers her earliest recordings rock and roll, but adds that "in the business, in those days if you sold a lot of records, you were called rock and roll, or pop."
She prefers to think of herself as "an interpreter of songs." Looking back over her recordings for the new album she said, "I thought about how Owen Bradley found such great songs. People today could cut those songs and have hits."
[**Happy Ending note: Lee was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2002. You can read her Rock Hall bio here.]
Here's the Clarkson column:
Kelly Clarkson danced across a Hollywood soundstage, her hair piled high, her yellow dress puffed out by petticoats, her prerecorded voice booming out Brenda Lee's Sweet Nothin's.
Best known for winning the first series of American Idol and a subsequent recording career that's included the platinum album Thankful, Clarkson was showing off another pop move. She was in fact playing Lee appearing on American Bandstand, for one of the juxtapositions of current pop stars and past performers that the NBC drama American Dreams so loves.
The coming season of American Dreams, starting in late September, will also include Alicia Keys as Fontella Bass, Jason Mraz as Dion, Hilary Duff and Haylie Duff as part of the Shangri-Las, Monica as Mary Wells and return gigs by Usher as Marvin Gaye and Third Eye Blind as the Kinks.
The musically anachronistic series is not concerned that it's set in 1964 and Lee had a big hit with Sweet Nothin's four years earlier. Or that Lee was not yet 15 years old when she recorded the song, while Clarkson is 21. Instead, it had caught a big star and plans to use her in the season premiere.
Which is fine with Clarkson, who proved cheerful and utterly unaffected by her success in a chat with reporters after a few takes on American Dreams.
"I had seen the show right when it started up and I thought it would be great idea to do it one day, and then the opportunity came up, and I thought, why not?" Clarkson said.
That opportunity was partly a result of fierce lobbying by Sarah Ramos, who plays Patty Pryor on American Dreams. She both pushed the show's makers to get Clarkson and enlisted other cast members to help with the lobbying.
"Initially, I kind of wanted to do Rosemary Clooney, but she's not really the '60s, more '50s," Clarkson said. She was offered half a dozen performers to choose from (although she didn't remember who else was on the list). "I chose Brenda Lee, which is a little more spunkier anyway, so it's kind of cool."
She didn't know a lot about Lee other than her song I'm Sorry. "That was her big hit that people my age know. My mom, though, knew a lot about her. Kinda cool."
She drew on the country and rock 'n' roll she had heard as a child, and studied old footage of Lee performing to prepare. "You want to be true to Brenda Lee, because her fans -- and her, she's still alive -- you want her to like what you're doing," Clarkson said.
"I like that artists our age, we actually get to show more versatility, and kinda go back and do, you know, the real artists back in the day," she said. And she saw a different quality in the older performers.
"Watching her on the thing, she's so carefree," Clarkson said. "A lot of performers you see now, they get so nervous and so uptight and they're afraid to do certain things because people backlash on 'em. You watch the people back then and they didn't care, they had fun, they let loose and they were all different."
She thought former Idol co-star Tamyra Gray should be on the show because "she's got such a marvelous, marvelous voice."
Asked who Gray might play, she said, "I don't know. . . . But she'd pull off anyone. She's very, very talented."
The show also lets her act a little, which, you will not be surprised to hear, Clarkson found "kinda cool."
Asked if she also got to meet former Bandstand host (and a Dreams producer) Dick Clark, she said, "I DID! . . . I recorded Brenda Lee's song yesterday and he came in, and there were so many people, and I passed him, and 'No, wait, you're Dick Clark!' He was real nice."
And what about the period wig and clothes she had to wear?
"Very different reactions," she said. "I love the dress. I'm not so keen on this (hair). It's cool but it's just so big! Girls these days, hopefully, don't do this very often. But on the dress, no, I loved it. . . . It's beautiful. Flatters girls who are a little curvier."
Much flattery is coming Clarkson's way these days. Not long before her Dreams appearance, she had scored three MTV Video Music Award nominations -- for best pop video, new artist and viewers' choice video. And she did not know about them at first, because she had been performing in Japan.
"I'm totally all over the world now, so I didn't even realize everything was coming up," she said. "I was there (at the VMAs) last year with American Idol . . . and it's cool to be back this year" (for the Aug. 28 ceremonies), she said.
Asked if she might be doing some more acting soon, she said, "Couldn't possibly. I don't have the time." Besides a mini-tour of fairs in the Unite States, she said, "I'm gonna be in . . . Asia and Australia and Europe for the next couple of months. . . . I've had some Broadway offers and some offers for acting and everything, but . . . take one thing at a time."
She especially likes performing in countries where Idol was not a phenomenon. "Everybody knows that you get a lot of backlash for coming off a TV show," she said. "So it's cool to come out as a normal artist and show that (success) would have happened anyway."
Stepping out of the shadow of Idol, she also admitted her favorite in the second Idol -- eventual winner Ruben Studdard. "I was totally going for Ruben," she said. "I'm a sucker for a soulful voice."
She also shrugged off the failure of From Justin to Kelly, her movie with Idol co-star Justin Guarini.
"I think the movie will do a lot better on DVD," she said. "There's more scenes, and it's better for kids and families to watch, like most Disney movies."
And does she ever rest? "Believe me, I will tell them if I ever need a break," she said. "Not shy. I get days off here and there. You've gotta make sure you have some kind of normalcy."