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May 12, 1998

Brenda Lee Interview

by Gary James

She is credited with more double-sided hit singles than any other women in the history of pop music. She has charted in more categories (Pop, Rock, Easy Listening, Country and R&B) than any other finals in the history of recorded music.

In retrospect of the entire decade of the 1960's,, she is the top charted finals act and fourth overall act with Elvis, The Beatles, and Ray Charles completing the Top Four. She ranks Number Nine in most consecutive Top Ten Hits of All Time, a category shared by both male and female artists. Newsweek magazine credited her as one of the Five Leading American artists that had best survived the British Invasion of the early 60's. Before she reached 20, she had recorded a phenomenal 256 sides that included such classic million sellers as "I'm Sorry," "All Alone As I," "Fool Number One," "Emotion," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and "That's All You Gotta Do."

Her international record sales are in excess of 100 million. Her biggest selling single to date, "I'm Sorry," has sold 15 million records worldwide. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," which is annually among the Best Selling Christmas Records, had sold 8 million records by Christmas 1994.

She was the first of the Baby Boomers and the youngest member ever to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on September 24, 1997. Recently, she co-wrote a song with Michael McDonald (ex-Doobie Brothers singer) that is presently featured on Wynonna's new CD. By now you just got to know we're talking about none other than Miss "Dynamite" herself -- Miss Brenda Lee.

It is indeed a real honor to present an interview with one of pop music's greatest singers -- Miss Brenda Lee.

Q: TNN ran an hour long documentary about your life that was quite interesting.
A: Well, thank you.

Q: Were you pleased with it?
A: I was very pleased with it. I thought the guy who got it together did a very good job. We spent quite a bit of time with him. I thought it turned out real well. Sometimes these things don't. I thought he did a great job.

Q: Now, how did that work, did you approach them or did they approach you?
A: They approached me.

Q: They probably don't approach all that many people, do they?
A: Well, I was very thrilled to get to do it.

Q: You were performing in Branson at Mel Tillis' Theater.
A: I still am.

Q: How many shows do you do?
A: This season we will have done 376 shows. We do two shows a day, six days a week.

Q: That's quite a schedule!
A: Yes it is.

Q: Any plans in the works to open your own theater?
A: Not next year. That might come to be later on.

Q: Do you go out on the road?
A: Yeah. We travel and do some stuff on the road. Next year I'm not going to be working all that much, but I am going to do some dates.

Q: You were in Decca, the same record label as Patsy Cline and Buddy Holly. Did you know either of these people?
A: Patsy was one of my dearest friends.

Q: And what kind of a lady was she?
A: She was a great lady. A big heart. Just a good person.

Q: According to Brown and Friodrich's Encyclepedia of Rock 'n Roll -- "when female vocalists of the Golden Age of Rock 'n Roll are discussed, Brenda Lee and Connie Francis will probably finish in a dead heat every time for the top slot." Does that make you happy, or do you wish you were the only one up there?
A: Oh, no. I'm happy to be a part of this business. I'm happy for everybody else that's been a part of it. So, that's a big compliment.

Q: I realize that you had been singing since you were 3, but, at 15 you were a teenage idol. How did you adjust to that?
A: Well, you know, everybody asks me that. I really didn't see any problem of adjusting. I was just a singer having a good time, going to high school, and having my friends. There wasn't a big adjustment for me at all. I just had good people around me. That was just who I was. I wasn't a different person when I was on or off stage. I was the same person.

Q: That must be why we never read stories about the heartache and heartbreak of fame and fortune and how it ruined Brenda Lee forever.
A: Yeah, I know. I was just lucky that I escaped all these things. But you know, like I said, I just had some really fine people around me that helped me. I was just a normal girl that was singing and having hit records. That was the only difference.

Q: Newsweek magazine credited you with being one of only five American acts to survive Beatlemania and the British Invasion.
A: When was that from?

Q: Newsweek magazine. You didn't know that?
A: No. Well, I know I survived it. I didn't know it was in Newsweek. (laughs)

Q: Why do you think you survived?
A: Because I think that those of us that did survive were our own selves and had our own style of music. We weren't trying to be like The Beatles or do their kind of music. We were doing what we did. We weren't copying anybody.

Q: The Beatles opened for you in 1963 at The Star Club in Hamburg, Germany. What were you doing playing The Star Club? Was that a rough and tumble club to perform in?
A: Well, it was one of the most popular places over there to play. Luckily, I had a lot of success in Europe. I was playing all of the places over there, at the time. That was just the place to play.

Q: Did you meet The Beatles?
A: Yeah.

Q: What were they like?
A: They were very nice boys. Very down to earth. Very normal, no matter how they looked. Very, very talented, of course. I liked 'em a lot. John and I probably talked more than the rest of 'em.

Q: Did you look at these guys and realize they were the future of rock 'n roll?
A: Yeah. I even took a tape back to my record company to see if I could get 'em a record deal. I believed in 'em so much. I thought they were so good.

Q: What did the record company say?
A: They passed on it.

Q: Were you on the same bill as The Beatles at The Royal Command Performance in 1964?
A: I don't think so. No. As I remember it, it was Bob Newhart, myself, Martin and Lewis, Cilla Black and Cathy Kirby.

Q: How long did it take you to record "I'm Sorry?"
A: A very short time. We had about 10 minutes left on the end of a session and we did it in less than 10 minutes.

Q: Would that have been rare for something like that to happen?
A: Not back then, it weren't. It might be today.

Q: Did you feel that song would be a hit?
A: Well, I didn't know. I always believed in the song. I thought the song was a hit record. I didn't know if it would be one by me. But, I thought the song would be a hit by somebody. I believed in the song a lot.

Q: Did you spend a lot of time in the studio recording albums?
A: No. It didn't take a lot of time at all. Everybody came prepared. Everybody knew what they were doing. Everybody was there. There was none of the overdubbing there is today. All of the musicians were there. We did it all at the session.

Q: You've put out a brand new double CD package of your greatest hits. You went back into the studio and re-recorded all of them?
A: Right. Went back in with Owen Bradley and get as many of the original musicians, like Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Buddy Harmon, Pete Wade and many of the original singers, and the original arranger Bill McElhimey. So, we had a ball.

Q: And so Decca, which is no more, owns the original masters to your songs?
A: Yeah, MCA today. MCA is what Decca was.

Q: Couldn't they also put a CD package of your hits?
A: Well, yeah. The reason I did my CD is I can't get my masters back from MCA and the reason is because they sell so well. So, I had the rights by my contract to go in and re- record those and that's what I did.

Q: You knew Elvis?
A: Yeah.

Q: In fact he liked your voice. Tell us what Elvis was like?
A: Very, very nice. Very quiet. Very polite. I liked him a lot.

Q: Did you ever write any materials for yourself?
A: No.

Q: Do you play an instrument?
A: I can play the piano some.

Q: Did you ever have any desire to write a song?
A: Well, I'm writing 'em now. I'm starting to write now. Back then I was just too busy to sit down and do anything like that.

Q: Do you find it comes easy to you?
A: Yeah. I'm probably better at it today than I would've been when I was a lot younger.

Q: What keeps you going? Do you like singing? Do you like an audience?
A: Both. I love to sing. I love the contact with the audience. The only thing that gets to me now is the traveling. I don't like to travel that much. I've enjoyed this year when you're in one place. It's been hard. It's been a lot of work, but I've had a good time. And, it's been an adventure being away from home and living in a different place for almost a year. So, it's been nice.

Q: Where's home?
A: Nashville.

Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, NY.

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL