Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jody Miller!

Today I want to pay tribute to Jody Miller, an incredibly talented singer with an impressive voice, yet who in my opinion is terribly underrated. Although most longtime country fans will know Jody, I suspect that her name may not be that recognized by the general public today. 

Jody Miller arrived on the scene in the early 1960s as a singer of folk and pop songs. She hit it big early in her career when she recorded Queen Of The House, which was called an “answer song” to Roger Miller’s recently released mega-hit, King Of The Road. With Roger’s blessing, the 1965 song featured the same melody but with new lyrics written that gave the female point of view, with the premise of a weary modern housewife who still was thankful for the high points in her otherwise humdrum week. The song really put her on the map, winning Jody a Grammy in the process.

As a result of that hit song, Jody was pegged as a country singer, though she was still keen to explore more diverse types of song, whether country, folk or pop. That probably didn’t sit well with the music industry at the time, as record label execs preferred artists that fit a clearly defined music genre, and Jody wasn’t easy to categorize. She actually was one of the earlier female crossover artists, straddling both pop and country charts, and opening up the door for other similar singers who came along a few years later, such as Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John.

Though she put out her share of record albums and did regular concert tours, Jody never really was able to repeat the success of Queen Of The House. I believe the problem was due to the material she chose to record, in that many of her notable songs were those that had already been made famous earlier by other vocalists and groups, such as He’s So Fine, Baby I’m Yours, and Will You Love Me Tomorrow, the last of which had already been recently revived by Linda Ronstadt. Here's the TV appearance of Jody singing He's So Fine, which was used as the basis for my caricature of her:

Though fine songs all, what Jody really needed was a brand new original song she could lay sole claim to and establish as a “Jody Miller” hit. Alas, such a song never really came to be, and so despite her remarkable vocal chops and warm, winning smile, Jody Miller never became the household name that so many of her colleagues had achieved when country music was gaining greater mass popularity throughout the 60s and 70s.

Still, one distinction that Jody can lay claim to is being one of the pioneers in what would later become “music videos”, in that she performed a number of her songs for Scopitones on film, usually featuring a troupe of pretty back-up dancers. Here’s a sample of that, with Jody acting out her big hit, Queen Of The House. I think Jody is incredibly cute, with her all-American good looks, and holds her own among the obvious charms of the girl dancers! Enjoy!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Birthday, Robert Goulet!

Here's a guy I've wanted to caricature for awhile, so when I saw his birthday coming up I figured this was a good opportunity to finally draw the magnificent Robert Goulet! When it comes to male vocalists, my preference has always run toward the crooners and balladeers of the 1950s and early 60s, before rock and roll took a stranglehold on the industry. I like mature male singers with strong, rich baritones, and Robert Goulet was the epitome of that style of singer, with a bold baritone that was practically operatic.

Though born in Massachusetts, Mr. Goulet was of French Canadian heritage, and after the tragic early death of his father when Robert was 13, the family moved to Alberta. He took music and voice lessons and found early success in Toronto. It was also in Toronto that Robert Goulet first hit it big, when he was cast as Sir Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe's Camelot opposite Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, which made its stage debut at Toronto's brand new O'Keefe Centre in 1960.

The ruggedly handsome singer went on to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and did various other TV appearances throughout the 60s and 70s, becoming a popular entertainer in nightclubs and concert halls. Oddly enough, one very strange bit of trivia is that Elvis Presley was not a fan of Goulet, to the point where it is rumoured that when Elvis was home watching TV while Robert Goulet was performing, Elvis got so incensed that he grabbed his gun and shot the screen out! Though apparently Goulet was not the only one that affected Elvis like that, as it's been indicated he blasted a number of TV sets over the years.

In 1992, I had the opportunity to see Robert Goulet on stage in a touring revival production of Camelot when I was living in Florida. By this time, the older Goulet had graduated to the role of King Arthur, but as terrific as he was, I really wish I'd been around to see him in his original role of Lancelot, when he got to perform his signature hit, If Ever I Would Leave You, one of the loveliest songs ever written by Lerner and Loewe.

Sadly, we lost Robert Goulet in 2007 when he died just a month before hitting age 74. He was a terrific talent with such a powerful singing voice. In closing, here is a very sweet clip from a TV special from 2000, My Favourite Broadway, in which the show's hostess, Julie Andrews is reunited with her co-star from Camelot, Robert Goulet as he serenades her with the aforementioned, If Ever I Would Leave You. As this clip testifies, Goulet was still in exceptionally fine voice. Enjoy!