That wonderfully easy-to-listen-to jazz duo, Blue Tango, performed last Friday, July 8, at the New Northern Hotel. My partner and I went along and I took quite a few notes because Lynne Gough and Dave Richard do not just deliver lovely music, they offer a lot of information about the songs they’re singing. Their performances are usually themed—another reason why I like them so much. On Friday night it was “The Price of Fame.”
This meant that every song they sang had been originally performed by someone who had paid a poll tax—quite often an exorbitant one—for the fame they wrested for themselves from the exposition of their art.
Now don’t get me wrong. This was no gloomy, tear-jerker of a night. On the contrary, it was an upbeat, lighthearted one amidst a gathering of sophisticated lovers of the muse. It was kind of perfect actually. Freezing the you-know-whats off a brass monkey outside, cosily warm in the beautiful, intimate New Northern. Plus the information about the singers and the songs was just fascinating.
For instance, Peggy Lee’s “Fever” brought her fame at age 20. But as Blue Tango pointed out, it doesn’t work terribly well singing “Fever” when you’re 85! Peggy apparently suffered burnout, never really developing her art but singing the same sort of stuff to keep the punters happy. Further evidence was Blue Tango’s singing of “I’ve Got Them Feelin’ Too Good Today Blues,” which Lee wrote herself, recording it in 1975.
The MGM girl, Debbie Reynolds also became very popular very young and had to quickly learn to dance to maintain her star persona. This she apparently did on bleeding feet. The Reynolds’ song, “Abba Dabba Honeymoon,” was sheer nostalgia for me. My mother used to sing it when I was young so I was quite chuffed as one of the audience to be invited to join in.
Everyone knows about Judy Garland, I guess. Died age 47 from a drug overdose. Too much alcohol, too many drugs. Lynne sang her iconic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” beautifully.
Next we had one of Dave’s hilarious parody songs based on “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?”
“Would you like to play the guitar?
Or would you like to be the wife
. . and ruin your life?”
One of the forms of payback that fame extracted from its heroes was described by Blue Tango as “untreated oddity.” This had me intrigued at first but later explained by the tragedy of Karen Carpenter, a young woman with a beautiful voice who suffered fatally from Bulimia. Even more bizarre was the story of Connie Boswell, whom I admit I did not know, yet Harry Belafonte was quoted saying she was the most imitated singer ever! She apparently sold around 50 million records. Connie had polio as a youngster so performed in a wheelchair hidden under a voluminous skirt.
You probably knew that the excellent singer/songwriter, Hank Williams, died at age 29. I didn’t. He was born with spina bifida but wine, women and song was what did him in. Blue Tango charmed us with “Mind Your Own Business,” again inviting audience participation.
Frankie Lymon—another star who died too young—wrote “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” at age 15. He was dead at 25 from a heroine overdose. Well, either that or his three wives. Three women all claimed to be legally married to him when it came to divvying up his estate.
Dave sang a witty parody of “Come Fly With Me,” then we learned that the amazing Fats Waller died of overwork. He passed away on a train taking him to his next gig. What a loss to the world that was! Lynne and Dave gave us a lovely version of his “Honeysuckle Rose.”
Trying to end on a positive note, Blue Tango introduced the exception to the rule, Dennis Morgan, described as “a poor man’s Bing Crosby.” He made pots of money then retired from showbiz, early and unhurt. Blue Tango offered us a song from his film, “The Time, the Place and the Girl,” Melburnising and mixing it with “Jeepers Creepers.” But the audience was having none of endings, demanding an encore. We got a very satisfying Beach Boys medley: “I Wanna Go Home,” “The Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be NIce?”
A truly delightful evening.